The sales profession is undergoing a transformation, which raises a lot of discussion about whether sales is a dying art and what the next five years will bring. Moreover, one million B2B salespeople will see their jobs replaced by self-service, automated systems by 2020, according to Forrester Research.
Though the prediction is disarming, we only need to take a look at sales' sister industry, marketing, to find out what a digital revolution means for sales careers.
Technology does not signal the death of the salesperson but the rebirth of the evolved, modern salesperson.
The marketing industry has endured a similar disruption of technology a few steps ahead of the sales industry. In fact, we can predict how digital will affect the sales space in the next five years by looking at how technology has already changed the marketing profession.
That parallel also reveals some important lessons regarding how salespeople can stay relevant and indispensable.
1. Understand the data
With powerful technology comes good data. Gartner analyst Laura McLellan predicted that in 2017, chief marketing officers will outspend chief information officers on information technology. Data is now integral to the marketing process, and practice of using technology to mine for and analyze data is only going to continue to grow.
But what does all that mean for the future of jobs?
As a result of data and the related automation software, the marketing profession is less intuitive and more strategic. Prior to the dawn of data, many choices made in marketing departments were based on opinion or experience. But because of data, those departments can now make informed choices based on hard facts and trend analysis.
Sales tip: The influx of data does not mean the end of the sales profession. Instead, it's an opportunity for the role to evolve. That said, you do need to be cognizant of how data will change your process. To stay relevant and ensure your role is not replaced by tools, use data to your advantage.
For example, if you have analytics that tell you how an email template performs, apply that learning to your future prospecting. Learn from trends and enhance performance in the elements of sales that cannot be automated by technology. Don't fight the data, embrace it.
2. Round out your skill set
A few years ago, Conor McGovern, managing director at Accenture Digital, described what marketing hiring managers look for in candidates. He argued that marketing hopefuls need to display a breadth of skills outside of the traditional requisite of creativity.
With the onslaught of data in the marketing field, candidates need to differentiate themselves as not only creative types but also great communicators and analysts. Sounds like a tall order, but it's reflective of the hiring climate.
As marketers rely more on data and less on intuition to inform their decisions, their responsibilities have shifted from creatively styling marketing campaigns to analyzing data and applying that analysis to marketing options. Melding art and data—and being able to communicate that synthesis—is now the core responsibility of marketing professionals.
Sales tip: Likewise, salespeople need to present themselves not as lead conversion machines but as well-rounded professionals. Sales automation software has narrowed the sales funnel, making the leads stronger. As a result, you have a big opportunity to capitalize on those qualified leads. But data isn't the whole story; you need to have strong interpersonal skills and analytical skills to close deals. It's that duo of skills that makes a salesperson irreplaceable; technology hasn't put a shelf life on the power of human connection.
3. Engagement trumps acquisition
Marketing is no longer only a lead-generation tool. With the digital revolution, marketers are now tasked with not only attracting customers but engaging and retaining them, too. Their performance is now measured through acquisition and repeat sales—a huge change from purely being an engine for getting customers in the door. Marketers have moved from being at the top of the funnel to having a role that transcends the entire customer experience.
Sales tip: Sales has always been driven by the customer experience, but the presence of automation software has changed the role of the salesperson. As technology tackles much of the prospecting for you, there is more time to invest in developing relationships with prospects and maintaining them over time. Armed with data, you can focus on selling. So, the human element of sales becomes the trump card. It's not about conversion anymore; it's about customer experience. Remember that each interaction is key to a successful sale, not just the moment when the customer signs on the dotted line.
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Though some people are convinced machines are edging out salespeople, history tells a different story. Instead of viewing technology as a threat, view it as an opportunity to take your sales process to the next level.
by Mark Ruthfield