Sales Predictions (or Wishful Thinking) for 2016

Gaze into your Sales crystal ball

Image courtesy of Sean McGrath

There is a long-held tradition of looking both backwards and forwards at the turn of the year. Although I’ve done a little in the past, I’ve never been particularly fond of crystal ball-gazing. As Tibor Shanto says in this article, predictions tend to be “ wild ass unrealistic, and never to be validated or reviewed.”

Instead, I thought I would pull together other peoples predictions as to what changes are expected in the world of B2B sales in 2016.

It turned out to be a rather dispiriting task! Whilst Marketing seems to fare well in expecting change, Sales barely figures at all in searches for next years trends.

You could argue that this is a good thing. “Sales works as it is so it doesn’t need to change.” If that’s the case, why are there so many sales thought leaders and consultants (myself included) saying that the world of buying has changed and sales people need to catch up?

No, not just because we want to generate business! The fact is that a lot of what worked 5, 10 or 20 years ago is not fit for purpose now.

Don’t believe me? Then answer these questions:

  • How many cold calls do you take in which you personally are prepared to talk to the sales person?
  • How many sales people do you allow to sit in front of you just so that you can learn about their products?
  • How many cold e-mails do you open, let alone reply to?

I’m willing to bet that the answers are all extremely low numbers. I’m also willing to bet that, as a buyer, you will find out as much as you can before you ever speak to a salesperson. You’ll trawl the internet for information, talk to existing customers, gather as much comparison information as you can and decide exactly who you want to talk to before you ever pick up the phone or send an e-mail.

But what tactics do you and your team use in your attempts to generate new business?

What did I actually discover?

Across the dozen or so articles I reviewed, the overwhelming feelings were that:-

  • The Customer is King and we need to focus more on doing what the customer wants
  • Sales Automation tools will make everyone’s life easier.
  • Content Marketing is important because buyers want access to information without sales being involved.

Sad to say, not a lot of new thinking going on.

Haven’t we always tried to do what the customer wants (as long as it fits in with what we want!) I think that’s the point that is being made. It’s long past the time when we as salespeople convince the customer that our product or service is the perfect fit for them even when it isn’t.

Funnily enough, most of the predictions regarding sales automation tools came from people employed in companies producing them! (See previous paragraph…) Yes, I do accept that there are very many tools that are a great help but a fool with a tool is still a fool. The underlying sales principles and processes have to be sound for any sales automation tool to be effective.

There’s also a limit to what we can reasonably expect salespeople to do. In 2015, Quora published a list of 31 software tools for sales teams. The use of one or two might help but thirty one!

I’m a big fan of content marketing, particularly of how it can help at all stages of the sales process. However, it really isn’t anything new. Way back in 1999, thesis 75 of the Cluetrain Manifesto said:

If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.

That’s a plea for valuable content, right there. Why has it over 15 years to recognise that content marketing is important?

Do I have any predictions for what will happen in Sales in 2016?

I don’t, as a matter of fact. What I do have is a list of wishes for what I would like to see happening in 2016.

Formal Sales Process

Without such a document to provide a consistent road map, companies have no choice but to depend on the creativity, work ethic and luck of individual sales reps and their managers. Can you guarantee that every person on your sales team wants the same things as you? Everyone has their own agenda unless you provide one for them!

At the beginning of 2015, Harvard Business Review said: “there was an 18% difference in revenue growth between companies that defined a formal sales process and companies that didn’t.” You know your figures and how they change year-on-year. That sort of growth attractive to you?

Wider Adoption of Social Media

I should also add ‘and better use of social media’. In a B2B context, I’m primarily talking about blog posts, Twitter and LinkedIn.

What I’m NOT talking about is news items masquerading as blog posts. If everything you post is a variation on the theme ‘look what we can do / have done’ it’s a newsfeed.

IMHO, company blog posts, LinkedIn posts and tweets should not be product or service-based but should offer something of value. A summary of issues faced by your target market and a range of solutions to overcome them; the impact of new legislation; the disruptive effect of emerging technologies. Anything relevant that isn’t a stream of ‘it’s all about us’.

Better use of intelligent content

Carrying on the theme, I would like to see a wider variety of relevant content being used throughout the sales process.

As technical companies, we are very good at producing content like data sheets, product guides and other detailed ‘features’ stuff. These answer the question – What should I buy? This is content that helps with the final decisions. Yet, so often, it is one of the first things we send to the prospect.

Instead, at the beginning of the process we should be producing content that answers the Why questions.

  • Why should the customer care in the first place?
  • Why should the issue (let alone the product) get on their crowded radar?
  • Why should they buy anything?

Content here should mainly focus on business issues and you can use things like checklists and whitepapers to get the customer thinking.

In the middle of the process, content needs to walk a line between focusing on the business issue and the products or services you offer to solve it.

You’ve already attracted them but now need to woo them so content should answer the How questions.

  • How can I best meet these challenges?

Content here can include case studies, videos and initial consultations

The key to effective use of content as a catalyst is to use the appropriate piece at the appropriate time. It’s tempting to throw everything at the customer as early as possible in an attempt to hurry things along. Don’t do it, you’ll just overwhelm them.

So there we have it; my wishlist for Sales in 2016. Do you have any sales-related predictions or wishes for 2016? Let me know via the comments or, if you don’t want to publicise them, drop me an e-mail.

Wishing you a full order book for the coming year!

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  1. Ryan James

    As one ‘playmaker’ to another and an advocate of a joined up approach, I’m completely with you on this stuff! Well said.

    Is any of this ‘new world’ sales and marketing new at all? No. It’s just that the internet and given greater power to the buyer and increased the need for a more human approach, culling the success rate of sales and marketing sharks – which has got to be a good thing for humanity and all involved!!

    • Neil Fletcher

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Ryan and thanks for your kind words.

      I agree that there is very little that is new in the fundamentals of sales and marketing but our approach should now reflect the needs of the buyer more than the needs of the seller.

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