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In the pre-internet days, sales departments were in charge of the customer relationship. Potential customers had limited information, so they had to interact with sales professionals to find out more about products and services.

But the digital age has remixed that formula, thrusting buyers into the position of power. As a result, a dramatic transition is afoot, and it is altering the way sales leaders manage their organizations and interact with their customers. At the same time that sales leaders need to stay ahead of the breakneck changes within their markets, they must educate their management on the seller's role in the digital era.

The research makes it clear that it's both an exciting and challenging time to be a VP of Sales. Here are four of the emerging trends that will affect the future success of every VP of Sales.

The Digital Customer Who's Hesitant to Engage with Sales Reps

The majority of buyers would rather research products and solutions on their own. For many sales leaders, this is disheartening. They want their sales reps to speak with buyers early in the buying cycle. They want to shape buyer's solution criteria as soon as possible so that they don't have to compete on price. But buyers are reluctant to oblige.

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Why are so many buyers trying to avoid sales reps? One reason is that sellers have not adapted to the new buying dynamic. Sales reps continue to pounce and pitch and push, which annoys buyers. Instead, sales reps should be helping buyers do their research.

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In many ways, today's sales reps need to act more like librarians who help their buyers research their problems, who share their buyers' quest for more information, and who actively share great resources with their buyers – without making it feel like a proposal is always around the corner.

Until sales reps become better research partners, we will continue to see buyers avoid sales reps, and sales teams will continue to struggle to attain quotas.


The Explosion of Sales Technology

Over the last decade, marketers have had to navigate the rising tide of marketing technology solutions. Now, the tide is turning, and it's heading for the sales department.

Sales leaders, be prepared to be inundated by sales technology options. To succeed, you'll have to be judicious about your sales technology stack

Every shiny, new technology is tempting. But sales leaders need to keep two things in mind. First, if you ask your sales reps to use too many applications, it will be hard to scale best practices across your team. So, watch out for point solutions that help your team do one thing and one thing only.

Second, your overall objective shouldn't be to find a solution with as many bells and whistles as possible – just in case you might use them one day down the road. Rather, your goal should be to purchase solutions that let your team quickly achieve mastery over the actions that will have the biggest impact.

Finding the Right Hires

To adapt to the digitally savvy buyers, sales leaders need to change their hiring mentality. Selling to the modern buyer isn't just about quota crushing and expert negotiating. Modern selling requires a different set of skills. For example:

1. The modern sales candidate knows how to build relationships where buyers hang out. Those places include social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter. 84% of C-level/VP executives use social networks to support purchase decisions.

2. The modern sales candidate knows how to educate buyers and act as a consultant. If sales reps don't undergo this mindset change, buyers will avoid them at all costs, which makes it much harder to attain quota. (See the charts above!)

3. The modern sales candidate has a noticeable digital footprint. As Mark Roberge, the CRO of HubSpot, writes in The Sales Acceleration Formula:

"A weak, photo-less profile was a huge red flag for me. With the growing importance of social selling, how can a poor social presence be acceptable? On the other hand, a great profile with a professionally taken photo, 500-plus connections, and loads of recommendations from high-level executives made a really positive impression on me."


The Rise of Sales Enablement

Sales enablement is one of the hottest topics in sales right now. In 2014, 25.5% of companies had staff dedicated to sales enablement – with more companies planning to build enablement initiatives in the upcoming years.

Given that sales enablement is an emerging role, its primary responsibilities vary widely. As a sales leader, you have to decide how enablement professionals can best serve your team.

Here are a few areas where sales enablement can help: The vast majority of sales enablement teams (74.7%) focus on training the sales team on things like social selling or using content to engage buyers. Others (59.6%) help maintain the sales tech infrastructure, while still others (51.5%) maintain a content library and work to provide sales with top-notch content – both from the company and from around the web.

Whatever you do, choose your team wisely. The best sales teams are the ones that execute flawlessly on their strategies, and it's the responsibility of your sales enablement staff to help your sales managers execute their visions.

The Challenges of Digital Transformation

Here's the bottom line: Don't cross your fingers and hope that buyers will miraculously change. Buyers are in the driver's seat for the foreseeable future, and your sales team will need to adapt accordingly.

For many of your sales reps, this will not come as a surprise. 69% of sales reps believe that the buying process is changing faster than sales organizations are responding. So, don't hold your team back. Lead the digital transformation from the top.

No one said that digital transformation would be easy. It requires your team to think of new go-to-market strategies and new sales tactics. But in the end, it will pay off with more sales opporunities, more revenue, and a more effective sales process.

Leading Digital Transformation from the Top

If you want to transform your sales team, check out the Executive Guide to Social Selling.

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Posted by Mark Bajus

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