Recently, a lot has been said about what the outlook for sales by 2020 will look like.
Forrester kicked things off with their famous prediction that 1 million sales jobs will vanish by 2020. And then everyone, from Cranfield University to HBR jumped on the bandwagon.
Globally, there seems to be a consensus building around a few things. Yet, sales is a notoriously short-sighted profession. A world of weekly dashboards, quarterly targets and annual goals.
Most sales managers I speak with are firmly focused on 2016 – not 2020. At best, they’ll be vaguely aware of what everyone is going on about, and be slightly amused by all these changes the “analysts” seem to be predicting.
Most sales managers are horribly wrong in ignoring the tidal wave of changes to come – for two main reasons.
First, thinking about sales by 2020 is not focused on some far-off point in time. We’re talking 4 years here. 16 quarters. Most organisations move like oil tankers. Meaning that, if the world is going to change substantially by 2020, the time to get moving and start preparing is … now.
Second, the world that Forrester and others are predicting will come … is already here. The shift has already started. Sales by 2020 is in essence just a further development of sales in 2016.
We’re not talking about how we’ll all hoverboard to client meetings, or hold our annual sales retreats on Mars.
Much of what Forrester and everyone else is claiming will happen is already happening. Order takers on the way out ? Check. Consultants on the way up ? Check. Social selling becoming mainstream ? Check.
It’s not like we’re all going to wake up one day and find the world magically transformed – the changes that everyone who’s keeping a long-term perspective on sales are predicting are already here.
Specifically, there are 7 major shifts that have already started, and will gradually change the nature of sales by 2020.
#1. Order Takers On The Out, Consultants On The Rise
Maybe I have a biased perspective (most of my clients sell complex, high-end B2B services and already sell as consultants), but this train has definitely already left the station.
Many sales managers and business leaders I speak with have already caught on to the fact that the skillset (and mindset) for success in sales today is very different from what it was 10 years ago. They see it on their dashboards, and their sales figures.
They educate their clients with new ideas and perspectives. Co-create and collaborate on solution development. And win the sale not by deploying some clever closing technique, but by demonstrating that the overall value they deliver is superior to other options.
#2. “Prospecting” Will Move From Outbound To Inbound
For as long as we can remember, prospecting has been about generating outbound sales leads – but recently that’s started to shift around completely.
In the future, a key skillset for successful sellers will not be their ability to prospect – it will be their ability to generate inbound leads (for themselves), and qualify those leads. Sellers will become their own mini-marketing department.
Buyer behavior is changing. With every single study, the effectiveness of “traditional”, outbound prospecting techniques is dropping.
Savvy sellers are already transforming themselves as experts in their space. They already understand the value of being prominently placed on search engines. And they have caught on to the fact that if buyers want to go online to consider their options, they need to be highly visible as one of those options.
In the future, “prospecting” will revolve around brand positioning, SEO/SEM, online relevance and supporting the buyer journey. The very idea that once we used to pick up the phone to call complete strangers and try to generate “meetings” will be seen as ridiculous and antiquated.
#3. Inside Sales, Outside Sales. Tomato, Tomato.
OK. So there are a bunch of people now predicting that inbound sales is growing faster than outbound sales, and will ultimately come to replace it.
In the future, there will be no distinction between inbound and outbound sales. Everyone will ultimately come to rely, for the most part, on what we now call outbound sales (except, by then, we’ll just call it “sales”).
I can’t think of a single seller who hasn’t already embraced the fact that technology makes it easier, more cost-effective and more efficient to sell. Not a one.
In the future, we’ll all use online meeting solutions, chat, social media and a host of other technology as the core part of how we do our jobs. In fact, for many sales pros, that’s already the case (I can’t remember the last time I went out to see a client for a “sales meeting”).
#4. Social Selling Will Henceforth Be Known As “Just Selling”
When I started my career in management consulting, there were two hot topics on the horizon: mobile and e-business. Today, those things are just as natural and normal to us as breathing.
For 95% of the population, there is zero need for training or education around “how to buy online” or “how to use your smartphone”.
In the future, ALL sellers will use social media to position themselves as experts in their space Click To Tweet It’s not going to require any special training, or cause great debate around whether or not it’ll “revolutionize selling”.
It’ll just happen.
Except, we’ll just call it “selling”. Plain and simple.
#5. Salespeople Will Become Businesspeople. And Specialists.
In 2016, you can still get away with having a fairly high-level understanding of your client’s industry, business model and organizational issues. When we’re in sales by 2020, that will no longer happen.
As buyers demand increased levels of professionalism, insights, knowledge and in-depth understanding of their challenges, industries and operations, sellers will be forced to specialize.
Yet, at the same time, buyers will expect sellers to have a broad-based business background, and be conversational on things like corporate strategy, finance, operations and management.
The most successful sellers will be businesspeople first, sellers second.
#6. The Tension Between Sellers And Clients Will Disappear.
For decades (and perhaps longer), the interests and objectives of sellers and clients were virtually diametrically opposed. In everything from lead generation to negotiations, the ultimate objective of sellers was to gain the upper hand and “seal the deal”.
Todays’ buyers expect co-creation, and a real sense of partnership.
Sellers who continue to operate in the old paradigm of “seller take all” will simply be ignored and marginalized. Those who think truly client-centric and focus on collaboration will thrive.
#7. Sales Performance Will Become Increasingly Concentrated At The Edges.
In virtually every industry in the world, there is a small number of individuals (and firms) who acquire the vast majority of opportunities, wealth and results.
The world of sales by 2020 no different: we’re going to see a movement towards (even more) concentration, where a small number of sellers generates the vast majority of opportunities, revenues and compensation.
The world of sales in 2020 is not 80/20 – it’s winner take all.
— Further reading —
TEDx Talk 2014: Sales 2020, Future trends in sales and sales management (Cranfield University)
22% of B2B Sales People will be Replaced by Search Engines by 2020 (Timothy Hughes)
Why I’m Over Social Selling (Barb Giamanco)