Sales, as we know it, is heading towards extinction.
That’s a bold statement, I know. But after reading HubSpot’s 2016 State of Inbound report, it’s become obvious to me that now, more than ever, sales must adapt or risk going the way of the dinosaurs.
Let’s examine some of the findings from this report…
It’s no surprise that the top priority of sales is to close more deals. Yet, 40% of salespeople say it’s getting harder to get a response from their prospects. Changes in customer behavior is widening the gap between buyer’s expectations and seller’s tactic
Here’s a break-down of the top challenges sales is facing today. You’ll notice that “getting a response” is at the very top
For those that make their living in sales, you know this to be true without having to read one page of this report — prospects are, simply, ignoring us.
While respondents indicated that other areas of the sales process have become more difficult, “Prospecting” was still the area in which they struggled the most. Again, for those in sales, we know this to be true.
Let’s take a look at some of the other findings in this report that will help us start to understand some of the related challenges…
Salespeople Aren’t Giving Buyers What They Want
Buyers and salespeople disagree over the best content formats to learn about the product and what they want to talk about in the first sales call.
From a related HubSpot research report, Buyers Speak Out: How Sales Needs to Evolve, this chart shows the disconnect:
Salespeople are still “pushing”
Buyers describe salespeople as pushy. Yet, 77% of salespeople think they are doing a good job being helpful to their prospects.
Again, from the “Buyers Speak Out” research, we find that prospects are still feeling “pushed” by sales:
Buyers Want to Talk to Sales Later
Today’s business buyers complete the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey on their own. Instead, they turn to search engines, websites, and peers to learn about their options early in the process.
If you’re in sales, this next finding from the “Buyers Speak Out” research should really worry you:
Buyers don’t want to talk to you until late in the Consideration stage, which means that when you do talk with a potential buyer, you have very little chance at establishing position and differentiation — they will, largely, have an opinion of who your company is.
Sales and Marketing are not Aligned
The handshake between Sales and Marketing tends to produce the most measurable results for a marketing team.
There just simply isn’t enough formal, agreed-upon alignment between sales and marketing:
You can see how things change for those that are “tightly aligned” — marketing becomes “more effective”:
So, what’s the solution? How do we keep sales relevant?
The Future of Sales: Inbound Sales
Inbound Sales is a philosophy and methodology that is one half of the inbound spectrum. It’s the natural complement to Inbound Marketing — the goal of which is to engage the prospect in an Inbound Sales experience.
The door-to-door salespeople of decades past wouldn’t recognize selling today — and that’s a good thing. As power shifts from the seller to the buyer, salespeople are incentivized to be helpful instead of pushy. Just like inbound marketing obliterated pushy outbound marketing, inbound sales will transform sellers from aggressive closers into helpful advocates.
For salespeople to remain relevant to the empowered buyer of today, making the following 7 strategic changes towards an Inbound Sales model will be critical for long-term success…
1. Invest in Social Selling
A full 42% of buyers in our survey said they communicate via social networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter for business purposes, and sales teams growing more than 50% were more likely than any other group to identify LinkedIn as a valuable sales connection channel. It’s clear that buyers are engaging with salespeople on social media. Make sure your company is part of the conversation.
2. Overhaul the Prospecting Process
Prospecting is becoming increasingly difficult for salespeople with each passing year, due to seismic shifts in information availability and buyer behavior. With this in mind, a band-aid won’t cut it — it’s time for a total makeover of prospecting strategies. Align your prospecting efforts with how buyers want to purchase by tuning into signals that indicate interest, and working with Marketing to increase the flow of inbound leads with a few simple tweaks.
3. Stop Cold Calling
To be clear, making tweaks to the standard cold calling script or cold email template is a band-aid. There are more effective, buyer-friendly ways to prospect today, but as with any major strategic shift, taking the first steps can be scary. Pledge to stop doing what no longer works — for both buyers and sellers — in order — to kickstart your prospecting overhaul. While there might be some turbulence in the short term, this shift will ensure your sales team’s health (and indeed, its very existence) in the long term. Stop patching broken processes, and start future-proofing — or you might just be out of a job.
4. Commit to better Sales and Marketing Alignment
As salespeople begin to move away from cold calling and mass blasting email to a more inbound and targeted approach, Sales and Marketing departments must work more closely than ever before. Work with your marketing team to clearly define a “qualified” lead so Marketing can source the best-fit companies, and salespeople can capitalize on buyer interest as soon as they see it — not when Marketing passes them a contact record days or week after the fact.
5. Determine how Your Buyers Want to Communicate, and Meet Them Where They Are
While email emerged as the preferred communication channel in our survey, buyers are individuals with unique preferences. Diversify your channels based on prospect preferences — whether that involves prioritizing networking events, setting up a YouTube Live instead of a traditional phone call, or even writing to a buyer via messaging app (three survey respondents identified WhatsApp as their communication channel of choice).
6. Adopt CRM With an Eye to Integration Capabilities
In many organizations, CRM acts as the source of truth for prospect and customer interactions. With no system of record outside of spreadsheets or physical notes, true Sales and Marketing alignment becomes all but impossible, and companies run the risk of saying the wrong thing to prospects at the wrong time. Ensure everyone in the organization knows exactly how and when to communicate with leads, prospects, and customers by adopting a CRM that works in conjunction with other mission-critical systems. No budget? No problem. Several low-to no-cost options have emerged in recent years. Re-evaluate the market if you haven’t recently done so.
7. Train Your Sales Team
Sales is undergoing radical changes, and for salespeople to keep up, they need proper training. Investigate sales training that will equip reps with the necessary skills to serve the modern buyer, such as social selling, prospecting based on prospect interest, research frameworks, and personalized messaging. This might also help you attract and retain top-performing salespeople — the #1 thing reps are looking for in a new job is the opportunity to grow, according to our data.