The most well-guarded winning sales tactics for the year ahead -- those that lie outside the 101 Go-To-Market playbook -- are only truly understood by a handful of experts at the forefront of the cutting edge business. We’ve spoken to these industry experts for insights on standing apart in the next fiscal year. They all seem to agree on the following trends as springboards for success.
The Top 5 Sales Trends in 2017
1) Sales Gets Smarter and More Sophisticated with Automation, AI, and Machine Learning
When many of us think of artificial intelligence, our imagination wanders off to a science fiction-themed, futuristic world, wherein the workforce has become overrun by emotionless robots that greatly outnumber human employees … right? Well, relax. According to Pete Kazanjy, founder of Modern Sales Salon, Brandon Redlinger, director of growth at Engagio, and Daniel Barber, VP of Sales for Datanyze, automated technology and AI are NOT after our jobs.
In fact, advancements, such as call or email intelligence, will only serve to make parts of the sales process hyper efficient by supporting and training staff -- not replacing them. For example, thanks to large bodies of input data and success outcome data to drive machine learning training sets, there are now advanced technologies that can programmatically coach Sales Development Representatives (SDRs). Their calls can be recorded, automatically transcribed, and then understood via machine, helping managers train their staff more effectively.
As a result of this and other AI technologies, the SDR position is slowly gaining more respect, morphing into a cross between mid-market and enterprise salesperson. This new hybrid “tweener” role is predicted to grow swiftly and hold greater value at the end of 2017. Employers will put more resources into figuring out how to hire the right SDRs and keep them.
“With so much new sales technology available, it’s possible to achieve metrics-centric selling to get better at the quantity and quality of selling activity for each sales role. This is about not spraying and praying but using killer analytics to help each individual sale succeed.” -Kazanjy
“The current perception of the SDR as low person on the totem pole is quickly changing. This simply underrated position will be much more desirable and impactful by the end of the year.” -Redlinger
“There is still a huge delta between unsophisticated and sophisticated sales organizations. Some companies have sales teams that are lucky to find a hammer and nail. Others have figured out how to find and operate a drill, and learn how to best use each of its 16 different drill bits.” -Barber
2) Customer Success Leads as a Growth Engine
At the beginning of every fiscal year, your company (most likely) puts dry eraser to white board and tediously scrawls out all the 800+ accounts that need to be targeted for renewal -- after all, no one wants to leave money on the table, right? But, is simply going after renewals more important than focusing on customer LTV?
According to Barber and Jake Dunlap, CEO of Skaled, the answer is a resounding “No,” and startups can go ahead and scratch that -- err, wipe -- the aforementioned tired tactic from the list of optimal growth solutions. Companies are better off using data-driven analytics and dedicated customer success roles to understand which existing clients or consumers portend a better LTV ratio and which ones show an increase in usage through adoption triggers.
Spending time on the right specific audience, while lowering customer churn rate by as little as 5%, can increase a company’s profitability by 25-125%. Furthermore, some research suggests it can cost 500% more to bring on new clients than keep current ones.
“(Farming current clients) often gets neglected because we’re always focused on new leads. Companies are looking to get more outbound leads and more inbound leads, but they miss the third channel, which are current clients. Current customers usually convert at a higher sales price and faster.” -Dunlap
“Traditionally there has just been account management. You need someone focused on driving the success and adoption of the technology, a new customer success position. Then, you need someone focused on if there is an upsell potential in the business.” -Barber
3) 201 Sales and Marketing Alignment Drives Up-Leveling Leadership Roles and ABM
Sales, meet Marketing. Marketing, meet Sales. While these two have been traditionally considered joined at the hip, their goals often aren’t. Marketing leaders with proven success are the ones working closely with Sales to create an alignment of Account Based Selling (ABS) and Account Based Marketing (ABM) on at least the top 200 accounts.
As innovative marketing departments begin to catch up with Sales, and gain a better understanding of the customer, working in tandem becomes a much more efficient process that only furthers the importance of carefully designed strategy from both sides of every transaction.
Positive data to support the successful use of this tactic shows a salary increase for Demand Generation and ABM roles, with additional salary increase for Head of Sales and/or Director of Sales. According to Dunlap, accountability and transparency for how to land and expand named accounts will be key over the course of the next year:
“When companies are looking for senior sales or senior marketing leadership roles, they’re looking for people who have experience working both. Leading best in class companies have a marketing and sales alignment that’s all tied toward the ultimate goal of revenue and customer satisfaction.”
4) GTM Process, Transparency, and Accountability Are Key to Revenue Success
The days of sending your top sales force out there and simply crossing your fingers are long gone -- out with the extinction of the dodo and the absentee rep, who thinks golfing is a job prerequisite. There is no perfect blueprint for any one particular sale, and therefore every point of the process -- from engagement to close -- must be accounted for and monitored to ensure best policies. For example, how many companies out there really know what makes a deal four times more likely to close?
The takeaway from our team of experts is to mine and analyze your company data to understand (and hopefully enjoy) your “special sauce,” set new processes for training, and develop benchmarks. Getting smarter relies on knowing your sales structure and creating repeatable success.
“Companies in 2017 should look to separate the typical sales cycle into mini-series to identify potential bottlenecks. Breaking apart the middle funnel will help companies understand what makes a deal more likely to close and how to emulate that process for future deals.” -Dunlap
5) Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) Are the New Linchpins, Bridging Business and Consumer
Times have indeed changed. The digital and social media revolutions are in full swing, and unless you have been immersed in every detail of modern communication -- from Facebook to Snapchat -- chances are you don’t know how to use this technology to harness clients. Right now, there is more publicly available information to customers through social media and third party sites, but how can the average salesperson handle that?
SMEs, such as solution architects, fill this gap with deep market knowledge and value selling. They can offer a highly sought after understanding of the solution landscape, helping to position your company against of the competition. While SMEs are notoriously hard to acquire, the experts we spoke to recommend going the distance to bring them on board (literally) -- even if it means having them work remotely from another state or paying for relocation.
According to Kazanjy, these SME roles exhibit some of the most valuable skills in the pre-sales process.
He says, “The ability to leverage new sales technologies, through the hiring and utilization of modern day experts, and orchestrate them together in a way that helps the organization capture that value will become more and more vital.”
As the pressure cooker of 2016 heated up, only the most innovative, cutting edge firms excelled - growing smarter by re-evaluating sales and marketing strategies and roles, utilizing automation technology, and, most importantly, making targeted customer success a priority. 2017 will see these trends becoming even more critical to an organization's bottom line.
Originally published Feb 17, 2017 6:30:00 AM, updated October 20 2017