Planning exercises don’t change much year over year. Every year, sales leaders look at quotas, hiring plans, compensation plans, and management coverage and determine what needs to be adjusted.
But what other questions should sales leaders be asking themselves to improve results? In addition to the above, every good sales leader picks a few other priorities.
So I reached out to some experts to ask them: “What should sales leaders and salespeople be doing in 2016 to improve their sales productivity?” What I received back was a surprisingly diverse set of responses. Advice for sales leaders as well as salespeople. Advice on sales technologies and sales philosophies. Some new stuff and some tried-and-true stuff. A long list of things to add to your plate, and some stuff that you should take off of it.
In order to make this volume of advice and predictions useful, I categorized them into groups. Here’s to a successful year of selling for you and yours in 2016.
Salespeople Will Embrace Inbound Selling Because Buyers Are Demanding It
More than a few experts are predicting what seems to be the inevitable march of inbound from solely Marketing over to Sales and Service as well. As informed, savvy buyers start to demand better from customer-facing individuals, adopting an inbound approach is becoming an obvious move for organizations and salespeople alike.
“In 2016, many more salespeople will finally realize they need to stop selling and start guiding. As we proclaimed in our 2012 book, Fire Your Sales Team Today!, it’s time to fire your salespeople and then hire Sales Guides with a new mission — to help your prospects make a strong, educated, and safe purchase decision. People only buy when they feel safe. Salespeople need to help prospects feel safe by coaching them, advising them, and counseling them through their buyer journey. That’s why inbound marketing and inbound sales work so well together — you’re not interrupting or convincing, but educating instead.”
“2016 will be the year that salespeople realize there is a better way to sell — better for the buyer and better for the seller. Some will figure out how to leverage the internet and technology to efficiently reach the right prospects at the right time. When they reach them, they’ll use that same technology to have the conversations that are most relevant to that specific prospect. These salespeople will excel. The rest will begin to fail because they’ll struggle to add value for their more informed, more empowered buyers.”
– Brian Halligan, CEO, HubSpot
“Forrester suggests that buyers rate only one in 10 meetings with salespeople as worthwhile. Buyers have no interest in being pitched on standard product features and benefits. They can get all of that information online. 2016 will be the year that sales organizations embrace visual storytelling and transition from presenting to customers to having conversations to improve sales call effectiveness. In order to master conversational storytelling, sales training needs to change. Statically delivered PowerPoint product training needs to be pushed aside in favor of interactive whiteboard training to accelerate message ownership. Salespeople must learn to tell the right visual and verbal stories to the right prospects at the right time, and they need to learn how to deliver information through asking insightful questions in a way that captures attention, disrupts status quo thinking, and delivers insight. The companies that figure this out in 2016 will significantly reduce ramp time for new salespeople and improve the sales effectiveness of their whole team. And help a lot of prospects make smart buying decisions!”
– Mark Gibson, Owner, Admarco
Salespeople Will Develop Their Own Thought Leadership Online
The perhaps inevitable shift to inbound selling doesn’t stop there. A bunch of experts predict that more salespeople will build their own thought leadership online so that they — not just their companies — are found by prospects.
Having started my first blog in 2004, I’ve seen how publishing can pave the way for amazing sales conversations. Plus, writing something that will be read by hundreds or thousands of people seems so much smarter than cold calling thousands only to connect with a few. Writing this post as evidence, I’m clearly on board with this trend.
“2016 will be the year that salespeople recognize the importance of personal branding and use content to build their ‘public authoritative voice,’ or PAV. Today’s buyer is digitally savvy and does their research — they Google companies and their salespeople, look them up on LinkedIn, etc. What they find can have a significant impact on their buying decision. Until now, most salespeople have relied solely on content (blogs, webinars, sell sheets, email campaigns) created by their employer to gain visibility in the marketplace. In the coming year, successful salespeople will move beyond the shouts for ‘social selling’ and will contribute their personal expertise, experience, and stories to the creation of corporate content that resonates more strongly with buyers. In doing so, they will establish a PAV that is uniquely their own which will position them to connect with prospects earlier in the buyer’s journey and ultimately, close more deals.”
– John Booth, Director Sales, Inbound Sales Academy
“2016 will be the year of the case study. Smart salespeople will stop waiting for their marketing teams to create case studies for them. They’ll take things into their own hands. Salespeople will more consistently ask up front for the right to create a case study when they deliver the value promised to their client. Then they’ll interview and help craft the case study story, making it about the value delivered to their client in the client’s own words. The reason salespeople will take charge of case study creation is because they’ll then be able to use these customer stories as they sell to new clients. Using marketing and sales software, they’ll monitor who is reading these case studies. They’ll send the case studies out to their clients and track who reads them. They’ll tell the customer stories during their sales calls and see which ones resonate the best. Finally, because of the value of these case studies to the salesperson, salespeople will really focus on bringing on the best customers and ensuring their success — so they can create another case study. In 2016, salespeople will wake up to the idea that they can tell the customer story best through customer stories.”
– Todd Hockenberry, Owner, Top Line Results
“In 2016, Sales should embrace its inner marketer. Is it becoming tougher to connect? Sales reps should expand their online profile and reach. Is it becoming more important to stay in touch with warm leads who aren’t ready to buy? Sales reps should start using automated (and personalized) email sequences to nurture prospects. Is it becoming critical to know when prospects are heating up? Sales reps should take advantage of rule-driven alerts and notifications. Marketers have been using these tactics — producing content, expanding reach, and defining workflows — for years. In 2016, sales departments should start building marketing muscles of their own or work with marketers (or marketing agencies) that can help them.”
– David Weinhaus, Agency Partner Enablement Manager, HubSpot
“Salespeople are taught to do research on their clients before picking up the phone. I suggest that in 2016, salespeople should realize that their prospects will do research on them too. It’s been said that buyers do 60+% of their buying process online before they talk with a salesperson. But, their online research doesn’t stop when the salesperson calls. As soon as a salesperson identifies himself, their prospect probably Googles them and their company and finds them on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social platforms. What will prospects see? Will they see a self-professed ‘expert’ that talks about how wonderful they are? Will they see a sales hot shot that wins President’s Club awards and is the perennial top salesperson in the company? Or will they find an expert who has published articles that resonate in their world? Will they find mutual connections and recommendations from people that they respect? In 2016, salespeople should make their best stuff easy to find and make sure that what the prospect finds aligns with the conversation.”
– Rick Roberge, Unbound Growth
“In 2016, your personal brand as a subject matter expert (SME) matters. Customers have an amazing amount of data available to them and are very comfortable researching not only companies they are interested in working with, but also the sales reps themselves. Be sure your social media footprint is up to date and demonstrates your SME status effectively.”
Inbound Marketing Will Keep Making Salespeople Look Like Heroes
If your company isn’t leveraging inbound marketing to generate sales qualified leads, you should probably start looking for a new gig in 2016. Companies that are still figuring out how to use inbound marketing to help their sales team are probably playing catch up.
“2016 will be the year that sales and marketing alignment impacts the daily routines of frontline salespeople. As more companies publish content to attract and influence today’s empowered buyer, the demands for salespeople to live up to their value creator roles will intensify. Sales and Marketing must work together to create value at every stage of the marketing and sales process. The good news is that technology is now available to organize and present the right content and insights to the right prospect at the right time. Salespeople who learn how to leverage this in their sales pursuits will enjoy greater success than ever. Those that don’t will struggle.”
– Doug Davidoff, Founder & CEO, Imagine Business Development
“2016 will be the year of integrated sales and marketing alignment. ‘Integrated’ because technology makes integration easy, seamless, and affordable for any business with the desire to have their sales and marketing processes and strategies integrated. And ‘aligned’ because businesses are waking up to the need to get their sales and marketing teams perfectly aligned philosophically, strategically, and operationally. Technology makes it possible, and commitment will make meaningful alignment happen more than ever in 2016.”
– Greg Linnemanstons, Founder, Weidert Group
“In 2016, sales and marketing managers will map sales and marketing processes to how prospects actually buy — from awareness to close. While CEB states that almost two-thirds of the buying decision is already made before a prospect ever makes contact with a sales team, prospects do not stop their research at that moment. Client acquisition used to be a relay race. Marketing captured the lead and then nurtured the lead part of the way. Then, Sales ran the rest of the race by themselves. The two did not need to communicate to win, they just needed to hand off the baton properly. But today, it’s a three-legged race with Sales and Marketing’s legs tied together. In the three-legged race, the prospect receives stimuli from both Marketing and Sales throughout the buying process. In order to win, a firm must have two partners with clear shared goals, a defined process, and open continuous communication.”
– Chris Handy, Founder & CEO, Thinkhandy
“2016 will be the year that Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) stop processing leads and start qualifying opportunities. SDRs will stop mindlessly putting individual contacts through the binary in-or-out qualification, meat-grinder cadence of voicemail, email, and social touches. Finally, we’ve begun to realize that the contact is not the opportunity, but rather the account is the opportunity. It took the rise of a yet another new buzzwordy strategy called ‘Account-Based Marketing‘ (that is actually not new at all) before sales and marketing teams could come together and develop personalized campaigns that look holistically at all the buying opportunities in an account, and then execute a thoughtful and unified multi-contact approach. Long live the return of good account-based selling! R.I.P. mindless prospecting!”
– Trish Bertuzzi, President and Chief Strategist, The Bridge Group
Salespeople Will Do What’s Right For the Customer — Because That’s What’s Right For the Salesperson
Perhaps the biggest change that the inbound movement has brought to the sales profession is that there are no more secrets. There’s no more hiding, concealing, cajoling, or controlling. Prospects and customers can not only find out virtually all the information they need to make a decision online, but they can also share information and complaints with the world — and bad news travels fast.
Whether salespeople are doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do or because they fear the consequences of an upset customer, a handful of experts agreed that 2016 will be the year that salespeople finally do the right thing for their customers — or else.
“In 2016, salespeople will realize that they can achieve the success they want — and do good for lots of people as they do. Too many salespeople are hindered by their own preconceived notions about what they think a great salesperson is. It’s not about personality, not about the jokes they tell, it’s not what they’re born with, it’s not a con man who can talk you out of anything. In 2016, great salespeople will emerge because they planned for their own success and prioritized the success of their clients above all else — and the rest will go do something else.”
– Warren Greshes, Hall of Fame Speaker and Best-Selling Author of The Best Damn Sales Book Ever
“Oscar Wilde once said ‘be yourself; everyone else is already taken.’ My hope for sales leaders looking to improve productivity in 2016 is that they begin to instill the concept of radical transparency with their sales teams. Salespeople who understand the importance of being honest will have far greater success than those who are simply trying to hit a target at all costs. Radical transparency means not only being open with your prospects and educating them on the right way to solve their problems, but also requires that you be true to yourself regarding your team’s core abilities. Using a consultative selling methodology will help establish trust early on in the relationship, and it will only deepen when the delivery matches what was sold. This will mean passing on opportunities that aren’t a perfect match, which will be hard for many. But it also means that those who value your specific capabilities and expertise will be more willing to work with you. If you’re honest about who you really are, you can’t help but sell solutions that are true to your strengths. After all, there’s no point trying to be someone you’re not.”
– Jeff White, Principal, Kula Partners
“2016 will be the year that salespeople who deliver ideas and solutions will distance themselves from those only interested in making a quick sale or processing the transaction. For so many years salespeople have been able to get by on the “spray and pray” method of selling. It was a numbers game and if you were able to put enough pitches out there and work on your closing skills you would hit your number. But those days are coming to an end as technology allows the buyers to have more control and in some circumstances even make the purchase without a salesperson. Think about how you buy an airline ticket — you don’t need a travel agent. However, superstar salespeople will actually benefit from this. Those who commit to being helpful — always looking for needs and providing the right solutions — will not just succeed but will thrive in this new environment. Successful salespeople will realize that it is not about ‘why’ their product or service is great but rather ‘how’ their products or services can be used to solve their clients’ problems. Now, more than ever, and even increasingly in the future, the best salespeople will do the right thing for their customers.”
“In 2016, more and more sales pros will have to come to a singular realization: Buyers don’t care. They don’t care if you like technology. They don’t care if you like social media. They don’t care if you’re comfortable on video or not. They don’t care if you have the best or the latest and greatest. They don’t care if your management team or organization leaders are behind the times. The list goes on and on, but you get the point. Consumers care about themselves. They care about how *they* want to learn, buy, shop, and communicate. The sales pros that embrace this reality the quickest will have tremendous success going forward. Those that don’t … won’t.”
– Marcus Sheridan, The Sales Lion
“2016 is going to be the year of salespeople proactively and intelligently surrounding their prospects with ‘customer love.’ Sales leaders will recognize that salespeople need to be incentivized to not only close deals but create customer advocates. Why? Because a salesperson will never be as trusted as another customer will be. The best way to convince someone to consider your product or service is to get a customer advocate to do the selling for you.”
– Emmanuelle Skala, VP Sales, Influitive
Sales Technology Will Improve Sales Efficiency, Add Time for Selling
It feels like sales technology is about a decade behind marketing technology. But it’s catching up quick as companies (like yours truly) invest heavily in building software that makes salespeople’s lives easier and more productive.
“In 2016, sales leaders will stop nagging their salespeople about updating the CRM. Why? Because the CRM will automatically be updated as salespeople do their job. Now that sales software automatically Integrates with email clients, calendars, phone systems, and a company’s marketing software, salespeople don’t have to log emails, calls, or even set reminders. It’s all done for them. Sales managers will then be able to drastically improve productivity as they can now figure out what’s working and what’s not — which salespeople are struggling where, what messages are resonating with what prospects, and what parts of their sales processes need improvement.”
– Mark Roberge, CRO Sales Division, HubSpot
“In 1996 Bill Gates wrote an article titled ‘Content Is King‘ in which he wrote ‘content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet.’ It took 20 years for content to change the way we do marketing. In the next 10 years content is going to change the way we do sales. Standardizing and improving the content that sales reps send to customers is the first way sales teams will start leveraging content more effectively to improve productivity in 2016. Sales teams will build reusable, customizable email templates for all of their prospect and customer interactions. More salespeople will send customized sales proposals that are tailored to the customer instead of standard contracts. Marketing teams will organize case studies, client testimonials, and other content so salespeople can easily access and send to customers. As more and more companies get hip to content marketing and content selling, it will be even noisier in 2016. Your content and messaging will need to stand out. Make sure it does.”
– Mikita Mikado, CEO, PandaDoc
“2016 will be the year that Sales Development Reps (SDRs) will think differently about communicating with prospects. Sophisticated SDRs will 1) think in terms of highly personalized sales email templates, giving us economies of scale while being relevant enough to engage each prospect; 2) deliver integrated, cross-channel communication cadences rather than relying almost exclusively on email; 3) connect deeply with many potential buyers at an account rather than ‘carpet bombing’ a couple of prospects at each company in an attempt to get a response. By approaching customers in an intentional and sincere way, 2016 will be the year that sales teams have more meaningful engagements with potential customers.”
– Derek Grant, VP of Sales, SalesLoft
“Improving sales productivity in 2016 is now easier and cheaper than ever. And you don’t need help from your marketing team to do it. It’s all about arming yourself, as a salesperson, with the right set of tools. Tools that assist in making more appointments per sales hour spent. Tools that make your appointments more productive. First, start by downloading the free Sidekick t ool.Among other things, Sidekick will alert you when someone is reading your email. After all, you’re much more likely to book that appointment if you call your prospect when he/she is reading your email. Try calling too early or too late and your chance of getting their attention drops drastically. Second, take it to the next level and install LeadIn and HubSpot’s free CRM. These tools will show you what pages of your website your prospect has looked at, what they have downloaded, how many times they have visited, and when. This lets you know how interested a prospect is and helps you prioritize who to call first. Added bonus: when you call, you have a good idea of what they already know about your products/services. These tools are free and easy to set up and start using. No excuses. You’ll get instant value. Do it.”
– Rick Kranz, President, OverGo Studio
“Let’s face it, one of the reasons we haven’t seen the promised productivity of predictive analytics is because it lacks a prescriptive element. But this is the year we’ll crack the code. With predictive and prescriptive technology, sales development reps will be able to prioritize hundreds of leads and have a prescribed cadence to help follow that prioritization schema. This also means sales reps will look at long lists of existing customers, be able to quickly prioritize opportunities, and know which actions will move them down the pipeline.”
– Gabe Larsen, Director of Sales Acceleration Services, InsideSales.com
“In 2016, top-performing salespeople will differentiate themselves by using technology that helps them serve each individual prospect with what they need, when they need it. Based on prospect tracking technology, smart salespeople will be able to provide customized, helpful advice, guide their prospects through an efficient buying process, help solve difficult problems, and add value based on efficient, always-on discovery. Top salespeople will use technology to increase their productivity by building repeatable, albeit customizable, processes that enlighten and delight their prospects. Top salespeople will work with their technology-enabled marketing teams to build their online reputation and credibility before they even pick up the phone. 2016 will be a huge transition year, where salespeople either embrace the evolution of selling being caused by technology — or be left in the dust.”
– Dan Tyre, Sales Executive, HubSpot
Sales Managers Will Finally Learn How to Hire and Reward A-Players
Fortunately for all of us, all of the technology in the world can’t replace great salespeople. With this in mind, I’m not surprised to see a handful of experts talk about the continued importance of hiring A-players in 2016, even though it seems elusive for many.
This past year, I published some of what I learned from interviewing and hiring hundreds of salespeople, as well as helping our agency partners hire salespeople. But the majority of sales leaders still treat hiring like an art. Even the ones who apply some science are making it up as they go — usually with expensive consequences. However, it seems like this trend might be about to get reversed: A few experts think that 2016 is the year where companies get great at using data to hire the right talent for their roles, then reward A-players with advancement opportunities.
“Sales managers are responsible for developing, coaching, and training in addition to hiring the right salespeople and putting the best possible team into the marketplace. They cannot, nor should they be allowed to transfer this responsibility to a recruiting team or HR. Though people in those roles have an important role in recruiting, they really don’t have a stake in the game if someone doesn’t work out. They just go about finding more of the same. According to Brad Smart of Topgrading, 75% of the people hired to replace someone have the same or worse skill set and potential as the person they are replacing. No doubt about it, hiring people who do not perform as expected costs money, not to mention its impact on morale, opportunities, time and resources. Top focus for 2016 for all sales leaders is to improve systems and processes for hiring better salespeople. When they do that, their entire sales team performance will improve.”
– Tony Cole, President & CEO, Anthony Cole Training Group
“In the coming year, sales leaders must focus their efforts on finding sales talent naturally wired to excel in the positions they’re hired for. It seems obvious, but if you can determine the characteristics a role requires for maximum performance first, finding that perfect match later is that much easier. Reducing turnover should be top of mind for sales leaders looking to optimize the sales productivity of their team, and hiring the right candidate is more efficient than spending time and resources coaching the wrong one. Sales leaders should determine and prioritize the key accountabilities a new hire will need to engage in on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis so they have a clear understanding of the skills they’re seeking. Once these accountabilities are in place, they must be used in the hiring, onboarding, training, and coaching processes. Putting the right people in the right places should be the first priority in any sales effectiveness strategy, especially for leaders looking to drive productivity in the new year.”
– Will Brooks, EVP, The Brooks Group
“If last year was the year of hiring and ramping our BDR, SDR, and ISR Teams, then 2016 is the year to increase productivity by building out career paths that incentivize the right behaviors and establish benchmarks for success. We spend so much time focused on the customer journey and hitting our numbers that sometimes we forget to think about the journey of our internal talent. And with a competitive hiring market and millennial hires wondering ‘what’s next,’ it’s in everyone’s best interest to determine the necessary benchmarks, traits, and skillsets to move up the proverbial career ladder. Sales leaders who focus on that in 2016 can expect to get a lift in productivity from their top players, and will set themselves up for future success. Bonus points for all managers, directors, and leaders who introduce the career path and expectations as early as the interview process.”
– CeCe Bazar, OpenView Venture Partners
“In 2016, sales organizations will figure out how to better motivate and develop a sales force increasingly made up of millennials. As has been written about ad nauseum, millennials expect constant feedback on their performance, demand the latest technology, and want to collaborate and learn from peers — as much as they want to compete with them. Unfortunately, our sales management approaches have not adapted to millennial sellers’ needs. The modern sales manager is evolving to be a metrics-based coach, an enabler of a collaborative environment where everyone learns and improves as a team, and believes that the only way you get revenue output is by managing the behaviors and activities that lead to sales.”
– Bob Marsh, CEO, LevelEleven
Sales Managers Will Get Back on the Front Line to Focus on What Matters
Even the elusive team of A-players that sales managers strive to build won’t perform well without support, motivation, and coaching from their managers. In 2016, many experts expressed the need for sales managers to get back to the front line where they can make the biggest difference for their team, company performance, customers, and maybe even the world. Having been in an organization where sales managers went from the biggest liability to our biggest asset, I agree that this change is critical in 2016.
“In 2016, the sales managers that win will do so by taking back control of their calendars to refocus time on high-value sales leadership activities. Particularly in small and midsize organizations, sales managers have been sucked into all kinds of non-sales leadership, non-revenue driving crap that is inhibiting their ability to lead and killing sales performance. Sales teams need their managers. Period. And the sales leaders who learn to say ‘no’ to the time-sucking corporate meetings and picking up the fire hose to fight their company’s every fire will be handsomely rewarded for their intentionality. Sales managers who meet one on one regularly with every rep, who lead productive sales team meetings that align, equip, and energize the team, and who get in the field or the inside sales office instead of thinking they can manage via email will be the ones driving big results. This is as much an exhortation as a prediction. Call it what you want — sales team health and sales results depend on it!”
– Mike Weinberg, New Sales Coach and Author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Sales Management, Simplified: The Straight Truth About Getting Exceptional Results from Your Sales Team
”For a company to be successful, the sales management function must perform. Sales managers are the link between the company and the sales team’s interaction with the customer. But they’re pulled in so many different directions, it can be hard to focus on effective sales performance management. It doesn’t have to be that way. The sales management problem is not a deficit of data, but a deficit of insight. You can only get the right answer if you know the right questions. In 2016, sales managers will ask the right sales performance management questions that will help them understand the risks and vulnerabilities that can knock them off course. They’ll then prevent these problems from happening through the right preventative action.”
“Can you imagine an NFL player who didn’t watch game film? Totally absurd. Yet it happens every day in sales organizations that swear by role playing and practice, but don’t look at the actual footage of the game. In the words of Allen Iverson, ‘We’re talking about practice. Not the game. Practice.’ 2016 is the year that sales reps start listening to and watching their own ‘game film’ to get better. It’s time that sales leaders, managers, and reps wake up and realize that there are ways to legally capture recordings of interactions with their customers and prospects and use those recordings to sell better. Conversations happening in your sales force every day are the most under-utilized asset you have. Smart companies will stop wasting this opportunity in 2016.”
– Steve Richard, CRO, ExecVision
“2016 will be the year we finally invest in the development of our first line sales manager. We’ve spent years and billions investing in frontline salespeople, sales technology, sales enablement, and other supporting surround sound, but little in developing sales managers. We will never achieve the full value of all the training, programs, systems, processes, and tools we are throwing at our sales teams unless we have sales managers working side by side with their people, coaching and developing them. As empowered buyers and technology change selling forever, managers are the first line in helping their people think and execute differently. It’s the frontline manager who will help salespeople figure out how to engage the modern buyer with greater impact, and who will help salespeople overcome obstacles, develop better habits and skills, and win more business. With this in mind, I predict that this year is the year companies will realize they need to get their sales managers out from behind the desk so they can reflect and master their roles as coaches and team builders. Given active, engaged sales managers, focused on helping each person on their team achieve the highest levels of performance, teams and organizations will excel.”
– Dave Brock, Partners In Excellence
Continuous Improvement Will Be the New Norm For Salespeople Who Survive the Empowered Buyer
With salespeople back on the front line and sales technology making it easier to sell and measure performance, it’ll be hard for sales teams not to improve continuously. But it doesn’t happen without intention. At HubSpot, we believe in continuous improvement so much, we look for “continuous learners” as we interview and hire. If you’re looking for a handbook or a kick in the pants on this, Jill Konrath’s book Agile Selling is a great guide on continuous improvement for sales teams.
“The key to leading a quota-busting sales team in 2016 is to create a culture of continuous learning. Get your salespeople experimenting with new approaches. Challenge them to improve their personal KPIs. Turn failures into valuable learning experiences. Implement peer-to-peer coaching. And have fun in the process. Up-skilling your entire team is the only way to win in an ever-changing, highly competitive business environment.”
“In 2016 most sales organizations will look exactly the same as they did in 2015 because change is hard. Really hard. However, sales leaders who believe in continuous improvement and who are not afraid to fail and learn and fail again will find new ways to win. Google has famously allocated 20% of their employee time to work on side projects and this pillar of innovation brought us things like Gmail and AdSense. But engineers are not the only people who can benefit from ‘hackathons’ and creative time. Great sales teams always find ways to win but great sales leaders need to allocate time, headspace, and margin for trying new (crazy?) ideas. Even if 20% is too high, let your sales team experiment with totally new approaches to winning business. Blow up your discovery deck (or try no deck). Try a shorter demo. Try no demo at all. Work with Marketing to produce interactive sales tools. Break out of your tried-and-true playbook shackles and run sales experiments to find better outcomes. Coming in over plan is great, but I will happily give up a little upside this month if it means we can shift the whole curve higher next month.”
– Seth Lieberman, CEO, SnapApp
“I would like to be optimistic about the changes coming to sales teams and sales professionals in 2016, but my 2015 findings cause me to temper my enthusiasm. The companies that take professional selling seriously — a clear minority — will continue to see major improvements in their 1) ability to differentiate, 2) sell value ,and 3) take a consultative approach to generating new revenue. Those three competencies are essential for any company that wants to put some distance between themselves and their competition. For the rest, and that’s a big population, this could be the year that their lack of attention and commitment to improving all facets of the sales organization could have a devastating effect. As prospects, customers, and buyers find less time and less need to schedule calls and meetings with salespeople who fail to provide value, those salespeople will simply become obsolete.”
Salespeople Will Obsess Over Inputs to Create Positive Outcomes
Healthy, growing sales organizations focus on the inputs that create the right outcomes. The first is having the right people on the bus, so to speak, and then aligning their personal goals with the mission of their team and the company. Next, they put the right sales process in place, measure performance based on that process, set input or activity guidelines for salespeople, and finally rally the team around the right milestones (not just the right outcomes).
If this is news to you, I’d recommend reading Mark Roberge’s Sales Acceleration Formula. If you’re short on time or need a bit more inspiration, dive into the advice below from these experts.
“An Olympian does not obsess over winning a gold medal, they focus on doing the things they need to do to win the gold medal. If they execute according to their plan the result will be gold. Performance is defined as ‘doing the things you need to do to get the results you want.’ Quota-carrying professionals are driven hard and obsess over hitting their number — the result. Focusing on the end goal can cause bad behaviors. In 2016 my hope is that we can get our sales colleagues focused on performance rather than results. Our job as sales leaders is to help define the key performance measures, hold the team accountable to executing, measure the outcomes, and assess the efficacy. Ultimately you cannot improve what you cannot measure! If we focus on performance, results will take care of themselves.”
– Steve McKenzie, Head of Sales, InsightSquared
“In 2016, more salespeople will figure out how to take leaps and bounds by using Forcing Functions rather than ‘goals.’ For example, the classic Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART) goals don’t work for me or many people. What helps me personally create traction — to help me cut through the busyness and noise of both work and of parenting 12 kids — is to create “Forcing Functions” by showing my ASS: Announcing to others that I’ll create a Specific outcome by a Specific date. Rather than setting a goal of beating quota by 10%, smart salespeople will announce (to the team or a friend) that they are going to publish a blog, host an event, or book X number of calls — all activities that are leading indicators to results. The best part about showing your ASS is that it’s also totally within your control and you can’t hide from it because you’ve announced it.”
“2016 is the year company leaders will get smarter about using metrics and objective tools to help create better sales teams. I’m not saying there is no place for ‘art’ and intangibles when sellers are working with buyers, but too many companies have too few metrics measuring how salespeople and sales teams are performing. If you are a leader and don’t know what inputs and process steps drive your sales results, 2016 is your year to figure this out. Putting formal sales process steps in place is a great first step. Next, measure conversion rates so you can improve your salespeople’s success. Finally, find great people who not only are able to sell, but motivated to learn and improve your processes over time.”
– Lori Richardson, CEO, Score More Sales
“2016 will give birth to the entrepreneurial salesperson. The best sales producers have entrepreneurial mindsets that drive their actions — they want to build their business inside a business. Too much of a salesperson’s time is spent on ineffective internally-delivered product and process training. Too much time is spent attending internal meetings. Too much time is spent logging activities and reporting numbers up the food chain. And what do salespeople get in return? Their sales managers don’t even prioritize coaching time. As a first step, entrepreneurial salespeople are taking back their schedule. They’re ignoring irrelevant requests from management. They’re scoffing at their ‘man-made’ quotas. Instead, entrepreneurial salespeople set their own personal goals, develop their own business via their own thought leadership, invest in skill development, and hire coaches that help them overcome their weaknesses. Entrepreneurial salespeople will do whatever it takes to succeed — even if it means rebelling against their company’s wishes as much as they can get away with.”
– Carole Mahoney, Unbound Growth
Forecasting Is Poised to Be Automated (Even More Time For Selling!)
Experts are predicting that there will be one process sales teams obsess over a bit less: forecasting. I have to admit I’m a bit leery that sales leaders will give up this accountability mechanism. But we all know this would be welcome news on the floor as forecasting is a usually a dirty word amongst salespeople. It’s time-consuming, rarely accurate, and generally not informative to the salesperson. Most importantly, it certainly doesn’t help the customer, especially when salespeople feel the pressure to close, close, close in order to meet their forecast.
“My hope is that in 2016, sales leaders will realize that obsessing over sales forecasts does nothing for buyers. Many companies spend a huge amount of resources micro-managing each salesperson’s pipeline so they can come up with forecasts of how many deals might close in a given month or quarter. The data generated gets filtered up to top management who then nitpick or ask questions that then get pushed back down the line to the individual reps. It’s an unproductive and never-ending cycle because buyers control the buying process, not you. Instead, focus on the buyers and their problems and let salespeople do their jobs without interfering and forcing them to enter ridiculous amounts of data into your systems.”
– David Meerman Scott, Sales and Marketing Strategist and best-selling Author of 10 books including The New Rules of Sales and Service
“2016 is the year when the drudgery of sales forecasting is dramatically eliminated while at the same time sales performance is significantly improved. In this hyper-competitive market, sales leaders will have richer conversations in their forecast calls when they rely on machine learning and data science to cut the noise out and drive significant performance improvements across the entire organization — by rep, manager, VP. Those who rely on gut and emotion to roll up a forecast will be left behind.”
– K. V. Rao, Co-Founder and CEO of Aviso
“Several times per quarter, sales managers spin their wheels trying to roll up accurate sales forecasts. Nearly every manager does an ‘eyeball adjustment’ for every sales rep; that is, they adjust the number up or down depending on whether the rep is overly optimistic or pessimistic. In 2016, sales leaders will stop chasing their tails trying to make these adjustments. They will stop begging their reps to remove their own biases when entering CRM data or submit a ‘commit forecast.’ Instead, sales leadership will accept that rep data quality will always be far from perfect. Leadership will begin relying on the math and science of advanced analytics to decipher relevant information and build more credible insights from the less-than-perfect data. This will allow sales leadership to get more accurate forecasts and better productivity insights which will enable sales reps and their managers to close more deals.”
– Jim Dries, CEO, piLYTIX
2016 Will Be the Return of Good Selling
It’s one thing to predict change. But in reality, change doesn’t happen quickly. Sales, as a profession, has been around for centuries. I recently purchased The Knack of Selling handbooks first published in 1917, and as I was reading them, it felt similar to many sales books I’ve read that were published within the last few years.
Regardless of whether you ascribe to the sales methodologies and techniques from Sandler Selling, SPIN Selling, Solution Selling, Customer Centric Selling, Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, Challenger Sale, or something else, good selling is good selling. Perhaps it’s time we all embrace it in our every interaction.
“In 2016, we will see a return to solution selling (or value selling, whatever fundamental selling process you prefer). Many SaaS companies have been able to get from point A to point B (or even C) without much actual fundamental selling. Marketing produces lots of leads, sales reps go right to the demo, drop a quote, and get deals. The volume is such that they don’t care when deals fall in the garbage. They were able to get where they are without the basics of B2B selling — using discovery to uncover pain and selling to that pain. For many veterans, this is an obvious practice but many companies could ignore it and still get to $50MM or even more. Now their market is more competitive or they have a more defined, targeted set of accounts to sell to. Increasing win rates requires a real selling methodology and the training and hands-on coaching of that methodology. You can call 2016 ‘back to the future.'”
“As companies race to develop new technology, better products, and the latest, greatest features, the ones that will succeed are those that recognize it’s not about them — it’s about the customer. The days of relying on your product for competitive differentiation are over. Even if you come out with some groundbreaking feature, you have to realize your competitors have access to all of the same information on the internet that your prospects have. They will figure out how to either replicate the functionality or how to sell around it in very short order. The path to success in 2016 will be creating a superior buying experience for your prospects by focusing on helping them achieve their goals, solve their problems, and satisfy their needs. 2016 will be the year of using ‘how’ you sell as the true competitive differentiator.”
– Frank Visgatis, Customer Centric Selling
“As we look ahead to 2016, we must recognize that buyers have evolved and so must we. Two key changes have occurred in the last few years that few salespeople have adapted to: prospects are getting much more comfortable with doing business over the phone, and buying decisions have been delegated to more people in the firm. So, in 2016, salespeople must get assertive over the phone and widen their networks within their target companies. Customers will have a greater appetite for larger purchases over the phone — so your ability to negotiate and close deals over the phone will be critical. Also, many companies have flattened their organizational structure, so you’ll likely find fewer Directors and VPs and many more influencers and folks with purchasing power at the managerial level. This makes it more important than ever to have multi-threaded touchpoints across the organization. And, while these are some keys for the new year they are no substitute for the classics — hard work, preparedness, and product knowledge.”
“Companies need to make every prospective client feel like they already know their industry and their business. This starts when a company first markets their firm … and needs to carry all the way to close. Buyers tell us in our surveys that what they get from salespeople when they first meet with them is a lot of talk about the seller’s company — and little knowledge of the buyer’s business. Salespeople are too quick to present instead of ask questions. They don’t explore ideas during first meetings; they just share past work. And they pitch versus listening. Even when they do uncover challenges, they don’t share examples of how they have dealt with similar challenges they’ve helped other clients overcome. Companies need to start thinking in client-centric terms by first developing content with their buyer in mind — so they can begin to present an understanding of the prospective client’s business. And as salespeople move down the line towards close, they need to maintain this approach — when responding with a proposal, answering an RFP, or pitching in person. Speak to prospect needs … don’t talk about yourself. This way, you’ll look different, sound different, and be different than the other firms who are still trying to ‘pound down your client’s door.'”
– Mark Sneider, Owner/President, RSW/US | RSW/AgencySearch
Successful Salespeople Will Learn to Say No in 2016
And last, but certainly not least, a few experts suggested that we take some things off our list. Making meaningful changes is almost impossible if we don’t take a few things off our plates. So, as you plan out your strategic improvement areas for the year, make sure you take some things off your plate.
“It’s Time to Say ‘No’ in Sales. When it comes to sales, most of us have been taught that we need to focus on doing particular activities such as identifying particular prospects or making certain types of sales in order to be successful — AKA what we say ‘Yes’ to doing. However, there is an entirely different approach to sales. This approach is much more about what we say “No” to, rather than what we say “Yes” to. There are three types of activities you should say “no” to in the coming year: 1) Say “No” to non-paying tasks; 2) Say “No” to unqualified prospects (in a kind way) and move on; 3) Say “No” to tiny sales. I find that most under-performing salespeople waste their time on very small opportunities, whereas highly successful salespeople spend 100% of their focus on large sales opportunities. By saying “No” in sales, you will ultimately become more successful.”
“A better question is what are you no longer going to do in 2016? There’s no room for new growth without vigorous pruning, so what bad habit, false metric, ineffective technique or ridiculous convention are you going to purge in 2016?”
– Blair Enns, Founder of Win Without Pitching and Author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto
“2016 will mark the beginning of the end of cold calling and cold emailing. My sales team does not prospect. Our marketing and product teams work together to acquire free users of our product who then raise their hand and literally book time in my sales rep’s calendars. As HubSpot has been reporting for years, the cost effectiveness of cold outreach pales in comparison to inbound generated leads. In 2016, more companies will team up their product, marketing, and sales teams to lower customer acquisition costs and accelerate growth.”
– Mike Pici, Sales Manager, HubSpot Sales Division
Are You Ready to Sell in 2016?
As we kick off 2016, change is certainly afoot in the sales profession. Technology and the internet are enabling buyers to take more and more control over the sales process, making it hard for salespeople to not only differentiate and add value — but even connect in the first place. Salespeople who don’t adapt will struggle to make quota, let alone help grow or sustain their companies.
But for the salespeople who learn and apply good selling, always do the right thing for the customer, strive to understand each buyer’s unique needs and interests, and use technology to be efficient, the future is bright. For sales organizations that use smarter sales technology to clear the way for salespeople to sell and sales managers to coach, that build better teams through improved hiring, leverage inbound marketing to attract prospects, and embrace the new entrepreneurial, thought leader salesperson, the future looks even brighter.
To Good Selling in 2016
– Pete Caputa IV, VP Sales, HubSpot (@pc4media)