The Future of Sales: Part 1

May 2, 2018

Article written by Neema Jyothiprakash, Product Marketing Manager, Bluewolf, an IBM Company

Everyone has an opinion about sales - whether its an impression of sales as a profession, a rigorous commitment to a particular sales methodology, or a stereotype about sales people. Why? Sales of course, is the engine of business. But sales is also embedded in many other aspects of society. At its core, sales embodies a fundamentally human interaction - moving someone else to action through trust, confidence, and empathy. 

Salesforce, in a new documentary, tells the story of sales from tracing its role in society, to its evolution in ancient times, and exploring the modern sales professional. The documentary inspired us to look inwards at our own experts, and share our thoughts on where sales is headed. 

I sat down with David Pier, Vice President of our Sales Cloud Practice, Salesforce MVP since 2012, and most recently, a Salesforce Hall of Fame MVPer, to discuss the future of sales. 

What is your role at Bluewolf?

At Bluewolf, I lead our global Salesforce Sales Cloud practice so am particularly interested in the processes and tools selling organizations leverage day-to-day. I’m incredibly fortunate that I get to work with companies of all shapes and sizes to help them reinvent how they operate and do business. 

Sales is both an art and a science. What is the balance between these today and how do you see it changing in the future as technology evolves and AI becomes more widely adopted?

The art of selling isn’t going away and if anything, AI will help sellers focus more on their craft by having technology and AI focus on the science- especially when the ‘science’ isn’t so much a science as it is an administrative burden. Reducing the amount of time sellers have to spend on hunting through data and chasing numbers puts more time back in their hands to focus on things like coaching and development, honing their narrative, and fostering relationships.

Research has consistently shown that one third of a rep’s time is consumed by administrative work, or “non-selling time”. This can be everything from navigating disparate systems in order to find relevant data about a customer or prospect, to dealing with inefficient technology and poor process. These are areas AI is well-suited to enhance. 

AI can help ensure that there is a proper balance between the art versus science of selling by making data-driven decisions, driven by empathy for sales reps and customers. 

Sales people often resist new technology or process change. How do you advise organizations around change management?

There’s certainly a balancing act. Companies need to maintain flexibility while also standardizing their processes. The last thing a sales process should be is so rigid that sales teams are unable to adapt to their customers changing needs but at the same time, the process needs to be well-enough defined, adopted, and enforced to ensure a baseline level of structure and standardization across the organization.

There of course is no such thing as a one-size fits all approach, but when establishing standardized process, I coach organizations to ask themselves three things:

  • What is the desired outcome?
  • What are the non-negotiables?
  • What does the data tell us?

At Bluewolf, aligning employee experience and customer experience is a fundamental pillar of our strategy. How do you align sales behavior to customer strategy?

It all starts with thinking about the customer journey - from a potential customer or “lead” through to a converted customer that you want to drive loyalty” with (lead-to-loyalty). That journey is an infinite loop, with discrete stages. 

Aligning sales behavior to customer strategy requires you to design a sales process that is closely aligned to your customers’ buying journey. One of the organizations I currently work with agreed with our methodology, and we decided to start with how their sales reps are incentivised. Compensation plans of course, are critical to driving the right sales behavior, but are often overlooked in the customer journey.

A good compensation plan should be aligned to the companies key objectives, but should also be designed to incentivise sellers to make decisions grounded in customers success. For example- most comp plans have a claw-back period to protect the organization from churn, however, some of the most effective comp plans not only reward sellers for signing customers that stick around for a long time, but a number of organizations (particularly SaaS companies) have started to reward sellers based on customer adoption

Compensation aside, high functioning sales organizations need to understand where each of their customers are in their buying journey, and how that journey may differ by segment. Think of it this way: in the B2B buying process the way a Fortune 500 company makes a purchasing decision likely varies from that of a startup. Of course there are similarities; however, your sales process as well as supporting marketing and sales activities, should ideally be tailored to the customer needs and emotions during their specific journey. 

What will sellers NOT be doing in the next 5 years?

Data-wrangling. Technology will eliminate looking through multiple tools, searching through records, and getting frustrated with inaccurate data. Instead, AI will provide prescriptive recommendations for sellers on next best actions, and reps will spend more time responding to the tool - enabling it to learn seller habits specific to the business and aggregate the best options for reps to follow. 

What are other obvious changes for the future of sales?

This certainly isn’t a new concept, but providing sales with a full picture of who the customer is, all their interactions with the brand, and where they currently are in the customer journey is so important and yet so few companies actually do this. It’s shocking how many sellers are picking up the phone and trying to sell something new to a customer without having any visibility into the fact that that same customer has recently experienced something along the way that would impact that sale (a product outage, an ongoing billing dispute, and two open customer support tickets with a contact center).

Technology needs to work for your users, in this case the employee, and enable them to do what we call “own the moment” which we define as not only enabling them to get their job done more efficiently, but also allow your rep  to provide a better, more engaging customer experience.

What will be the most surprising about sales in the future?

How quickly things continue to change. Technology always drives change, and we can see its impact on sales. Forrester predicted the “Death of [the] B2B Salesman", forecasting that 1 million B2B sellers in the U.S. will lose their jobs to self-service commerce in 2020. As I said earlier, our view is that technology will free sellers up to focus more on the human aspects of selling. It’s true that platforms like Salesforce already help create a “touch-less” sales ordering process for companies like T-Mobile for example, but that means reps get more time in the field visiting hot leads, or building relationships. Given how democratized the Salesforce platform is, innovation at an exponential rate is inevitable. 

Prepping for this type of future sounds intensive. What advice would you give to organizations on where to begin?

After aligning on the business goals they need to achieve, I recommend organizations start with customer journey mapping and employee shadowing, which we would do as part of a Bluewolf Align™ engagement. Painting a picture of all the moments a customer experiences, and looking under the hood to see what employee moments drove that engagement, is a powerful way to uncover the gaps and inconsistencies in the customer journey. 

I’ll share a story to further emphasize this point. I recently worked with one senior executive who had actually pretended to be a potential new customer. Over the course of a few weeks, he filled out web forms, consumed content, talked to sales reps, was ‘marketed to’, negotiated pricing for his fictitious company… all unbeknownst to the rest of the organization. 

This executive’s experience shadowing the current customer journey created space to empathize with his customers and employees—because this experience was painful enough for him, the entire organization committed to a roadmap for change. 

My advice is simple—if you’re unsure where to begin on this journey, start with the customer.

Have your own questions for David Pier? Ask them on Twitter.

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