Why This is the Year Senior Sales Leadership Must Level Up (Beware of 2022)

Modern sales leaders and VPs of Sales are constantly under new personal and professional pressures. From hitting numbers, to maintaining a work/life balance, to staying on top of the latest and greatest sales methodologies and technology, we’re seeing a fundamental shift in what it takes to be a great sales leader who can last and sustain results year over year.  

This change is being driven by two important developments:

First, Buyers access to information and substitutes is growing every day. Not only is more information about your products and services available online than ever before, but more competitors are entering into your space and competing for those sales. In fact, 93% of the B2B buying process begins with an internet search, and 94% of buyers research online before finalizing a purchase, which only increases the competition.

Second, sales technology is entering a golden era that is transforming the way sales teams work. The skills gap between sales leadership and operations teams’ understanding of how to actually harness the power of these tools to drive change and revenue is significant, which is a problem.

How many “cool new tech” trials has your organization initiated in the last two years? As a point of reference, there were approximately 120 sales technologies in 2014 and by the end of last year, there were over 473.

Guess what: neither of these issues are just trends or small details to tackle; they’re the new norm. The new latest and greatest sales methodology isn’t the next Challenger Sale, it’s sales team innovation and transformation on a scale that we’ve never seen.  

Sales leaders now have more tech at their fingertips than ever before, and thanks to websites like G2Crowd, which provides reviews of business technologies from real users we don’t have to worry about wasting out time testing out different tech to see what works. A search for “Sales” in July 2017 turns up over 2,270 results, and in 2016 G2Crowd had around 75,000 reviews which was three times the amount as the year before. This year, they’re projecting to have a jaw-dropping 225,000 reviews posted on the site. With this in mind, sales leaders need to be taking advantage of transparency tools like G2Crowd discover emerging tools and tech without wasting valuable time testing new services.

This growth is taking place in lockstep with marketing technology, which has exploded by 40% in the last year. In May of 2017, there were a reported 5,381 marketing technology solutions available from 4,891 unique companies. The TAS Group estimates that by 2020, customers will be managing 85% of their enterprise interactions without interacting with another human.

As we approach 2022, sales and marketing tech alike will continue to become more specialized, creating a powerful shift. VentureBeat reports that some of these technologies will fade away, while others will be acquired in time.

For sales leaders, it’s time to start looking at the entire customer lifecycle, and how technology and other departments can help streamline your sales processes. With 81% of B2B purchase cycles starting online, and 90% of buyers reaching out when they’re ready to buy, staying innovative with strategies and technology will help you stay engaged and ahead of the competition as we move towards these unchartered sales territories.

Unfortunately, even though many sales leaders already feel like their time is maxed out, the need to be forward-thinking and innovative is no longer a choice. Leaders must find the time and means to level up or be left behind.

The good news is that even though we’re still in the beginning stages of these new waves, baby steps will go a long way over years to come.

Here are some ways you can get started:

1. Spend Time on Professional Development

As a former VP of Sales with an MBA, I’m definitely not the norm.

Many sales leaders are so caught up in Sales and Marketing that we don’t spend enough time getting to know other business functions other than a lunch here or there. However, I recognized early on that to truly be a partner to other business units, I had to be able to develop a better understanding of the fundamentals of their world.

Over the course of my MBA, I worked closely with senior executives in Operations, Engineering, and Finance on many projects, and as a result my world was changed. I learned that top line wasn’t everything, and I learned new ways to think about running effective sales organizations from our friends in Operations and Engineering.

If you don’t have time to go back and get your MBA, consider other courses that will take you out of your sales world to gain a broader perspective. To be a successful sales leader of tomorrow, you’ll have to learn how others are already dealing with transparency. Ask a CHRO for examples of how they’re dealing with Glassdoor. Glassdoor has transformed many Fortune 500 companies and how they look at things like their compensation plans and hiring processes, as well as many other areas.

Find ways to deeply understand other business units and learn from the transformation in their group. Lunches won’t cut it.

2. Invest in Learning More About Sales Technology and Transformation

A sales leader doesn’t need to start attending every startup sales conference, but you do need to start to understand what’s possible, and where to start. When sales teams take an active role in contributing to a company’s overall strategy it leads to a 15% increase in revenue, which means sales leaders need to be thinking critically about how their team can integrate the sales tech they’re using to the greater benefit of the organization.

One example comes from a case study on our work with a rapidly growing technology company in the Learning Management space in New York. When analyzing call information and inter-group interactions in relation to the buyer journey, there was a clear gap at the handoff point between their Sales Development and their Sales team.

Information wasn’t being transferred correctly, which was causing buyers to consistently repeat themselves and feel detached from the process. By implementing tools that gave the Sales Development team a way to interact and transfer information to the Sales team in real time and improve the layout of the CRM to better capture the right data early in the process, we saw an increase in Sales Qualified Lead conversion of nearly 7% over the months following.  

With this example in mind, two key areas to look at and assess are your current buyer journey, and doing a sales team efficiency audit.

Ask yourself:

  • When was the last time I sat down and actually mapped out our customer experience?
  • When was the last time I actually took time to interview 10 buyers on their actual experience?

When you start with the buyers experience, areas of opportunity tend to show themselves throughout the process and you can identify gaps that are either procedural or personnel based, and then you can look for ways that technology can bolster that process. With 55% of top-performing companies driving their productivity with sales-enablement technology, sales leaders need to be investing in tech to streamline their buyer’s journey and understand the changing sales environment.

In today’s world, the word “audit” typically triggers a visceral reaction, but what you may need is a fresh perspective. Let the data tell you where to look for areas of sales team efficiency and places for technology to support those efforts.

Early this year, we worked with a growing business in the Customer Service industry who had a large and growing client base but realized that they didn’t know enough about where they could find areas of sales team efficiency. The typical activity metrics, activities, sales cycle, response rates, were all where they should be, but we had little visibility into where deals were stalling in the process.  

The answer was a third party data intelligence tool that quickly allowed us to pinpoint the trial process as a key bottleneck. The length of opportunities in that stage was 3-5 times longer than other stages, and was the main culprit for our longer than expected sales cycle.

By using this tool, we were able to develop new processes to shorten the time spent in this phase and accelerate the sales cycle.  

85% of companies buying CRM software to start automating sales don’t choose the right tools, as they fail to define proper business objectives. Most of the time, the best way to discover the best technology to use starts with considering the buyer and our own internal teams. Having worked with 100’s of companies on these challenges, we’ve seen that small investments in technology can have a dramatic impact on your buyers experience and your top line.  

3. Make One Change Today

Time and resources are often scarce for a sales leader, so knowing where to start can feel daunting at first.

Feeling overwhelmed isn’t an excuse modern sales leaders can make. We’re just at the start of a whole new wave of emerging sales tech, and taking small steps to understand how these tools and systems work will pay off in spades in years to come as sales tech becomes more and more critical for success.

There’s no need to rip out everything and start over, but instead try to start small with areas that can have the maximum impact immediately both personally and on your sales organization.

Here are 5 ideas to get you started:

  • Map your buyer journey with a third party and find new ways to delight customers and drive revenue.
  • Look online for executive MBA courses that fits with your schedule. Send two emails.
  • Find a sales trend, transparency for example, and put together a brief for your leadership team. Go deep on the topic and interact with other groups for benchmarks on how to handle this trend on your team.
  • Commit to growing your sales operations teams understanding of what is out there, technology wise, to level up your organization.
  • Conduct a sales rep efficiency audit. Two great places to start are:
    • Average sales cycle by stage
    • Average conversion by stage

Innovation has finally hit the world of sales leadership and these trends won’t be solved by the typical sales bandaids. To stay innovative, sales leaders will have to invest deep work and time into leveling up to stay in the game. 

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