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Twelve sales trends for 2018: Welcome to the state of flux

Sue Barrett /

The world, more specifically the human world, is changing and moving at lightning speed, adapting and evolving, and getting more complex by the day.

This is getting to the point where it is becoming too overwhelming for many. Just when we need to be able to really think about and manage complexity, there is an urge to just cope with the day to day. Simple solutions, easy fixes are called for on a daily basis. Many people want a short list of bullet points to give them the answer to make a complex decision. However, simplistic answers to complex problems do not work.

Or they go the other way looking to de-risk every nook and cranny by involving 25 people (slight exaggeration) in the decision-making process. Or, they resort to an overwhelming procurement process that is so risk adverse no one would meet the criteria, causing unending delays and extensions in the sales cycle that really affect pipeline management and forecasting, influencing business confidence.

This might sound terribly pessimistic, I don’t mean to be; however, this is how it can feel when everything around us is being challenged, turned upside down or discarded.

Couple this with an interesting international political scene and various country leaders offering a variety of leadership styles, some very dubious and others very progressive. We have an interesting mix, the likes of which we have not seen before.

The good news is that with all these changes we are creating many new opportunities, sometimes too many to comprehend.

We are in a state of flux

Where to start? What to focus on? How do we keep our heads while everyone else is losing theirs?

We are at a tipping point where old world business models are clashing with new digital models and a new consumer, human-centred ethos. Metaphorically and actually, we are seeing a clash between the ‘fossil fuel mindset’ of business and the ‘renewable clean energy mindset’ to business.

It’s creating a clash of ideas, ideologies, of cultures. We are at a major point of change in human society.

The 2018 Sales Trends Report – State of Flux, seeks to highlight the changes in sales – buyers and sellers, sales cultures, sales leadership, sales strategies, and bring to the forefront the core elements needed to drive better and more sustainable performance and highly functional sales teams.

All of these elements and others are coming together now, converging and bursting right in front of us. Let’s not be the ones who allows them to take us by surprise, leaving us scrambling trying to get a sure footing.

Let’s embrace this complexity.

Let’s bring together what we know to be true and take it up a notch or two.

Here is a brief insight into the 12 Sales Trends for 2018.

The Selling Better Manifesto

We need a sales philosophy that supports a fairer, more sustainable and prosperous world. Far from the aggressive dog-eat-dog sales cultures of the 20th century, the 21st century offers other ways of engaging and working collaboratively with customers, suppliers and each other. The Selling Better Manifesto is about long term and sustainability, recognising everybody lives by selling something, and a focus on working towards a fair exchange of value for mutual prosperity. Take a look and see how it aligns with your world view and values on doing good business.

The case for long-term focus

It’s time to rethink strategy. It’s not news that most businesses are focused on the short-term, living from quarter to quarter. Although there’s an ongoing argument about whether long-term businesses perform better, most of the arguments against it (pro short-term) focus only on profits. However, this sales trend reports there are increasingly louder calls for businesses to be more long-term focused in their planning and strategies because the results are proving the long-term approach far more sustainable and profitable.

Human-centred selling

The prevailing sales methods we have endured for the past 60 years have been based on self-interest, isolation and calculation. The 21st century is calling for human-centred selling. Replacing the 20th century archaic drivers with empathy, collaboration, and cooperation means we can meaningfully and consistently connect and engage with each other. We can ignite real opportunities and viable business.

Buyer behaviours, AI and the future of sales roles

According to Gartner Researc in 2015, by 2020, 85% of interactions between businesses will be executed without human interactions. This sales trend is focused on how buyers’ behaviours are changing with the rise of digital engagement and buying, and the impact this is having on sales roles across both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) channels. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and not all roles are doomed. But these dramatic changes do require many of us to step up and bring to the fore our best skills in communication, empathy, kindness, ideas generation, problem solving, creativity, and delivering real value.

Procurement in the future

Procurement of the future will not be about purchasing. It will be about the three-pronged management areas of supply, risk, and brand. Our world is not stable. We are living in an era of increased technological disruption, added to the traditional disruptions of geopolitics and natural events.

As a result of this instability, the traditional approaches of procurement are not sustainable. You should not negotiate annually with your established networks of suppliers or sources. Instead, the procurement roles of today and tomorrow should be about supply management.

Moving customer experience and human experience

The terms ‘customer experience’ and ‘customer centric’ have been around for some time. These terms are now referred to in shorthand as CX. Now a new term is emerging — HX, the Human Experience. What does all this mean? Aren’t they the same thing? This sales trend explores the terms CX and HX and helps put into perspective the old and the new when it comes to creating a competitive winning edge in sales and business.

Sales leadership

The state of flux we are experiencing is bringing about a shift in the top key qualities required to be an effective business executive and leader. It’s not necessarily a completely different set of qualities, but a change in their order of relevance for navigating a changing, ‘fluxy’ kind of world. This sales trend explores the essential characteristics and qualities of effective business and sales leaders, what business executives can do to deal with these paradoxes and how to be ready for the challenges ahead.   

How sales and marketing can excel in a world in flux

Who’s in flux? The buyer. They have dramatically changed how they identify, evaluate and purchase solutions over the past 10 years — and they continue to evolve. Every member of the buyer team has instant mobile access to the information they need throughout each stage of their purchasing process. Even when they are fully engaged with us, they are constantly interacting with our competitor’s information. As a result, marketing and sales are in flux.

Personal branding is a must have asset

As technology and the internet have evolved, our access to information has also vastly grown. Never before has it been so easy to find out so much about a product or a person. With a simple Google search, one can find pages of information regarding someone’s career, achievements, education and even what they have shared online. This access to data has made the buying process significantly easier and less risky for everyone involved. In B2B environments, consumers are looking as closely at the salesperson as they are at what they are buying.

Taking our sales teams beyond features and benefits

We all grew up hearing and sharing stories through childhood and adulthood – they help us learn, develop, entertain and inspire us. Brands today are increasingly incorporating storytelling into their sales and marketing strategies in order to resonate with their customers. This sales trend is focused on the increasing importance of the art and science of storytelling in sales and marketing, taking our sales teams beyond presenting features and benefits.

Sales cycle: taking longer (much longer)

In a B2B business environment, the sales cycle is usually defined as the days/weeks/months that pass from the first time a salesperson makes contact with a lead to the moment the client signs the contract. However, most definitions of the ‘sales cycle’ have flaws because it’s nearly impossible to have one definition applicable to every business. Sales cycles vary enormously from industry to industry and organisation to organisation. This trend is seeing sales cycles become unprecedentedly long and more unpredictable. When some years ago businesses could know for sure their sales cycle was ten weeks or six months, now it has become unknown territory – in the current state of flux, there is no predictability businesses can rely upon.

Sales coaching: at the core of sales success

In recent years, sales leadership coaching has continuously grown in acceptance by the managers involved in this task, as well as in its meaningful incorporation in the overall architecture of sales organisations. It has shifted from being an additional learning & development opportunity to a central and critical part of the evolution modern sales operations are going through.

You can download the full version of 12 Sales Trends for 2018 report here.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

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Sue Barrett

Sue is a selling better strategist and advisor, sales philosopher and speaker, sales trainer and coach, writer and activist. Sue is chief executive of forward thinking sales advisory Barrett and online sales education and resource platform www.salesessentials.com. Barrett develops sales strategies, standards and education that help people and businesses sell better.

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