I met with my team in December to review our 2017 results and plan for 2018. One of the major topics we discussed was the major trends in Sales we should be paying attention to and preparing to address. We came up with a list of six we thought were worth sharing.
1. Just-In-Time Learning
As our attention spans continue to decrease and the drive for short-term results continues to increase, the need for immediately applicable content and information will be critical to success. This is relevant for every industry but is especially relevant for the training and sales industries. The days of sitting through onsite training to learn techniques that may or may not be applied (or even remembered) days or months later are dwindling. Sales reps are going to need tips, techniques and information relevant to what they’re doing in the moment to gain the competitive edge they need.
You’re seeing this start to manifest itself on various platforms like chatbots, personal Artificial Intelligence (AI) assistants, and most notably in Sales with all the CRM and learning platforms on the market. Every Learning Management System (LMS) has some level of just-in-time learning that ties into a CRM to push content to reps when they need it. Most of it is reactionary right now and only recommends content after an action or activity is completed. Moving forward with machine learning and AI you’re going to start to see more and more content being proactively recommended. Linkedin Learning already provides recommended training content based on your profile to help you get to the next level of your career.
We believe content is going to be platform-agnostic moving forward. Instead of developing our own platform we’re working to create content that can be integrated into any platform. Our goal is to create a database of bite-sized pieces of relevant, immediately applicable content at every stage of the sales process that can be distributed from any platform wherever and whenever a rep needs it.
As most of you know, I’m a big fan of Gary V and follow him to try and stay ahead of the curve with most trends. He’s been talking about Audio and Voice for a while now, and we think it’s finally time for us to start paying attention to it in Sales. If you want to know the details of what he thinks about Audio and Voice check out his post on it here.
The main stat that stuck out to me in this article is “audio and streaming, in particular, is up 76% year over year eclipsing video with 250B annual streams.” That is massive. Combine this with how much companies like Amazon and Google are focusing in this area with Alexa and Google Home, you know this space is going to explode.
We believe that in the not-so-distant future each of us is going to have a personal sales assistant that gets us the information we need about anything client related just by verbally asking for it. Think about having an Alexa at your desk that ties into your CRM and uses tools like Owler, Linkedin, CharlieApp and Nudge.ai to collect intel on a client and gives you exactly what you need to know before you make a call. It’s going to be like Ironman’s assistant J.A.R.V.I.S., but for Sales.
To prepare for this our team is developing audio content in the form of tips and motivational sales messages that we’ll be adding to the Alexa app to see how effective it is and what kind of impact it can have.
3. Artificial Intelligence
This is one that I’ve been talking about for a while now. I spoke at this past Dreamforce on a panel with Doug Landis and Trish Bertuzzi on the topic and wrote about my thoughts in more detail in this recent post.
The long and short of it is that AI is going to make good sales reps great, great sales reps incredible and average sales reps irrelevant. Any sales function or activity that is repetitive in nature or doesn’t require context is going to be replaced by tools that leverage AI. The best reps are going to welcome AI and seek out technologies and tools that help them become more efficient with non-selling activities, so they can spend more time focusing on their client.
In 2018 our team is focused on identifying AI tools that make a measurable impact on results and productivity, so we can share them with our audience to help the good reps become great and the great reps become incredible. You want to be average? Stay average and become irrelevant.
4. The Evolution of the Outbound SDR Role
The outbound SDR role is going to continue to evolve but not in the direction of sales, in our opinion. Based on how quickly technology is taking over various sales tasks SDRs are going to move closer to Marketing and Operations than Sales.
Today, many SDRs send out automated cadence e-mail sequences that are not much different than what the marketing automation tools can do. If someone responds they either get a basic BANT qualification call or in many cases sent directly to an Account Executive (AE).
Marketing automation combined with AI and machine learning is getting much more targeted and personalized. Chatbots are starting to take over much of the qualification process. Clients are more educated than ever and are losing patience for non-value add conversations. If the SDR role doesn’t evolve it’s inevitably going to get replaced.
This is why we think it’s critical for SDRs to master the different technologies and become students of process, analytics, and context. I’ve said before that the number one recommendation I would give my 22 year-old self would be to A/B split test everything. If SDRs can take the messaging that marketing provides, develop cadences and around specific personas or target accounts, analyze what’s working and what’s not and adjust along the way, they’ll become invaluable. If they just go through the motions they become irrelevant.
This evolution of the SDR role will create an SDR track that could lead all the way to Director or VP level but will fall under Marketing or Operations instead of Sales. This leaves open the question of where the future AEs will come from, which I’ll address in the next trend we’re following.
5. The SDR/AE Relationship
Predictable Revenue was a book that was born out of Salesforce’s segmentation approach to sales and is what many companies (specifically in the tech space) now use as a scalable model for their sales departments. Instead of having one sales rep be responsible for all aspect of the sales process, this approach segments roles into openers and closers. The openers are usually entry level and they graduate to become closers. This allows for businesses to not only scale their sales teams more efficiently but also provide a better career path and easier entry into sales.
There’s a lot to like about the segmentation approach to sales if you’re a business trying to scale your team. The only issue is it’s not that great for the customer. Not too many people I know like having a basic conversation with someone who can’t answer their detailed questions and then get handed off to someone else who usually goes through the same questions before they show any value. Think about calling into the help desk for your cable or phone provider and getting that front-line service agent who you spend 30 minutes explaining your problem only to have them passed you off to a ‘specialist’ who needs to start fresh with understanding your issue because the first agent didn’t take any notes or transfer their knowledge.
If you believe the client is becoming more educated and has less tolerance for low-value conversations, then you see why they SDR/AE relationship needs to change. We don’t know if it’s going to change anytime soon or what new approach will replace it, but it needs to evolve. We believe we’re moving more towards a pod approach where reps will work in teams that include marketing, inside sales, field sales and customer success to approach clients in a thoughtful way and provide a seamless experience throughout the entire sales process.
With my previous comments about SDRs evolving into more Marketing and Operations roles, this pod approach will allow for junior reps to work more directly with senior reps, so they can develop into well rounded, full cycle sales professionals.
6. Virtual Reality
I’ve been fascinated with Virtual Reality (VR) ever since I got my Oculus VR system over a year ago. As soon as I experienced real VR, I knew it was going to fundamentally change the way we live, how we interact and what we experience in the not-so-distant future.
It’s not a stretch to think that in a few years we’ll be taking vacations to Hawaii by sitting on our couch at home and turning up the heat. We’re likely also going to be laughing at the current VR systems that need those huge goggles and gaming servers because they’ll be replaced with contact lenses.
Just like the Voice trend, you see huge companies like Facebook and Google investing massive amounts of money in VR, so you know it’s only the beginning. If you want to see an awesome movie that shows the potential future of AI watch OtherLife. It blew my mind because I fundamentally believe that’s where we’re headed.
For our part, we’re paying attention to the impact that VR is going to have on sales and sales training. It’s easy to see companies doing full VR training for their world-wide sales teams or doing their SKOs completely virtual. If the experience is realistic enough this will save companies millions of dollars in operating expenses. It will also significantly impact how we engage with customers, especially with demos and product info. We believe all sales reps should get used to using video conference solutions like Zoom as much as possible throughout the sales process to help with the transition to VR.
Whether or not these trends and predictions actually happen is up for debate, but what isn’t is that change is inevitable and if you don’t pay attention and evolve you risk becoming obsolete or even worse, becoming average. We don’t plan on ever being average.
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