Like every year before, 2024 will come with unique challenges and changes — and the sales landscape isn't exempt from those kinds of shifts. I anticipate the sales game won’t look the same as it does a year from now — just look at the changes we’ve already had in 2023. (I’m looking at you, AI).
It’s always helpful to get ahead of transitions early on and to help you get there, I’ve gathered the most important findings from our Sales Strategy Report and reached out to some sales leaders to get their takes on what you can expect to see in the coming year.
So, without further ado, here are some of the most pressing, prominent sales trends to watch in 2023 and in to 2024.
Sales Trends to Watch in 2024
- Salespeople are leveraging AI to meet their goals.
- Sales and marketing alignment is more important than ever.
- Buyers are more informed, and supercharged by AI.
- Salespeople are acting as consultants and relationship-builders.
- Existing customers will take priority over new ones.
- Efficiency is critical for success.
- In-person sales are creeping back.
1. Salespeople are leveraging AI to meet their goals.
Our State of AI Report report found that salespeople save an impressive 2+ hours a day using artificial intelligence.
81% say it helps them save time on manual tasks, be more efficient in their roles, and provide a more personalized experience. It also makes prospecting more effective, helps them spend more time selling, and helps build rapport faster. 83% say that, as a whole, it’s effective in helping them meet their goals.
As of right now, the main ways salespeople are using AI/automation tools in their roles are to automate manual tasks, get data-driven insights and write prospect outreach messages.
I only expect to see adoption of AI continue to grow throughout 2023 and 2024, so getting in on the trend is important. Whether you’ve just started looking into using AI for sales or you’ve used it for a while, Ryan Stanley, founder, and CEO of What Boss, was a guest on a Make It Happen Mondays episode, where he drops valuable insights into the role of AI in B2B sales, from starter tips to how it can help you improve your sales outcomes.
2. Sales and marketing alignment is more important.
Salespeople in 2022 said the level of alignment between sales and marketing teams hadn't changed from the previous year and that it hadn’t become more important for them to be aligned.
This year, however, salespeople are saying the opposite. 60% say that sales and marketing teams at their companies have become more aligned, and 61% say that their alignment has become more important. Businesses with this alignment say goal attainment is 107% more likely than companies with misalignment.
Why am I seeing this change? Economic instability.
Businesses with a customer base that may have tightened their budgets likely understand the importance of sales and marketing alignment when driving leads. If customers are downgrading or canceling their plans, it becomes even more critical to consistently draw in high-quality leads, which salespeople say is the biggest benefit of sales and marketing alignment.
3. Buyers are more informed and supercharged by AI.
Consumers told us that they prefer to gather information themselves before speaking to a human when researching a brand or product. Given this, it makes sense that 96% of sales pros say prospects are already highly knowledgeable and have already done their research when they first speak to them.
Buyers have been self-learning for a while, but what’s new in 2023 is that buyers are now doing their own research, supercharged by AI. And their research brings them further along the sales cycle before ever speaking to a rep.
What’s more, 67% of salespeople say that, by 2024, AI will enhance the buyer's ability to do research to the point that they will be able to make informed decisions without engaging sales reps.
This isn’t cause for alarm, though. It just means a salesperson's role will shift in the face of this change.
4. Salespeople are acting as consultants and relationship builders.
With buyers building their own knowledge, salespeople will become consultative relationship builders.
They’ll drive deals home and prove how their product or service will meet the prospects needs using the knowledge a prospect already has, answer any remaining questions, and build rapport that creates trust and long-lasting relationships. This aligns with salespeople saying that one of the biggest changes between 2022 and 2023 was the increasing importance of building trust and rapport.
I recognize that this might seem threatening to your job security, but most salespeople view this change positively as you get the chance to really flex your skills and expertise to show a buyer how a solution can truly meet their needs.
One survey respondent said, “Buyers using AI to self-educate could be threatening, but I believe it makes my expertise in advising and customizing solutions even more important for building trust. I can focus on building relationships and addressing their specific needs.”
5. Sub-trend: Buyers and salespeople are having higher-quality conversations.
I’m calling this a sub-trend because it wouldn’t exist without buyers becoming more informed before talking to a sales rep.
Gone are the days of salespeople needing to provide every buyer with the most basic information about their product or service because a prospect might already have it.
Instead, buyers and sellers will have higher-quality conversations focused on personalized topics like how the product or service meets a buyer's specific use case. Salespeople will have to spend less time catching buyers up on the minutiae of what they sell.
6. The sales process will require more touchpoints.
Rarely do we make a sale at first contact with a prospect — although that would be nice. In reality, it's a process that requires multiple touchpoints. But here's the problem — the average salesperson makes only two attempts to reach a prospect.
In 2023, applying a multi-touch approach to build quality relationships is critical.
According to HubSpot's 2022 Sales Strategy & Trends Report, a third of sales reps say they average 2-4 interactions with prospects in the sales process. 26% of reps report 5-7 interactions.
On top of that, 84% of sales professionals communicate with a prospect across 2-4 different channels (i.e., email, social media, text, live chat, etc.).
"The long-term trend is going to be about meaningful interaction, communication, relationship building, and problem-solving," Judson Griffin, Intercom's Senior Director of NORPAC Sales, told me.
6. However, some businesses may experience a shorter sales cycle.
As buyers become more knowledgeable, empowered, and fueled by AI, certain businesses may experience a shorter sales cycle as they conduct research independently and move further down the pipeline before reaching out to a rep.
7. Demos need to sell the problem, not the solution.
Imagine selling a book. You could recite a few stats about its weight and dimensions, but you'd probably have more success selling the story inside — and how it can improve the reader's life.
Now think of your sales demos. How much time are you dedicating to the bells and whistles of your product instead of the problems it can solve?
Dan Tyre, Inbound Fellow at HubSpot, stresses this point by telling me, "Prospects are less interested in 'seeing how it works' and more interested in making sure you understand their needs, have a comprehensive idea of their requirements, and that the product will work."
In other words, your product expertise only gets you so far. Instead, it's more about your ability to uncover what your prospects truly care about.
Robert Falcone, the author of Just F*ing Demo!, echoes this, saying, "If you know what their primary concerns are, you can show them just enough of your product that aligns with their immediate problems and get a better result."
8. Freemium will kick-start the conversation.
Have you ever tried on a pair of shoes before buying? Or took a food sample at Costco? We live in a "try before you buy" world — which might explain why so many businesses have struck gold with the freemium model.
This model splits users into either a free or premium tier. The idea is that free users will eventually burn through their limited features and upgrade to a paid account.
48% of sales professionals offer prospects freemium options, and about 94% of them say it's moderately to extremely effective at turning prospects into paying customers.
Since it eliminates the cost of having an account (at least initially), it's a fantastic way to create a natural lead nurturing process. As Tyre tells me, "Offering a free tool or widget, product trial, consultation, or services checklist can increase your visibility, awareness and opportunities for people who are early in the sales process."
Of course, not every business is fit for this model. But if you're a SaaS company — or offer tiered memberships – it can be a powerful way to acquire more customers without spending more money.
9. Existing customers will take priority over new ones.
26% of sales professionals say existing customers took priority over finding new ones this year — and I predict this trend will carry over into 2024 just as it did in 2023.
This makes sense as a top sales priority, as existing customers make up 72% of company revenue on average (new customers make up 28%).
Of course, it's not enough to simply react when existing customers reach out. Instead, it's about creating opportunities to grow these accounts. How can you do this? Mainly through upselling and cross-selling.
That said, it's easier to grow accounts when you maintain customer relationships after the initial point of sale. Ultimately, nurturing these relationships is the most important goal, which sets the stage for new opportunities.
10. The hierarchical nature of sales will flatten.
Help Scout's VP of Sales, Stuart Blake, believes over the next five years, we'll see a flattening of the hierarchical nature of sales organizations.
He says, "This has been happening for the last five to 10 years, but I hypothesize that it will accelerate over the next five. The main reasons why I foresee this is because more people are working from home — leading to more focus on the output of work, the leveraging of technology to get that output, and cleaner communication."
Blake adds, "There is also this larger sentiment in the air that we must simplify things, and therefore, processes. This move might end up being short-lived, but I think we'll see a shift of more doers and less managers on sales teams over the next five years."
Take this time to re-consider your existing strategy. You might determine there are more effective ways to organize your sales organization structure — enabling new opportunities for your sales rep as the industry evolves.
11. Efficiency is critical.
One of salespeople’s top goals in 2022 was making the sales process more efficient; the same is true in 2023. More so, salespeople in 2023 are saying that a more efficient sales process could be a top-growth driver throughout the year.
With the economic instability businesses faced throughout the pandemic, it’s no surprise that departments are working with less budget than in past years, and some industries are still seeing this decrease.
With tighter budgets comes ensuring increased efficiency. Sales processes and tools will need to be directly beneficial to meeting sales goals so budgets aren’t spent on anything that doesn’t impact the bottom line.
This is likely another reason I’ve seen AI become so popular in sales. Passing off low-touch activities to an automated tool allows salespeople to be more efficient as they have time back to focus on actual selling.
12. Personalization will remain a key driver of success.
The one-size-fits-all approach may work sometimes, but it's becoming obsolete each year.
In 2024, personalization will be the name of the game in sales. In fact, almost a quarter of sales professionals believe the importance of personalization is the biggest change in the sales field this year.
That said, you probably don't have enough time to spend hours researching each and every prospect. So how can you strike a balance?
I have to take it back to the trusty CRM, which can put all that data to good use to help you paint a clearer, more holistic picture of your customers. It's no surprise that 21% of sales leaders want to leverage their CRM to its full potential this year. If you’re a HubSpot user, you can take the power of your CRM to the next level with ChatSpot, a conversational tool you can use to research prospects and automatically add their unique data to their profile.
Besides your trusty CRM, AI has and will continue to transform sales. In this Make It Happen Mondays episode, Russel Bradley Cook, Senior App Partner Manager at HubSpot, has a conversation with Joaquim Lecha, CEO of Typeform, discussing AI’s impact on shaping and personalizing the customer experience. Their expert insight is a valuable listen.
13. In-person sales are creeping back.
71% of U.S. sales reps are hybrid workers, up from 45% in 2022. Employees also prefer a hybrid work model (read: greater flexibility in work hours and work-life balance).
But, even hybrid sales pros say in-person meetings are the most effective sales channel, which makes sense.
I’m tracing the emergence of this trend back to two trends I discussed above: more informed buyers and salespeople taking on consultative roles.
Informed buyers leave salespeople taking on a consultative role that relies heavily on building relationships and trust, and the trust and rapport-building opportunities that come from in-person meetings are unparalleled. We’ll see salespeople taking advantage of opportunities to meet buyers face-to-face.
14. Specialization in vertical markets.
In modern sales, “the riches are in the niches.” In other words, when you try to appeal to everyone, the opposite happens: you end up resonating with no one.
While targeting smaller markets doesn't seem like sound business advice, it's a surprisingly beneficial strategy. As Dan Tyre explains, "Although it's somewhat counterintuitive, the more focused your ideal customer profile the faster traction you should get."
For instance, suppose you're on a clean-eating kick. Which option are you most drawn to — a big-name grocery store or a health food store specializing in organic food?
On the sales side, targeting your audience can save you a lot of time, money, and energy from chasing the "wrong" leads.
Trish Saemann, the founder of True North, underscores this point, saying, "When you focus your energy on targeting a narrower audience, your message can be more customized. Customized messages are the ones that get the real engagement, and when that happens, there is a higher chance they will trust you to understand their needs. They will know you are a good fit for them."
In 2024, I predict we’ll see sales teams continue to "niche-ing down" to appeal to specialized markets and reap the benefits of a smaller — but more engaged — audience.
15. Sales culture remains a top priority.
If there's one thing that never goes out of style, it's having a winning sales culture — and 2023 is no different. But what, exactly, is a good sales culture?
According to Dan Tyre, it involves "Having a solid sales rep employee persona, quality and quick recruiting process, and [a] supportive sales environment."
Building a high-performing sales team should never fall to the bottom of the priority list. After all, how much a salesperson sells, how productive they are, and how long they stay at a company are all influenced by sales culture.
And it's one thing to establish a sales culture — it's another to ensure that you sustain those values as you scale and grow. By keeping culture top of mind, you can recruit great reps, promote healthy competition and collaboration, and drive results.
If you’re looking for more insight into building a sales culture, look no further than Adam Jay (especially considering he was named one of Demandbase’s top 25 sales executives for 2023). He sat down with John Barrows to talk about building a powerful sales culture, specifically the role authenticity has in building the culture. Click here to listen to their conversation.
16. Calling through your CRM.
On average, a sales rep spends only 28% of their day actually selling. The rest is spent on internal meetings, trainings, and prospecting.
So how can you leverage what little time you have for selling? Increasingly, the solution is a trusty CRM. Specifically, a CRM with call tracking features, which enables you to reach more leads with less effort.
Dan Tyre advised sales reps to take advantage of these tools, saying, "Most modern CRM’s allow you to call right through your technology, eliminating silos of wasted information, improving sales productivity, and allowing for review of recorded calls for training purposes."
Dean Moothart, Director of Client Solutions at LeadG2, adds, "Things like email templates, call recording functionality and calendar management links are new features that are taking sales productivity to the next level."
2023 is bound to come with a change of pace and a host of new trends and challenges. Though this list isn't exactly set in stone, it's a good place to start when hashing out what the sales landscape might look like over the next year.