5 Skills Every Salesperson Will Need in 2020

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost




Salespeople, beware: Your jobs are in danger. According to a report from Forrester Research, one million B2B sales roles will become obsolete by 2020 -- which means roughly one quarter of current salespeople will be out of a job.

Want to avoid becoming irrevelant? We’ve outlined the top five skills every rep will need by 2020. To future-proof your career, start honing these abilities now.

1) The Ability to See the Bigger Picture 

Glenn Donovan, founder of Sales Coach for Startups, predicts that by 2020 every employee will know how their job fits into their company’s larger strategy. This trend will completely change how reps sell, Donovan says.

Imagine you provide expense-tracking software. You used to kick off the sales process by demonstrating the functionality of your product to a mid-level HR professional. Then they’d bring in the decision maker, who would determine whether the software aligned with their budget and strategic objectives.

But now, that HR professional has three goals they need to accomplish by the end of the quarter, and they already know how your product works through online research. They need you to be a consultant, and if you can’t show them how your offering helps with those goals, they’re not going to buy.

“We think we can still win people over by sheer force of will, but that’s a mistake,” Donovan says.

To succeed, reps will need to immediately figure out how their product fits into both the prospect’s individual goals and the overall company strategy.

2) The Ability to Build an Online Brand

Having a strong online presence will definitely help you in the present -- but in four years, Donovan says, it’ll mean the difference between winning and losing deals.

Buyers say they’re far likelier to engage with salespeople if they’re thought leaders or subject matter experts. Building that reputation is much harder (maybe even impossible) if you’re not active online.

More than half of buyers say their relationships with vendors are getting stronger because there’s more trust, and 45% cite “personal relationships” for boosting their vendor satisfaction.

Can you leverage trust and personal relationships without a strong social media presence? Sure, but it’ll definitely be harder -- especially as social media’s importance in our professional lives starts rivaling its importance in our personal ones.

“You won’t be able to leave it all to marketing,” Donovan says. “You’ll be responsible for creating your own digital presence.”

3) The Ability to ‘De-Educate’ Prospects

The majority of buyers already read three to five pieces of content before talking to a rep. And as time goes on, buyers are only going to consume more content.

But not all content is created equal. It's becoming more common to find prospects who've been misinformed or misled by subpar sources -- making your role as a trusted advisor even more relevant.

To be successful in 2020, you’ll need to be skilled at “de-educating” in the prospect -- in other words, figuring out where their knowledge is faulty and setting the record straight.

Pulling this off usually requires a Challenger approach. To learn more, check out The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson.

4) The Ability to Ask Good Questions

Asking effective questions already sets top reps apart. However, in four years it’ll be the common denominator for all salespeople.

To understand why, think about how much time you currently spend explaining how your product works to buyers. In the future, they’ll get the same information from how-to videos, case studies, and other content.

But guess what a case study can’t do? Ask the right questions to diagnose the buyer’s pain. Once you’ve identified their unique challenge, you can help them overcome it. Providing this unique value to prospects will let you thrive in 2020 and beyond.

As Appcues director John Sherer puts it, "Sales reps will need to be able to give or facilitate high quality customer support in order to maximize the value they can add to a prospect in a sales process. 

5) The Ability to Understand Data

Do you let your gut guide every move you make? Or do you combine your instincts with data-backed insights? If you chose the second option, Donovan says that you’re well-prepared for the future.

Many reps already have access to information they can use to prioritize their selling efforts and identify the most qualified leads. By 2020, it’s pretty likely every rep will have this data.

But having data and leveraging it aren’t the same thing. You’ll need to understand the story it’s telling, from which sales activities are working and which are less effective down to the product features a specific prospect will need most.

"Combining experience and intuition with data is the best mix," Donovan explains. "Without good judgment, the data may mislead you."

The takeaway: Start using a data-driven strategy now, so you’ve got enough time to familiarize yourself with the tools and processes.

For more sales tips that will arm you for success in 2020 and beyond, sign up for HubSpot’s free Inbound Sales Day event on September 14th, 2016. 

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Topics: Sales Trends

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