With the new year upon us, it’s important to consider the defining trends for top sales representatives and growth leaders. With so many technological changes, new privacy laws emerging, and best practices being discovered, leaders must understand the biggest changes facing sales professionals in 2019 and learn which sales strategies they should put their money to give them the extra edge against the competition. As I think about 2019, here are the most important trends all leaders and sales and marketing teams should know about to win.
Customer Data Becomes the New World Currency
Major changes in the way companies leverage their customer data will heat up in 2019.
No longer will top brands hoard data as a competitive advantage. They will unlock the value of their data by combining it with third party sources to form a collective intelligence movement, helping business sales professionals tap into the power of artificial intelligence (AI) just like the consumer world. In this new world, data becomes the new currency. To understand the importance of this approach, consider Einstein as an example. On the surface it looks like a cool AI tool for Salesforce.com, until you consider it only looks at your own data to provide a view into the past–not the future. For AI to really work, you have to realize data is the key. Like Waze, your data is powerful but when you combine it with other people’s data, the insights and the recommendations become unstoppable. Look for XANT to continue to dominate this space with a ten year head start on the data for sales game.
The cloud data wars will intensify, with data now bought, sold, and traded as currency outpacing gold, oil, and even crypto-currencies.
The players in the emerging cloud data war are the largest companies on the planet, and in many cases, they have already secretly invested billions of dollars in a race to own the most and the most important data. This is not a new phenomenon. The battle over data documented began over 15 years ago as Cloud applications began collecting and aggregating data through web technology platforms. However, the data gold rush has intensified at an increasing rate, culminating in the 2018 Salesforce.com Dreamforce event.
The power of prioritization will be realized at long last.
Sales prioritization will become a vital lifeline to increase growth with existing resources. I know, your marketing team has made up a marketing score that you think is garbage and I also know you’re using some company that uses black magic to put a 0-100 score next to an account or contact and you also think that is garbage as well. I get it, I do. Sadly, you have every right to think you’re better because it’s your team’s territory and ultimately your job is on the line. Shame on these lead scoring companies for being so damn difficult. For not telling you what goes into the scoring model, for not letting you be part of building the score from the ground up, and then not using something besides 0-100 that you would actually adopt. I promise you’re going to see some disruption in lead and account scoring because people want it and need it, there just isn’t a company who has figured out how to make it market ready, but somebody will.
AI will be Everywhere
AI moves from a technology category to a foundational capability in almost every tool we use.
A lot of sales technology maps have gotten this wrong. They put predictive analytics, AI, etc. as its own category but this is wrong. Is Netflix about AI? No. It’s about disrupting the way we consume entertainment. The same applies to sales technology. Companies won’t sell AI, but the companies who infuse AI into their technology will replace the ones who don’t.
AI should enable sales teams, not eliminate them.
Disruption is happening with AI and sales and you can’t stop it. It’s now moving from marketing into the sales development function in a big way. Know companies like scalex.ai or scalerep.com want to replace the outbound sales development rep but that’s not going to happen. These companies will continue to try and automate the tasks of sales development reps until the reps themselves have been replaced by technology but what they don’t realize is AI is here to enable sales development and make them smarter in their outbound targeted sales prospecting, not eliminate them.
Sales Engagement Tools Become Foundational for Every Tech Stack
Salesforce says goodbye to undifferentiated cadence tools like Outreach and SalesLoft.
As Salesforce prepares to enter the market with its sales cadence tool, undifferentiated cadence tools like Outreach.io and SalesLoft will see the beginning of their end while differentiated cadence tools like XANT will survive and compete.
Sales cadence tools finally have all eight communication tools available.
You know it and so do I, email and phone are nice but they can’t be all you do as part of your cadence strategy. Companies have faked integrations, but it’s sloppy and reps know it. There are eight methods reps need to consider using when prospecting to potential clients:
- Voice mail
- Social media
- Direct mailer
- Video with email
If you offer a cadence tool, just shut up, quit making excuses, and give me the ability to use all eight methods.
Communication Methods Continue to Evolve
AI makes cold calling cool again.
Cold calling is dead, right? Not anymore, thanks to the help of artificial intelligence. With traditional cold calling, you choose a random list of accounts and started smiling and dialing. Cold calling with AI says you choose a list of accounts that are likely to buy from you and that are also considering your product or service at that particular moment. With traditional cold calling, you call a lot of random 800 numbers. Calling with AI means calling proven phone numbers that have been tested by others. Traditional cold calling says you should call whenever you want, whereas calling with AI tells you the optimal time to call to maximize your ability to talk with someone. Traditional calling means calling blindly knowing nothing about your prospects. AI-based phone calls provides insights presented to the caller so you don’t have to spend precious time researching. Cold calling uses the same script on everybody, while AI personalizes your pitch based on the different aspects of the individual. Get ready for cold calling (with AI) to be cool again.
Direct mailer becomes a preferred tool for sales representatives, not just marketers.
Your parents used direct mailers for sales, but for a long period of time mailers fell by the wayside as HubSpot pioneered the inbound movement. With account-based taking back its reign as the dominant sales motion and automated direct mailer services functioning with a click of a button with tools like RocketNotes, direct mailer services will move from marketing departments to sales representatives and become widely adopted.
Texting gets new features and breaks into sales.
Texting has been around since the ‘90’s, and even though about 97 percent of smartphone users send texts, it has not evolved much since then. That is all about to change thanks to new RCS technology (Rich Communication Service) in 2019. Why is that important to sales? Well, because the RCS protocol will actually allow some functions such as starting group chats, sending relevant content via video and audio messages, and sending high-resolution images. You’ll also be able to receive read receipts and even see when someone is replying to your message in real time. The old-fashioned SMS will basically get the same functions as iMessage, WhatsApp or Facebook messenger.
Long form emails make their way into the sales function.
Simple plain text emails rock, I get it, and most sales people know that as well but long form content is something your prospects associate with higher-value. I know people complain about short attention spans, but as long as your prospects are engaged, they will pay attention. Don’t believe me? Look at Twitter changing its character limit from 140 to 280 and the rise of binge watching.
The Evolution of the Sales Structure
The birth of the hybrid sales role.
The State of Sales report showed outside sales reps spend almost half of their time (45.4%) selling remotely. This trend is pushing companies to create more hybrid reps and ditch the name field sales because these reps spend so much time doing inside sales. This is a smart move for a lot of companies as they find the most cost effective way to sell, so expect to see more companies introduce the hybrid sales rep.
Companies will look to outsource more sales functions.
Certain marketing functions have long since transferred to outsourced vendors to ensure a level of professionalism and expertise is maintained, but sales has been slower to adopt outsourced models. Expect that to continue to shift as companies recognize certain aspects of sales can be done exceptionally well by outsourced vendors.
Gen-Z will pass Millennials as the largest generation and shake things up.
In 2019, Gen-Z is expected to pass Millennials as the largest generation and boy will that shake things up for sales leaders. Gen-Z is more entrepreneurial than Millennials and more tech savvy. In addition, co-creating a culture is a big thing that drives them. In 2019, expect sales organizations to start shifting to make room for more Gen-Z as they enter the sales floor.
Customer success gets a seat at the table.
Customer success has typically been the red-headed step child in many organizations, but in 2019 that’s due to change. In most organizations it doesn’t have an official seat, nor do they have any technology to support them. In 2019, more organizations will see the benefit of having good customer relationships and show their appreciation for it by designating specific executive leadership for this function and putting their money where their mouth is (in the form of technology) to support it.
The Changing Sales Technology Landscape
The sales technology space begins to consolidate.
Sales technology is becoming as rampant as marketing technology, and although that is not likely to change, companies will continue to acquire and merge to fight the bigger players in the market.
The simplification of the sales technology stack.
According to our data, the typical sales reps has 5.2 sales tools. That’s a lot, and companies are being almost forced to add more each month. Sales reps have a hard time adopting technology and companies are slow to recognize ROI on technology, so the problem has only gotten worse. Expect that to change in 2019 as companies evaluate their technology stack and limit it to the tools that drive the highest ROI.
The CRM starts to work for reps rather than reps working for it.
We completed a highly quoted study that says that sales reps only spend 36.6% of their time selling. That’s crappy. There are too many tasks that are still manual and CRM is not helping. Sales reps say they spend 18% of their time in CRM and they rate it as the most ineffective of all the systems used. I’m not surprised, are you? Time to change that and have the CRM work for us instead of work against us. Time to move away from CRM (systems of engagement) and move to systems of growth that actually help you sell.
CRM software first emerged in the 1980s, before the internet was prevalent. To organize sales efforts it followed a linear construct, with opportunities following a single-threaded, phase-based path toward the close. But buyers are pursuing individualized and non-linear paths. So how can a sales rep trained in a single linear selling process possibly know the course of action that will suit individual prospects the best? Unless you’ve sold to the person and organization before, you don’t know how to get a deal done. CRM is simply not suited to deliver the answers to the questions “who should I engage?” and “how should I engage them?” These are things an experienced rep already knows, especially if they’ve sold to a particular organization before. But these answers are not within the CRM. So what is the future of CRM? Yes, CRM continues to exist in this new world. But it is relegated to its most fitting place as a mission-critical commodity, as its fundamental architecture prohibits it from being the brains behind a successful system for revenue growth. More on this from my friend Dave Boyce here.
No more blind sales forecasting.
Sales forecasting sucks. We did a research study that found that companies are 28.1% accurate in their forecasts 90 days from close. 90 freaking days from close! Can you believe that! CRM isn’t helping do this, so AI is needed to fill in the gap. 2019 is the year of the forecast.
Somebody will breathe life back into gamification.
Gamification companies have failed and it’s because they did it wrong. They thought it was all about keeping score and competition so every tool focused on that and they failed. What companies didn’t realize was that peer to peer interaction/feedback was the driving factor. Slack is probably the best gamification tool out there for sales teams as it allows reps to banter back and forth instead of look at stupid leaderboards that are nothing more than fancy salesforce reports. Somebody is going to crack the code on this in 2019 and gamification will be hot again.
Chatbots Spread like Wildfire
Inbound sales development reps get stiff competition.
Drift is the hottest thing since sliced bread, I get it. Last year’s trend was using Drift and if you’re not doing that you’re behind the times. Drift and other conversation bots are putting pressure on the inbound sales development rep to become better at their craft. I don’t see inbound reps getting replaced, but they will have to earn their keep as competition from chat bots is already here.
Conversation bots get ultra personalized.
Speaking of conversation bots like Drift, we’ve only seen the beginning of what these things can do. Expect these bots to get ultra personalized as they now disrupt account-based marketing and sales….having already done the same to inbound high-velocity models.
Conversation bots help you CLOSE deals.
Sorry, there is so much on conversation bots and for good reason…but they are hot hot hot. Conversation bots gain more traction in 2019 helping reps close more deals by optimizing the price, configure, and quote process. Apttus has the advantage here but others will be coming fast.
Messenger sales becomes a branded term.
We talked about chat in the top and the bottom of the sales funnel, but what about in the middle? According to Twilio’s survey, 66 percent of consumers now prefer to reach a brand (or be reached by brands) via messaging than by any other means. Do you have the ability to chat with customers or prospects as part of your sales process? You need it.
The Age of the Customer
The beginning of the consent economy.
2018 experienced a monumental shift in data with the start of the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The law gives customers power over their personal data and allows EU citizens to choose what information companies have and don’t have from their databases for any reason. This was big time news and it will continue to affect sales across the world as we move to a consent economy, where consumers control the data companies have.
Review sites get unicorn status.
In 2019, the buyer will continue its domination over the seller with publicly available information. You can’t not invest with G2 Crowd and TrustRadius, as user generated content is still king when it comes to buyers making decisions. The only caution here is pay to play. You can see on these sites that vendors pay people to give them reviews. Will this ruin review sites as people realize reviews are paid? Or will it not matter? Stay tuned.
The consumerization of the B2B Buyer.
I’m stealing this phrase from my friends at Forrester. I heard them use this phrase and I freaking loved it. Everybody who buys your technology or services just spent the holiday season buying on Amazon. Do you think that doesn’t change the way they buy from you? It does, so buckle up. Just because Salesforce.com has huge licensing fees, large implementation costs, and long project life cycles doesn’t mean you can get away with that crap.
More millennials become your buyers.
Millennials are now 35 years old and more of them are moving in decision making roles. In fact, a Google survey found that more than half of buyers were Millennials. This is going to change the way people need to sell as Millennials expect different experiences than their predecessors did. In 2019, expect the buying process and change as Millenials drive more and more decisions.
More for value from vendors.
I’d say Salesforce.com pioneered the per seat cost. Now, every company has replicated that model, and rightfully so because it has worked. The problem is if everybody does it, it’s not differentiated, so when I get pricing sheets and they are all the same, it’s difficult to choose. Make it easy for me, give me so much value that I can’t say no because it’s a no brainer. To do this, companies have to start thinking about how to make their customer successful and not just giving them technology. What else can you offer to make it easy to say yes?
Use Video or be out of Business in 36 months…Oh and Audio Is Cool Again
LinkedIn video hits its stride as the third most dominant weapon on LinkedIn.
You have to have LinkedIn. They have our arms tied. If they charge $500 bucks a pop, I’d probably still buy a license. Our research says only 12% of people are using LinkedIn video (up from 1% last year). That’s not even close to:
- 54% of people using LinkedIn for research
- 46% of people using LInkedIn for direct messaging using InMail
Use video or be out of business in 36 months.
Video will move to number three on this list next year, instead of being second to last as people recognize the value of video on LinkedIn.
Our State of Sales Development Report that includes hundreds of companies says video is the number one technology companies are looking forward to using in 2019. I don’t need to say anymore here except: use video of be out of business in 36 months.
Audio makes a comeback.
If your business is not doing a podcast as part of thought leadership, you’re an idiot. Podcasting is probably one of the best prospecting methods available to sales reps right now. Audio is making a comeback thanks to podcasts and it’s not going anywhere thanks to Amazon Echo. Sales reps will be doing training with Amazon and thought leaders will have their content with Amazon as well as we end 2019.
Training & Hiring will Experience Major Disruption
Data-driven hiring finally gets its feet.
Hiring is broken. It always has been. Subjectively looking at somebody and asking them some random questions isn’t a recipe for success, it’s a recipe for failure. Companies have to invest in tools that bring together subjective and objective hiring practices. I don’t care if you don’t believe in hiring based on talent, you need to because your hiring process sucks.
Traditional sales coaching gets a rude awakening.
According to a recent survey, 84% of all sales training is lost after 90 days. We know this, but real-time coaching is in its infancy. Coaching platforms are starting to introduce AI so real-time recommendations can take place and we can finally start moving away from only doing boring in-person trainings.
Sales reps become storytelling experts.
If you want people to understand and believe in what you’re selling, you’ll have to master the art of storytelling. As my friend Russell Brunson said, “as sales people, we focus on the outcome that people want, the big house, the nice car, or whatever thing they want to get. But in stories, the emotion is not created by the desire, it’s created by the conflict. Without conflict, nobody would care about the story.” In 2019 sales reps move away from features and benefits and start telling stories of transformation.
Copywriting becomes a MUST for sales on-boarding.
Sales engagement tools have turned sales reps into email marketers with #unwantedoutreach. Look for this to change as sales teams continue to move away from tools that force them to spam prospects while introducing books and best practices on writing skills as quality replaces quantity.
The sales demo dies a slow death.
I hate the sales demo. I think it’s had a nice life but may it rest in peace. We’ve convinced ourselves that the demo is value to the customer, but we’ve been selfish in our thinking. The demo is about us and if you’re honest you know it and I know it. Basic product video demos are the offer on most websites and that’s where they should be. Corporate Visions has proved stupid basic demos don’t add a lot of value (get whiteboard, get video, get prospects taking notes). Ditch your demo for something that provides value and remember to always GIVE BEFORE YOU GET.
Content becomes easily accessible.
I’m sorry it’s taken this long sales people. If you want a piece of content, I know you have to go to 5-6 places to find those pieces and even then they are not updated. So lame…that has to change. Companies will finally realize the importance of content being centralized and sales reps will start to have access to the amazing content marketing and ops teams are creating.
Community drives Growth like Never Before
Building communities leads to big growth.
People never bought technology, they bought results. Sadly, many companies have forgotten that the customer is king and focused too much on their technology. Sadly, most tech companies can’t get to the 100M mark and it’s because they don’t have communities who believe in them as well as their products. If you want to see exponential growth this year, you’ll focus on building a community not just adding features to your product.
Sales Hacker (Outreach Hacker) continues to die while Modern Sales Pros takes its place.
Outeach.io bought Sales Hacker (Outreach Hacker) and brought it under its umbrella so everything Sales Hacker does pushes Outreach (Outreach is their number one sponsor, Outreach is mentioned in all their blogs, the person who runs Outreach’s marketing runs Sales Hacker). It’s a cluster and it’s sad as Outreach Hacker actually provided a lot of value to the SMB market. That time is over as is evidenced by Modern Sales Pros popping up and over taking Outreach Hacker. Modern Sales Pros will continue to dominate the SMB market as Outreach Hacker fades into the sunset while AA-ISP continues to dominate the enterprise sales community in 2019.
Generic vendor event attendance drops as sales people look for targeted peer gatherings.
Every company thinks they need to copy Salesforce and do an event like a mini-dreamforce. It’s annoying and boring. The events are the same and the speakers are the same. Welcome to the beginning of event disruption. Starting in 2019, you’ll see the rise of mastermind groups and other specific niche groups that bring together targeted peers in small gatherings.
Virtual sales events get bigger and bigger.
Physical events are not going anywhere and they never will. It’s just too powerful to meet face-to-face to face with peers. That doesn’t mean there is no room for virtual events where sales people can consume meaningful content while not missing a week of work and jeopardizing their quota. Big virtual events include the Sales Development Summit, the Sales Leadership Conference, and Fast Forward. Be there or be square.
Small time consultants take big time roles.
Influencer marketing has been disrupted, with small time influencers playing a bigger role in companies’ ecosystems, but for some reason nobody realizes you can’t scale a take company by only selling direct. Look to this year as a banner year when tech companies partner with small market influencers to help them reach that 100M+ revenue goal.
Sales Enablement finally gets a seat at the table.
Sales enablement/sales strategy finally gets the attention it deserves in 2019. Thanks to the Sales Enablement Society, this function is finally making a name for itself and organizations are starting to recognize the value it has in their respective companies.
Social Selling Gets a Facelift
The social leader emerges.
Sales leaders as well as CEOs used to be able to hide in offices and do their work. The great ones were often seen visiting customers but ‘great’ will be now be defined based on social media influence and reach. Great companies put a human face to their brand and sales leaders will be the first ones to accept the challenge in 2019.
LinkedIn bots become more adopted and more hated.
Did you have someone connect with you or shoot you a message on LinkedIn and something didn’t smell right? You’re not the only one, more and more people are recognizing LinkedIn bots like LinkedIn Helper are clouding the personalized history of the platform. Good or bad, more sales people will adopt these sales tools and while they do, thought leaders and influencers will speak out against their use to try and keep LinkedIn clean.
Digital sales transformations have no finale.
Sales leaders will finally get it in their head that a digital sales transformation has no grand finale. You can’t just buy LinkedIn and start ‘social selling’. A digital transformation is more than social selling and it’s an ongoing, daily grind. According to Harvard Business School, digital leaders have a three-year average gross margin of 55%, compared to 37% for digital laggards. If you haven’t jumped on the digital train, you’ll need to, but realize you may never jump off.
The Seller Finally Gets Some Power Back
The balance of power begins to shift towards the seller.
I know the buyer has all the power and the buyer is 67%, 56%, 86% or whatever percent down the buying journey before they talk to a sales rep, blah blah blah. Look, the buyer is still super powerful but in 2019 we’re going to see that start to shift just a little bit. If we can actually start to figure out how to use real-time intent data, sales reps will start to be a little smarter in their interactions with prospects.
Advanced segmentation becomes possible so sellers can win with personalization and relevance.
Putting someone’s name in an email or having a chat bot give a personal greeting are cheap ways of winning with personalization, but that’s not enough. With advanced segmentation capabilities, reps need to focus on being relevant, which means we need to know why prospects are looking for a solution to a particular problem to ensure we’re delivering the appropriate content at the right time.
That’s it folks, if you feel I’ve missed anything or that I’m just plain wrong, make sure to sign up for our webinar discussing these sales trends.
I’m taking up the subject with XANT founder, Dave Elkington, so don’t miss it! Register below to join the webinar: