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December 21, 2016

2017 Predictions – 5 Trends to Watch in Sales

The world of sales has undergone dramatic change over the last several years. From how we deliver compelling presentations to the way we train reps, keeping up with new trends and techniques is crucial for staying competitive in an evolving marketplace.  Technology plays an enormous role in how sales reps interact, learn and succeed, so it is critical to know which tools are available and what will truly spur productivity.

As businesses continue planning for 2017, here are 5 technological and strategic trends we can expect to see sales organizations embrace.


1.) Peer Learning Supplemented by Mentoring and Coaching


A recent survey of sales reps and managers showed that 91 percent of reps agree that trading ideas with peers was helping them succeed (more water coolers, please!).  Why?  Because reps are more comfortable learning from peers who are in the field and interacting with customers every day.  It’s becoming clear that the one-way flow of feedback from manager to sales rep is no longer the paradigm for professional development, so in 2017 we expect to see an increase in peer-to-peer coaching and feedback.

The same survey found that 65 percent of sales reps agree that pitch advice from peers is more effective than training from the corporation.  Key insights from peers is invaluable when it comes to handling objections or approaching specific industries or business challenges.  As we enter 2017, finding strategies for promoting peer-based learning will be critical to helping sales teams succeed.


2.) Selling with Storytelling


Sales and marketing teams must develop content that truly resonates with their target audience. According to a Forrester content marketing survey, 85 percent of marketers admitted the content they produce failed to deliver business value (…imagine what prospects thought of it).  In the year ahead, brands will increasingly turn to an approach that emphasizes storytelling in order to illustrate the value their brand represents, as well as generate content that speaks directly to customers.

Sales reps who use storytelling will be able to naturally connect with prospects during the sales process, as well as fluently articulate the value of a particular product or solution.  How will they do this?  By telling a story of a similar customer’s success with the product.  Rather than reciting features and benefits, reps who address a prospect’s unique pain points and communicate insights and customer stories will find more success engaging with customers.  This technique can be bolstered by mobile-video, which makes it easier than ever for reps to capture and share stories of a unique approach or tactic that worked with the entire sales team.


3.) Machine Learning


Bots, AI, and machine learning had a major impact on the consumer market in 2016.  In 2017, new technologies and processes will disrupt the enterprise in a similar fashion.  In fact, a survey by MIT Sloan Management Review found that two out of five companies have already implemented machine learning in sales and marketing, and 38 percent of companies credited machine learning for improvements in sales performance metrics.

How does this work?  Drawing on information about past deals, current industry trends, and the sale at hand, machine learning allows a computer to automatically provide reps with easy access to highly relevant content at deal time based on its assessment of the rep’s individual needs.  More advanced software capabilities will provide sales reps with the tools they need to pull information from previous deals to create individualized playbooks, as well as to help reps share more compelling and relevant stories with prospects.


4.) More Reliance on Mobile Devices at Work


Technology enthusiasts have long predicted that professionals and consumers would gravitate toward tablets and away from laptops, and we’ve seen this play out in reality.  As this shift continues into 2017, it will have a large impact on members of the sales community, untethering them from the “weightiness” of laptops.  Tablets, and many of the large-screen smartphones, make it easier than ever to create, share and receive content in settings and situations where laptops would never be applicable. With the right platform and a tablet, reps can share critical details about a prospect, industry, or objection that arose as soon as a meeting concludes, and even practice their sales pitch remotely with colleagues – all from a parked car.  Laptops simply don’t allow for that kind of flexibility and timing, which is why the sales industry will likely continue to move away from them as the primary business device.


5.) Sales Enablement Will Be an Increased Priority


Sales enablement is now seen as a fundamental staple of sales and marketing as more decision makers realize the benefits a dedicated sales enablement function can have.  Its purpose is to provide salespeople with the systems and processes they need to be more effective, and according to SiriusDecisions, 61 percent of organizations already have a sales enablement function, with 12 percent planning to build one.

In the past, many companies categorized sales enablement under different business functions – some in sales, some in marketing, and some sprinkled across multiple units.  However, in 2017 and beyond, we expect to see a continued push of companies showing their commitment to sales enablement by designating more dedicated departments and leaders to oversee them.  Those who do should begin to realize more business productivity, better message consistency and a more engaged and informed sales force.

Looking Ahead

With a wrap on 2016, we look toward the future. Sales reps and managers will need to keep a close watch on the trends and technologies gaining traction in 2017 in order to remain competitive.  Whether the focus is on AI or better peer collaboration, we can expect that technological advances, particularly in the use of mobile devices, will help drive the next great evolution in sales.

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