Four industry leaders dust off their crystal balls and discuss the future of sales, from offering an increasingly sophisticated customer experience to the timeless art of storytelling.
The one constant of today’s marketplace is change. “We live in an increasingly more complex world than we did ten years ago,” says Marc McKinnies, Head of Strategic Business Partnerships at Salesforce. “Imagine being a CMO or CIO in 2011 and what tech evaluations would have involved. Now fast forward to 2019, where CMOs and CIOs have exponentially more systems and partners to evaluate. It blows my mind to think about how much has changed.”
The onus is on B2B sales professionals to stay up-to-date with trends and technology to help customers solve complex business issues, manage risk and “cut through the noise,” he says.
Artificial intelligence and automation are already changing the sales and business landscape, a trend McKinnies says is set to continue. “As smarter systems and AI-driven platforms become the norm, sales teams will become more empowered to use these insights to better understand and serve their customers, and to accelerate sales cycles.”
Platforms like Salesforce already allow businesses to import external data such as social media, news and financial information to give sales personnel a 360-degree view of clients. “This is just the beginning, and it’s only going to get better,” he says.
Convenience is king
Customers expect convenience, says James Slattery, Sales Manager at customer service software company Zendesk. “Customers want service that is timely, efficient and gives them what they want. Digitisation has changed everything – there is an expectation among customers that online transactions will be completed quickly and effortlessly, and queries responded to and resolved rapidly.”
Automation can help businesses meet the demand for quick and seamless customer service. Bots can serve as first ports of call for simple customer queries, freeing up staff at help centres to manage more complicated enquiries.
“The latest Zendesk CX Trends Report found that customers highly value companies with online resources that enable them to answer their own questions through self-service before getting in touch with customer support,” says Slattery. “Customers are almost four times as likely to use self-service as a company is to offer it, and yet only about 10 per cent of agent teams are offering self-service.”
The rise of the customer-centric organisation
Convenient and efficient customer service plays into a broader trend that has witnessed the rise of customer-centric organisations in the market.
In 2019, being a customer-centric organisation means allowing your customers to contact you when they want, where they want, via any channels they want, to solve what they want, says Slattery.
“It also means listening to customers intuitively and understanding their needs. I’ve seen first-hand the pressure businesses face to be customer-centric, and in 2019, the technology is there to enable both great customer service and to make it stack up in a commercial sense.”
At Zendesk, an abiding curiosity about what customers want is built into the culture. “We know that we can’t assume much for long anymore as customer expectations are rapidly changing,” Slattery says. “We have always been agile and adaptive to these trends and forward-thinking in predicting where customer experience is heading.”
It’s all part of creating a streamlined customer experience that delivers strong results for the business. “The experience economy has changed the way businesses compete,” says Chris O’Brien, Head of Customer Success at SAP ANZ. “Today, organisations must continuously listen to the beliefs, emotions, and intentions of customers and must then understand how this relates to the operational data of their business, such as supply chain, procurement channels, and delivery channels.”
Delivering an exceptional customer experience starts with an organisation’s culture, says O’Brien. “A customer-centric organisation needs investment, commitment and leadership from the top that puts the customer first.”
It’s also vital that “customer-first decisions” are based on reliable data, he says. “With culture and intelligence, organisations have both the intent and the data insights to do the right thing for the customer.”
The timeless power of storytelling
“We first learn to read and bond with our parents through stories,” he says. “They speak to the deepest part of our brain in a way that facts, figures and datasheets never can.”
The subconscious power of storytelling makes it a critical skill in sales and one that is unlikely ever to be superseded by technology. “You are trying to get a person or group of people to implement sometimes extremely expensive and complex solutions, and you will need as much buy-in and motivation as possible for that to come through – stories are a great way to break through wall after wall,” Kahler says.