The five trends that shaped the sales profession in 2017

30th Nov 2017

Another year has just flown by!

How was yours?

The beauty of me and my team working with hundreds of organisations each year is that we get to hear “what the year has been like” from many different industries. We hear of their successes, their challenges and any trends that have been happening.

So as we see out the end of 2017 I thought it would be good to take stock and to document the five most mentioned trends that I’ve heard during the year.

Some may be applicable to you and your industry and others maybe not. Either way, think about each of them, as they could bite you on the bottom of next year rather than this year.

1. Did B2B lose its mojo? Or lose its decision-makers...

“But the leads are weak…..”

No, we’re going down that road again! But I’ve been hearing that getting a first, quality conversation with a decision-maker has been tough - real rough. One of the factors coming from this is that there are a lack of real decision-makers.

Let me explain. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s there was always talk of “The MAN”. Today, it’s not PC to refer to a decision-maker as that but those were the times we were living in.

“The MAN” would be the person in charge (yes, man or woman) - the ultimate decision-maker and everyone knew who they were. Today, not so.

In the past, there was an ultimate decison-maker and eveyone knew who they were. Today, not so. 

“The MAN” in the 80’s and 90’s are the key influencers today. They have some say but they don’t have the ultimate say as most decisions are made by committee to ensure “buy-in” and of course to make sure if a mistake is made that no-one’s head is on the block.

The unfortunate outcome of this is that decision-makers are harder to identify, they take much longer to find and when you do track one down what starts as a really productive meeting is pure lip service and they then go AWOL.

This ultimately results in my second trend of 2017…

2. The biggest objection was doing nothing

There was a new kid on the block in terms of objections. Do nothing.

Okay, so it’s not new, but based on my research it was more popular than the money objection! Organisations wanted to do something, but that’s where the problems lay.

The drivers for change were not great enough and they were a nice to have rather than a must have. Therefore, what did they do? Yes, they did nothing.

Couple a weak need with the internal decision-making process of a company and you’re going to get fence-sitters.

3. Customer experience trumps sales targets? Really?

I didn’t really believe this until I was on the receiving end of it when buying a car for my wife (More about that experience in a moment).

I started hearing about the “customer experience” being added to targets, KPIs and objectives at the start of the year and it gained momentum throughout.

The fact that customers are coming in at different stages of the sales process means that organisations need to adapt and manage the experience from thereon in. Hence, the customer experience was vital whilst the sales person facilitated their buying decision.

Couple a weak need with the internal decision-making process of a company and you’re going to get fence-sitters.

Okay, onto my quick story.

So there was myself and my wife in the Jaguar Land Rover dealership. Yes, I was buying a Range Rover for my first wife Donna (I say first wife because she’ll be my ex-wife if she gets any scratches on the car!)

Me being me I ask the sales person the following question “What’s your target for the number of units you need to sell each month?”

He replies “Well, we have a target but it’s not that important. If our customer experience rating is below the intended target we get nothing”.

I was really surprised at this as I was used to a hard sales target driven environment for car dealerships.

I have to admit the customer experience I received from JLR was exceptional. The handover was two hours. It was thorough, professional and the hamper full of goodies at the end was a lovely touch so the sales person definitely got top marks from me.

But have two or three of those in a day and you’re struggling to find time to sell and achieve your targets. Reverse that, and I will return for an easy sale for the sales person next time if I have need.

4. Everything’s got a little bit smaller

Pipelines are smaller. Attention spans are smaller. Training has got smaller. Everything seems to be shrinking.

The most successful companies are now continuously qualifying their leads and prospects all throughout the process. This means that pipelines are inevitably going to be smaller but they will be a lot more accurate.

There have been many times that I have witnessed huge pipelines. On the outset all looks rosy in the garden. Upon closer inspection the pipeline is just full of deadwood and gives everyone a false sense of security.

Sales cannot be a lone ranger any longer.

Attention spans are also getting smaller. Not only from our decision-makers who want things like yesterday but also our sales teams.

Blame the mobile phone I say! I jest but texts are getting smaller - OMG! It takes a nano second to “like” something on LinkedIn and Facebook and Tweets are small anyhow – and most of this activity is taken on a mobile device.

Sales people don’t have the attention (and the time) to attend 7 hour workshops and there is a move to informal learning and microlearning.

5. It’s not just about sales & marketing any longer

Sales cannot be a lone ranger any longer.

In order to close a sale it used to be that just sales and marketing needed to work close together and there are thousands of articles on the internet about sales and marketing alignment.

But today it’s not only about marketing but also operations, digital, service and finance.

All of these need to come to the party to help and contribute to the customer journey.

It’s all about collaboration. Some companies are more sophisticated than others in their methods and the tech they use but the message is the same – start talking to one another and work together more closely.

So that was 2017 from my experience.

There was also quite a bit of talk about GDPR and the impact it will have on sales. Psst no one really knew!

Who knows, I might be talking about that this time next year. Maybe not!


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