What trends shaped the sales profession in 2016?

Salemen
istock
Sean McPheat
Managing Director
MTD Sales Training
Columnist
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Well, what a year 2016 has been!

The year started with sadness with the passing of so many well-loved and influential people and then it moved on to the build-up, process and fall out of Brexit. Then the circus moved to Allardyce and then there was, well, er, Trump.

Was I dreaming all of this?

So what did this mean for sales trends in 2016?

For some it meant very little but for others it caused a lot of uncertainty.

So, whether you can’t wait to see the back of 2016 or whether it indeed created some further opportunities for you, let’s take a look at some of my major findings throughout 2016.

What follows is a summary of all of the feedback, enquiries and conversations that we’ve had with key sales decision-makers throughout the year.

There’s a new objection in town

The lead up to Brexit created many a heated debate in and out of the office!

Once the decision was made to “Leave” then we came across a new objection in town:

“We need to fully understand the impact of what Brexit

will mean to our business and hence the project is on hold”

Like key decision-makers need any excuse to create a stalling tactic!

Brexit, however, provided a new guilt edged objection to add to the party. For some organisations this was completely true of course but for others our clients were telling us that Brexit was being used as a stall.

Interesting.

Back to basics

Big Data, sales enablement, social, mobile, CRM; back in 2015 a lot of organisations were frantically running around trying to work out what they were going to do for all of the aforementioned sales trends.

Some nailed it and some are still running around!

There was, however, a trend in 2016 to get back to basics and to get back in the trenches with a lot of requirements for face-to-face and telephone techniques.

Talking to decision-makers, they told me of the pressing need for consultative selling training.

The one key area that a sales force can differentiate themselves against the competition is in the sales interactions that they have with their prospects and clients, so many organisations were looking at this aspect to give them an advantage over the pack.

Foot on the accelerator with the hand brake on

When it comes to your sales force, how much of their day is actually spent selling? Do you even know what this figure is?

There was a lot of sales overwhelm in 2016.

There was a lot of sales overwhelm in 2016.

When I say 'overwhelm' I mean the need to update spreadsheets, to complete admin forms, to attend non-sales related meetings, to complete non-sales related projects – the list goes on.

The end result? They all reduce the time that the sales person has available to them to sell, and guess what? Yes, their sales go down or they are not as high as they should be.

Your sales people can receive the very best training but if you’re not geared up internally to allow them to sell then it’s like trying to drive in the fast lane with your foot on the accelerator but with the hand brake on.

My advice? Review every single activity that your sales force completes and then free them up to sell!

A 10% increase in time across a sales population can have massive impacts on the bottom line.

“Hey, I’m the sales manager. Remember me!”

2016 was the return of the sales manager.

There has been a real shift in emphasis in the value of effective sales management.

It’s a weird sentence to write down and you’d think that the importance of effective sales management would be a given; but many businesses throughout 2016 actually woke up to the reality that their sales managers could play a very important part in everyone achieving their quota.

Sales people need support. They not only need support to manage the inevitable ups and downs of the profession but they also need to receive effective sales coaching, accurate reporting, a healthy pipeline and accurate forecasts based on fact not fiction!

I saw a real shift in emphasis in the value of effective sales management.

No more shiny bright objects, please!

Being focused is always a big challenge for the modern day sales professional.

They don’t need any more shiny bright objects to chase! They have enough distractions with social, mobile, Big Data, CRM and all of the other technological enhancers out there.

So hand-in-hand with more effective sales management and a return to basics, there’s been a shift (albeit a tremor) in stripping everything back to enable your sales managers to train and coach and for your sales people in turn to just look after their clients.

Anything else was deemed superfluous!

The buyers journey starts with the first step – whatever it is!

Before the internet you could pretty much map out the buyer’s journey with a very high degree of accuracy.

“Agility” was one of the 2016 buzzwords.

Nowadays it’s not that straightforward.

Very rarely do you encounter a linear buyer journey. They can now be created from all angles and within 2016 we received feedback from our clients that their customers were coming from all different sources, some that they knew of and some that they had no idea of!

“Agility” was one of the 2016 buzzwords. Sales teams started to create frameworks instead of scripts so they could react to the specific circumstances of the buyer.

Open all hours

I don’t know whether this is a good trend or a bad trend. I know I myself fell into doing this...

When running a mastermind event earlier on in the year I asked 20 top sales people if they communicate with their prospects and clients “out of hours”.

I did explain what I meant by “communicate” and “out of hours”

By “communicate” I stipulated there had to be a two-way conversation. That could be over the telephone, Skype, text, email, Whatsapp or any form of social media. There has to be a “to-ing” and “fro-ing” of information.

When I said “out of hours” I meant any communication before 8am in the morning and any communication after 7pm at night and any time at the weekend.

A staggering 80% around the table said that they had engaged with their prospects and clients based on these parameters. 75% of them went on to say that they won the business when this was the case.

There is a growing expectation of round-the-clock availability from both buyer and seller.

Another interesting point!

What this means (I think) is that there is an expectation of round-the-clock availability from both buyer and seller.

I know myself that if someone is trying to sell me and they are going out their way (without pestering) to be timely and are responding when I want a response then I am going to be more receptive and affiliative to them than their competitors.

If I send a question at 11am on a Saturday because it’s popped into my head and they respond at 11.30am - I am very pleased.

Of course, we could go down the route and conversation of whether it’s “right” to do this with work/life balance and all, but this is happening and it’s creating a competitive advantage for those that do it.

So there you have it; what a weird year 2016 was!

How was 2016 for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and any experiences or trends that you experienced.

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