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Upskilling, new forecasting methods and an increased focus on DEI: the new priorities of sales leaders

by on June 30, 2022 in Advertising, Business

Melton Littlepage, Chief Marketing Officer at Outreach

The pandemic triggered seismic changes in how we work, from an office-centric culture to flexible ways of working. While these changes present challenges in the short term, they offer insights into the kinds of practices that innovative sales leaders must embrace to get ahead of the competition.

Today, businesses are facing a horde of challenges. Consumers are changing purchasing habits, global supply chains are in crisis, and the great resignation is leading to a smouldering war for talent. In the B2B buying and selling world, these challenges are juxtaposed against technological innovation, sweeping demographic shifts, and rapid sales technology consolidation. Against this backdrop, sales leaders are acknowledging their world is changing and are adopting new strategies to set their organisations up for short- and long-term gains.

Reskilling sales representatives and sales leaders

Business buyers’ preferences and behaviours are changing so quickly that sales professionals now need new and wide-ranging skills. Sales representatives need technology and data fluency, the ability to lead interactions with data and insights, be creative problem solvers, and have strong relationship-building skills, according to a recent Forrester survey. This is in stark contrast to the classic trope of salespeople only focusing on hitting their targets, with little to no concern for their clients.

As customer and employee expectations evolve, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for sales reps, managers, and leaders to develop all the skills they need to succeed at a pace. As a result, organisations are either investing or planning to invest in internal sales training for their managers (85%) and sales reps (89%). According to the same survey, organisations are also investing in sales enablement training for their managers (73%) and sales reps (75%). All this upskilling means that sales reps are spending time away from securing deals. To ensure they can deliver on their targets at the scale and pace of the post-pandemic world, they need the right tools and access to accurate data about their prospects’ habits, interests and preferences. This will enable sales representatives to use empathy to engage with their prospects – effectively moving from a seller to a trusted advisor position. 

Implementing accurate and efficient forecasting methodologies

In an environment where volatility is the norm rather than the exception, sales leaders face increased pressure to get their forecasts right. This is a challenge for a majority of them. According to Forrester’s data, around 60% of sales leaders say they don’t have a well-defined or scientific approach to forecasting. Thich leads to inaccurate plans based on gut feeling rather than evidence. As a result, sales leaders struggle to plan workloads, sales cycles and revenue – and have meaningful conversations with their leadership team and board of directors when it comes to revenue for the organisation.

This is due in part to a lack of digital transformation in the sales industry: where marketing, finance and operations have long implemented digital tools and automation to manage significant chunks of their work, many sales teams still rely on little black books of contacts and each salesperson’s idea of when the sales cycle will end. In a post-pandemic world where competition is fiercer than ever, and budgets are more constrained, sales leaders need a forecasting platform that gathers data and collates insights in real-time. This will allow them to gain visibility into the health of their deals, pipelines, forecasts, and course-correct at a moment’s notice.

Making the sales industry more diverse and inclusive

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are becoming an organisation-wide priority – and for good reasons. According to the most recent Deloitte Insight survey, more than half of consumers are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities in their actions; and the same proportion of executives believe that company purpose guides their corporate social responsibility investment strategy and employee decision-making. 

Sales leaders tend to agree: 67% of sales leaders believe the diversity of their sales team is important, and recruiting and retaining a diverse sales team is key to the success of their organisation moving forward. Considering sellers are often the first point of contact for a company, organisations must commit to DE&I or risk losing revenue and talent. High performers looking for a new role are more likely to apply for companies whose purpose aligns with theirs. For employers, it can also act as a good way to retain staff and avoid having to recruit in a market that is heavily skewed towards employees. Simply put, organisations can no longer afford to wait until they lose deals and talent to prioritise DE&I within their sales organisation. 

However, any DE&I policy needs to be rooted in tangible action. This is why Outreach has recently launched a new policy to support its employees who choose to undergo a gender reassignment process, both in emotional and financial terms; why it committed that its employee base in each office location will reflect the diversity of the local population; and why it decided to open its new office in Atlanta to increase access to pools of strong, diverse talent.

Key takeaways

Selling has and always will be a blend of science and art. In the hyper-hybrid world of buying and selling, sellers need enhanced skills to layer on top of their traditional methods to get ahead of the competition. The sales leaders who are embracing new technologies and adapting old ways for a new selling landscape are best positioned to win over new clients and avoid falling behind the times.

To stay ahead, sales leaders must double down on training for sales reps and managers; ensure the right tools, data sets, and insights are in place; and implement DE&I policies rooted in action to retain staff, attract new talent and win new deals. 

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