Time to dust off the crystal ball. As sales organizations look to succeed in 2018 and beyond, they need to stay abreast of important trends that will impact how – and how successfully – their reps sell.
Donning the analyst hat I wore in my previous role – and also pulling from experiences I have with our sales team and customers every day – here are my sales enablement and readiness predictions for 2018:
1. Sales teams better adapt to millennial “movers”
Much has been made of the millennial job-hopper, who often takes roles for 18- to 24-month stints (the time it typically takes reps to become fully productive!), then seeks new opportunities. In the year ahead, sales enablement functions will address this reality with a multipronged approach. First, they’ll look to provide millennial reps with the resources they need to stay as long as possible. According to SiriusDecisions, more than one in three (36%) high-performing reps cite a lack of role-based training as an impetus for leaving their company. Accordingly, sales teams will better commit to providing continuous training and coaching, and clear, learning-driven career paths.
At the same time, we’ll see organizations accept the shorter millennial rep longevity, with sales enablement then seeking to accelerate productivity within that abbreviated tenure. Sales enablement will also take on more traditional HR functions, including recruiting reps to maintain a healthy pipeline of talent.
2. Management-augmenting technology
Manager enablement has been a challenge for years, yet companies continue to tackle the same old problem with the same old “solutions” (ineffective approaches to coaching and training). In 2018, we’ll see technology fill in some gaps, to guide and augment what sales managers do. For example, technology can identify and analyze the areas where reps need coaching, and pinpoint resources that should be shared with them.
3. Proactive learning models
Traditionally, sales leaders have taken an “if you build it, they will come” approach to continuous learning. The reality is, though, that even when these paths exist, reps often don’t take advantage of them. And after initial onboarding, rep learning tends to peter out.
To get closer to a state of perpetual readiness, look for companies to implement a “push” approach to sales learning – moving from a reactive model (where reps participate on their own) to a proactive one. Learning, often in bite-sized modules, will get pushed to reps at regular intervals, with aptitudes measured. To improve sales outcomes, organizations will make continuous learning part of reps’ jobs and responsibilities.
4. Learning paths: one size doesn’t fit all
Expect to see a shift away from the traditional approach, where everyone goes through the same training, in the same order, at the same pace. Increased usage of digital badges and competency-based approaches will further enable reps to consume the training they need, at their own rate, as long as they demonstrate mastery of core competencies.
5. Ask the (internal) expert
For years, organizations have gone out and purchased “sales expertise” – hauling in experts to train reps on presentation and negotiation skills, objection handling, methodologies, etc. Much of that expertise exists in the field, though – so why hire a company to teach what your salespeople already know?
In the coming years, look for companies to better use technology to crowdsource more of their readiness content. To do this effectively, they’ll need tools that make it easy for reps to share their knowledge through video, and turn the video into centrally accessible, searchable learning content. The process can’t be a free-for-all though – content should be sales-rep-created, sales-enablement-refined (that is, peer-to-sales-enablement-to-peer) to eliminate duplication and ensure quality, relevance and compliance.
6. Back-to-basics approach
While sales enablement has made exciting strides, I look back with some fondness on the “good ol’ days.” A graduate of the Xerox Learning Systems (now AchieveGlobal, a part of Miller Heiman Group) training “boot camp” more than two decades ago, I underwent a rigorous onboarding and continuous learning experience – living in apartments on headquarters for a month, getting well-acclimated with various departments, returning regularly for follow-up training, etc. It made for a results-driven sales force.
Nowadays, though, sales teams seem to have lapsed on the basics, and it’s to their detriment. Expect the pendulum to swing back, with renewed emphasis on fundamental selling training (e.g., pre-call planning, agenda setting, call execution and improvisation) to help reps better connect with buyers.
7. Emphasis on communication modalities
Sales reps have conversations with buyers in different formats, across different stages of the sales cycle – yet traditional training has focused, almost exclusively, on nailing the face-to-face meeting. Training will catch up with the times, with companies committed to better preparing their reps for the nuances of selling via social, phone, email, web conferencing and face-to-face interactions.
8. Analytic action: rise of the next-gen sales leader
Sales has always been an art, but expect the scales to tip more heavily toward science, in terms of how sales organizations are run. Sales leaders will rely more on predictive analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) for managing their forecasts and pipelines. We’ll also see an increase in AI-based approaches to training and coaching, with AI used to identify where individual reps are struggling to create customized readiness paths.
2018 will be the year “Moneyball” gets applied to sales, with analytics used more heavily to understand reps’ activity, productivity, competency and certification levels – and, most importantly, likelihood of success.
Crystal Ball Working?
Will these predictions come to pass? Time will tell, but I’m hopeful. In the meantime, best wishes for a prosperous 2018!
Jim Ninivaggi is chief readiness officer at Brainshark, Inc., a leading sales enablement solutions company. Jim has more than 30 years of experience driving B2B sales productivity and previously led the sales enablement research practice at SiriusDecisions. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNinivaggi.