There have been more productive changes in the practice of sales in the past decade than the previous 50 years. We are moving away from the era of personality-based “magic hands” selling to one of professional best-practice that will require Tier 1 salespeople.

Two Trends Shaping Sales for the 2020s

1 The differences between products and are not as big as they used to be. Gone are the days when a firm could create and sustain a substantial product difference for 10 years. No matter how innovative or disruptive your offering is,  your stand-out product difference can be eroded in months, making your sales – and marketing – capability the your main competitive weapons.

2 Buyers used to “need” salespeople just to get access to basic information. Salespeople were live brochures. Today, buyers decide to speak with a salesperson to get access to expertise that only the salesperson can give them. Otherwise, there is no use for what we call a salesperson.

No matter how innovative or disruptive your offering is,  your stand-out product difference can be eroded in months, making your sales – and marketing – capability the your main competitive weapons.

The Shift From Salespeople to Sales Capability

In the coming decade, growth firms need to go beyond “salespeople” and – first –  build sales capabilityThat capability will not be embodied in one salesperson or even a collection of individual salespeople. Sales capability is a unified system of measurement, review, enablement, skills, training, content, tools, values and mindset. The challenge will not just be to find “good” salespeople, but to find people who can work within a sales framework or architecture and take ownership for their own performance and development.

Sales Capability in the 20s will be Built on 4 Pillars

1 Keeping Score: Traditionally, keeping score in sales meant tracking sales revenue results – what is known as a “lag” indicator. This measurement works when your job is to count the money at the end of the sales cycle, which is usually done by the accountant, not the salesperson. The modern, highly effective sales organisation is expert at measuring progress towards the goal, otherwise known as managing to the sales forecast and the sales pipeline. The top tier of sales teams are first and foremost forecast-driven and it’s how they drive personal accountability.

2 Clear Sales Roles: Sales is easy to understand and very difficult to do.  A well-defined sales role is an essential pillar of sales capability, one that focuses on not just financial or numbers responsibility, but ownership of key outcomes, the sales forecast, prospecting, opportunity creation and opportunity capture. And the language we use to describe what a salesperson needs to own is vital. It’s easy to be in “sales”. It’s much harder to do what matters, and what matters in a sales role is high-risk, low-yield, but high-reward work such as hunting. Sales roles that gloss over the least attractive work will set people up for failure.

The top tier of sales teams are first and foremost forecast-driven and it’s how they drive personal accountability.

3 Values-based Enablement:  In the past, in a sales role, if you had a telephone and a car, you were fully enabled. Today, professional salespeople who provide their company with a lot of its competitive advantage are equipped to help customers make better decisions and invest for better results. That means providing the team with the messaging and the tools to be effective, rather than assuming that each individual salesperson will know what to do and say.

Enablement on its own will not be enough though to compete in the 2020s. The most effective sales teams will operate from a set of values that drive who to target, how to message, who not to target and how to position, negotiate and sell. It’s the values-based approach that turns a collection of individuals into a winning unit, outperforming competitors and often against the odds. SMBs that want to scale quickly and capture relatively short-lived market opportunity will see the commercial sense in building a values-based sales organisation. (Large enterprise sales teams already know this and do this).

A well-defined sales role is an essential pillar of sales capability, one that focuses on not just financial or numbers responsibility, but ownership of key outcomes, the sales forecast, prospecting, opportunity creation and opportunity capture.

4 Professional Tier 1 Salespeople: The final pillar of sales capability is talent and people, not just “salespeople”, but professional salespeople. And there is a world of a difference. Professional salespeople micromanage themselves, delivering accurate forecasts and prioritising  opportunity creation over vague relationship building.

Seen from the buyer’s point of view, the 2020s sales professional is an expert worth meeting, someone you turn to when you have exhausted your own routes to better thinking, better approaches and better solutions. Domain, subject and situational knowledge will become the salesperson’s points of value and the reason buyers will meet your salespeople. The fact that your salesperson might be good company will not get a sales meeting in the coming decade.

The most effective sales teams will operate from a set of values that drive who to target, how to message, who not to target and how to position, negotiate and sell. It’s the values-based approach that turns a collection of individuals into a winning unit, outperforming competitors and often against the odds.

The Challenge for SMBs in the 2020s will be Talent Acquisition

The challenge for SMBs and growth and scaling companies in the coming decade  is that unless you are investing in sales and not just hiring a salesperson, it will be very challenging to attract the talent needed to make the numbers. The fact that we might have a pressing need to close sales is not a talent attraction value proposition. The larger enterprise firms will pick up a lot of the best sales talent anyway using higher salaries and a package of attractive benefits that check the Millennials’ best-employer’s wish-list. If you are an SMB (SME) you will need to align your talent value proposition with Tier 1 sales talent pool expectations.