The end of 2017 which means reflection over the past year’s events and speculation for what the next year will bring. What B2B sales predictions seem likely to occur in 2018?
Looking back, 2017 brought several trends to prominence: the incorporation of AI as a sales tool into the fore, an increased influx of millennial workers into the sales force and labor force at large and a shift in focus toward building better B2B customer experiences, among others. 2018 is poised to transform the sales landscape even further, as the role of AI, the still-growing millennial workforce, rising costs of sales and a host of other factors start to exert their influence.
The Millennials Cometh
Millennials (those born from 1981 to 1997) are the largest living generation in America. Now totaling 75.4 million, this segment of the population continues to permeate the workforce and is expected to account for 46 percent of the total number of workers in the United States by 2020 — entering sales professions and other industries across the board. On top of that, approximately 73 percent of those millennials are “involved in some form of B2B decision-making,” with one-third being the “sole decision-maker in their company.”
In 2017, the increasing numbers of millennials posed one of the “biggest challenges” for sales teams, as older, more seasoned sales professionals had difficulty bridging the generational divide and relating to younger prospects. The response? Experts put forth vast quantities of actionable advice on dealing with Millennial B2B buyers, emphasizing the need to leverage new forms of communication, attract millennial prospects with “compelling content,” evolve beyond simple sales pitches, etc., and sales teams have started adjusting their approaches to fit.
Catering to this new crop of hyper-connected, self-educated buyers will likely continue through 2018, but it’s not the only effect millennial growth will have on sales. In addition to changing sales by forcing sales teams to adapt to their tastes, millennials will also morph sales strategies from within.
Millennials are now the “new face” of many sales teams. This generation is more willing to embrace new technology (AI, ML, etc.) and better suited for data analysis on account of being more familiar with dealing with large volumes of information. In 2018, their propensity toward tech-heavy sales approaches will grant them an edge and force more reluctant adopters of tech-integrated sales solutions to adapt in order to stay competitive.
Account-Based Selling on the Upswing
Similar to its counterpart, account-based marketing (which has made considerable buzz with its recent return to popular consciousness), account-based selling seems ready for a similar comeback. A cross-industry sample reveals that companies are reporting significant benefits from account-based techniques — increased sales revenue being chief among them. That sales-boosting potential is tempting enough that more than a third of the sample is considering future investment in ABS, and nearly half have at least begun some experimentation.
In 2018, as account-based selling continues to prove its worth, it’s likely that more companies will want to utilize such techniques to their advantage. With the aid of modern sales technologies, identifying ideal “high-value accounts” is now an easier prospect, as is customizing the marketing/sales experience to nurture long-term relationships with said potential clients.
Throughout the next year, sales teams won’t just make use of account-based selling in higher numbers, they’ll refine their techniques and become more creative as competition increases. It’s easy to envision a scenario in which outreach efforts, with the aid of large troves of data and advanced analytics, become hyper-personalized and client-specific from the very first moment a sales team reaches out to their potential prospect.
Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing
While the relationship between sales and marketing teams has traditionally been strained, in some instances, statistics show that closer cooperation between the two units nets better outcomes. Organizations with a high degree of marketing/sales alignment see greater customer retention and higher sales-win rates and are more likely to meet or exceed their revenue goals.
Driven by increased demand for fluid sales experiences, 2018 will likely see an improved alignment between sales and marketing along with more sales tasks being shifted toward marketing departments. For companies with account-based marketing and sales programs, the lines between the two will blur to an even greater degree, as attracting prospects, along with funneling them from marketing to sales, become shared responsibilities nurtured by both parties.
Rise of the Freelance Economy
The costs of B2B sales continue to grow. Cold calling, lead generation, content generation and the like add up. Combined with investment in new techniques (AI, ML, etc.), many companies will be left with a choice in 2018 — find a way to pay for increasingly expensive sales activities, or cut the cost of sales while bypassing cold contacting of prospects for faster sales cycles and better returns.
The rise of freelance sales will provide an option for exploring the latter route. The number of freelancers continues to rise nationwide, and is expected to reach 40 percent of the total US workforce by 2020. An increase in the demand for their services is primarily fueled by the fact that they cost less than full-time employees.
In the case of sales, this fact is coupled with a distinct advantage — many freelance sales pros bring veteran-level experience and deep industry connections with them (a particular boon for smaller organizations that need top-tier talent and access to clients in a hurry). This relationship is likely to grow in 2018, as businesses on a tight budget make greater use of freelancers to avoid the recruiting tediousness and speed their sales cycles.