Sales was a very structured, researched and predictable function. Since the late 80s, researchers have been looking into what makes a sales organization great.

The progress in the past decades was immense: we now understand how commissions should work, what is a standard sales collateral and how specialization is done.

When the first CRMs appeared in the 90s, they were a digitization of physical books of records, but that simple progress started increasing the efficiency of teams.

We’ve come a long way since then. In Mark Roberge’s words, technology “turned the buyer-seller relationship completely upside down”.

Technology has reduced people’s attention span, increased access to information, but also increased exponentially the outreach possibilities (think of all the unsolicited emails you receive!) – which seemed like the obvious, marginally free way to add leads to your pipeline.

As you’d expect, those tactics rarely work. Sales teams still need to engage with each lead and do data entry, so what’s the next step for sales?

“I’d be more worried about being replaced by another salesperson who is empowered by intelligence than by a machine.”

– Peter Schwartz, SVP Strategic Planning, Salesforce

The middle ground is going away fast

If you think about every sales function today, all have been affected by technology. However, depending on the complexity and specificity of the sales process, this can mean that each function is either becoming more relevant or going away completely.

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The middle ground is disappearing. Not adding value to the sales process as you interact with a potential buyer means that your job can and should be automated.

There’s nothing wrong with automation, but, at least in the foreseeable future, it will not mean high value, so it’s going to be difficult to justify spending a lot of money on it. In other words, you can justify a simple tool for $20-50 a month, but it becomes harder if it means spending hundreds of dollars each month.

That leaves us with the top of the pyramid: high touch, highly knowledgeable interactions with your potential buyers. And that’s a great thing: this is where the sales job gets interesting and where you can deliver more value to your customers.

Becoming a high-value sales team

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In the past, sales focused primarily on product and market (competitive landscape). To be of high value, you need to unlock the next two sections: the segment you’re selling to, and each individual client.

In addition to this, in the past, you could get all the initial training on two weeks of onboarding. Now, this is an ongoing work. You need to be on top of the information game at every client interaction.

This means you’ll spend more time with each client: co-creating a solution, understanding its competitive landscape, researching new opportunities or potential risks.

The current sales dilemma is that teams want to use automated tools to increase sales efficiency, but what they actually need is a more bespoke approach for each client.

We need to augment the sales work, not replace it.

Huh – this sounds like a lot more work!

There will be new tasks, for sure, but you’ll get rid of the ones you probably like the least: data entry and manual research! Those two will be the first to be automated in this transition.

You can focus on co-developing a strategy with your client, instead of completing their name, company size and email on Salesforce.

The tools for the job

CRMs, at the end of the day, are static databases with customer data. All of them are evolving to serve the consultant salesperson we are talking about in this article. For Salesforce specifically, they even gave it a name: Salesforce Einstein. This doesn’t mean that the traditional CRM is going away – we actually need to build on top of it. It needs to self-update and self-manage as much as possible, so that the sales consultant can focus on the customer.

Peter Schwartz, Salesforce’s SVP for Strategic Planning (quoted above) prefers the term “augmented intelligence” instead of artificial intelligence, and I think that’s spot on.

Evaluating success

New sales organizations are not going to compensate reps on the binary outcome of turning leads into clients. They will include customer success and NPS, for example. Hubspot is already doing this.

Specialization is not going away, though. This consulting approach doesn’t mean that sales specialization is over. It means it’s now more important than ever. You should know your region or client segment better than anyone else.

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I’m personally very excited to be a part of this transition from pushing products and services to consulting sales. At the end of the day, nobody wants to buy technology for technology’s sake. We want our problems solved, and sometimes we even need help identifying these problems, let alone with finding the right solution.

That’s why we need an experienced, high value salesperson to work with us and help navigate our current situation. This person’s work is empowered by technology to get a better view of our competitive landscape, product offering and differentiation and efficiency of internal processes.

The sales job becomes more strategic and high value, meaning your business can capture more of that value too (i.e. charge more!).

Today,  this approach to sales is a differentiation proposal that delivers real results, but in a not-so-distant future, it’ll be a matter of survival.

Would love to hear your thoughts on the future of sales – what do you think? Any area that we missed? Especially if you disagree, let us know.