Each year, our team analyzes business trends from various vantage points. As a keynote and workshop speaker, I have the good fortune to work with many of the world's leading businesses. We curate many different trends and then report on the ones that we feel have the greatest impact on growth in the coming year.

1. Subject Matter Experts Learn To Sell

Subject matter experts who understand and can help guide the sales process drive growth in top performing B2B companies.

There are three different buying personas: an order taker, a salesperson, and a subject matter expert (SME). The order taker takes an order and provides a price and delivery schedule. That function can be easily performed without human intervention. Amazon has this down to a science.

When I present these options to executives, they would willingly meet with the SME to gain insight.

The best organizations offer integrity-based sales training to build a sales culture within the organization and empower the untapped SMEs as keys to growth.

2. Crowdfunding Validates New Products

Globally, crowdfunding is trending to surpass venture capital by the end of this year.

According to crowdfunding and marketing expert Clay Hebert, "Smart companies are using crowdfunding to not only raise capital, but to validate products before making substantial investments in product development."

Smith & Bradley, Ltd., a U.S.-based tactical watch manufacturer has launched seven Kickstarter campaigns to validate new designs for their line of watches.

"When we wanted to produce our first watch, we used crowdfunding to raise the funds needed to go to market," co-founder Ryan Bradley said. "What we didn't realize was that we had also discovered a way to validate the market for a product before we went into production. Now, each new product idea has a crowdfunding component to validate the market. Based on the velocity or success of the crowdfunding effort, we shift our resources to meet market demand."

As Hebert often reminds us, "The best focus group in the world is the market itself."

Hebert offers a guide to determine if your idea is right for crowdfunding.

3. New Collaboration Tools Require Rethinking Email

Collaborative tools like Slack are replacing email for internal communication. Started in 2013, Slack surpassed 4 million daily users in October 2016. Though this does not mean that companies will abandon email all together, it does change how you need to think of email. (Lee Gomes wrote a nice piece about Slack)

As professionals shift to tools like Slack, they'll spend less time in email. As a marketer, you'll have even less time than before to make a positive impression with your email communication.

Smart companies will use precision targeting with social media tools to capture the attention of potential customers. Valuable content will attract, and self-serving hype will repel customers.

4. Narrow Segments Capture Attention

Marketing automation has been used for delivering the same message to thousands at a time. Leading companies have embraced one-to-one messaging.

In his bestselling book, Ask, Ryan Levesque illustrates how to narrowly segment your list to grow businesses at incredible rates.

Levesque says, "One of the biggest fears I hear entrepreneurs express in segmenting their market is that their different market segments are too small to be worth addressing individually. When you try to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to nobody. Companies, both big and small, that are adopting a segmented strategy are thriving more than ever in today's marketplace."

By asking the right questions and producing narrowly focused lists of user interest, the best companies are delivering content and communication tailored to your preferences.

5. Millennials Groomed For Leadership

Millennials now represent the largest segment of the U.S. population, according to Pew Research. Just like past generations, millennials will emerge as the next set of managers and executives. Top performing companies will work to magnify their strengths and build systems to compensate for their perceived deficiencies.

According to Bard Szollose, cross-generational leadership expert in NYC and author of Liquid Leadership, "You can't put someone in a leadership role assuming they have the skills to lead, only to train them 10 years later. If you want Millennials to succeed, invest in their leadership development today."

Millennials represent the largest generation of our time, as illustrated in this Goldman Sachs report. They are going to lead, whether they receive appropriate training and support or not.

It's Your Turn

How do these trends get you thinking about changes in your business? What trends do you think should make the list? Here is a podcast summary of the top 10 trends.

Prior Years' Business Trends

Here is what I shared for 2016, 2015, and 2014.

Published on: Dec 15, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.