Priorities for Sales Leaders in 2018
Sales Leaders are constantly asked to juggle multiple priorities – sell more to existing customers, find more new customers, improve team efficiency and productivity, stay ahead of the competition, build long term relationships, outpace customer expectations, and constantly deliver superior experiences.
So what are the key priorities for sales leaders in 2018?
Hubspot have published their annual State of Inbound Survey – always an interesting read. This year over 6,200 respondents took part, representing a mix of industries, company sizes and levels of seniority; as always they offered some fantastic insight into the top sales priorities leaders and sales teams are facing in 2018, as well as the key challenges for sales and marketing that need to be overcome.
The report struck a chord with me, as the findings very much match those I hear from the sales leaders I speak to everyday. So let me take you through some of the key findings, and give you an insight into the solutions I provide to the sales people I engage with.
We’ll start with a look at some of the key findings from the report, before taking a deeper dive into what it all means for sales leaders in 2018/19.
Top Sales Priorities:
- 75% of respondents said closing more deals was the number one priority
- 48% said improving the efficiency of the sales funnel
- 32% said reducing the length of the sales cycle
- 28% said social selling
- 23% said improving sales technology
If these are the priorities, what hurdles stand in the way of achieving these goals?
Sales challenges 2018:
Prospecting has gotten harder:
- 69% of respondents said that the biggest challenge they face is converting contacts/leads into customers
- 28% said identifying prospects is more difficult
- 40% said getting a response from prospects is more difficult
- 30% said closing deals is tougher
- 31% said engaging with multiple decision makers throughout the buying process is a difficulty for them
Generating long-term customer value and relationships is challenging:
- 44% said increasing the amount of revenue derived from existing customers is a difficulty they face in 2018
Efficiency and productivity remains a constant challenge:
- 29% said reducing costs of customer acquisition was a difficulty for their organisation
- 24% believe identifying the right technologies is a constant challenge
- 27% of respondents believe they spend too much time on admin and data entry, instead of selling
Too much reliance on over-rated tactics:
- Respondents believe paid advertising, email marketing and social media organic to be over-rated tactics, and instead see sales enablement as a more effective approach, as well as the importance of greater collaboration between sales and marketing.
Let’s tackle sales challenges and solutions head on, by looking at each in turn.
Why is sales prospecting harder than it used to be?
Much of what I read in the report was no surprise. If you work in sales, nobody has to tell you that prospecting today is exponentially harder than at any other time in history. GDPR, increased competition, and the fact that buyers have unprecedented access to information about products and services, with more choice than ever, and far higher expectations in terms of service, has all created the perfect storm if you like.
Sellers are finding it harder to uncover new prospects, engage with them in ways that instantly grab their attention, garner their opt-in to marketing communications, meet the needs of every stakeholder in the buying process, and differentiate from the competition.
So what is the solution?
In 2018 the best sales prospecting strategies leverage the capabilities of advanced technology to boost prospecting and lead generation activities.
The implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies such as advanced analytics, machine learning and natural language processing mean that sellers have the ability to cut through the copious amounts of raw data generated every day – from corporate information, news and social media to research trends and influencer opinions – to uncover new prospects, and triage which leads are worth looking at and where best to direct their valuable time.
Additionally, AI-powered sales technologies are providing a way to identify ‘propensity to buy’ based on a deeper understanding of buyer personas and sentiment analysis (not just of an individual lead, but across an entire group of decision makers), along with the best time and way to contact them, and which product or service will resonate most.
Likewise, such technologies are helping to enhance personalised engagements, solutions and experiences by tapping into data on needs, pain points and aspirations.
McKinsey recently suggested that businesses that have invested in the ‘Science of B2B Sales’ are pulling away from their peers, something backed up by the recent Artificial Intelligence for Business report by Raconter which was published in The Times in May 2018.
In the report 75% of organisations state that implementing AI and machine learning has increased sales of new products and services by more than 10%, and 85% believe AI will allow their companies to obtain or sustain a competitive advantage.
Our own experience at Artesian certainly supports this. Our users are typically achieving 38% more prospects and opportunities, and a 24% uplift in accelerated sales results. Take BT Local Business for example.
BT Local Businesses were finding that their ability to uncover new opportunities was hampered by highly manual sales processes (i.e. trawling the internet to uncover potential new opportunities and gain a deeper understanding of customers).
By adopting Artesian to harness real-time news, social media and people insights, they uncovered new prospects, gained a deeper understanding of leads, were able to act quickly on opportunities, and engage proactively in more sophisticated ways based on a real time understanding of trends, sentiments and needs.
In just 12 months they had uncovered over 1,000 new opportunities and closed 793 of them, resulting in £6.4million of new revenue – directly attributable to Artesian’s technology.
Why has it never been more important to keep that loyal band of customers happy?
Upselling and cross-selling to existing customers has always been one of the most effective ways to increase sales revenue and profitability, but like prospecting, deriving more revenue from existing customers is an increasingly difficult challenge for sales leaders and their teams.
Effective cross-selling and upselling strategies not only boost customer profitability but build customer equity, reduce churn, enhance market position, improve customer experiences, and raise satisfaction levels – all key priorities for sales leaders.
Again, in 2018 keeping that loyal band of customers happy is made far easier by embracing technology. Cognitive-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions that utilise advanced analytics, machine learning and natural language processing to dig deeper into structured and unstructured data sets can help sellers improve upsell and cross-sell strategies by:
- Improving understanding – pulling out the actionable intelligence that improves real-time understanding of the customer and what’s driving them at any given moment
- Improving relevance – having the power to determine in advance what a customer needs, and what product or service will have the greatest impact
- Improving timing – uncovering trigger events that highlight when a customer would benefit from an upsell or cross-sell, and pinpointing the optimal time to get in touch
- Improving value – understanding where, when and how you can bring additional value to the relationship, demonstrate trust and shared goals
For sales leaders struggling with the challenge to derive more revenue from existing customers, providing sales teams with the tools to upsell and cross-sell with confidence, relevance, pin-point timing and undisputable value, will make a significant contribution to overall income and profitability.
According to a recent presentation by Aberdeen entitled Optimise the Customer Journey with Data-Driven Insight, best-in-class businesses are using analytics to generate more opportunities to engage with customers, and build customer playbooks to support sales efforts by predicting the next steps in the customer journey in order to move it along and consistently add value.
Why is it tough to improve productivity and efficiency whilst reducing costs?
It’s an issue (and a fine balancing act) that all sales managers face. The board, shareholders, banks, and investors all want a better bottom line and everyone is expected to contribute. Sellers must sell more, but sales operations must be more efficient and productive.
I was not surprised at all to read that sellers in 2018 are still reporting they are spending a significant proportion of their day undertaking administrative tasks. This is despite reports such as Deloitte’s Digital Disruption Index which claims that 85% of senior executives plan to invest in AI over the next two years, believing it will have the greatest impact on the future of their organisations, in terms of both sales outcomes and productivity.
AI-powered sales solutions can help sell more, sell faster, sell smarter and most importantly save money for the businesses that deploy them.
Utilising machines to automate key activities such as information gathering, research on buying behaviours and trends, due diligence, and answering customer questions in real-time, leaves sellers free to undertake more strategic decision making and human-touch relationship building tasks with an even greater level of clarity.
According to the Raconteur Report, between 70-85% of businesses say AI is making their organisation more creative, helping them make better management decisions, and furnishing them with more time to think creatively about the challenges their customers face.
So AI is making sellers more effective and productive, but how does this translate to saving money? Take for example a sales team of 200, each earning an average salary of £50k per year. If each spends a typical 14% of time every day on research and administrative tasks then that translates to £1.4 million in unnecessary costs to the business each year.
The goal of AI is to eliminate mindless busywork, make sellers more efficient, productive, and valuable, and save businesses time and money. I say to sales leaders – “give your team the tools and the problem is solved!”
Why is sales enablement, diverse tactics and collaboration with marketing so important?
There has always been a debate about whether inbound or outbound marketing offers the best results.
To my mind a good sales team is one that grabs every opportunity and discounts none. Inbound tactics are without doubt very attractive, and are proven to net results. But reliance on a sole technique, whether that be social media, email marketing or paid advertising should never be the focus for any B2B sales operation.
If they really want to succeed, shorten sales cycles, and win more business, then sales teams must be more aggressive to go out and create demand – and that requires data and insight.
The most successful sellers today are those that capitalise on every business moment in a way that is customer-centric, contextually aware, empathetic and personalised.
Predictive analytics furnish sellers with rich customer data, and machine learning algorithms remove the guess work when it comes to relevance and timing, ensuring sellers know the best time to act and the most appropriate attention-grabbing ways to engage with customers and prospects, whether that be a well-timed call or email, a piece of thought-leadership content that taps directly into the heart of issues or problems a particular customer segment is facing, or a well-placed banner ad highlighting a new product, service or offer.
I was of course delighted to read that sellers are realising the benefits of sales enablement and greater collaboration with marketing. Sales enablement is a strategic approach to enhancing sales efficiency, productivity, and performance in order to increase sales.
It encompasses activities such as tools and tech, data analysis, content generation, onboarding and even sales training and coaching – a holistic approach, and one that in my view is vital to sales success.
Likewise, in today’s business environment, sales and marketing need to become one entity, as working in silos offers little benefit to the customer and therefore little benefit to the business as a whole. It’s proven that when these two teams work together, sales improve. Businesses that embrace a greater sales and marketing collaboration must build an ecosystem focussed on value-driven and consistent customer engagement at every touchpoint, and measure sales enablement as a combined goal that helps each other not only do their job better, but serve the customer better.
Best-in-class businesses are furnishing sales, marketing, business development and customer success teams with a single view of the customer from both internal and external data, and providing them with tools to address customer needs at each stage of the sales funnel (both pre- and post-sale) in order to anticipate enquiries and offer lightning-fast responses and recommendations, improve inbound marketing efforts and outbound sales tactics, and boost customer success.
The one tool every sales leader needs
The best sales leaders are those that adopt strategies to overcome challenges and provide their sales teams with the tools they need to maximise performance and accomplish goals, and achieve top-notch results for customers.
For every challenge facing today’s sales leaders, Artesian has a solution – whether that be improving prospecting and lead generation activities, helping sales teams both capture data and also put that data into action at every stage of the sales cycle, improving collaboration, and even improving sales behaviours.
Let Artesian help you overcome the challenges, and turn priorities and goal into realities. Get an instant demo