Work is chang­ing: What that means for sales pro­fes­sion­als

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - GLOBE CAREERS - JONATHAN LIS­TER

Global vice-pres­i­dent of LinkedIn Sales So­lu­tions and coun­try man­ager, LinkedIn Canada

The rise of pow­er­ful new tools and tech­nolo­gies has dra­mat­i­cally changed the sales func­tion, widen­ing the breadth of the role and the di­ver­sity of skills re­quired to be suc­cess­ful. Today, sales pro­fes­sion­als aren’t just sales pro­fes­sion­als; they’re data sci­en­tists, strate­gic ad­vis­ers and tech­nol­o­gists. They’re har­ness­ing pow­er­ful in­sights and tools to add value for their clients and strate­gi­cally pipe­line and nur­ture leads over the long term.

So what does it mean to be a sales pro­fes­sional in 2017?

AI as an op­por­tu­nity, not a threat

Au­to­ma­tion will lead to sig­nif­i­cant work-force dis­place­ment within the next few years as ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence (AI) tools dra­mat­i­cally re­duce the cost and in­ef­fi­ciency of ba­sic pro­cesses. Forty-two per cent of all Cana­dian jobs are at a high risk of be­ing af­fected by au­to­ma­tion.

The sales in­dus­try is es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble. Ac­cord­ing to the Brook­field In­sti­tute for In­no­va­tion and En­trepreneur­ship, sales-rep roles in Canada have an 85-per-cent prob­a­bil­ity of be­com­ing au­to­mated.

De­spite this, in­no­va­tion is your ally. AI can make sales pros more ef­fec­tive rather than threat­en­ing job se­cu­rity. As AI tools be­come more read­ily avail­able, they can em­power you to fil­ter through pre­vi­ously unimag­in­able pools of data to prospect more ef­fec­tively, an­a­lyze busi­ness out­comes and then make pre­dic­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions for cus­tomer en­gage­ment.

Au­tomat­ing tem­plated tasks can also make your sales pro­cesses more ef­fi­cient and free up valu­able time and re­sources to fo­cus on com­plex, value-added ac­tiv­i­ties, such as nur­tur­ing cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships, iden­ti­fy­ing growth op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­fin­ing your strat­egy.

Em­brac­ing new tools as a cru­cial part of your daily work and view­ing ma­chine-in­tel­li­gence ap­pli­ca­tions as a way to en­hance rather than chal­lenge hu­man abil­ity will breed a new gen­er­a­tion of agile, in­sight­ful and ef­fec­tive sales pro­fes­sion­als.

Zero in on the right de­ci­sion mak­ers from the start

Cor­po­rate spend­ing has be­come com­mit­tee-driven. The av­er­age busi­ness-to-busi­ness (B2B) pur­chas­ing team has 6.8 mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to CEB. Larger buy­ing com­mit­tees with di­verse stake­hold­ers are both a chal­lenge and op­por­tu­nity for the mod­ern sales pro­fes­sional.

While con­ven­tional sales wis­dom tells pro­fes­sion­als to fo­cus on the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, if you take that ap­proach, you’re miss­ing 5.8 mem­bers of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing com­mit­tee. In fact, our 2017 State of Sales sur­vey found that more than half of these pur­chase-de­ci­sion mak­ers aren’t even in the C-Suite.

So how do you reach the right peo­ple? Sales fil­ters and lead bots are two es­sen­tials for the mod­ern sales pro­fes­sional. Sales fil­ters al­low you to pull in­for­ma­tion out of a so­cial plat­form and des­ig­nate spe­cific qual­i­fiers, such as the ge­ogra­phies that you want to zero in on, ti­tles and com­pa­nies.

One of the most im­por­tant weapons in any sales rep’s arse­nal, lead bots are an au­to­mated tool that mon­i­tor the types of ac­counts that you’d like to en­gage with and proac­tively rec­om­mend prospects. With today’s in­cred­i­bly so­phis­ti­cated al­go­rithms, lead bots are also very ac­cu­rate.

Lead bots are in­te­grated into sev­eral so­cial plat­forms such as Twit­ter and LinkedIn. There are 1.2 mil­lion B2B de­ci­sion mak­ers on LinkedIn across more than 300,000 or­ga­ni­za­tions, and tools such as LinkedIn Sales Nav­i­ga­tor can help you iden­tify the right leads – based on their in­dus­try and unique needs – at the right time. There’s no ex­cuse for cold call­ing in the dig­i­tal era, when pro­fes­sion­als have a trove of in­for­ma­tion right at their fin­ger­tips to help them nur­ture a strong sales pipe­line, based on data-driven in­sights.

A value-based sales ap­proach will drive bet­ter re­sults

Suc­cess­ful mod­ern sell­ing is val­ue­based and in­sights-driven, and those adopt­ing sales-in­tel­li­gence strate­gies to drive ROI are well po­si­tioned for long-term suc­cess in this new era.

The rise of au­to­ma­tion and AI tools in sales means that pro­fes­sion­als must trans­form their client re­la­tion­ships, evolv­ing their role from a ven­dor to a strate­gic ad­viser and mak­ing sure to add value with each in­ter­ac­tion. In fact, 74 per cent of buy­ers will choose the sales rep that was first to add value and in­sight. Demon­strate a keen un­der­stand­ing of your cus­tomers’ busi­ness and bring for­ward in­sights that can help solve their most com­plex prob­lems. In today’s shift­ing land­scape, you’re not just sell­ing a so­lu­tion but your own ex­per­tise.

When prospects don’t en­gage with the con­tent you pro­vide, you need to ad­just your strat­egy. This is an­other in­flec­tion point in the sales fun­nel, where arm­ing your­self with in­sights is cru­cial for suc­cess. Tools such as LinkedIn’s Poin­tDrive ex­pose buy­ing in­tent and au­to­ma­tion soft­ware such as Mar­keto pro­vides key in­for­ma­tion about prospects and the cam­paigns that they’re en­gag­ing with, en­rich­ing your per­spec­tive so that the next time you reach out, you have even more value to of­fer.

Tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion has evolved the mod­ern sales role, up­ping the stakes for pro­fes­sion­als and their or­ga­ni­za­tions. Cus­tomers ex­pect more: more sup­port, more ex­per­tise and more in­sight. How­ever, new tools and tech­nolo­gies also present a unique op­por­tu­nity for sales pro­fes­sion­als to in­crease the value they of­fer their clients as data sci­en­tists, strate­gic con­sul­tants and tech­ni­cal ex­perts.

Em­brac­ing new tools as a cru­cial part of your daily work and view­ing ma­chine-in­tel­li­gence ap­pli­ca­tions as a way to en­hance rather than chal­lenge hu­man abil­ity will breed a new gen­er­a­tion of agile, in­sight­ful and ef­fec­tive sales pro­fes­sion­als.

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