Saying that technology is a major disruptor for businesses is probably an understatement. Given the many, many forms it can take, technology can modify markets with unstoppable force, change industries from the ground up, and destroy old business models while creating new ones overnight. It’s only natural, then, that technology is changing sales organizations across all kinds of industries.
Tasked with the responsibility of taking care of sales and distribution, sales organizations are finally understanding that they need to adapt in a highly technological world. The growth of core technologies, the virtualization of processes, the automatization of methods through sophisticated software, the new practice models like Agile development or outsourcing to places like Latin America, and other phenomena have forever changed how a sales organization has to act.
Now, these organizations have to be evolving constantly while keeping a vigilant eye as new technologies continue to disrupt how they do business. Up until now, there are several ways in which technology has hit sales organizations. Here are the 3 biggest ones.
1 – Technology has changed customers and how they buy
The traditional sales method our fathers used in their days had them waiting for people with a need to come by the store to be assessed by a salesperson. The idea of selling without a sales force in the field was unthinkable just some decades ago. In such a context, consumers were seen as passive agents that acted on an impulse created by a marketing team and that purchase was led by expert salesmen.
Of course, the irruption of the Internet changed all that. Today, it’s possible to go online and buy something, anything, from groceries to a fridge, without leaving the house and with a couple of clicks. All the buyer’s journey is digitalized. People can find new products, inform themselves about them, investigate a little more, and purchase them by using a computer or even their phones.
Such a context produced a displacement of the sales force and a shift of power in the relationship between companies and consumers. What once was the reign of veteran salespeople is now in the hands of websites with good content, automated processes, and sophisticated tools based on AI and the Internet of Things. The need for an expert to assess when purchasing something has been reduced significantly.
Thus, consumers are now in control. They can decide among the many options available online, define how much time they devote to research, engage with the companies with the depth they deem appropriate, and even influence others through online reviews and social media feedback.
That scenario has deeply impacted the sales organizations. Since these areas plan and oversee the marketing policies and design selling strategies, they now have to take the digital landscape as their main playing field. Gone are the days when traditional ads were enough to drive sales. Now, companies have to invest in online marketing in all of its forms, from content marketing to SEM.
It’s true that the Internet and the highly digitalized world has made it easier and cheaper for any company to reach their target audiences. In turn, the customers are now in possession of numerous tools that have reshaped their relations with companies. Thus, sales departments need to let go of the traditional ad-based selling methods to adopt a more user-centric and socially interactive approach that allows them to extend their influence.
2 – It has affected the sales force
The shift in power from companies to customers has deeply impacted the sales force’s main resource – the people. The sales experts of some years ago liked to define their sales processes based on their personal and collective experiences. And while experiences continue to be relevant, it’s not the ones from the sales organizations that matters the most today – it’s the customers’.
The new expectations from customers got them engaging with brands that are capable of delivering experiences tailor-made for them. Businesses attempting to satisfy those expectations need to move on from the “gut reliance” and into a more technological approach. In an innovation-driven world, this means using the technology at hand to detect and implement new ways of doing things, from developing products to facilitating post-sale assistance.
Sales organizations have to take into account the numerous tech advancements that can help them achieve their objectives. Machine learning and data science, for instance, can aid in uncovering valuable insights from the information gathered from the consumer. This means that the instinct of the expert salesman of the past has no place in today’s world, where technology is offering precise answers and deeper looks into how consumers buy and what motivates them to do so.
Of course, for that to happen, businesses and their sales force have to embrace a new mentality that can be harder for veteran employees that grew accustomed to different methods. Under that light, salespeople are being pushed to a reinvention where most of the things they “know” have radically changed, basically because customers, markets, and industries have changed. Using Salesforce for sales can benefit an organization and its sales team in a number of ways if the salesforce adoption process works out properly.
As if that wasn’t enough, the addition of younger generations to the sales force is bringing challenges of its own. Millennials and Gen Zs have a particular way of understanding business, mostly shaped by technology and by the abundant information they get through it. These young people are digitally wired, flexible, autonomous, and horizontal. They like to explore ideas and to encourage creativity and innovation, as they know that’s the only possible way in an ever-changing world.
Since they are already a majority within the workforce, sales organizations have to deal with the cultural clash that can happen with senior staff and younger employees that differ significantly in their understanding of how the work should be done. Companies can overcome this issue by using technology as a connection between them.
Once again, automation processes, AI-based solutions, big data, and cloud computing among others, can bridge the gap by examining the hypothesis posed by the seniors’ experience while pushing the creativity of the youngest through the valuable insights those technologies can provide. In that way, technology can be understood as a potent tool that doesn’t just push the sales force to redefine itself but also brings it together.
3 – Technology has transformed the selling dynamics
With customers having more power than ever and the sales forces redefining themselves in the light of the new scenario, it’s definitely not a surprise that the overall selling dynamics are also being transformed. Since customer demands are changing everything related to sales, from the selling methods to the products being sold, then sales organizations have to make a shift to meet them in a satisfactory manner – or risk it all.
That sounds too apocalyptic yet it is especially true when considering that there aren’t safe industries anymore. While not so long ago there were huge companies that felt sure that they would never be taken down from their thrones, today’s dynamic guarantee that no one is big enough as not to fall. Examples abound, from Kodak and Blockbuster to MySpace and Toys R Us.
Thanks to the Internet, being visible is simpler than ever. Besides, the availability of advanced solutions such as cloud storage platforms, sophisticated digital ad tools, and data science solutions makes it easy for anyone with a good idea and planning to disrupt any business. That’s precisely what companies like Uber, Netflix, or Tesla did at one point or another.
Current dynamics ensure that anyone strategic enough to read the flaws and weaknesses of a business and that can come up with a stronger solution that may end up being a game-changer. That’s something that can be potentiated by the use of technology and its combination with one of the biggest demands from modern customers – valuable products produced with social and ecological responsibility.
People will buy the products they need but they’ll do so from companies that show some sense of responsibility to society and/or the environment. In fact, companies of all sizes are starting to change their values to join their customer’s shift towards a more conscious way of doing business. From small companies like Boxlunch.com and The Elephant’s Pants to enterprises like General Electric and Lego, there are a lot of brands already accompanying the new dynamics that require them to combine technology with sustainability and responsibility.
That fusion is so powerful that startups are using it to promote their products and reach a wider audience that’s eager to buy from companies like them. In that sense, the sales context has changed and now even the little guy should be considered a competition that can potentially take the spot of the enterprise one day. Understanding that dynamic and applying the necessary changes to take advantage of it is a process that many sales organizations are already undertaking.
Some final words
Technology has affected sales organizations in 3 major ways. It has “created” a new kind of digitally-wired and empowered customer that’s extra picky and demanding. It has affected the composition and mentality of the salespeople. And it has changed the underlying game rules in such a way that the competition is now fiercer than ever.
That scenario will keep changing and evolving as time goes by, simply because emerging technologies (especially those related to data science and artificial intelligence) will keep reshaping the markets, the industries, and the societies as a whole. That leaves sales organizations with only one possible way to keep the head above water – change and rise with the tides or drown.