Are you looking forward to what 2016 has to offer? Like most sales leaders, I'm sure you are eager to dive once again into managing your B2B sales team. Whether you plan to redesign your sales compensation plan, increase the headcount of your sales team or implement a new sales process, one thing is certain: next year will be an exciting journey.
While it is no secret that the journey will have bumps and roadblocks, you can achieve your revenue goals if you focus on leveraging the strengths of your sales force. Most leaders would also agree that to exceed your targets, you need to stay up to date with the latest developments within the B2B sales industry. But what developments should you pay closer attention to? Will new trends impact the B2B sales industry during 2016?
In my opinion, the B2B sales industry will witness trends of two very different kinds during 2016. One kind are rising trends that emerged and gained traction during 2015. The second kind of trends are well established or macro trends that have been in our radar through the course of the years.
In this post, I will describe the seven most significant trends to watch for during 2016. Let's start by focusing on emerging trends, which I foresee will rise at a faster pace:
The gamification of sales
One of the major trends in the sales industry is the gamification of sales. Gamification is quickly gaining traction in sales, as evidence by the use of game mechanics to motivate sales forces and to accelerate behavioral changes. Sales managers have realized that traditional management methods and bonus-driven compensation plans are not enough to motivate the salesforce.
Forward looking sales managers have implemented gamification platforms to sustain high activity levels and to keep salespeople motivated. In 2016, we predict the practice of gamification in sales will grow at a faster pace as sales leaders search for ways to increase productivity and to get the most from their sales teams.
Another excellent example of a growing trend is sales analytics. Sales leaders are conscious that intuition and optimism often limit their ability to make consistent and unbiased decisions. So a data-driven and scientific approach has risen in popularity. Modern sales organizations are experimenting with analytics to make better decisions about which opportunities are more likely to close, which are at risk and which ones to ignore.
The combination of huge amounts of data flowing in and out of organizations and the variety of vendors that supply analytic software has propelled the sales management practice of what we call – sales analytics. Whether used for improving prospecting, coaching or forecasting, leaders will continue to leverage analytics to minimize bias and enhance the outcomes of their decisions during 2016. After all, there is a stronger belief that sales organizations should be managed based on facts rather than assumptions.
Social selling has emerged as one of the fastest growing practices in B2B sales organizations. What this means is salespeople are increasingly tapping into social networking sites, with hundreds of millions of users, to listen to online conversations, engage with prospects and manage relationships with current customers.
Social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are becoming an important component of sales reps' daily routine. While social selling grew in popularity among individual salespeople during 2015, an organizational approach to social selling is still needed. Therefore, we expect 2016 to be the year in which sales managers will take social selling to the next level. It will be the year whereby sales managers take an organization-wide approach to social selling.
The tech-savvy sales rep
Technology stacks for sales professionals have taken off. During the past years, a plethora of digital technologies have been developed exclusively for sales professionals. We have seen an explosion of tools that provide smarter ways to identify prospects, deliver sales presentations and close deals faster. For evidence of this trend, just look at the sales technology landscape available for inside sales teams. In the same way, field sales teams, who engage with customers face-to-face, can choose between thousands of technologies to amplify sales activities like emailing, setting appointments, managing their time, delivering presentations and signing contracts. As a matter of fact, salesforce’s application market, “AppExchange”, hosts over 2,000 business apps out of which over 800 target sales organizations.
Based on the size and diversity of the sales technology landscape, it is logical to expect that 2016 will be the year of the tech-savvy sales rep. Both inside and field sales teams will deploy technology to boost their productivity and to make their number.
In general, sales leaders should pay attention to the above mentioned emerging trends without losing track of macro trends. Through the course of the years, we have been monitoring three significant macro trends in B2B sales:
The polarization of sales logics
Increased business complexity, digital developments and changes in customer behavior are intensifying the polarization between traditional and complex sales models.
On the one hand, transactional salespeople, who sell standard products, face the risk of becoming obsolete. Organizations are automating repetitive sales task and even replacing salespeople with artificial intelligence (AI) software or sales robots. For evidence of this trend, just look at emerging digital buying-selling practices like real-time bidding, e-auctions and programmatic buying.
Moreover, multiple studies show that customers are getting more used to purchasing products and services on their own. In this scenario the interaction with sales representatives is minimal, if not unnecessary. In response, sales organizations are investing in digital self-service platforms that make it easy for procurement departments to place orders on their own.
On the other hand, in complex sales, in which substantial investment decisions are at stake, the number of resources required to close deals has increased. One of the main consequences is the emergence of sales teams with specialized roles, each one with a set of complementing competencies. In short, we have observed how B2B sales has been diverging into two separate sales logics: transactional selling (increasingly automated) and resource intensive complex sales – which demands team selling.
Growing sales talent gap
Year after year we have been witnessing a talent-related trend. In particular, a growing concern about talent gaps within sales organizations. The talent gap issue has climbed up on leaders' agenda as organizations struggle to update current sales skills and/or face issues filling sales positions with the right people. Recent research revealed that sales representatives were the fourth most difficult job category to recruit for.
When we asked sales leaders, they told us about their struggle to find sales talent with the right qualifications. According to sales leaders, there is a shortage of experienced salespeople with the right mix of "soft" and "hard" skills.
Today, sales professional in complex sales must be able to handle tasks beyond prospecting and negotiating. Besides product and industry expertise, salespeople are expected to network wide and deep, lead projects, encourage teamwork and manage customer relationships. So our prediction is that sales organization will continue to focus on overcoming the sales talent gap during 2016.
Blurring line between sales and marketing
Another macro trend that we have monitored for years is the blurring line between sales and marketing. B2B marketing organizations are becoming revenue-generating centers, while salespeople are behaving like micro marketers when they share content through social media channels. Changes in customer buying behavior demand sales and marketing professionals to adopt different mindsets and behaviors.
Sales and marketing can no longer afford to work in silos. They need to work towards a common goal and share resources, processes, systems and even performance metrics. So what is the difference between marketing and sales? If there is a difference, the line between marketing and sales is fading.
Ph.D. Markus Ejenäs, ProSales Institute