The Top Sales Trends: COVID-19 Drives Changes to Sales Solution Road Maps
THE MOVE TO DIGITIZATION
As sales cycles lengthen or disappear, sellers require tools that maximize their chances to close every single deal. Companies, naturally, want to streamline business processes, but many rely on legacy technology that is inefficient in many ways. “A large portion of our customers still rely on pen and paper,” says Perdigão Silva, who notes that others depend on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
Many firms, though, are finally starting to adopt modern, more efficient digital options, such as mobile input and platform-based solutions. These changes often dramatically reduce the number of forms that must be filled, the time needed to check information, and the number of errors. “Digital selling and virtual enablement are here to stay,” says Perera. “This new corporate muscle is strong and can be used for competitive advantage.”
These same changes empower sales reps with access to more information. They no longer have to flip through pages to determine the status of sales. The new systems offer more intuitive and yet more intricate capabilities. “Nowadays, software is built so users get to where they need to go with the fewest clicks possible,” Perdigão Silva says.
Prospecting and customer service also changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than sending sales representatives to customer sites, businesses completed evaluations and closed deals virtually. In the utility industry, for example, field service techs previously visited businesses and residences to determine if they could benefit from special programs. Now, those same companies send their information to customers via smartphone cameras. When possible, energy-saving materials are dropped off and customers install them themselves. Technicians can help via video conferences, if necessary.
AUTOMATION GAINS TRACTION
Artificial intelligence today is a core part of 65 percent of corporate applications, according to a Deloitte study. Sales is no different. If customers encounter natural language processing during their initial interactions with companies, then conversational analytics not only enhance the responsiveness and effectiveness of such systems but also help sales reps understand where in the process potential buyers are.
Sales reps have massive volumes of information at their fingertips. In fact, corporations generated 33 zettabytes of data in 2018 and that number was expected to grow to 175 zettabytes by 2025, growing at a compound annual rate of 61 percent, according to International Data Corp (IDC). Sales reps, of course, need help sifting through the data deluge, and AI offers them a means to automate many tedious manual data manipulation chores and become more effective at closing deals. “Recently, automation was a big area of interest for our customers,” Perdigão Silva says. “For instance, companies want to make it easy to onboard new salespersons.”
Sales enablement platforms, another area of growing interest, create more consistency in the sales process. They include automated best practices and are designed to smooth out the roughest parts of the sales process. Use of these solutions is on the rise. The global sales enablement platform market is expected to grow from $1.1 billion in 2019 to $2.6 billion by 2024, representing a compound annual growth rate of 19.8 percent, according to market research firm MarketsandMarkets.
But the use of AI requires a balance. In some cases, companies rely too much on automation or automate poorly designed business processes, causing them to send emails to the wrong addresses or misidentify the recipients, or prompting customers to repeatedly enter their personal information. In such cases, customer satisfaction drops and churn rises.
Moderation is the key to success when using AI, experts agree. Companies need to be thoughtful in their application design and focus on what works best for the customer and not for themselves. Rather than rerouting users to bots to reduce support costs as much as possible, they need to offer them the opportunity to talk to live agents when they are frustrated.
How can organizations strike a sound balance between too much or too little AI? One solution is hiring an automation specialist, whom Perdigão Silva describes as someone who “understands when and why automation is misfiring and helps a company make needed adjustments.”
But in the end, one basic market dynamic has never changed: Sales is a highly competitive, highly dynamic market where change is constant. The recent pandemic disrupted many sales organizations, but as businesses reopen and the new normal emerges, collaboration, price monitoring, sales performance, digitization, and automation will continue to expand as parts of normal sales software.
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in technology issues. He has been covering CRM issues for more than two decades, is based in Andover, Mass., and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @PaulKorzeniowski.