I Have Seen the Future of Sales

“What does the future look like for sellers?”

  1. There will be fewer salespeople, with a more of a well-defined focus on what they are there to do.
  2. Skills will be hybridized.
  3. Sales structures will be imploded and rebuilt to redefine what a team is and how they are paid.

Fewer and focused

There will be fewer sales people primarily because less early-stage opportunity management will be required. That shift is already happening, thanks to dramatic improvements in automated lead generation and greater quality from marketing to produce more qualified leads in less time. This translates into accelerated results: excellent news for top performers, but also fewer sales resources needed to hit corporate targets.

Technology is also encouraging buyers to favor virtual meetings. This means the market will need fewer sellers to get better results, because of sales process efficiencies. A client in the financial sector closes all their new business by video conference. They accomplish 30% more than the average sales rep in their business simply because they don’t have 1-2 days of travel time in their schedules. Rather than waiting for their plane to land, they are landing new deals.

Lastly, vendor consolidation with the biggest buyers will result in seller consolidation. As the biggest buyers start buying from fewer companies, there will be fewer sellers in the market generally. Fewer sellers at your company, too.

Hybrid skills

As is the case in many professions today, sales is becoming a place where a hybrid mix of skills is becoming mandatory. IT professionals, for example, are being told they need to be better sales people. However, sellers are also expected to have greater mastery of IT and a deeper knowledge about the application of the product or service they are selling.

Buyers want experts: not sales people. They want facilitation, not presentations. They want knowledgeable insight and collaboration, not pitches.

It explains why we’re seeing people from highly specialized fields (i.e., engineering, science and math) successfully migrating to sales and thriving because they are able to fuse that hybrid mix successfully.

This shift will have a cascading effect on sales departments: there’s going to be fewer spaces for junior sales people. Instead business leaders are going to count on having access to expert bench strength from their organization as hybrid sales performers and knowledge workers.

This skill shift is complemented by a greater focus on team selling. Gone are the days when the seller acted like a maestro heading the orchestra for managing a relationship with a client. Now, teams bring deeper knowledge and relationships to the table. This means sellers can do more as they can easily facilitate specialization, faster troubleshooting and more substantive consultation to every transaction.

Sales structures will change in a big way

To support the marketplace of the future, we need to fix our current sales structures. This is more than a renovation project: they need to be imploded and rebuilt.

One place where this will happen: compensation. Recently, I talked about changes to the way we pay salespeople. The marketplace today rewards speed and acceleration, not just simple quota attainment.

While it will always be true that sellers do what they are paid to do, what leaders need them “to do” is changing and thus, compensation plans must be radically changed to reward the new behaviours required for speed and client retention

Just as important, the job of selling is no longer going to be limited to just the sales department: every part of your business needs to become a profit center, because every part of it will have that capability.

Already, the sales function of business is much more transparent than before. I like how Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff illustrates this, explaining how even he can control his entire 45 billion-dollar business from his phone. The metrics of how a business is performing and where it is growing used to be something very few people had access to in an organization. Now, salespeople have to get used to a future where that data is available to anyone, anytime.

The direct consequence of that shift: more opinions—and informed ones at that—on how to keep growing that business and capitalizing on every opportunity. These opinions will inform coaching session, help to build the right teams and ensure you receive the best quality leads. In essence, data everywhere for everyone will affect every stage of your sales cycle.

The future of sales isn’t about glimpsing into a crystal ball and speculating. The changes I am talking about are already afoot in this marketplace. What’s left to decide is how we fully capitalize on these shifts and create a profitable tomorrow together.