Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (yes we’re going highbrow) once said that those who have knowledge, don’t predict, and that those who predict, don’t have knowledge.

Despite that pronouncement, we’ve asked a range of sales experts to predict the future and name their top sales trends for 2018.

In 2017, sales trends ranged from better training for sales managers, harnessing the talent of baby boomers to help them share knowledge with millennials especially, AI replacing sales automation software, social selling becoming mainstream, and the rise of strategic lead routing.

While some of these trends took off —social selling, for example— for others, the crystal ball was a little foggy and 2017 hasn’t quite worked out the way they expected (you’ll hear more about this below).

Below we round up what our sales experts expect from the sales industry in 2018.

Daniel Barnett, CEO and Founder of WORKetc

Sales is broken – the only way to do sales is to not actually do sales

“Well I’ll admit I got it wrong. So very wrong.

“When I was asked to contribute to the last year’s Top Sales Trends for 2017 I incorrectly predicted a “huge backlash against the blatant abuse of automated sales prospecting tools.”

“I was wrong. There was no backlash. In fact the opposite happened. We now have a tidal wave of unsolicited email, aka spam, that this industry attempts to justify by labelling as “cold emails” or lead generation.

“But this column is about sales trends for 2018, not the finer points of when is a “cold email” spam.

“My gripe about cold email is however a symptom of the big sales trend of 2018 – sales as it is today is failing. It is utterly broken and no one knows how to fix it.

“The issue? Customers are just fatigued by the constant interruptions, endless contact requests, unwelcome emails, random phone calls, polite demands for fifteen minute chats and those annoying cutesy automated follow-ups.

“Our customers are exhausted. They are turning off.

“Even when WORKetc’s customer support teams calls a customer there is inevitably a few seconds of tension before the customer remembers that we’re calling them with the sole goal of solving a problem and are not, in fact pitching them.”

So then, in 2018 how do you actually do sales?

“We’ve already identified that cold email prospecting is out of control and ineffective.

“Content marketing? There is now more content produced than will ever be read by an actual human. I have an endless stream of invites for exclusive-but-not-really-exclusive webinars.

“My spam folder is full of valued-at-$499-today-free “reports” with the click bait headline but sadly full of the same vanilla content that reveals nothing new or engaging.

“But what about influencer marketing and sales-enabling the influencer? The same customers who are fatigued by sales are also now hyper-cynical whenever an “influencer” features anything commercial. Our poor customers inherently know that behind the scenes there is some commercial relationship in play so all trust goes out the window.

“So back to the big sales trends of 2018… to be honest I’m at a loss. Everything sales seems broken, ineffectual at best and counterproductive at worst.

“It feels like the industry needs a momentous change, a huge leap forward.

“Maybe the only way to do sales is to not actually do sales. Go back to basics. Build a product that solves an important problem and communicate that in a succinct, yet engaging manner. Minimize all friction points and provide timely and useful support. Build a community by enabling your customers to talk with each other. Upskill your support team into organic product evangelists.

“Sounds easy right?”

Follow @WORKetc

Deb Calvert, author of Stop Selling & Start Leading and DISCOVER Questions Get You Connected

Sellers will take pride in the work they do to support and help buyers

“In 2018, tools, techs stacks, AI and sales hacks will continue to evolve and support sellers in new and exciting ways. But the pursuit of the latest/greatest enablement offerings will be balanced by a focus on sellers.

“The deluge in recent years of shiny new objects and automation has been distracting for sellers. Buyers are avoiding time with sellers because that time is low value. It’s low value because sellers have disproportionately focused on the internal systems and techniques they are asked to use.

“Sales organizations will become more selective in what they introduce and more protective of sellers’ time. They will, because the marketplace demands it, reallocate seller time to creating value and meaningful experiences for their buyers. Sales managers, likewise, will re-focus on coaching sellers to stop selling and start leading — using the behavioral blueprint that comes directly from research with buyers.

“The result of this focus will be seller ennoblement. Sellers will once again take pride in the work they do to genuinely support and help their buyers. They will be more effective in selling once they exhibit the leadership behaviors buyers desire. Sales will feel good again.

“Buyers, too, will be ennobled. They will feel valued and involved in the process of buying. They will participate in creating what they want as sellers respond to buyers instead of responding to internally-driven tools.”

Follow @PeopleFirstPS

Mark Hunter, sales expert and author of High-Profit Prospecting

Video calls

“Video calls will become the norm. Buyers and sellers are used to using video for demos etc. which means taking it one step further and using it for everything will become very much the normal way for salespeople to interact with customers and prospects.”

Follow @TheSalesHunter

Mike Kunkle, VP of Sales Transformation Services at Digital Transformation, Inc., a division of Fast Lane

New technologies and adaptive selling

“Anyone with their eyes open will be predicting an impact on sales from advancing technology – especially AI and machine learning – on how we sell (both positively – via better results, and negatively – via reductions in transactional sales forces). I agree that these technologies will augment selling, have great potential to improve both efficiency and sales effectiveness, and will see continued advancement in 2018.

“I also believe that the threat of business disruption, the accelerating pace of change, an increasingly VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) business environment , and the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) these things cause in business leaders and buyers, will foster a re-emergence of true consultative selling. This will be further enhanced by adaptive selling principles. Adaptive selling is a sales methodology where sellers use judgment to adjust their sales approach based on their buyers’ situation and state of mind.

“As part of this adaptive model, I believe we’ll see a rise in a consultative mindsets, where problem-solving and co-creating solutions with clients will begin to gain more traction, with a focus on delivering real business outcomes vs. just selling products and services. Elite B2B enterprise sales professionals have been doing this for years, but the convergence of factors will begin to propel more organizations to ready and enable their sales forces (including frontline sales managers) to operate at this higher level. I don’t believe we will see a widespread transition over 2018, but I do believe we will see acceleration and consistent movement in this direction.”

Follow @Mike_Kunkle

Mario Martinez Jr, CEO, Founder and Digital Sales Evangelist at Vengreso

Increase in training spend and new KPIs

“2018 will bring two massive changes:

“1. Marketing will be tied to a productivity KPI, that is, “how many conversations did they create for sales”. Starting in 2018, CEOs will not allow marketing to drive campaigns and spend valuable dollars that do not convert into sales conversations. This is critical to hold marketing accountable to this KPI, in order to determine the effectiveness of their campaigns and dollars spent. However, marketing will be challenged by the skill set of the sales teams (or lack thereof) to turn those conversations into opportunities. Thus my second prediction.

“2. The allocation of training dollars towards skill set training will increase dramatically for salespeople. Because selling has dramatically increased in complexity, leaders will look to focus their training dollars on developing the skill set of sales in several areas:

  • A. Modernizing their sales team to think like a digital marketer but sell like a salesperson.
  • B. Understand how to leverage digital selling techniques which create more conversations.”

Follow @M_3jr

What are your top sales trends for 2018?

Let us know what you think 2018 holds for sales in the comments below or by emailing me at karen@getapp.com.

If all this talk of sales trends has made you realize that 2018 is the year when you’ll buy a new sales management solution – or switch your current software – then we have some resources that can help: