November 18th saw the release of Mercuri International Research’s much anticipated report, ‘The Future State of Sales’, timed to coincide with their annual event, The Sales Conference.
The report was wide-reaching and ambitious in its scope, compiled from interviews with 1000 leading executives in a range of industries across 30 countries and detailed the 10 most important trends in the sales world today.
But what role do organizations play in the Future State of Sales? From increasing customer value orientation, to the fight for talent, to the move to further integrate sales and marketing, to the demand for thought leadership – we take a closer look at the organizational trends playing a key role in the evolution of sales.
Customer value orientation
“Customer value orientation is the most important trend of all in our survey. 85% of respondents say this trend is critical to stay competitive in the future…particularly among companies within the financial industry.”Henrik Larsson-Broman, Mercuri International Research
Over recent years there has been a noticeable shift in focus, with a transition away from emphasis on the products and services themselves to an analysis of the value that these products and services offer the customer. This is not to say that product development, production, and distribution are not a critical part of the process – they are. However, there is increasing awareness that with intensified competition for the same kinds of products and services, it takes a better understanding of the customer’s needs to stand out from the crowd.
This shift in emphasis goes beyond just sales and marketing, but is instead fundamental to the foundation of a company’s very reason for existing – it’s an existential transition that informs all business operations.
The greatest driver behind this trend is customers’ ever-increasing access to information, making them better informed than ever. For a sales organization, this means that one must create value beyond the products themselves, anticipating problems and then building real value through meaningful customer interactions. This has a profound impact on the role of the salesperson – they need to become more of a consultant or business development adviser than a conventional sales rep. When products or services are perceived as broadly similar it is the salesperson who can best communicate this extra value – but do they have the skills to do so? 38% of executives responded that ‘their organization is partially or fully lacking the skills they need to create customer value’. So we’re going to need to give salespeople those skills if we are to remain competitive.
The fight for talent
“6 in 10 respondents rate the ‘fight for talent’ trend as critical to stay competitive…the companies that succeed in attracting the smartest people are those that will succeed.”Henrik Larsson-Broman, Mercuri International Research
Which leads us to the people themselves – how do we find the right people to fill these roles? 87% of respondents say that they ‘have difficulty finding talent for their sales and marketing functions’. People have always been central to any given company’s competitive advantage, but certain recent factors have exacerbated this situation. A recent study showed that 69% of the world’s companies now report talent shortages – an increase of 130% in just 10 years.
Sales and marketing, in particular, seems to be a particularly challenging area, appearing in the top three functions that companies struggle with most, when it comes to finding personnel.
So why is this the case? Well, much of it comes down to the ‘polarization of sales logics’, namely that traditional sales jobs (which required less training or knowledge) are being replaced by positions that fall into the ‘complex sales’ category – with a commensurate increase in demands of training, skills, and expertise.
49% of executives state that ‘acl of industry knowledge or experience’ is the main difficulty when attracting and recruiting sales talent and – as sales roles shift towards more complex models – this a trend that is likely to become ever more urgent.
Sales & marketing integration
“Sales and marketing integration is one of the most touted business phrases of the last decade – for good reason. A strong relationship between marketing and sales is critical to any business’s success.”Henrik Larsson-Broman, Mercuri International Research
Companies have always been dependent on both sales and marketing functions for growth and revenue, but there has, certainly historically, been clear delineation between the two. Roughly speaking, marketing has been responsible for communication of brand and offering, and sales for managing and closing business opportunities. There has been good reason for this – customers’ purchasing behaviour has not, historically, made it necessary to integrate market communication with the closing of the deal.
However, digitization has changed everything, with the boundaries between communication of offering and purchase decision increasingly blurred. Today, 55% of respondents say that sales and marketing integration is a critical trend for future success, with 85% of sales and marketing professionals saying the alignment between the two roles is the largest opportunity for improving business performance today.
So, just how urgent is it that we address this need? The same report reveals that 97% of salespeople and marketers say their content and messaging is misaligned. When one considers that other studies point to the fact that companies with strong sales and marketing alignment generate 32% greater revenue than those without, the potential upside of breaking down these barriers becomes painfully clear.
“What unifies thought leaders is that they create a unique position and change people’s perceptions by coming up with new ideas, knowledge, and insights, which makes them the self-evident actor to turn to for expert help.”Henrik Larsson-Broman, Mercuri International Research
55% of our respondents say that thought leadership is critical to the future success of their business. But why is it that a fairly abstract ‘perceived’ expertise should be such a central factor to deriving competitive advantage? The concept has been with us for a while and the term itself was coined (in the business sense) way back in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman.
However, since entering the digital era, the concept has been the subject of increasing interest, perhaps due to the speed with which information can proliferate. And – as with many digital trends – the last two years have acted as an accelerant. Almost half of all executives surveyed stated that they are reading either ‘a little’ or ‘a lot’ more thought leadership since before the pandemic.
Perhaps this comes down to the fact that, in an increasingly online world, we are defined by our perceptions – brand is everything. 89% of executives were of the opinion that thought leadership can be effective in enhancing the perceptions of an organization. This study by Edelman also revealed that producers of high-quality thought leadership content get more RFPS, win more business on more proposals, cross sell more to current clients and have easier to maintain and strengthen relationships than producers with lower-quality content.
In the end, it all comes down to intensified competition – it’s an increasingly crowded marketplace, with potential customers consuming information in digital formats from a wide array of sources and channels. Those companies who can communicate expertise will enjoy a significant boost above their peers.
As ever, those companies who will be competitive in the future are those that can take note of these trends and take action – today.