The top three most influential trends in the world of sales today are social selling, account-based marketing and sales development technologies.
That's one of the major themes that emerged from Inside Out's 2016 CXO Benchmark Study. This report is really a compendium of current insights, trends, challenges and best practices in sales from C-level execs across industries.
The researchers gathered their data based on a combination of large-scale surveys and in-depth follow-up interviews with industry leaders. The subsequent analysis produced the clearest picture available of contemporary sales organizations, covering both what they are doing now and what they have planned for the coming years.
Top 3 Trends
Nearly three out of four execs (72 percent) identified social selling techniques as the biggest influence on go-to-market strategy for the year ahead. Beyond that, 70 percent said they are now looking into account based marketing, while two-thirds (68 percent) specified that sales development platforms were on the front burner.
A closer look at this data revealed a direct correlation between the sales teams most heavily influenced by these three trends and those that implemented best practices within their industries.
Of the three trends that matter most to executives right now, social selling ranked first in ease of implementation. However, marketing departments found the elements of social selling easier to incorporate into their routines than sales teams did.
Jake Reni, the senior director of sales at B2B automation firm Consensus, explained:
“The part that makes implementation most challenging is that these trends are the buzzwords in the industries, so everyone thinks that they need to do it, without a sophisticated plan.”
The pressure to keep up with the competition has impelled many sales leaders to take action and experiment with social selling, but without first establishing firm goals or metrics.
Driving Without a Map
Rushing their teams into a social selling program without a fully realized road map resulted in three major problems:
Inadequate training on best practices in social selling
Shifting or undefined expectations from sales leadership
Poor alignment of marketing content with the needs of the sales team
Here's how Shawn Elledge, founder of the Integrated Marketing Association, defined the problem:
“In theory, anyone with a LinkedIn account can participate in some form of social selling. If you are smart enough to define who you want to work with, you can easily connect, follow and create alerts to help you learn more about that prospect. It goes back to being relevant and having utility. If you don’t have utility, you will be of little value to a prospect. Anyone can participate in social selling, but it takes true passion to be any good at it.”
Training for the Long Term
That passion is not an innate personality trait, however. It arises once sales reps see the value of social selling techniques and it can be taught. Sales training has to be efficient enough to not impact revenue, but thorough enough to change behavior. It also has to be recurrent, since salespeople already have so much they have to keep in their heads. Only hands-on repetition using new technology as part of an established routine can turn more effective sales practices into productive habits.
Most execs expressed frustration that sales agents weren't using new technologies that they had been trained on, or that they tended to slowly revert to old behaviors after the training was over. Human nature has a great deal to do with this, but market leaders aren't having these problems.
Jordan Barta, senior sales consultant at Paychex, said that the problem may be with the follow-up after training. He said:
“Agents haven’t been trained correctly. They haven’t been taught the way they learn. They haven’t been given the opportunity to use a real-life example of the updated technology stack.”
In addition to bringing in outside sales experts in social selling, most companies already have a built-in tool for improving the sales training process. Brent Holloway, VP of corporate sales at Talend, suggested that sales reps learn best from others on their team who are making social selling work on a daily basis:
“Have your top reps become unofficially part of the enablement team. Allow them to lead team training sessions on how to handle objections and build pipeline. Having the best performers deliver to the team is a surefire way to success across the board.”
Overall, the companies that enjoyed the smoothest sailing in their respective markets were those that had aligned the goals of marketing with sales at the highest levels. A single vision unified these companies due to consistent messaging from the top down and collaboration across departments from the bottom up. That made it easier to hand off clients to other functional units and to follow up on leads no matter where they originated.
This year, sales organizations of all kinds and sizes are deeply invested in social selling, account-based marketing and sales development. The biggest challenge that sales leaders face, however, is in transferring passion to their sales teams through more intelligent training. The majority of C-level execs know exactly where they need to be for the year ahead, but getting there will require experienced guidance in implementing social selling and related technologies.