Harvard Business Review is arguably the most prestigious publication for business leaders and
management thinkers. Here’s one of my recent Harvard Business Review articles titled “TOP TEN SALES TRENDS FOR 2013.”
What are the top business-to-business sales trends for 2013? Here’s my list based upon my experience of working with some of the world’s best sales organizations this past year.
1. Sales Force Behavior “Modeling”
Models are verbal descriptions and visual representations of how systems work and processes flow. Models enable repeatable and predictable experiences. More organizations will study their top salespeople in 2013 to understand how they formulate their winning account strategies based upon customer politics, evaluator psychology, and the human nature of executive decision makers that are unique to winning every account.
2. Win-Loss Analysis Studies
All companies and their salespeople are well versed on the logical arguments for selecting their product. However, the decision to make a major purchase is also influenced by internal politics, how the decision-makers receive information along with individual biases and personal desires. Unfortunately many companies don’t perform any type of win-loss analysis so they don't understand their customers in these regards. Because of the economy and relentless competition, 2013 will be the year that many companies have to re-discover the lost art of win-loss analysis.
3. Emphasis on Language-Based Interactions
While proponents of the consultative, relationship, and challenger-based sales approaches will continue to argue the merits of their respective philosophies, there is one thing everyone can agree on. For 2013, it’s not only what you say, but equally important, how you say it. Sales linguistics is the new field of study about how customers and salespeople use and interpret language during the decision making process. If you are in sales, you make your living by talking. You need to study language and perfect your use of words because your most important competitive weapon is your mouth.
4. Sales Force Verticalization
A “specialist” beats a “generalist” every time. Closely related to Sales Linguistics, is the accelerated trend of sales force language specialization based upon the following strategies:
Industry verticalization focus (finance, government, retail, etc.) to promote domain expertise.
Technical application segmented by the different solutions the company offers to promote extremely deep technical knowledge.
Business process improvement as opposed to the recitation of standard “generic” product features and functions to customers.
5. Sales Process Ineffectiveness
Many companies have realized that their sales didn’t increase even after spending a great deal of money and effort implementing a sales process methodology. The reason for this is because the “black hole” of the sales process is what happens during and at the close of sales calls. Today more than ever, it’s the personal interactions with prospective customers that determines winners from losers, not the internal processes of the sales organization. In 2013 more companies will be studying and categorizing these customer interactions so they can improve sales force effectiveness.
6. Organizational Buying Psychology
If you are involved in selling enterprise solutions, you already know the importance of understanding the inner workings of the various departments within the prospective customer’s company. Your solution might be purchased by the information technology department and used by accounting and human resources. Therefore, it’s critical to map out the interrelationships of the departments within an organization. The essence of successful enterprise sales is understanding not only who to sell to, but how to craft a message that appeals to various departmental constituents. Understanding organizational buying psychology becomes an even more critical topic in 2013.
7. No Decision as the Main Competitor
For sales forces involved with large capital expenditure sales cycles, never before has the mantra “Call High or Die” been so true. Salespeople must reach C-level executive decision makers early in the sales process because the default for organizations today is to maintain the status quo and delay every major purchase.
8. “Intelligent” Territory Management
Salespeople who have to manage hundreds of accounts and vast geographic territories face the perennial problem of where to spend their most precious resource, which is their time. Perhaps the most important “Big Data” application within sales will be the analytics that predict which prospective net-new customers should be called upon and what installed base accounts are most likely to buy next. As opposed to salespeople creating their own action plan for the day’s activities, more intelligent territory management systems will direct them to call on certain accounts and prospects in 2013.
9. Technology Fatigue
While technology has profoundly improved the effectiveness of salespeople, there is an interesting trend that has been growing over the past couple of years and will only get worse. Salespeople today are always available to customers via their cell phones, constantly receiving a gargantuan stream of e-mail information, and every account update they make in Salesforce.com is broadcast to sales management. Many long time salespeople are suffering from “Technology Fatigue” and complain they are burning themselves out.
10. Continued Migration from Field to Phone
One final trend that bears mentioning is the accelerated move from field-based sales to phone-based internet sales. Many companies have quickly transitioned the majority of their field reps to be almost exclusively phone based. Therefore, these reps must now be able to create winning relationships with their voices as opposed to how they sold in the past with their physical presence. Understanding and mastering the art of persuasion will become even more important for all salespeople in 2013.
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