The world of sales is changing rapidly. Once dominated by frequent flyer miles, golfing by day and dinners by night. Today many companies have implemented a sales structure that includes a larger mix of inside sales professionals, a breed of sophisticated sales people that interact with their buyers remotely. While this trend is particularly dominant within the technology sales arena, and has been for some time, there is significant evidence that this shift is occurring much more broadly. In fact, a recent study conducted by Steve W. Martin, professor at the University of Southern California, found that 46 percent of sales leaders reported a move within their sales organization from field sales to inside sales.

There are three main trends in the buyer-seller dynamic that are fueling this shift--(1) buyers today work in more fragmented time increments (2) they do more research online and (3) they often prefer to engage remotely. Let's take a look at each of these trends in a bit more detail:

  1. Fragmented time: Buyers today are working in smaller and smaller time increments. In fact, Gloria Mark, professor at the University of California, Irvine, found the average information worker switches between tasks every three minutes. This is a very small window of opportunity to engage with a prospect. This means that once a buyer displays a buying signal--for example, completes and submits an inquiry form, opens an email from you, etc.--your sales team must respond rapidly in order to maximize chances of reaching and engaging with the prospect.
  1. Online lead generation explosion: Google, the content and social revolution, and digital marketing advancements have changed the way buyers learn about products and services, and the way businesses generate leads. In fact, digital marketing budgets have already expanded to 2.5 percent of company revenue, according to Gartner. Applying this statistic to the Fortune 100, more than $191 billion is spent annually on digital marketing by these top companies alone. With this increasing volume of leads being generated, more attention is now being placed on how businesses keep pace with incoming buyer interest.
  1. Growing preference for remote purchasing: Today's buyers are increasingly initiating their purchase decisions via the web, phone and social media, often preferring remote engagement to face-to-face sales meetings. Gartner reports that by 2020, customers will manage 85 percent of their relationships without talking to a human. To succeed in this new sales environment, businesses must adapt and learn how to effectively sell by developing fast rapport and relying on fact-based, objective approaches to sales versus depending on deep one-to-one personal relationships to drive growth.Businesses must consider that a buyer's experience with their brand gets more and more digitized every day.

CRM is great, but not enough

In 2013, businesses spent $20 billion annually on CRM software, according to Gartner, and $750 million on marketing automation solutions, according to a Raab Associates report. Despite these major investments, a staggering number of hard-earned leads go to waste.

A recent secret shopper study by my company exploring the sales effectiveness of companies that use CRM software against those that don't found that 13 percent of inquiring buyers never receive a response from the sales teams, and those that do wait an average of more than two days for a call. Surprisingly, the study found that most sales reps make just one contact attempt before giving up on a lead and moving on. The resulting implications are poor experiences for would-be customers, and lost revenue for the company.

Why does this happen? It's a symptom of low-velocity selling practices being utilized in a high-velocity buying environment.

Sales acceleration practices are needed

I believe that high-velocity buying calls for a new sales approach. This new way of selling involves as much science as art. Clear, repeatable sales interaction processes, optimized through scientific analysis, are needed in order to help scale salespeople to handle more opportunity, while simultaneously providing a responsive and tailored sales experience to an increasingly demanding buyer. The good news is that a new breed of companies providing sales technologies have sprung up to help with exactly this issue--how to accelerate sales to catch up with the speed of opportunity. They fall into a few different categories:

Sales Acceleration: Working with both an organization's sales automation and marketing automation software, sales acceleration technologies close the gap between sales and marketing teams. Some of the companies that operate in this arena are:

- TAS Group: To increase sales velocity, The TAS Group's Dealmaker Smart Software updates forecasts and offers visibility into the sales pipeline, giving in-depth analysis of a sales team's performance.

- Velocify: Velocify's intelligent sales automation solutions accelerate sales performance through rapid lead response, increased selling discipline, and improved sales team productivity. [Full Disclosure: this is the company that I currently run]

- Five9: Five9's cloud contact center software includes native social, mobile, chat and email applications that enable reps to reach out to more customers through multiple channels.

Predictive Analytics: Predictive analytics has many applications, but when used specifically in the sales process, it can be a powerful tool for extracting customer data to identify buying signals and high-priority prospects. A few of the players in this market include:

- Lattice Engines: Their predictive analytics solution enables sales organizations to mine large data sets on prospective buyers to identify buying signals.

- Birst: The predictive analytics capabilities of Birst's business intelligence platform can be used by any member of the sales team to gain intelligent insights into the true causes of bottlenecks, how to best track and improve sales performance and how to target high-revenue markets and prospects.

Sales Gamification: Gartner believes gamification is so important that "by 2015, more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes." By providing sales managers with strategies to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty with reps, gamification creates a new way of driving sales. A few of the players in this market include:

- Hoopla: Hoopla's sales motivation platform combines game mechanics, data analytics and broadcast-quality video to quickly create contests, competitions and leaderboards around any CRM metric.

- LevelEleven: With LevelEleven's sales motivation engine, sales managers have the ability to tap into salespeople's competitive nature by deploying contests to drive motivation and increase lead conversion.

- Bunchball: By combining behavioral economics, big data and gamification, Bunchball enables sales managers to sustain sales rep and customer engagement by using motivation techniques that include leveling, goal-setting and meaningful rewards.

Sales Enablement: Throughout the sales process, sales reps need to know what content to present to which prospect. With sales enablement applications that will collect, analyze and convey the relevant information for you, sales teams are able to better understand their prospects' challenges, and thus provide them with the appropriate solution. A few players in this space include:

- InsideView: Integrated with CRM systems, InsideView provides a platform that gathers real-time insights from multiple sources so that marketing and sales are armed with relevant customer information.

- Savo: Savo's sales productivity software solutions offer sales managers the ability to help new hires stay on track by delivering them role-specific learning activities, coaching, expert connections and relevant content.

- Seismic: By connecting presentations, documents and spreadsheets to live sources of information, Seismic's sales enablement platform enables sales reps to deliver a personalized, one-to-one customer experience.

Social Selling: With the magnitude of personal data shared on social networking sites, sales teams are beginning to understand how social selling tools can help them develop a social presence, identify the right prospects, engage with them, and build a relationship, all of which generates a level of trust between sales reps and prospects. A few players in this space include:

- LinkedIn: LinkedIn's Sales Navigator solution makes social selling easier by offering sales reps a steady stream of updated information on potential leads.

- SalesLoft: Searching through social profiles on the web, SalesLoft's sales development software builds relevant prospect lists.

- Hearsay Social: The Hearsay Social platform applies leading social business techniques to help financial reps attract prospects, retain customers, deepen relationships and grow the business.

Together, these solutions equip businesses with the tools they need to address the evolving buyer dynamic, accelerate selling processes and close more deals. In a time of technological innovation, the way we sell is becoming less of an art and more of a science. Built for the modern sales landscape, these emerging categories of sales technologies will serve as the new bridge between buyer and seller.

In my new column I will be sharing new insights, research, techniques and tools that are effective in this new accelerated selling paradigm. If you work in a sales capacity or for a sales-driven company, follow my Twitter feed @Nick_Hedges.

Published on: Sep 17, 2014