The Future of Sales Technology
For the past two decades, salespeople have been the early adopters of technology that's later permeated the rest of the business world. Salespeople, for example, were the first to embrace smartphones and CRM was the first viable "cloud-based" application.
Therefore, if you want to know how the general business public will be using computers in the future, you'd best understand the trends that are already taking place within forward-looking sales teams.
To this end, I've been working with sales research pioneer Howard Stevens on a book about the future of selling. We have just completed the chapter on sales technology which (along with other chapters) is available for free on the Chally website (HERE).
1. Cold calling will become impossible.
Today, all companies use some form of voice mail, which provides an automatic and relentless gatekeeper. While sales technology firms have come up with technologies (like autodialers) to overcome these barriers, many decision-makers (especially young ones) no longer use voice mail and only take calls from recognized numbers.
At the same time, there's been an increase in government regulation of cold calling. Member states of the European Union, for instance, are now required to have laws that prohibit general cold calling. While cold calling remains legal in the United States, the FTC's "Do Not Call List" has greatly curbed unsolicited telemarketing.
The combination of these two factors is already making cold calling less effective at lead generation. Because of this, we see salespeople already migrating to other lead generation methods, such as developing customer relationships using a combination social media and other "known-person to known-person" communication.
2. Tablets will replace laptops (and maybe desktops).
When the iPad was originally released, Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal called it a "pretty close" laptop killer. There are now growing signs that that "pretty close" was an understatement. For example, a recent study revealed that 89% of iPad owners bring their iPad when traveling and more than one of three leave their laptop at home.
Within 90 days of its introduction in early 2010, the iPad managed to penetrate 50 percent of Fortune 100 companies and by 2011, iPad sales were eating into PC sales. Microsoft recent announcements identifying its Surface product as key to the company's future indicates the Microsoft takes the tablet threat seriously indeed.
While it is currently too soon to tell for certain, we remain deeply skeptical of the ability of Microsoft's Surface tablet to establish itself as a third alternative in the tablet market. While there's no question that Windows machines will remain a fixture in the business world for many years to come, we feel the days of the dominance of the desktop and laptop inside sales teams is drawing to a close.
3. Sales management will become more data-driven.
Sales management has always been data-driven; few corporate metrics are more visible than sales figures! However, because sales revenue measures after-the-fact result, sales executives don't know whether their strategies are actually responsible for revenue increases.
As a result, most sales managers rely primarily on intuition and tradition when making important decisions. For example, companies spend billions of dollars every year on sales training that attempt to "clone" the winning behaviors of top salespeople, even though there's no data to show that such training improves overall sales performance.
Increased data gathering through CRM and survey vehicles is now making it possible to gather and analyze demographic and performance data about sales personnel. This scientific process often reveal that the "intuitive" truths about sales management are dead wrong.
Top salespeople, for example, always build their success on pre-existing natural talent that tends to be unusual in the general population. A data-driven approach to sales management thus allows companies to re-target sales training to making average performers slightly better rather than wasting time trying to turn them into stars.
4. CRM will become invisible.
Historically, CRM implementations have had a failure rate as high as 70%, according to some studies. Experts believe that such failures have been largely due to a mismatch between the needs of sales management (i.e. control over the sales process) and the needs of the salespeople (i.e. control over their customer relationships.)
However, CRM systems are gradually becoming "smarter" in the way that they use existing information, greatly reduce the amount of clerical work required of the sales team. Tablets and smartphones will make CRM both less burdensome and more customizable and therefore more attractive to sales teams.
We believe that we're on the brink of a sales technology environment where the accumulation of customer data becomes automatic and CRM thus becomes an more or less invisible part of the overall computing environment, in the same way that Ethernet and email are now simply assumed to be part of the general business tool kit.
5. Interactive video will become ubiquitous.
Video conferencing has been around for over two decades, but has not yet played much of a role in sales environments. However, we believe that this will change over the next decade, and that video interaction will permeate the sales environment, primarily due to the increase use of smartphones and tablets in sales environments.
Fueled by online applications like Skype, the video conferencing marketing has been growing rapidly and the integration of video conferencing into iPhones, iPad and other table devices has turned videoconferencing from a specialized application to a preferred way for people (especially young people) to communicate.
We predict increased usage of video conferencing for holding online events, creating collaborative sales proposals, sales training, product demonstrations and ongoing customer service. Overall, we believe that interactive video is likely to largely replace in-person meetings for all but the biggest ticket sales items.
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.