As technology changes under our feet, more will change than just the tools we use to sell or the functionality we’re extolling when we do. The B2B buyer and the process of making a sale is changing fundamentally, and B2B sales will change at the level of how organizations are structured and how the sales process is envisioned in order to cope with these changes. So what do we have to look forward to in 2016?
1. SDRs Will Detach From Sales
In the face of automation for an increasing number of sales functions, a million sales jobs will go extinct by 2020, says Salesforlife.com, based on Forrester's research. But despite alarmist talk this is far from the end of sales. What the chicken lickens are forgetting is that as the number and nature of leads changes, sales jobs in other areas will come out of the sidelines and take on starring roles. One of those will be the SDR role. Sales Development Reps are responsible for dealing with inbound leads, and there’s going to be a lot of those in the future.
We can also expect to see sales development detach itself from sales. John Barrows says he sees SDR roles becoming closer to customer service than sales by 2020. His logic is pretty solid: better leads cost more, so why spend all that time and effort to get a good inbound lead and ‘then pay commission to a rep who probably knows less about the product than the client does and is just there to ask “how many would you like?”’ (That’s not the same thing as believing that sales reps per se will vanish.)
This isn’t going to happen overnight and probably not in 2016. But it makes sense: tighter automations and faster lead response times mean marketing will be handing higher quality inbound leads over to sales, and sales are getting in on the action too. So the sales teams that handle inbound will separate off from the sales department as such. It’s going to form part of a much wider trend, which is already well under way: sales, marketing and customer services will be fundamentally reorganized to suit new buyer journeys and new customer requirements.
As a part of that trend, Salesforlife divides sales pros into four archetypes - order takers, explainers, navigators, and consultants - and expect to see a decline across the board, with the sole exception of a 10% expansion for consultants.
Whenever someone starts talking about relationships and brand building, sales folks ask themselves - or the speaker - ‘what’s the commission on a great customer relationship?’ Fair question. But it’s also fair to point out that companies that build solid user journeys will leak fewer leads, experience lower churn and thus realize higher profits. Greater automation and better sales intelligence will do for sales workforces what it’s already done to others: force a drive to add greater value and slice off the least value-adding jobs from the bottom of the sector. Sales, including cold calling, will continue to be a part of that; it’s just that the relationships between different tasks might move around a little. Meanwhile, although reps who focus on relationships don’t do so great, companies absolutely should.
2. Sales And Marketing Will Draw Closer Together
Sales and marketing go together like, (well...) two teams with totally different attitudes, goals and methods. But the B2B buyer is changing and we have to change with them. Sales will have to learn from marketing, and marketing will have to learn from sales.
Sales will have to learn to use marketing tools, like email automation and content marketing. Increasingly, sales reps are going to be talking to prospects who have already completed not just the 55% - 60% of the traditional sales cycle that we’ve become accustomed to, but 80% or more.
Sales will come to use marketing tools like content and email automation. Can content marketing actually generate more sales, though? Neil Patel thinks so: in this post, he runs down his numbers and explains exactly how he generates sales with content. Crucially, Neil talks about both marketing the content itself and then leveraging it to produce SaaS B2B sales.
Sales reps already face the challenge of using content in a longer sales process geared toward a larger number of more educated buyers. What we can expect to see in 2016 is sales working more closely with marketing, with content designed to support the buyer journey at every stage. Meanwhile, marketing CRM technology will help to provide a technological bridge over which sales and marketing can meet, and resolve sales’ biggest gripe about the information marketing departments collect: they can’t find it!
3. B2B Will Look Ever More Different From B2C
The change whereby sales and marketing hover closer together won’t be one-sided. While increasing lead nurturing automation will bring B2C sales closer into alignment with marketing, B2B marketing will come to more closely resemble sales.
An increase in strategic outbound is not going to happen for the majority of B2C companies, but for B2B it might light the way forward. Yes, the figures don’t look encouraging at first glance: ‘only 12% of B2B buyers want to meet with a salesperson,’ while the vast majority, says Accucenture Interactive, prefer to ‘conduct research and purchase on their own with access to a sales representative via phone or online chat.’ None of that says, ‘brace yourself for a resurgence in outbound in 2016.’ But there’s probably one coming, just the same.
PointClear’s Dan McDade makes the persuasive point that it’s exactly those buyers that B2B salespeople are most interested in - senior level executives with budget and authority - who are ‘most responsive to a professional multi-touch (call, voicemail, email) process.’ And while they might be more responsive than average to a more traditional sales outreach process, they’re less willing to be automated, scored and generally ‘treated like a human pinball,’ Dade goes on.
4. The Buyer Journey Will Become The Focus
Effective sales strategies will group themselves around the buyer journey rather than the sales pipeline or sales process. This is a logical step - everyone talks about being buyer-centric or customer centric, and building the sales process in the image of the buyer journey is a way to institutionalize that idea, baking it into the basic structure of selling.
Sales will learn from app designers and web developers to build user journeys instead of funnels or cycles. The focus will shift from trying to get a clear picture of the buyer and make selling buyer-centric, to building a clear idea of the buyer journey(s - there will be more than one. You don’t use just one buyer persona, do you?)
We’ll see a more sophisticated understanding of stakeholder motivation and input at each stage replacing notions predicated on short sales cycles, single decision-makers and preset budgets. And we’ll see a redefinition of the ideal customer: just ask Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson. If those names sound familiar, maybe it’s from The Challenger Sale. If that book influenced you at all, you should check out the sequel, The Challenger Customer, where the pair talk about winning the ‘battle for customer consensus’ between diverse stakeholders who might be in different departments and at differing levels of seniority.
They encourage discovering, ‘who are my 5.4 [stakeholders] for this deal?’ They point out that great selling isn’t going to be enough anymore: to achieve a B2B sale now, you need ‘great selling X5.4’ - each stakeholder requires slightly different approaches, and may even have basic differences including different pain points; they could even be in different time zones!
5. Expertise Sells
What sells? Buyers increasingly come in bunches and are interested in educating themselves about the market. There are tools on the market now to solve problems that didn’t exist five years ago, and often someone who’s been doing the job a couple of years is trying to sell them to a group of people who are doing jobs that didn’t exist five years ago. I’m not saying it’s the blind leading the blind, but in a situation where knowledge is scarce it’s automatically at a premium. Customers now have more interest in a salesperson who can provide them with the knowledge they need to make the right choice. Knowledge is selling power.
If we want to get out ahead of the curve where buyers are basically ignoring sales altogether and only speaking to sales staff when they’re ready to negotiate price and delivery, we need to reposition expertise. Up to now there’s tended to be a silo effect: salespeople do sales, SMEs do subject matter expertise. (Where SMEs sell, as Adamson and Dixon point out, there’s diminishing returns as increasing complexity of offerings move beyond specific areas of expertise.)
Salespeople don’t need to retrain in the professions they’re selling to, but we do need to find a way to connect those dots more tightly. Sales staff can learn to ‘speak the language’ of their buyers, and understand the nature of the value their offering provides in a way that goes far beyond a few talking points, without going back to school. But for that to work staff have to be sold themselves, on the idea that this is really going to get them more sales, better numbers and more success.
If B2B sales is to be successful in the year ahead, we’re going to have to adapt to an approach that’s ‘buyer-centric X5.4.’ That might mean reorganizing company structures to cope with a more expertise-oriented, content-intensive sales process that retains the best of traditional selling methodology and applies it to a new, multi-stakeholder sales process.