2016 was a busy year for the sales industry. The M&A market hit a fever pitch and new technologies made salespeople more efficient and effective at their job. As we head into the New Year, I want to share my predictions for 2017; from the evolving expectations of the sales function, to the critical role of intelligent selling and how to empower the sales workforce of tomorrow.
1. The future of selling is service
Today’s customers have a low tolerance for smooth talking salespeople. Customers do not want to be sold to; they are savvy and want to feel like they are being helped. The selling and service functions in most companies are merging to deliver better, more personalized experiences for customers. As a salesperson, this means becoming a product expert of whatever you may be selling and providing value through the entire sales process, from start to finish. Offering this type of personalization can begin with something as simple as a tailored email, a text message about an order your customer placed, or even a phone call to let your customer know that those shoes they have been lusting over are finally back in stock.
One company, and one individual in particular, that personalizes its service like no other is Rodney at Trunk Club. I’ve been using Trunk Club for years now and, since day one, Rodney has been my stylist, my sales rep, my service agent and more. Every month, I receive an email from Rodney letting me know that my monthly shipment is coming up. However, Rodney goes beyond just notifying me that my shipment is coming up – we discuss the latest trends, events I have coming up and specific pieces that I’m interested in trying out. Rodney has become a friend who hand-picks and delivers amazing clothes on a regular basis. Trunk Club’s personalized styling service is successful because the selling approach isn’t sales at all. Stylists like Rodney combine the role of sales and customer service, focusing on personalization and customer data to make their service more conversational – like an experience you would have shopping with friends. The combination of intelligent sales and personalized service is gold, ensuring customer satisfaction, increased leads, additional sales and even up-selling opportunities.
In 2017, personalized and genuine interactions will be the only acceptable interactions between salespeople and customers. It will be crucial for companies to arm their service and sales teams to work cross functionally and intelligently.
2. AI will be key for high performing sales teams
In 2016, we saw the introduction of artificial intelligence, but not necessarily its implementation. Intelligence is the future of sales – plain and simple. The adoption of AI technology, like predictive intelligence, bots and language processing will enable companies to deliver smarter and more personalized, predictive customer experiences. CRM combined with AI will enable salespeople to operate more efficiently by anticipating next opportunities and exceeding customer needs. Salespeople already spend 20 percent of their time researching a prospect – AI, bots and predictive analytics will only supplement that by recommending actions and prioritizing where to focus their time.
While adoption is still in the early stages, we are already seeing automation freeing up salespeople’s time with the use of AI and bots. For
example, inside sales reps are moving away from phone conversations and increasingly turning to email and text messaging to communicate with prospects. By applying AI to channels like email and text, early conversation can actually be delivered by bots, turning what was once a cold lead into a hot prospect. This intelligence paired with automation allows salespeople to apply AI tools to craft the right message, for the right person, sent at the right time, on the best communication channel. By leveraging AI for email and text, salespeople are able to free up their time, allowing them to concentrate on actual selling while growing their pipeline.
Over the next year, I expect to see the spread of AI into every sales department, in organizations of every size. As salespeople continue to leverage social and messaging channels, bots and AI technology will be the tools they need to save time and grow their pipeline.
3. One screen to rule them all
The way people sell is dramatically changing. In addition to the evolving sales role, there are new tools and a new workforce of millennials that approach work in unique ways. As this workforce grows significantly over the next 20 years, employers will need to make major adjustments to set up the millennial workforce for success.
There are too many sales tools that salespeople are asked to use in order to track pipeline, manage accounts, scan social channels, respond to clients and record their progress. Time spent on operational tasks and using several devices and systems has sales reps spending a large portion of their days toggling between screens instead of selling. Today’s tools need to be built for millennials, who are more productive and successful when taught with a straightforward structure in actionable ways. By providing a clear structure and offering a bundled CRM tool with integrations - rather than a system that has users switching between tools and screen - the sales people of tomorrow will gain back valuable time and become efficient at closing deals.
As we begin to see a rise in the millennial workforce, solutions and tools will become tailored to the way they approach work. I predict that in 2017, we will see a dramatic shift roll out, especially in the fast paced, dynamic sales industry.
The future of sales is more personalized, intelligent and streamlined. Salespeople are expected to expand their roles, focusing on providing more help through authentic, personalized service for customers. By arming sales teams with the intelligence and technology necessary, we will see the sales role evolve into something that looks a little more like customer service rather than our traditional sales roles, and the millennial workforce is going to be the generation that sees this through. As we head into the New Year, keep these sales predictions in mind and you’ll stay ahead of the curve for 2017.
About the Author
Sara Varni leads marketing for Sales Cloud at Salesforce and is responsible for the positioning and go-to-market strategy for Sales Cloud, the world’s leading sales app. Before joining Salesforce, Sara worked in mobile strategy at E! Networks. She holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Bucknell University and an M.B.A from The Anderson School of Management at UCLA.