The Future Of Sales: Bleak Or Bright?

Malin Liden

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at the LinkedIn Sales Executive Forum in London. The topic of the conversation:

Is there a place for sales in an economy where the customer increasingly owns the buying process?

The fact that customers complete up to 70% of their journey and 90% of the buying decision before they want to speak with a vendor is a key driver for social selling. But what’s next—no selling at all?

The audience helped Liam Halpin, head of LinkedIn Sales Solutions in EMEA, answer the question, unanimously predicting that the future of sales remains bright. However, when customers fundamentally change how they buy, we must fundamentally change how we sell.

Asked how sales will evolve in the next years, my answer centers around trust. I believe that we are entering an era of extreme transparency where trust becomes the hardest currency in the economy. Today, if we’re in a sales role and push the customer a little too hard to buy a little more than they want a little sooner than they actually need to, we may damage that particular customer relationship, even if we still have a chance to sell to others.

In the future, when everything about how we treat our customers becomes visible, the price of sacrificing customer experience for a short-term win will not be worth it. It’s ok to win for ourselves and for our company, but the customer must also win—every time—which shifts the focus of customer-facing roles. So my prediction is: The quota crusher is dead; long live the customer success manager!

Here are the top trends that I believe will shape the future of sales:

  • Sales and marketing are converging: When the customer journey is not predictable and there isn’t a straight funnel with a clear handover between sales and marketing, we need to work together much more closely, becoming stewards of a buyers’ journey. This also means we need to measure success differently.
  • Advocacy rules: People connect to people, not functions. We must take advantage of expertise and networks, irrespective of roles and titles. Someone in our own HR team may be the best seller of HR technology based on their expertise, credibility, and network. This is also why it becomes increasingly important to nurture communities of people who are invested in your brand, product, and purpose.
  • Technology becomes the foundation for success: Sales is about relationships, and that happens at a human level. However, we’ll have to be much more sophisticated when it comes to how we develop quality relationships at scale, supported by technology. Customer-facing roles will have intelligent systems around them, helping identify the right time to touch a customer with what specific message. Some of these touchpoints will be automated, and that’s fine—as long as every touchpoint adds value to the customer.

The bottom line: In an environment where the customer owns their journey, you must add value in every interaction, and you can’t annoy your customer, ever. If you hijack a customer’s screen with an ad, interrupt content they want to consume, or make them feel stalked by phone calls when they are not ready to talk to you, you spend relationship capital and pay too high a price.

Already today, 86% of B2B buyers will pay more for a better customer experience. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as criteria for purchase. If you want to win in a transparent, digital economy where experience rules, the customer can never feel like you’re chasing and pushing them. They must feel like they are in control of finding what they need to make the best possible decision for their company.

We’re there to assist and guide them, not hunt them down. That’s going from push to pull, putting the customer at the center of an approach where selling becomes serving.

For more on this topic, see Step One Of The E-Commerce Journey: Customer-Centered Design.

Malin Liden

About Malin Liden

Malin Liden is Vice President of Digital Experience at SAP.