Chatbots, AI, machine learning -- sales, like other industries, is changing rapidly, thanks to technology. But, at the end of the day, you still need to nurture prospects, close deals, and hit your quota.
So, what does that look like in the year 2023? We asked a few of the industry’s most innovative minds what they think is in store for sellers in the next five years. Here are their answers.
Where Will Sales Be in Five Years, and Where Has It Already Changed the Most?
What will the sales function look like in three-to-five years?
“It will evolve. Technology is constantly evolving. Being okay with not always knowing the answers is fine. Learn to ask questions, and remember, cold calling is over. Follow up and social media connections are also changing. You’ve got to do research! I live by this quote, and it's my own: ‘People buy from people they like. People retain from people they trust!’” -Graham Hawkins, CEO and founder, SalesTribe
“AI, machine learning, and automation will greatly assist the sales force. The simple and repetitive tasks sales teams do daily will become more automated. For instance, if you have a call with a client, your software will automatically send a personalized call confirmation reminder. This is done -- with a bit of manual effort -- now. With prediction and machine learning, this process will be more efficient.” -Jennifer Nelson, president, jennymiranda
“In the next three-to-five years, the sales function will be completely based upon artificial intelligence. The large amount of data CRMs entail will be managed by AI, as it can process huge amounts of data without batting an eyelid -- much faster and more efficiently than any human could ever hope to.” -Eric Quanstrom, CMO, Cience
“We’ll see the rise of the professional salesperson -- automation powered by AI will require it. The majority of salespeople will be efficient, so the most effective will win out and the rest will be replaced by technology. This means we’ll also see a rise in the need for excellent sales training around conversational abilities and navigating complex sales effectively.” -Rex Bibertson, principal, Rexb.co LLC
“I hope people like me continue to raise the importance of formal continuing education within the sales profession, in the same way it’s applied to corporate roles like finance, legal, HR and IT.” -John Kauffman, CEO, Lammaore USA Inc.
“Technology will help salespeople close more deals and hit higher quotas. It's a great time to be in sales right now, because reps can over-perform and make a lot of money as marketing and product improve sales efficiency. Already, in many software companies, salespeople have a packed calendar that marketing booked for them by sharing a calendar link with MQLs.”
“But, as technology automates more and more of the selling process, companies will start to rely on salespeople less and less. At first, they'll hire low-cost, customer service professionals. But, as AI is applied to the qualifying and presentation phases of the sales process, products will sell themselves.” -Peter Caputa, CEO, Databox
“I think there will be more and more specialization. The process will be broken up into a few parts -- depending on what you are selling -- with one person focusing on each part. Lead generators and marketers will produce leads, project managers will do research and pre-sale activities, account executives will conduct discovery work, presentation, and deal closures, and account managers will implement what’s been sold -- all while providing the customer service.” -Matt Sunshine, managing partner, The Center for Sales Strategy
“Given the increasing knowledge customers have, commercial leaders will own a combined marketing and sales function, the chief sales officer role will disappear, and marketing will see tighter, more aggressive commercial targets.” -Dustin Clinard, managing director, RISK IDENT
“The new language of selling is coaching. Leadership is a language, mindset, and skill set. This holds true for selling as well. The only thing that changes from manager to seller is the conversation. So, instead of a conversation between a manager and a direct report, it’s a coaching conversation between the salesperson and prospect or customer. Sales training isn’t the answer. To build a bench of next-gen successful leaders, develop your salespeople into consultative sales coaches.” -Keith Rosen, CEO, Coachquest, and author of Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions
“The sales function will evolve due to AI, voicebots, and chatbots. Low-level sales functions will be absorbed into these technologies. And higher-level sales roles will gain access to more real-time information from the expanded use of these tools. Sales performers will be unafraid of AI and will use these technological advantages to be better armed than their peers.” -Darren Trumeter, CEO, Trujay Group
“High-value sales talent -- currently deployed at the end of the sale -- will be reallocated to an earlier stage of the process. Playbooks will continue to grow in utilization and sophistication, making the core sales/buying process far more predictable and controllable. This will lead to a new type of role, similar to customer success, that will manage the process from decision to implementation.” -Doug Davidoff, CEO and founder, Imagine Business Development
“Sales will be further specialized. Role definition will increase, and specific skills applicable to the buyer's journey will become increasingly important table-stakes for most sales organizations. Expecting one individual to be good at research, prospecting, outreach, discovery, evaluation, demonstration, alignment, calibration, negotiations, closing, then managing accounts is foolish, at best, and dangerous to results, at worst.” -Zenaida Lorenzo, lead sales trainer, Unstoppable Sales
“There are so many think pieces about how AI will replace salespeople, but I think it will simply thin the herd. The future isn't "death of a salesman," it's "death of a lazy salesman." The best salespeople will embrace it and automate their lives to spend more time closing.” -Chris Fago, cloud security specialist, RedLock
“The functions and compensation models will look much more like a hybrid team of sales, marketing, and customer service sitting at the same table, using the same technology, and following a common playbook. Sales itself will be more of a blend, with both sales and customer service monitoring inbound sales opportunities, responding via chat and chatbots, and participating in mid-bottom funnel conversations.” -John McTigue, sales and marketing stack advisor, The MarTech Whisperer
“The sales and marketing functions will become one single revenue function. There will be no difference. Both marketing and sales teams will be responsible for driving revenue in an orchestrated, experiential manner. The prospect's journey will the the key to it all.” -Mike Lieberman, CEO and chief revenue scientist, Square 2 Marketing
What has changed the most about the sales function over the past five to 10 years?
“Information parity has created the greatest change we’ve seen in the entire history of sales. Since 1884, when John H. Patterson first created many of the fundamentals of selling, we’ve never seen a greater change in sales than the one we’re witnessing right now. Educated and demanding buyers have never been part of the sales dynamic -- and the fact they dominate the space now is a game changer, to say the least.” -Graham Hawkins, CEO and founder, SalesTribe
“Calls and in-person meetings used to be a must to close meetings, now they’re not as necessary. With video calls, you can develop meaningful relationships without ever having a face-to-face interaction.” -Jennifer Nelson, president, jennymiranda
“Buyer awareness and sophistication will change the most. Not just because of the well-publicized ability for any buyer to run a Google search on you and your business, but because the more important and strategic roles most salespeople are being asked to play are dramatically different from those employed even a few years ago.” -Eric Quanstrom, CMO, Cience
“In some respects, the sales function has become confused as it grapples to understand the difference between sales enablement and sales skills. Sales enablement is not the holy grail of increased performance and -- in some respects -- has created a level of entitlement on the part of salespeople that has no place in their role.” -John Kauffman, CEO, Lammaore USA Inc.
“The biggest change to sales has been the introduction of inbound marketing and inside sales models. At first, inside salespeople fed opportunities to outside salespeople. Then, inside salespeople started closing smaller sales. Now, many companies rely exclusively on inside sales to close even their biggest deals.” -Peter Caputa, CEO, Databox
“Sales has split. It either looks like high volume hunting or account management. Insight selling in the startup community, for example, is the role of founders. And hygiene factors -- traditional sales stuff -- has become more standardized. Gone are the days smart email subject lines and timing was differentiating.” -Dustin Clinard, managing director, RISK IDENT
“Presentations, proposals, and closing customers are each becoming as antiquated as traditional performance reviews. That’s why sales training isn’t dead, it’s evolved. Top performers know selling today requires leading and selling with questions, rather than answers.” -Keith Rosen, CEO, Coachquest, and author of Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions
“Email has had a big influence on selling. Although it’s been around for 20+ years, more and more sales communications happen over email. Salespeople must be able to express themselves well through writing, which can be challenging.” -Zenaida Lorenzo, lead sales trainer, Unstoppable Sales
“Sales teams have evolved from autonomous agents with their own prospecting and closely guarded contact lists to co-equal members of a team sharing lead data, using automation to stay in touch, and using CRMs to manage activities and reporting.” -John McTigue, sales and marketing stack advisor, The MarTech Whisperer
“As new technologies and messaging platforms have emerged, buyers have become less likely to conform to the seller’s preferred communication channel and more likely to choose their own. Sales pros who’ve adapted and become more fluid in channel-switching have become better positioned to win business than some of the ‘old dogs’ who can’t learn new tricks.” -Chris Handy, CEO, ClosedWon
“Information no longer matters. The ability to tease relevant insights from information and share it to help others benefit has changed from being a differentiator to table stakes.” -Ed Marsh, founder, Consilium Global Business Advisors, LLC
By having the experts look at where sales has been and where it’s likely going, it’s clear to see the future leaves plenty of room for innovation, education, and kick-ass salespeople.