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Customer expectations are skyrocketing, and it’s changing what it means to be a successful businessperson in any role. Today, we live in an instantaneous world, but also one in which tailored, consultative experiences built on strong relationships are table stakes. How can sales reps meet these seemingly contradictory demands?

Our research team surveyed more than 2,900 sales professionals worldwide to see what’s shaking up the sales world and what the teams that excel in this new environment do differently. Let's take a look at the top trends shaping the future of sales.

 

1.  As Sales Mandates Change, Teams Are Falling Short of Rising Customer Expectations

A separate study found that 58% of consumers and 77% of business buyers feel that technology has significantly changed their expectations of how companies should interact with them. And when customers demand more personalized, consultative engagement, it’s the salespeople on the front lines who carry the onus to deliver. It’s no wonder that customer satisfaction is now the most-tracked sales KPI.

This is a tall order, as sales reps are overloaded by various tasks and requirements that lead them to spend just one-third of their time selling and interacting with customers. What’s more, they’re also increasingly responsible for emerging customer success metrics, adding a detour to their quota-driven north star. It’s no wonder that 57% of sales reps expect to miss their quotas this year. [CLICK TO TWEET]

 

2. A Data-Driven Sales Playbook Is Emerging

The foundation of sales is relationships — those intangible bonds built by the soft skills a talented rep brings to the table, including the ability to listen and pay attention to detail — but teams are increasingly amplifying the ingenuity of salespeople with data-driven insights. The richness of the data available is leading to more effective methods of lead prioritization and forecasting that drive success in top sales teams. By using data to identify the individuals or accounts with the greatest propensity to buy, reps can focus on building the value-adding relationships with the right prospects. Today, twice as many teams primarily prioritize leads based on data analysis than on intuition. [CLICK TO TWEET]

 

3. The Impact of Artificial Intelligence Is Taking Shape

We are still in the early days of AI in sales organizations, but most teams expect that it will gain ground quickly as they figure out how this new level of intelligence can boost productivity. The study found that the majority of reps and managers foresee substantial impacts from AI over the next five years on many of teams’ toughest tasks. Use cases range from guidance on which leads need the most attention, to knowing which emails should be answered first, to automating data entry. Although there is often fear that AI will displace sales jobs, the data shows that even teams that are already using AI continue to expand their ranks at a faster rate than others. The growth of AI is expected to continue as sales leaders expect their adoption of AI to grow by 155% by 2020. [CLICK TO TWEET]

 

4. Virtual Selling Has Hit a Tipping Point

While relationships will always be fundamental to sales success, the research shows that, as sales reps spend more time in front of screens, these relationships are increasingly developed virtually. In fact, over the past three years, these virtual connections with customers have increased 3.2x more than time meeting with customers in-person. Staffing models are following suit, as teams add inside sales reps and sales development staff.

 

5. Top Sales Teams Break From the “Silo Mentality”

When customers see the companies they do business with as one entity, and demand contextualization and personalization across their entire experience with that company, it’s time for every team to take a collaborative approach, including sales. To enable this, teams are embracing a free and open internal flow of customer data. Eighty-one percent of teams say a connected view of data across the customer journey is important. [CLICK TO TWEET] Top teams are more than twice as likely than underperformers to have the integrated systems that are critical to such a view.

 

For more insights on the current state of sales, and to uncover the trends that top sales teams harness to make their numbers, be sure to download the full report.