The start of 2019 feels like ancient history now.
In the lead up to January 1st and through Q1, sales blogs, publications, and experts made their predictions on the topics, tactics, and trends that would dominate B2B sales this year. People love to make predictions, but few circle back to them to see if they, you know, actually came to pass.
So, we’re now almost three-quarters of the way into 2019. Q4 and its targets are looming. Time to check in. How did the prognosticators do? Were they correct in foreseeing what would have an impact on B2B sales? Or did they miss the mark?
And, more importantly for your sales team, what’s next?
To figure all this out, I analyzed sales pros, blogs, and businesses that made predictions on the trends that would dominate the B2B sales landscape in 2019. I narrowed the list of more than 100 predictions down to the four trends that appeared most often.
Since it’s the last quarter of the year, let’s take a look back at these sales trends and check in with Proposify’s director of sales to find out what he sees on the horizon for 2020.
First, an overview of what the experts forecasted as the big B2B trends in 2019.
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A look at the 4 most-predicted B2B sales trends in 2019
1. Omnichannel sales and social selling
He flagged this as a trend due to new tech tools making it easier than ever to reach out via email, direct mail, and social media, singling out LinkedIn in particular as a channel to watch.
Sales trainer John Barrow agreed—with a catch. He warned that the old ways of LinkedIn interaction wouldn’t cut it in 2019.
As he says, “A few years ago, simply sharing articles was enough to be considered ‘social selling.’ Putting together an original piece or sharing someone else’s article with some context and adding some value to your prospects or customers was good enough to amplify your brand.”
The prediction for social sellers was to step out from behind corporate branding and build their own personal brand (via original posts, articles, and videos) on LinkedIn to foster connections and relationships.
2. B2B becoming more like B2C
B2B is experiencing a change first felt in B2C: more power on the buyer side.
In 2019, “the power play between buyers and sellers is nearing its conclusion, and buyers are winning,” according to Audrey Weber.
Buyers are coming into the sales process not only knowing more about your product but also about how others are using it, thanks in part to the rise of the B2B customer review. Sales teams needed to respond to the new feedback-based dynamic or risk falling behind.
“In 2019, curating feedback from across the web, and arming sales to be prepared with it proactively, will become as important as knowing what your competitors are saying about you,” write sales leader and author Todd Caponi and Jeff Rosset, CEO of Sales Assembly.
3. More data, more AI, more tools, and more sales
With 2020 fast approaching, Tiffani Bova, sales innovation evangelist with Salesforce, predicted that the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in sales would actually increase sales headcount.
“AI’s role for salespeople is not to replace them but rather to ease the burden of manual and tedious tasks and help them understand customer needs better — which will empower them to deliver a better customer (and brand) experience overall,” she said.
Embracing data, tech, and new tools was also a key 2019 prediction from Dave Mattson, President of Sandler Training:
“Major competitive advantages will go to salespeople who spot and sign on with the most powerful new platforms and applications, some of which deliver data-driven insights that are nothing short of awe-inspiring.”
4. Increased emphasis on sales ops and enablement
Sales operations and enablement were predicted to go from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must-have’ in 2019.
On the LinkedIn blog, Alex Rynne pointed out that the continuous challenge of keeping sales reps on top of all the tools, resources, and processes means more teams (of all sizes) will be creating dedicated sales ops and enablement departments.
For sales teams that already had a sales enablement function, Brian Trauschold predicted an expanded scope for the role. He envisioned it going beyond sales content and collateral to include sales engagement, coaching and training analytics, and even team culture.
What’s next for B2B sales in 2020?
Is the forecast for B2B sales in 2020 the trend version of Groundhog Day?
Will it be more of the same that was predicted for 2019? Or something else entirely?
A mix of both, according to Daniel Hebert, Proposify’s director of sales.
Amplifying automation with coaching
When it comes to automation, he sees more sales coaching and enablement to go with an increased tech stack.
“Tech will amplify whatever you have, good or bad,” says Hebert. “It means you compete not only against your competitors but also against your worst sales people. Automation means they can send thousands of emails in a minute. But if they’re all terrible pitches they’re going to be deleted within seconds.”
Hebert says that the most successful sales organizations in 2020 will be those that spend more time and effort turning newbie and underperforming sales reps into sales pros. “People are now realizing that you have to heavily invest in making your reps successful.”
This focus on coaching will also make one other kind of sales rep endangered in 2020: the ‘lone wolf’. With a shift toward cooperation and collaboration, rogue salespeople might not have a spot anymore on a B2B sales team that depends on sociability.
Thinking strategically about social and B2C tactics
Along those same lines, social selling will continue to be valuable—just not on its own.
“LinkedIn is the place to be right now,” Hebert says. “There’s so much value in building out a network there. You have actual conversations. It still has the feel of what Facebook and Twitter used to have. You need to use it with other tools, like using the information you get from social as a data point to use elsewhere on a call.”
While social selling may take a page from the B2C playbook, Hebert warns that using B2C tactics without a strategic plan spells disaster in B2B. Why?
“B2B buying isn’t based on coolness or what’s the latest. It’s based on solving a need. It doesn’t matter how cool a piece of tech is if it doesn’t solve the company’s problem. And it’s not one-to-one, it's committee-based buying. If you don't get buy-in from all the decision-makers involved, they won’t be buying from you.”
However, certain B2C behaviours are still resonating in B2B. For example, as Hebert points out, consumers have become used to a particular aesthetic, user experience, and design for a B2C app. If your B2B app looks terrible, people will be deterred from buying, no matter how powerful it is.
Seeing the bigger customer picture
With this increased B2C influence, the line between sales and marketing continues to blur, especially when it comes to prospecting.
“I’m seeing more changes in hierarchy where BDRs are reporting partly to sales but also partly to marketing. I also see more product marketers becoming account execs and the other way around.”
This falls in line with Hebert’s predictions for a more integrated approach to sales enablement.
“The more advanced companies see sales enablement as strategic, aligning everything that needs to happen around the buyer,” he says. This includes input from all departments—like product, marketing, and customer success—as programs and resources are created. “It’s shifting toward the bigger picture.”
What were your big picture goals in 2019? What will your sales team be concentrating on next?
Let Daniel and me know in the comments.