The Biggest Trends Affecting Today’s Sales Leaders—And How They Should Respond

By: Teresa Weirich

March 7, 2018

There is no department within an organization that hasn’t faced significant changes in the past decade, and especially the last couple of years: Marketing, HR, Product, Customer Success, and even Services. And while every department has to adapt to stay on top of trends, Sales has arguably the greatest challenge. Not only do sales leaders need to keep up with internal processes and technology stack updates, but they also need to be hyper-aware of shifts in buying behaviors, budgets, technology and competition advancements, prospecting shifts, and more. And, unlike perhaps any other department, sales leaders are on the hook to continue delivering bigger revenue targets and greater prospect and customer solution requirements.

No wonder the tenure for the VP of Sales role is dramatically shrinking to just 18 months. With so much noise to cut through both inside and outside the organization, sales leaders need to be keenly aware of trends that are unfolding around them, and they need to prepare accordingly so that they and their team of sales professionals are not just *mostly* hitting targets, but are consistently winning and proving value to prospects and customers alike.

Below, we’ll outline several of the biggest trends that sales leaders need to prepare for and incorporate as part of their sales plan in order to thrive in the ever-evolving world of enterprise sales:

1. Inseparable Alignment with Marketing

It’s no secret that sales teams have strengthened their relationships with marketing over the years. The past decade introduced field marketing teams, which support sales team members specifically by creating tools and setting up prospect and closing events. In addition, marketing teams have been on the hook to deliver marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and have also begun measuring pipeline impact, such as conversion rates, influence rates, and marketing sourced closed won new business.

Now, the two teams are becoming nearly inseparable—and for very good reason. The recent introduction of Account Based Marketing (ABM) platforms along with hyper-targeted campaigns, such as LinkedIn Sponsored Content and remarketing, means that marketing teams need to work hand-in-hand with their sales counterparts to ensure that the right audience is targeted and the right value-based messaging is used. While marketers used to be notorious for creating buzz-filled ebooks and blogs, sales and marketing leaders now need to walk in lock step with each other, using the same vernacular and holding themselves to the same revenue targets and goals. Afterall, if the sales team doesn’t hit its targets, then it doesn’t matter that marketing smashed its MQL goal, does it?

2. Massive Increase in Competition

Softwares as a Service (SaaS), Platforms as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructures as a Service (IaaS) and now ‘Everything’ as a Service (XaaS) are seeming to take over the technology landscape. Just a decade ago, Salesforce.com was educating the world about what a cloud-based platform even meant. Today, however, there’s no doubt that public cloud services are a booming business. Gartner’s latest forecast puts the total worldwide revenue for 2017 at $260.2 billion, up from $219.6 billion in 2016, representing 18.5% growth.

It’s not just that sales professionals need to learn how to differentiate their products and services. While that is incredibly important, they also have to determine how they will cut through the noise. With so many solution providers vying for decision maker attention, it’s no surprise that many individuals receive hundreds of emails and prospecting phone calls each month. This skyrocketing increase in competition puts even more importance on crafting a value-based message that will not only make it to the intended recipient, but will urge them to set up a meeting. But that’s where the real work begins. Sales leaders need to constantly work with their teams to become agile in their approach. They need to iterate on messaging and constantly test which discovery questions work best, what objection responses are most impactful, and what proposal follow-ups actually get a deal across the finish line. Sales leaders also need to keep in mind that the tactics that work today probably won’t be the same tactics that work next year, making the iterative and constant-learning approach even more necessary.

3. Huge Investments in Training and Sales Enablement

According to CSO Insights, 50% of sales professionals consistently hit their quotas and because of that, only 80% of revenue targets are achieved. In addition, it takes most sales professionals up to 6 months to attain their quota. With fewer reps hitting targets paired with the usually significant ramp-up time, it’s no wonder sales turnover is at an all-time high. This is especially problematic when taking into account the statistic we shared above regarding the VP of Sales turnover rate. These factors are why many enterprise companies are making big investments in training and sales enablement to accelerate the ramp up process of sales professionals, but also help the team be more prepared for difficult sales cycles. Training and sales enablement focus areas should include:

  • A Thorough Understanding of the Company’s Core Values and Mission
  • Up-to-date (and Ongoing) Product and Feature Language
  • Objection Handling Training and Role Playing
  • The Organization’s Sales Methodology

4. Major Emphasis on the Prospect and Customer Experience

How likely is the customer to recommend your company? Will the customer make referrals to their peers? How effective was the knowledge transfer, the implementation process, and the services performed? The answers to these questions, along with many other customer success-related topics, are becoming more and more important to sales leaders—even those that focus specifically on new business.

While research firms like Gartner and Forrester used to be the sole go-to resources for those evaluating software, now G2 Crowd, which is user-sourced content versus institutional, is marking its territory and is becoming a huge consideration in the evaluation process. In addition, word of mouth, ratings and reviews, and virality (including social media influence) are huge factors that cannot be taken lightly. One wrong customer service move and the new business sales team has to navigate conversations and hard objections from those that heard of the incident. Savvy sales leaders are working beside customer success and customer service leaders to ensure a tight knowledge transfer and handoff process, as well as a positive services experience for the lifetime of accounts.

5. Critical Reliance on Data-Driven Sales Coaching

Finally, while data is certainly anything but a new trend for sales leaders, data-backed sales coaching is no longer avoidable. Whereas sales teams have always been held to certain KPIs, 1:1 and team coaching was more of an art than a learned skill. In the old school world of sales, leaders would coach on how to ‘always be closing’ and how to make more dials and win more meetings. No longer are the soft skills enough for effective sales coaching.

When companies make a full transition to an agile sales approach, the benefits help both sales professionals and their managers. With a data-centric agile sales platform, sales professionals have access to the most up-to-date sales methodology framework so they always ask the right questions and provide the right information to prospects, all while keeping deals on track. Similarly, managers can access key insights for each deal in real-time so they can iterate quickly and collaborate to get deals across the finish line. With this coaching mentality, leaders can access visuals and stats to see what’s working, what’s not working, and what needs to be adjusted and iterated upon for future quarters.


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    Teresa Weirich

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