It is interesting how what is old eventually becomes new again and vice versa. From a B2B sales perspective, it is always interesting to review past, current and future sales techniques – as well as tools and trends. I have been B2B selling since 1992 and as much as things have changed, they really haven’t.
Let’s first start with what hasn’t changed.
- The need to drive revenue
- Sales still leads revenue generation efforts
- Sales people are still needed in the sales process
- Speaking to customers is still required in many cases to assist with the identification, qualification, proposal, close, implementation and post-sale support
- Pricing models have evolved, but people still charge for things
- Sales conversion metrics are still important
Now, looking back 20 years from a B2B sales perspective a few things that stand out to me. Here is my take on Sales: Past, Present & Future.
Techniques & Trends
Cold calling was still alive and well, both from an outbound-call and email perspective. Back then, occasionally a prospect would even return a phone call.
Trade shows and industry events were also big from a prospecting and customer meeting standpoint. Door-to-door selling, which I did a lot of when I ran a painting franchise was still allowed and actually translated into some solid business. I remember my conversion rates at that time were about 1 in 20.
Fax and hard copy mail-out were normal ways to still send out information on your products and services.
The “drop-in” was still somewhat fashionable however began fading out in the 90’s. I did my fair share of drop-ins particularly when selling painting services to businesses. Surprisingly, about 20% of the time, it was effective in at least generating a qualified lead.
Electronic newsletters were used and very effective. For one company I worked for, we had once had a column called “Straight Talk” and it consisted of the CEO interviewing senior executives at technology companies about their take on the industry trends. It was very well received and was based on our contact database.
During those days, sales CRM services were relatively new, but I can remember using Lotus Notes and then Saleslogix.
Email was the big tool aside from the phone. Video conference tools were not mainstream at that time. Any outbound email campaign was generated from the sales CRM.
Websites were important then, but not to the extent they are now. A solid website was used as more of a brochure than a lead engine.
Techniques & Trends
Big moves with social selling and the use of social platforms has assisted in lead qualification, but also driving new leads. I feel that LinkedIn and Twitter are still the most effective. I suggest keeping your eye on growing social networks like ComLinked and others that help businesses network.
Inbound lead generation or the use of content and digital assets on your website and social platforms to draw attention and leads will continue to grow as will ad campaigns on various social platforms.
There is still and will continue to be a need for inside sales and outbound sales efforts to drive leads and close business. I don’t foresee this changing. It is really the tool at the salesperson’s disposal that have gotten much better and more effective.
Cold calling is not dead and conferences will still be a good place to learn, network and drive leads.
Given most prospects are buried in electronic mail and often don’t receive nearly as much paper-based mail, there is an opportunity to get more eyeballs on your material if you send a package. I believe there are still a lot of people who like to not only digest things over the Internet, but they still like the tangibility of paper.
Outsourcing lead generation to third-party firms has really caught on. I see this continuing and even with the advent of anti-spamming legislation, the trend will continue to grow. As we all know, sales is a numbers game and to be effective, you need to find effective means of generating leads.
The continued use of marketing automation and CRMs has continued to grow and evolve as the tools become more effective and customizable. Reporting features will continue to improve and results driven marketing efforts have become an expectation.
The use of social media tools like ContactMonkey to gain better insight into your prospect and their actions will continue to be popular. The refinement and growth of current and new social media platforms have made engagement simpler and more streamlined. LinkedIn continues to grow popularity as was proven this week as Microsoft acquired it for $26 billion.
The use of video as a sales tool has come into the forefront. There continues to be an increased use of video in various aspects of the sales process, whether it be for product demonstrations, introductory pitches and video case studies.
The use of mobile from a sales perspective whether it be field service, mobile CRM or where a prospect searches for and finds you on the web has continued to grow in use.
Only time will help how B2B selling will evolve further.
Techniques & Trends
With the advent of artificial intelligence, the Internet of things and machine-to-machine learning perhaps sales people will be pushed to the sidelines while machines qualify, vet and purchase the widget they require based on big data analytics. I believe there will always be a place for salespeople who will continue to play a crucial role in the sales mix.
I do think trends like social selling, content marketing and highly targeted sales efforts will continue to be present and active in everyday life.
Inbound lead generation and content marketing will continue as lead generators continue to expand their sales efforts by allowing more prospects to find leads.
The continued and increased use of sales
Virtual reality is going to be a big deal, but I’m not sure how it will play into B2B sales. It could be something that is used for training or as part of a sales demonstration process.
Additional technologies to improve sales effectiveness will continue to pop up like ContactMonkey. New and interesting social platform tools will continue to proliferate however, I believe core platforms like LinkedIn will continue to thrive.
Mobile access will be the norm. Who knows, maybe we will all have personal digital assistants that will take notes on our needs and then scour the globe for the best fit. One can only dream.
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