The landscape of sales organizations has undergone a rapid and remarkable transformation following the pandemic. Many of the traditional boundaries have dissolved, giving rise to a new era where hybrid and digital selling reign supreme and artificial intelligence (AI) emerges. In many ways the playbook for sales has been rewritten, opening doors to a more modern approach to engaging and selling to customers.
To gain insights into these new frontiers, Oliver Wyman recently conducted research in collaboration with proSapient, a leading expert call and survey provider, covering 100 business-to-business (B2B) sales leaders across a broad range of industries. From this work, we identified seven breakthrough trends that impact nearly every sales organization. Whether you are a sales leader or a private equity firm looking to improve sales effectiveness, your ability to adapt and harness the power of these trends is the key to unlocking sustained success. The seven key insights are discussed in detail below.
Key insight 1: The hybrid seller is the sales role of the future
More than 90% of sales leaders believe that hybrid sellers will be the most common sales role in their organizations over the next three years.
Implication for your business: The need for hybrid sellers is only increasing. Rather than fully separate “inside” or “outside” sales teams or staff, these salespeople interact with customers via digital channels such as video and apps, along with occasional in-person visits. The hybrid model also provides sales teams with more flexibility on how they construct sales territories. To take advantage, sales organizations can upskill salespeople to better equip them for hybrid selling. Sales leaders may also need to modify their talent acquisition approach, targeting salespeople who are more adept at hybrid selling and reducing the number of expensive outside salespeople who mainly sell in-person.
Key insight 2: Many customers want a rep-free digital sales experience
One in five sales leaders said that 26-50% of their customers prefer to purchase digitally and not interact with a sales representative at all; What’s more, 12% of sales leaders said that 51-75% of their customers prefer to purchase digitally and not interact with a sales representative at all.
Implication for your business: Many customers have been conditioned in the digital age to want a more “Amazon-like” buying experience. For instance, for some purchases that don’t require complex configuration, a growing number of customers prefer the ability to purchase digitally and not speak with a salesperson. Companies may need to make a significant investment in digital technology and user experience to allow customers to easily order and reorder, instead of having to meet a salesperson for meals or meetings. They might also have to modify sales goals and incentives for sales that come through a sales portal, as well as adjust the number of accounts can be managed by a single salesperson. The upside of these efforts is that more digital selling and digital self-service can reduce the number of salespeople and customer support reps needed.
Key insight 3: Marketing qualified leads are critical to driving sales
Nearly two out of three sales leaders surveyed said that leads from marketing often result in a sales appointment and/or sale.
Implication for your business: In the age of digital selling, getting lead generation right is more important than ever. But the best sales leads may come from sources outside of sales, like marketing. Among other reasons, improved technology and digital tools have boosted marketing teams’ ability to target customer profiles and identify leads that share common characteristics with others who have bought in the past. Our research findings send a powerful message about the need to reevaluate how sales and marketing interact with one another. Historically, marketing has often been viewed as a “bolt-on” organization that primarily assists sales with tasks like preparing fact sheets and other sales support materials. Companies that instead forge a close, more symbiotic relationship between sales and marketing functions — particularly for lead generation — can reap major benefits.
Key insight 4: Many organizations’ sales processes lack efficiency
Survey respondents indicated that nearly one-third of a salesperson’s workday typically is taken up with non-selling activities such as administrative tasks, training, and travel.
Implication for your business: It’s no secret that salespeople need to spend more of their time focused on selling, and administrative and other non-selling tasks can take salespeople’s eyes off the ball. While some non-selling activities are necessary and unavoidable, it’s worth closely scrutinizing each activity and seeing what can be eliminated. Sales productivity has improved somewhat as salespeople have become more proficient in using virtual communication platforms, but this is offset by increased commuting, travel, and virtual meeting fatigue. Sales leaders may need to provide guidance to help prevent burnout caused by prolonged screen time, reduced nonverbal cues, and the need to be hyper-focused during virtual meetings. Sales leaders may also consider how they can more effectively leverage technology or a different mix of support staff to assist salespeople so that they can stay focused on selling and building relationships.
Key insight 5: There is a clear need for sales support tools that provide pricing guidance
100% of sales leaders surveyed said their sales organizations would benefit from a tool to help them better negotiate and defend their price position.
Implication for your business: Recent spikes in inflation and current economic uncertainty have only heightened the need to provide salespeople with better pricing guidance. While many sales teams already have a customer relationship management (CRM) system in place, many of them do not have pricing support guidance built in or activated. A configure, price, quote (CPQ) tool can be integrated with most major CRMs and assist sales teams with real-time guidance for pricing a deal and optimizing margins. Additionally, many sales organizations need better win/loss tracking and attribution to determine why a deal was lost, as well as deal scoring regarding price compared with other similar deals. This can help the organization unlock additional insights as to what salespeople can do differently to increase their win rate.
Key insight 6: The impact of AI on sales is on the rise
99% of survey respondents think their sales organizations will be affected by artificial intelligence and/or natural language processing tools such as ChatGPT in the next 12 months.
Implication for your business: The artificial intelligence revolution is here. Salespeople need to make smart use of new AI capabilities, such as automating routine tasks to save time (including meeting scheduling and drafting customer emails) and analyzing customer data to discover trends and provide predictive insights. AI tools are especially useful for personalizing sales interactions and determining the “next best action,” or best alternatives when the first option for a sale doesn’t work. The technology can also assist by making suggestions for products to add or bundle that are likely to sell, or flagging when customers aren’t making new orders at times when they would historically be expected to. Additionally, AI can analyze and score leads based on various criteria (such as demographics, behavior, and engagement), which can help sales teams focus their efforts on leads that are more likely to convert, increasing efficiency. Generative AI, much hyped in recent days, can reduce costs and increase efficiency by creating sales scripts and other messaging, as well as customer correspondence historically done by marketing or sales content writers.
Key insight 7: The battle for sales talent rages on
When asked about the biggest challenges in attracting sales talent, 44% of sales leaders said they can’t find high-quality candidates or are not identifying candidates with the right skills to be successful.
Implication for your business: Sales is still very much a people business. No matter how well sales organizations may generate leads or utilize technology tools, their success ultimately hinges on identifying, acquiring, and developing the right people for the current sales environment. That means figuring out the essential skills, experience, and attitudinal elements, and updating the hiring process to find them, all the way down to the interview questions and compensation targets. Hiring managers should also look at the archetypes of their high-performing salespeople who have successfully adapted to hybrid selling and seek similar candidates with potential for future upskilling. Once in the door, even the most capable salespeople still need onboarding and regular developmental trainings, in addition to “ride-alongs” with other successful salespeople to leverage best practices.
How to position your organization to take advantage of these trends
As a sales leader, the decision to embrace these trends is not merely a choice — it’s a strategic imperative that will shape the destiny of your sales organization. Take advantage of them to position your business for future success.
Additional contributors Spencer Dickinson, Khalil Hajjarah, and Adit Shah. The study was produced by Oliver Wyman in collaboration with proSapient, a leading AI-enabled expert call and survey provider.