The sales industry is in a state of flux. According to recent research, 95 percent of consumers have abandoned a purchase in store, while 85 percent have abandoned a purchase online. Conversely, only 9.5 percent of sales people think that consumers are looking for personalized customer service.

This may make for a depressing read, but in reality it’s an opportunity for salespeople to tap into new techniques, trends, and technology to shape the customer experience and buying journey so they can stand out in the market.

To help you understand what you should be focusing on, we asked leading industry influencers to tell us what they think will be the top sales trends for 2017, and how you can apply them to your business.

Paul Cherry, founder of Performance Based Results

Baby boomers are key to success

  • Because the economy is projected to be better in 2017 vs 2016, expect an uptick in sales force turnover. Some who have been staying with the same company will start looking at greener pastures.
  • Organizations large and small will have to invest more resources in hiring and retention strategies especially for highly skilled sales pros. It’s been tough even in the recession to find top sales performers, In 2017 it’s gonna get tougher!
  • In 2017, there will be a push to get baby boomers to stay on and to leverage them to pair up with new hires and millennial sales professionals. The idea is to coach, mentor and leverage their knowledge, client contacts and industry experience.
  • On a similar note, more organizations will try to persuade the baby boomer generation who have retired or are thinking of retiring to consider a new career, especially in sales. Companies will try to entice them with benefits, incentives, flexitime, and job sharing. Why? There’s just not enough millennials to go around to tap into for sales recruitment purposes.
  • Advances in technology, social media/networking and marketing innovations will continue to grow as effective sales tools for sales and support personnel. As a result companies can get away with hiring more entry level sales professionals to take and process orders.
  • However, they can’t get blind-sided by the above approach. Those companies who want to stay ahead of their competitors will pamper their highly strategic B2B sales professionals (e.g. rainmakers) as gold since these folks focus on cultivating and managing important business relationships within those high powered key accounts. Companies cannot rely just on “order takers” to drive the business. There will still be a pressing need for those unique star performers, i.e. sales professionals who can manage and close complex face-to-face sales.

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Mike Kunkle, Sr. Director of Sales Readiness Consulting for Brainshark

Train the managers

I may be overly hopeful about these trends for the short-term in 2017, but I’m excited to see two very positive trends gaining traction.

  • The first is the concept of sales manager enablement. This is the act of selecting or promoting, training, coaching, preparing, and supporting frontline sales managers more effectively, to improve the performance of the sales force, overall. Managers are far too often ignored and can be one of the most impactful levers to improving sales results. I see positive trending here and am encouraged by it. I hope I’m right that 2017 will be the year we truly focus on developing our frontline sales managers.
  • The second is a slow movement away from point solutions or single-threaded, “silver-bullet” solution thinking, toward systems thinking and human performance technology (HPT). This is the approach of aligning around strategy and tactics and supporting those efforts with the right people, processes, methodologies, technology, and environment, with the goal of transforming sales performance far greater than the incremental gains often achieved through individual projects. Today’s complex organizations are no different than a complex machine like an automobile – the most well-tuned engine and great tires won’t help you win a race, if the drive train is broken and the transmission is slipping. Fix and align all systems, and performance will skyrocket.

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Daniel Barnett, CEO and Founder of WORKetc

AI replaces outdated sales automation techniques

It’s inevitable that we’re going to see a huge backlash against the blatant abuse of automated sales prospecting tools.

Take this morning for example, I’ve received exactly eight cold emails (i.e. spam) from sales guys across six startups and two larger enterprises that all follow the EXACT same structure.

They all start with a gratuitous compliment (“I’ve heard great things about WORKetc“, “I love what you guys are doing over at WORKetc“). Then the second paragraph is a vague introduction to what their product is.

The third paragraph is guaranteed to include the word “curious” if they are selling a solution – “I was just curious what you guys were using for a billing platform“.

Then finally they always close with a request for a meeting, and it is always for 15 minutes(!) “Do you have 15 minutes free next Tuesday to discuss”, or if they’re more aggressive, “I’ve gone ahead and booked you in for a 15 minute call tomorrow at 3pm”

Now obviously I just go ahead and hit delete on these emails, but then within a week I will get the guaranteed follow up email, innocently but not-innocently-at-all, acknowledging that I must be busy, but hey, here is a friendly reminder to book in that 15 minute chat.

Consider that I get five to ten of these every single day, each with a minimum of two automated follow ups, we’re now talking around 15,000+ sales prospecting emails being sent every year… and that is just to myself.

We’ve gone beyond a clear tipping point now where these type of automated sales campaigns are no longer effective, in fact I’ve been doing my best to train Gmail that they are just all spam.

The big trend in 2017 is that every single automated prospecting and sales tool will continue to drop in effectiveness.

The solutions that outperform will all be AI-driven, accessing rich data sets, employing a bot-like chat experience with the prospect over email, and do so in a way that immediately offers the prospect some value or insight in the initiation engagement.

Follow @WORKetc

Tim Fowler, UK Sales Manager at Cincom Systems

Customer experience is the differentiator

Firstly, 2017 will see a greater focus upon the enhanced customer experience. When a customer is choosing his supplier, if Vendor A offers a similar portfolio to Vendor B, the customer will choose the supplier based upon wheresoever the customer sales experience is the best.

Previously, the sales choice was often encapsulated by the expression that “People buy from people”, i.e. if the relationship is good then you will probably get the sale. But now, we can see that “People buy from the best experience”. For example, at Cincom CPQ, we have automated the guided selling online experience (often from within the CRM or sales portal), and so the customer receives a multi-channel sales experience that is best tailored to his personal needs.

Secondly, customers in 2017 will require their suppliers to be responsive to sales amendments or adjustments. Flexible sales quotations that cater for ongoing amendments will become the priority.

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Mark Hunter, a sales consultant who has worked with Coca-Cola and Samsung

Social selling will take off

Social selling will move beyond social media and become the selling process used by most companies.

2017 will also see the return of the telephone. Many thought it was dead but it will become a bigger part of the “social selling” sales process due to the speed and clarity once a connection is made via social selling.

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Anthony Iannarino, B2B Sales Coach and Consultant

From salespeople to product experts

I don’t believe that things change much in 12 months. But the continuing trend in 2017 is going to be the need for salespeople to create a compelling reason for their prospects and clients to change by having the business acumen and situational knowledge to act as a trusted advisor. Salespeople are going to continue to be challenged to create opportunities when they lack the insight and ideas that will help further their client’s business.

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Colleen Francis, president of Engage Selling Solutions, and a sales consultant, speaker, and author

Build a community, define the experience  

In 2017, you must build a community that shapes the experience you want your customers to have every time they buy from you. Here’s how:

Showcase your members—Use testimonials, case studies and references to show your prospects that your customers have something in common: they are a community of people who are experiencing similar things in the marketplace.

Create a desire to associate—Give your prospects an incentive to want to associate with your community. You do this by creating spaces where like-minded people band together to share experiences and learn from each other.

Knowledge sells—Field-tested insights are highly valuable commodities in today’s marketplace. People have a hunger for good ideas, so it’s important to share what you know. The more you share, the deeper your backlist of knowledge grows, and the more value you offer to your community members.

Encourage free flow of ideas—Give your community members plenty of latitude to speak freely with each other. Don’t micromanage the conversations.

Segment where it makes sense—Create sub-groups within your community where customers who share a common challenge can gain access to specific problem-solving experts inside your company. Special access means privileged insight.

Building a community and a sense of belonging is critical for all sizes of companies who want to retain their clients and leverage them for higher profits.

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Sharon Drew Morgen, Author of Selling with Integrity

Change management

With a solution-placement focus, sales enters at the wrong end of the buyer’s decision process and only closes a fraction of those who could buy. We close 5 percent and waste 95 percent of our time (approximately 130 hours per month).

Our efforts are fraught with guesswork and hope; we spend our time seeking and following, pitching and positioning, networking and calling to find the low hanging fruit, and ignoring a large population of potential buyers who merely aren’t ready and haven’t completed traversing their private change management items.

Indeed, buyers need the time to get the necessary consensus and manage any fallout before they consider buying anything. We could add some new skills to enter earlier and help them.

In 2017, let’s enter as change facilitators, use our positions as knowledge experts in our fields, to enter during the change management activities, and lead the change. We wait while buyers do this anyway – it’s the length of the sales cycle. It’s not sales, but hell – why wait until they do it when we can help them do it far more efficiently.

Let’s include it as an important piece of the sales process in 2017. It’s time to facilitate the buying.

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Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-Founder, HubSpot

Rise of inbound sales reps

One of the most significant trends that will impact the sales industry in 2017 is the rise of the inbound sales rep. When is the last time you actually picked up a phone call from an unknown number? Cold calling and emailing are less effective than ever, and I see that trend continuing over the next few years. The reason: due to the proliferation of marketing materials on the internet, the modern buyer is no longer dependent on salespeople to access information to make purchase decisions. With that trend, the skills required to succeed as a sales rep will evolve.

I am a firm believer that a sales process that is relevant, contextual, and helpful for the buyer ultimately benefits everyone. Cold outreach will be replaced with empathy, trust-building, and personalization. And as sales reps evolve to match the more-informed modern buyer, technology will evolve with it. CRMs will get better at enabling a buyer-centric sales process.

Follow @bhalligan

Eric Quanstrom, CMO at Kitedesk

Strategic lead routing
A sales trend we’re seeing in the industry is the rising importance of lead routing and lead management. Being strategic about lead routing, then lead management is the inevitable evolution of sales specialization. Organizations with sales development functions are moving more towards responsive, yet truly personalized, 1-to-1 communications with prospects.

These typically high-growth companies are solving for an expensive business problem that isn’t totally solved by marketing automation: matching would-be buyers to the right salespeople in the sales organization and scheduling follow-up actions necessary to best serve the interests of the prospect and the vendor.

The trend is two-fold, as lead routing gives companies flexibility and responsiveness; While lead management offers control and consistency over the sales development process, which prioritizes real communication over generic nurture messages. Most companies that have sales development functions are thinking through ways to maximize the effectiveness of placing a human in front of their prospective buyers in order to facilitate a better buying experience.

 

What are your top sales trends for 2017?

You’ve heard what our experts think will be the top sales trends for 2017, but what do you predict will features? Let us know in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter.

If these sales trends have made you realize that you need to invest in new sales software, then we have resources that can help:

Related reading

Sales trends report: Why your sales strategy is broken and how to fix it

Sales skills crisis: why your salespeople need training now

Top 20 sales management experts to follow on Twitter