In spite of all the press around the death of the salesman and the end of selling as a profession, sales has a very bright future. It’s clear by now that salespeople aren’t a dying breed, but they are evolving.
Sales expert Geoffrey James wrote an article for Inc. on the Future of Sales back in 2012 that predicted salespeople will become increasingly specialized, colleges and universities will offer more classes to equip students with the requisite skillsets these specializations demand, and, contrary to popular belief, the web will make salespeople more important, not less.
The past three years have vindicated those predictions. Telemarketers and door to door salesman have been replaced by experienced, highly trained account executives who reframe the buying process and fulfill specialized needs for their clients. However, the final point James makes is actually the most relevant to the future of sales.
He wrote that sales will become less of an art, and more of a science. Companies that adopted this philosophy early on and put a structured sales process in place are already reaping the rewards, and everyone else is scrambling to keep up.
If your company is one of the scramblers (and most of us are), these are the three steps that will turn your sales strategy from art to science.
1. Build a foundation of sales data
Sales teams produce a lot of data about prospects. They have to identify key stakeholders, timelines for sales, pain points, budget — everything that goes into evaluating need and delivering the right solution. The first step to taking the guesswork out of your sales performance is to structure that data.
CRM systems and analytic platforms make that possible. Companies of all sizes have access to tools that allow them to capture and analyze massive amounts of data. What’s harder is developing a structure for how the data should be recorded.
Your company has to adopt a data-driven philosophy early on, and install a consistent process for how sales should be conducted. Otherwise, sales reps all develop their own unique approach for prospecting and closing business, and your CRM gets filled with a lot of numbers but very little usable data.
2. Leverage Key Metrics
Even for companies that follow a structured process and capture the right data, it’s easy to fall victim to analysis paralysis. How do you know what information is relevant, and what can be safely ignored? What do you need to look at to understand what changes need to be made?
The answer to that question is slightly different for every company, but it always boils down to two points: keeping track of input metrics, and measuring downstream results effectively.
By focusing on a handful of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that are most closely tied to sales results, you’ll see what your sales reps are doing to win deals, understand what top performers are doing to excel, and enable your team to experiment with new tools, training, and processes to improve results.
Just as scientists isolate a few key variables in each test they run, the point of KPIs is to measure the core levers that drive your sales. Once you can accurately measure those levers, you can establish a clear cause and effect relationship between your efforts to improve your team and the sales results that come out the other end.
Without these key metrics, you’re just performing rain dances, instead of looking at meteorological history and planting seeds where it rains.
3. Implementing Targeted Solutions
Once you establish KPIs that help measure the impact of changes you make to your selling process, you can really benefit from the scientific approach to sales.
As selling becomes more specialized and the average sales process becomes more complex, it’s important to have a team dedicated to analyzing problems and implementing solutions. This is why Sales Ops and Sales Enablement roles are becoming more common at businesses of all sizes.
Improving sales performance ultimately boils down to being able to test hypotheses and measure results accurately. Companies that run into trouble are the ones that try to implement a solution without hard data that shows what problems actually need to be solved.
These are the same companies that refuse to invest in full-time Sales Ops, and they suffer from bad data, poorly designed sales process and all the inefficiencies that go along with them as a result. Companies that can break their performance down by the numbers and implement solutions that are targeted to the exact problems they most urgently need to solve are the ones who will win over the long term.
Where does your company stand — is your sales team made up of artists or scientists? Will you keep up with the future of sales? Find out more about how to create a scientific sales team by downloading the eBook below!