Aaahh, the new year. A time to look forward and think about the future and what could be. One of my favorite things about this time of year is seeing all of the trends that are predicted for the next year. Last year, I joined the crowd of prognosticators when I shared The 7 Sales & Marketing Trends That Will Determine Your Success in 2015.
As I was preparing to write my outlook for 2016, I realized that there are plenty of others who fill that void. And while I certainly value looking to the future, I’ve also learned that there’s a lot of value in looking back from time-to-time and noting what has actually happened, what that means and determining how to utilize that learning in your future plans.
So instead of sharing a prediction post before the new year, I thought I’d use the first official workday of 2016 to share what I’m recording as the major shifts of 2015, and how we’re advising clients to adjust based upon that. Who knows, this may become a tradition.
1. Inbound Marketing Became, Well, Marketing
According to the 2015 State of Inbound Marketing Report, 3 out of 4 marketers globally prioritize an inbound approach to marketing. For companies with 200 or fewer employees, it is even more dominant. When something “new” is prioritized by so many, it can no longer be seen as a specialized segment of a function. It is that function.
In my 2014 post, I said that inbound marketing would no longer serve as a competitive advantage because it would become a ticket to play competitively instead. The data shows that if anything, I underestimated the progress.
What This Means For Growth Oriented Businesses: There’s simply no longer time to consider, play with or experiment with inbound approaches. If you have not integrated effective inbound strategies into your sales and marketing efforts, then you had better get caught up quickly, or risk losing ground to those that are.
2. Sales Development Became a Real Thing
In many ways, 2015 saw a rebirth in the focus on prospecting. Five years removed from “The Great Recession” has seen a normalization in growth investments, and after spending a decade where fish were virtually jumping in boats, and five years of playing defense and cutting costs, companies realized that they couldn’t merely wait for new business opportunities to find them.
The growing focus on sales development as a key function of the customer acquisition process picked up significant momentum. Today, sales development is virtually a commodity in the SaaS sector. As I’ve written before, sales development is not new per se, as inside sales and prospecting is as old as, well, selling is. However, the growing infrastructure, tools and focus on prospecting as a specialized and integrated discipline do make this different.
While the approach is still highly concentrated in the technology space, we are seeing increased utilization of this approach in more traditional industries. And certainly the demand we’re seeing for our sales development services has grown significantly.
What This Means For Growth Oriented Businesses: You simply must have a clear, focused prospecting plan that will create the growing number of defined opportunities you need to meet your objectives. As the talent pool continues to evolve, it will become even more difficult to get the traditional “hunter” salesperson that does everything. To ensure you can sustain growth, you must build prospecting into your core systems.
3. Personalization Came Into Its Own
I can still remember when HubSpot announced their COS platform at the 2013 Inbound Conference. The opportunity to create “SmartContent” and personalize your website based upon what you knew about the visitor was exciting. I remember leaving there thinking that this was a game changer and that I’d better get on it.
However, while a few harnessed the power effectively, 2014 was filled with either gratuitous personalization (does adding someone first name on a thank you page really change anything?) or status quo. What was clear was that while the capability was powerful, very few had the strategies in place to take advantage of the capability.
Last year was different. Increasingly companies are utilizing personalization to create context and enhance the buyer experience and support their conversion path. In late 2014/early 2015 when I shared the idea of web personalization, prospects were blown away by the thought of it. Today when I share the concept, it’s greeted with enthusiasm, but with much less wonder and much more focus on how are we going to make it work.
What This Means For Growth Oriented Businesses: This is still an opportunity where you can gain an advantage on your competition, but most likely not for much longer. Stop looking at your website as one thing that’s the same thing for everyone. Focus deeply on your buyer personas, their buying journey and start building a web experience that molds to them and is delivering your content and message in a contextual manner.
4. The Growth and Importance of Sales Enablement Technology
Better. Faster. Cheaper.
I was talking with a long-time business friend of mine and I asked him if the world had really changed as much as it appears to. When I started in business (hell, when I started Imagine), if you had a good idea, were willing to hustle (and hustle) and keep your nose to the grindstone, you could grow a good business. Hiring salespeople was always tough, but if you could find one that would just be willing to work hard enough, you’d do okay.
Today we talk about buyer’s journey, sales development, ToFu, MoFu and other words that frankly I’d never even uttered five years ago. We talk about them not from a theoretical sense, but with warnings like if you don’t use them your very existence is threatened. What’s more, the amount of technology (and what’s spent on it) simply blows my mind. Is this all really necessary?
With some small exceptions, the answer is, “Sorry, yes.” And it’s the world of technology that’s changing the game. While on the one hand I look at all of the technology that we use (and I wonder when will its growth ever end), I’m even more amazed by what we are able to do and how we are able to do it.
2015 saw sales enablement technologies “cross the chasm” and enter “the tornado.” The plethora of technologies that are geared to enabling small and mid-market companies (SMEs) to compete more effectively has exploded in the last 12 months, and the next 12 look to be even bigger.
What This Means For Growth Oriented Businesses: You must have a technology strategy. Stacy, our marketing manager, wrote a great post cautioning that you not get carried away with buying technology. If you’re trying to grow your business without a clear strategy for utilizing technology to support those efforts, you’ll simply not be able to compete with those that do.
Beware of People Who Claim to Manufacture Antiques
Despite all of the progress these developments represent, the core growth problems businesses have remain prevalent. Consider:
- Despite the measurability inherent in inbound marketing, the number one challenge marketers face is the ability to demonstrate ROI. (Source: State of Inbound Marketing 2015)
- The top two priorities of companies of all sizes is still: converting contacts/leads to customers and increasing the number of contacts/leads. (Source: State of Inbound Marketing 2015)
- Sales teams are perceived as not being effective. Across the board, organizations ranked the effectiveness of the sales teams as pretty low - the majority scored them as “not effective.” (Source: 2015 State of Sales Enablement)
Jim Rohn, a growth focused speaker, cautions his audience to beware of those who claim to manufacture antiques. Last year saw significant growth of those making that claim. If I see another SaaS company announce that they’re “changing the game” I may just (well suffice it to say that what I’ll do isn’t pretty).
Yes, a lot has changed, and as Jack Welch has said, if the rate of change outside your organization is greater than the rate inside your organization then your organization is in trouble. However, while a lot has changed, a lot hasn’t. The fundamentals of business have not changed - and no amount of technology or strategy-speak will make it change.
- You must focus on a core set of people for whom you strive to be a hero.
- You must make a clear promise that solves an important problem.
- You must build a structure to produce a growing number of leads and to nurture those leads to the point where they’re ready to engage in a sales conversation with your organization.
- You must design and follow a sales process that produces consistent, successful results.
- You must serve and delight your customers to keep them coming back.
Those are the five cornerstones of business success today. They were the five cornerstones five years ago, 15 years ago and 50 years ago. You must keep your focus on those, and use the trends and tools in a manner that support those cornerstones, not in an effort to replace them.
And that brings me to my plea for 2016.
There is more opportunity for SMEs than at any time I can remember. Today we can play a bigger game at a higher level than ever. However, we must do so as an organization, not a set of component parts.
Sales & Marketing Alignment - The Focus of 2016
Spend the time to align your sales and marketing efforts, and to keep them aligned. Alignment is a concept that is extraordinarily easy to envision, yet so difficult to achieve. Those that do will enjoy greater success and momentum than they can even imagine. While those that don’t will be forced to read about the successes of others, wondering why it hasn’t happened for them yet.