The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP) has been deeply involved with researching, benchmarking and collaborating with the entire inside/digital sales eco-system and leadership community for the past 10 years. The profession itself, along with all the supporting suppliers and resources, continues to grow and develop into an essential function for today’s organizations across all industries and company sizes. The 2018 Top Challenges published by the AA-ISP indicated that nearly 70 percent of organizations will add incremental inside sales jobs including quota-carrying and SDR/BDR roles in 2019.
“While certain groups may still be struggling to prove the importance, value and power of virtual selling, the vast majority of organizations have adopted it as a key sales function and priority. There are a few areas around the buyer, the technology and the profession itself which I feel has been key to this growth,” says AA-ISP Founder & Chairman Bob Perkins.
Amazon for everyone
Today’s buyers and decision makers want their sales engagement process to be like their consumer experience with Amazon. What that means is less face-to-face and more digital communication such as email, chat, video calls — and even texting.
Let’s start by looking at the habits and preferences of today’s decision-makers and buyers. State of the Connected Customer, a recent study by Salesforce, indicated that 82 percent of B2B decision makers want their experience to be similar to how they buy as an individual consumer. “The days of the in-person sales call and dog-and-pony show are long gone,” Perkins says. They can easily be replaced by easy-to-connect two-way video conversations.
It’s not just conversations that are making sales digital. Buyers now prefer communicating with sellers and viewing demonstrations remotely in the comfort and convenience of their own office. As buyers become more mobile, fewer are sitting by their desk phone ready to answer a prospecting call. The AA-ISP indicates that actual answer and connection rates of prospecting calls have plummeted from 15 percent several years ago to well below 5 percent today. That means that using new technologies are so important to today’s inside seller.
Why AI is growing
The Salesforce study indicated that artificial intelligence (AI) has the highest projected growth and adoption rate as compared to all others. “AI will be central to digital selling,” Perkins says. “While it will replace certain tasks, we predict it will continue to help fuel more virtual sales job growth vs replacing reps.”
Just like when personal computers became commonplace, technologies in sales will allow new industries to rise around them.
Going forward, the AA-ISP realizes that the key to success will be learning new skills. Customers “want their engagement with a sales rep to be one of value-add, and learning even more about a solution vs what they can find online. This creates the need for organizations to better train and develop their sales reps,” Perkins says.
Finding the next generation
As finding, recruiting and hiring sales reps becomes even a bigger challenge than ever before, leaders are often interviewing younger and less-qualified candidates. To help train tomorrow’s sales reps, colleges and universities such as UT Dallas, Northern Illinois University, Ball State, the University of Houston, Johns Hopkins and many more are developing actual inside/virtual/digital selling curriculums and undergraduate courses.
In the future, digital and virtual engagement will become the standard way sellers will interact with buyers. In fact, research indicates that traditional field-based sales reps in many industries are already doing the majority of their communication virtually from home or an office. Next will be the continued development of specific technologies and AI that supports the virtualization of client and prospect engagement. These technologies will help to further support the selling process while bringing new efficiencies to the buyer and seller. Finally, personalizing sales engagement will become even more important in the future.
“With all the automation and mass marketing that has flooded the selling process, we have forgotten about the single most important aspect — the human being,” Perkins says. “I predict our profession will focus on the re-humanizing of the sales process. After all, humans still buy from humans.”