Welcome to The Decade of Sales

Welcome friends to a new decade! One we so humbly term, The Decade of Sales

Funny that this calendar turn has happened a bit under the radar. I mean, remember the turn from 1999 to 2000 and the point where we all realized that it was actually no big deal? Living near the west coast made it even funnier for me. I mean why would my world explode when clearly the east coast and central time zones survived just fine.

And although no one is labeling this new decade as one to fear or really any big deal, I think that it is. In fact, if you’re a sales leader this is an even bigger deal than Y2K. Why? Because this is OUR decade.

A quick review of the last decade.

In the past ten years, most of the major advancements we’ve seen in sales have come from our customers, from marketing, and from technology. Think about it:

The customer journey. We’ve heard this ad-nauseum by now but it was big and it was real. Customers don’t need salespeople for the first 70+ percent of their buying journey. It’s made our inbound calls more critical and put more pressure on our sales reps and our product demos.

Mar-com. Marketing tooled up you guys. If we agree that the last decade’s biggest shift was with our customers, I think our marketing departments took fast action and finished the decade neck and neck with the customer. They found ways to measure and track our customer’s journey well before they touched our sales departments.

Tools & Tech. Holy cow ya’ll. The average rep now has between seven and eight tools at their fingertips. When we started the decade a CRM and maybe a dialer were the only real requirements, and now we have the cadence tools, the conversation intelligence tools, the data tools, the website or customer scoring and nurturing tools from marketing, dashboard add-ons and gamification as nearly standard. Doubtful this was big? Consider the terms “Tech Stack” and “Sales Enablement” weren’t even terms in 2009.

The outcome? Sales leadership, marketing leadership, and our customers expect more from our sales departments. Now ask yourself this important question:

How has your rep and manager development grown to accommodate this in the past 10 years?

If we’ve been tracking, I would expect to see:

  1. Onboarding training programs lengthening
  2. Tools training improving
  3. Customer, business, and industry acumen skills standard in all onboarding
  4. Sales skills training becoming regular line item vs. one-off events
  5. Structured annual Manager development 
  6. Better customer experience in demos
  7. Higher show rates for scheduled secondary meetings/demos
  8. A better customer rating of sales

The first time I presented the statistic on what percent of customers trust salespeople was somewhere in mid 2018. Since then, I’ve redone my slides about three times as the statistic has dropped to an embarrassing three percent.

Take heart, we’re still 1.5 points above politicians, but be clear we’re at the bottom folks. Customers don’t see us as trusted advisors. We’ve lost important ground here.

And while we’ve been in this invisible battle against progress, our hiring pools have shrunk and our roles have specialized. Ten years ago we had reps. Some teams had hunters and farmers. Now we have a complex system of BDR/SDR’s handing off to AE’s who move the account to Account Managers or Customer Success (don’t even get me started on how SaaS and VC have changed our game!). Pile this specialization on the heap of “We expect more from our sales teams” while leaders like you are doing so with less and less experienced reps.

Ten years ago, the average lifespan of an inside sales rep was above two years. The latest statistic from The Bridge Group shows us at about 1.5 years today. Unemployment is at an all-time low and we’re in a war for talent with higher attrition rates.

Sadly, this means we have less time to cram more skills into a less-experienced and soon to leave new hire. This tells me why as an industry we’ve added a lot of sales process and a lot of sales scripts to the mix. Yes, the more we can standardize, the less we have to teach. Brilliant!

Until our teams talk to our customers. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our customer experience and trust is plummeting alongside our rep tenure. People don’t like the over-processed and over-scripted sales experience. Not customers. Not reps.

What will the next decade look like?

So now that I’ve painted such a gloomy picture, what do we do about it? I humbly propose that we look at the next ten years as our opportunity. Hell, not just our opportunity, but our time. Our chance. Our TURN. Our decade. The decade we take BACK the sales process and the customer experience and the rep experience and teach us all to love sales again.

How? By turning to the last frontier we have as sales leaders. The human frontier. 

I’ve heard this called re-humanizing sales from my friends at BombBomb and I love it. My friends at Ambition talk about it as the heart (think of the CRM as the brain, the cadence tool as the muscle, and the rep engagement tools as the heart).

If we approach this decade as one where we work with our people – our front line brand new hire BDR all the way to our senior leadership team on their development and engagement, customer engagement will follow. 

I call for fewer scripts and more sales training!

I call for more certification programs and career paths to keep reps onboard longer!

I call for more customer-focused messaging and QA forms!

I call for custom and shorter demos!

I call for more rep coaching sessions and manager/rep engagement!

We’ll know we are on the right track when we see our teams start to reduce turnover. When we have a consistent annual budget line-item for development. When we partner more closely with our training and enablement departments. When we teach skills before adding tools. When we convert more inbound leads, have longer BDR calls and higher demo show rates, when our trust percentage climbs back into the double digits, and finally, when we hear more new hires talk about their decision to get into sales on purpose. 

Sales is the best damn profession out there.

How many times have you talked about sales careers with someone who started their story with, “Well, I really wound up in sales on accident…”? I’d say upward of 80%. Leaders, that’s not OK. We have one of the most rewarding, flexible and highest-paid professions out there. I want my kids to seek out a sales degree and get excited about their futures in sales! I want that for every new hire each of us make this year, and next, and the next.

We have a big hill to climb. And it’s our job to lead from the front. Get loud. Get proud. (Yeah, it’s sounding a bit like coming out of the closet here, but isn’t that really what we’re doing!?) Let’s shout about our profession from the rooftops and encourage our comrades to do the same. Our future selves will thank us for the help we’re lending toward improved recruiting and attrition. Let’s draw more people to sales and keep them longer by making it the best damn profession out there. 

Check it out everyone, the mantra for the decade:

 “I’M IN SALES!”

I invite all of my fellow sales professionals to join this movement. It’s our time now.

Want to subscribe to our newsletter? Click here.