Most experts cannot agree on what selling will look like in a year or two, never mind 5 years from now. I have decided to play futurist and walk us through the coming evolution of selling. Would you like to join me?
A Short Look Back
Professional selling has already evolved more in the past 5 years than it had in the previous 40. After 5 decades of talk, a consultative approach is finally recognized as a requirement for any company that needs to differentiate. What hasn’t yet changed is that salespeople continue to be unable to execute and master this approach. Most salespeople still lack a basic understanding of what it really is and how to use it effectively.
Social selling tools, like Google, LinkedIn and Twitter, are being utilized by most salespeople. But they aren’t being used strategically, consistently or effectively.
CRM has gone mainstream. You would be hard pressed to find a company that isn’t using some program, application or tool for relationship management and pipeline management. What hasn’t improved much is compliance – getting salespeople to enter their updates in real time so that salespeople and management alike have accurate and predictive dashboards with up-to-date information.
Inbound is now an established method for getting found and generating interest. Leads are plentiful, requiring sales and marketing to determine whether it’s the leads or the salespeople that suck.
Selling has been moving from outside to inside. The latest technology, an ongoing need to cut costs, busy prospects and practicality have all combined to make the move from outside to inside sales a reality. As with so many other changes, salespeople have been slow to adapt.
Prospects own the information. The abundance of knowledge on the Internet has allowed prospects to do much of their research online, making one-dimensional salespeople, once the primary source of product information, obsolete. Despite the approach, tools, technology and knowledge, selling has become more difficult than ever. Now, it can take more than 10 attempts to make the first contact, prospects routinely go missing within longer sales cycles, win rates are down, and most salespeople have not adapted to these changes.
A Look Forward
The evolution in progress doesn’t stop here. We haven’t even come close to where this will all end.
Webinars? Collaboration? The tools are pretty slick but as selling moves inside, we know that online presentations are still rather impersonal. While great for one on many presentations, online still makes it difficult to have quality meetings and discussions. So what will replace these great tools? Holographic Meetings. The holographic versions of you, your prospects and customers will be able to meet virtually and conduct traditional conversations as if you are there. Cisco has been working on this!
More and more salespeople are working remotely from company headquarters but new technology will allow for remote coaching where sales managers will be able to listen-in and coach salespeople who are time zones away. ConnectLeader.com already has an effective working version of this.
I predict that we will eventually have intelligent CRM which, based on next steps and/or the goals of a scheduled meeting, will automatically reach out to salespeople and update itself. Based on a salesperson’s history, the new breed of CRM will predict the likely story lines and outcomes of a scheduled meeting and reach out to the salesperson to confirm, modify or cancel. Salespeople won’t have to “log in to the CRM app” any longer, and management will always have the latest and greatest data. Of all the CRM applications out there, I believe that Membrain is best positioned to create this.
Selling will become more, not less sophisticated. Salespeople who don’t adapt, and fail to “be the value”, will have no choice but to accept lesser roles in transactional sales models – the B2B version of retail clerks.
Social selling will evolve to include audio and video components that people will initially find quite cool but eventually, very intrusive and distracting. Salespeople will rediscover that the coolness of the telephone is an improvement over the distraction of texting and the impersonal nature of email. Look for people, including prospects, to be more respectful and responsive to their callers.
In much the same way that stores and malls are still very much alive, salespeople will be very much alive as well. Before inside sales, telemarketing, appointment setters and inbound, it was the salesperson’s responsibility to find new opportunities. In recent years, despite staff dedicated to generating interest and scheduling meetings, pipelines are thinner than ever because these groups are focused on activity rather than quality, and don’t receive the same training as salespeople. While all forms of marketing and advertising will continue to play a large part in creating interest, salespeople will once again own complete responsibility for finding new business and seeing it through to closure.
The Most Important Change to Come in the Near Future
18 months ago, I published a study on trust (available for download here), and it showed that except for industrial salespeople, those in other sales roles were not considered very trustworthy. Auto and personal insurance salespeople led the way in garnering distrust, and young males were the least trusted salespeople of all. It was one of the most intriguing studies I ever conducted because the reasons driving the lack of trust were very surprising.
As more colleges and universities offer courses in selling, and people in general demand more integrity and transparency, sales as a profession will finally become a respectable career choice.
Sales will continue to evolve, but even faster and more profoundly than ever before. Great salespeople will be valued as much as ever, but there will be little tolerance for those that fail to adapt and are unable to meet expectations. Technology will be more intelligent, futuristic and powerful but unlike today, salespeople will not only be required to use it – they will want to. I foresee a future of selling with great anticipation, optimism and confidence.
What does the future of selling look like to you? Contribute your thoughts, comments, suggestions and opinions here.