When Marc Andreessen stated in 2011 that software was eating the world, it seemed that at least software sales might remain a relationship industry. Now, technology tunes most buying decisions--even nonsoftware, like when Starbucks wants to lure you through its app. These powerful tech-oriented trends are shaping software sales in 2016:

1. Predictive analytics

Finding the point of peak personal demand used to be by gut instinct. Now, it's in the power of predictive analytics. With firms such as Leadspace, SalesPredict, or EverString, you can use analytics to determine which prospects in your pipeline have the highest propensity to buy. 

2. End user in charge

A recent IDC survey pointed out that 62 percent of tech insiders believe the portion of the IT budget controlled by end users, instead of the tech department, is growing.   N3, an outsourced software sales shop, helps clients such as HP, SAP, and Microsoft sell more cloud solutions. Sales guru and senior vice president Tim Killenberg recently told me, "We are seeing a sharp increase in the number of line-of-business buyers who are empowered to make technology purchase decisions themselves. Reaching these buyers requires a new sales mindset and new skills." (Full disclosure: N3 is a client at my PR firm.)

IBM's recent research underscores just how new the mindset is. It states that in sharp contrast to how Boomers made tech-buying decisions, "Millennials prioritize ease of doing business first and industry expertise last."

3. Inside sales as a profession

The end users you need to attract want their services almost immediately. They expect them to be delivered digitally. That means customer service is the new sales. This elevates the role of the people who call your prospects and respond to online or social inquiries to manage responsibility for the sales funnel. Sales development software makes this tough transformation a little bit easier. SalesLoft, for example, helps companies like MuleSoft increase appointment setting. CEO Kyle Porter says he thinks of the emerging space of sales development software as like a personal golf caddie for your salesperson. "Sales still has to take the swing," he says, "but it can set you up on the right course."

4. Revenue relies more on consumption than acquisition

In sales, the big-game hunters used to rule. Elephant chasers brought down the meaty mega-contracts that fed the enterprise. The last of the big buffalo hunters may have sneaked out stage left last year. Because it's relatively easy to switch technologies today, the sales game is no longer about hunting new customers, it's about farming the ones you have. If you're not focused on driving consumption and need for your product, your competition can swoop in and salt your field.

"The end of the funnel is no longer conversion," says Killenberg. "It now leads to the beginning of a new one called adoption and consumption."

5. Outsourcing for industry expertise rather than cost savings

Traditionally, companies have outsourced sales efforts to save on bottom-line metrics such as cost of sale. That way of thinking has evolved to outsourcing to maximize top-line metrics such as revenue. You do that, advises Killenberg, by looking for outsourcing sales partners with existing relationships in the industries and countries you are targeting.  

6. Partner empowerment

Relationship marketing isn't new, but the way it's being cast in 2016 is. Starbucks and The New York Times partner to deliver premium content to people who like to read. N3 recently helped OpenText and SAP generate significant net new customer revenue opportunities for a joint product launch. Your partner potentials are all around you--make a point to onboard one or two more this year.

7. Customer engagement

Adopt integrated engagement tools that follow your prospects and customers. Oracle used this approach to develop a more personalized customer experience through effective customer targeting and segmentation. The company increased the rate of qualified sales leads by 20x. There are a number of engagement platforms out there today--there's one out there that's just right for you. For example, EngageCX, also a client at my PR firm, is holding an event later this month in New York City specifically showcasing the company's solution for retail. (It's open invitation, in case you're curious.) 

8. Mobile

Yesterday's tech buyer was strapped to a desktop. Today, end users turn to their phones first. That makes responsive content and geo-location data critical even in software sales. See what it's like to search for your software by phone to see how you're doing.

9. Informed content marketing

Marketing can't force-feed content to sales--everyone knows this, but it's easy to ignore. This year, ignore at your peril. Forrester recently put a spotlight on this issue by pointing out that content marketing that's not informed by sales conversations and easily accessible to sales teams is a waste of budget. If you're curious about how well content marketing is connecting with your culture, poke this quick content marketing quiz.

10. Bust your anti-ad blocker moves now

Advertising was dealt a tough blow last year when Apple made ad blocking a core feature in iOS 9. This is yet another signal of the death knell for traditional sales approaches. If you reach out to prospects through traditional "spend to spear" methods alone, it will result in shrinking conversions. Connected, culturally informed content marketing is one of the only antidotes for helping software customers find you when they're frustrated and searching for your solution.

Published on: Jan 7, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.