The end of the year presents a unique vantage point -- a perfect time to look both forward and backward. That is, if you have time to look up at all in the mad dash to make your annual goal.
With 2014 almost behind us, we asked sales experts to weigh in on what they thought were the top sales trends of the year. Take a minute to read through the list and judge your company's performance against these developments. If you are falling behind on an item or two, don't fret -- better late to start than never. Make it a New Year's resolution.
1) Increased Sales Scrutiny
"In part due to the prolonged global recession and in part due to sheer numbers (U.S. firms now spend on sales more than 3x their spending on all consumer advertising and more than 20x their spend on all online media), the biggest trend is that Sales is getting more attention. The good news: sales leaders increasingly have a seat at the table. The other news: sales leaders get asked more questions about opportunity selection, sales ROI, relevant performance metrics, and strategy. They better have answers." - Frank Cespedes, senior lecturer, Harvard Business School
2) Increased Focus on Sales Management
"Over the past few years, we have seen a groundswell of interest in front-line sales managers. They are finally being recognized as a critical change agent in the sales force that has been severely neglected to date. Next up will be the second-line sales managers, who are just now coming into focus." - Jason Jordan, partner, Vantage Point Performance
3) Targeted Prospecting
"For the last three to five years, organizations have been focused on their demand generation processes and driving large volumes of inbound leads into their organizations. This movement has fed SMB and mid-market sales teams to the point where many of them are 90-100% sourced by Marketing -- [and salespeople] sold to whoever walked in the door. But now, companies are focused on specific, bigger prospects which has led to a return to targeting select lists of organizations. As a result, organizations are heavily focused on outbound prospecting." - Craig Rosenberg, co-founder and chief analyst, TOPO Inc.
4) Social Selling
In 2014, "social selling and inbound marketing went mainstream. I believe that the primary evolution will continue to take place in how we connect with prospects, whether it’s through social selling or calling services like ConnectAndSell.com." - Dave Kurlan, CEO, Objective Management Group
"Social selling was the topic of the year, and there were a lot of overblown expectations. I believe the hype is beginning to fade as people come to understand the role of social selling in the entire sales process. It is an incredibly valuable tool for prospecting that every salesperson should use. Its current [role] in delivering the value that helps prospects quickly make good buying decisions is minimal. However, as technology and apps continue to evolve, that too may change." - Andy Paul, founder, Zero-Time Selling Inc.
"I think social selling is a fad and an opportunity all at once. A lot of people confused social selling with 'I don’t have to cold call ever again; I'm just going to tweet business leaders and close deals.' But a lot of decision makers aren’t necessarily that active on social media nor do they want to be prospected to there. Social selling is an enormous opportunity particularly around two elements: One is building up your personal brand and thought leadership among your prospects, and the other is the whole new spectrum of context for you to understand your prospect." - Mark Roberge, chief revenue officer, HubSpot
5) Informed Buyers
"Prospective clients have done their homework as to their issues and potential solutions via the internet or other relationships. This has caused the salesperson to alter their traditional sales approach. The salespeople who have not adapted to this change are struggling, as they have been used to 'telling' their story vs. 'selling' themselves and their solutions. Knowing people, understanding their business challenges, and connecting the dots between the problem and your solution is a critical success factor. New technical tools will be developed to assist the average salesperson in this area." - Ken Thoreson, president, Acumen Management Group
6) Evolution of Sales Training
"Sales training is moving to a mobility mode. As salespeople face new selling environments, they will have access to instant insights designed to improve their sales skills and strategic information. This is a new trend that will evolve quickly in 2015 and 2016." - Ken Thoreson, president, Acumen Management Group
"There is continued disgruntlement from people buying sales training because the way it has historically worked doesn’t work very well. The methods have aged, and the sales training itself isn’t particularly good learning and not well reinforced and embedded into the workflow of the seller. So better sales education -- an effort to really develop the skills, attributes, and knowledge of our sellers so they can achieve more -- that's a big trend." - Mike Schultz, co-president, RAIN Group
7) Rise of Inside Sales
"It sounds funny but 10 or 12 years ago, we were trying to convince people that things could be sold over the phone. Inside sales has certainly taken off -- I don't know if it’s a new development, but it might be for some." - Laurie Page, managing partner, The Bridge Group
"Moving the sales role inside is certainly a trend. Reducing COS and increasing touch points and use of technology will drive the outside/inside sales organization restructuring. This will continue as sales leaders look for new formulas to drive relationships, revenues, and activities." - Ken Thoreson, president, Acumen Management Group
8) Demand Creation Trumps Demand Response
"One trend was the focus on driving demand for offerings and capabilities that buyers may not even know exist. So it's selling not to existing budgets but to the growth and innovation desires of people that lead companies, and then bringing forward ideas and solutions that can actually realize better business results. Insight selling -- it's a huge trend." - Mike Schultz, co-president, RAIN Group
9) More Technology
"The continued and growing use of technology in sales: CRM, webinars, sales calls using technology like Skype, Google Hangout, etc., elearning for selling skills and product knowledge. I see these trends increasing with speed." - Tony Alessandra, sales author and speaker
"Companies continue to struggle with CRM adoption and usage. The tools have gotten dramatically better in the past several years, but they’re still not viewed as valuable by the sales force. In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on the human side of the technology -- teaching sellers and managers how to use CRM productively, not just how to log in and run reports." - Jason Jordan, partner, Vantage Point Performance
10) Better Marketing/Sales Alignment
"Marketing/Sales alignment, which has always been a fraught relationship in many companies, is under more pressure to improve. Why? The impact of technology: online media of various sorts make it more visible to customers when marketing and sales initiatives are not aligned in a firm. Also, more tools for lead generation and outbound marketing are productively blurring long-standing distinctions between marketing and sales responsibilities in many firms. As a result, companies are rethinking the Marketing/Sales interface."- Frank Cespedes, senior lecturer, Harvard Business School
What did you think were the top sales trends of 2014? Share your thoughts in the comments.