A series of essays about sales, startups, & general banter by Nick Persico

Sales trends to ignore in 2017

This post was originally published on the Close.io blog.

I always find myself stumbling across these articles every new year: Is 2017 The Chatbot Year?, 2017 Will Be the Year of AI, 2017: The Year of Machine Learning, Intelligent Content and Experiences.

And how about the countless articles claiming that cold calling and emailing are dead? The cynic in me says, "Who cares?" People still buy from people and always will.

As a society, especially in technology, we tend to overhype new things. We think they're going to change everything.

We’re still building large businesses on the backs of sales teams using the same core tools and raw hustle we’ve always had. So who cares about any of these sales trends that consume everyone's attention and eventually pass with a whimper? Remember social selling?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Ignoring any changes in the strategies that a sales team needs to deploy in order to be successful would be naive. Buyers are more informed than ever, and being a great salesperson in 2017 means you can effectively establish yourself as a valuable resource of information to prospects.

Beating prospects over the head with hardcore sales techniques is a losing battle. Prospects are less likely to respond to that style, and managers won’t let their teams sell that way either. As a profession, we are all starting to agree that heavy customer churn is just as bad as slow customer growth. In other words, we should only be selling to qualified prospects at all times.

While sales has changed in strategy, it hasn’t changed in principle. I still believe that people buy from people. Not chatbots built on top of machine learning AI from some sales automation platform.

They are all distractions that cause sales teams to chase magic instead of working on becoming better salespeople.

Shiny new tools are costly distractions; focus on becoming better salespeople

When things change, like prospect’s buying behavior, we tend to reach for the next shiny tool that will automagically double conversion rates.

For example, it seems to be an absolute requirement for every SaaS startup to have an Intercom, Olark, Drift, or Livechat widget greeting website visitors before they even get a chance to read the main tagline. I hate those fucking things. It’s like walking into a clothing store and having one of the associates scream from the back counter asking if I need help. I haven’t even figured out what department I want to look at yet.

But I do like it when the widget pops up on the pricing page 15–20 seconds after I’ve been on it. Now that’s useful. Those widgets have their place and purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, shiny new sales tools are fun and exciting. I’m starting 14-day free trials left and right like the rest of us. But the point is that these tools pull us into an obsession with automating or hacking a part of our sales process.

They distract us from what we should be doing, and that’s focusing on training your sales team to get better at their craft.

It’s not sexy to be old school, but it pays

There’s a stigma in SaaS startups around doing things the old school way. Current and future generations of CEOs and leaders are more likely to have engineering backgrounds. Considering their perspective on the world, there’s a tendency to automate or “science” everything.

While we should value that perspective in most things, human beings making buying decisions about business software is not one of them (yet).

This perspective has caused a lot of CEOs and their sales managers to spend the majority of their time automating sales processes. While in reality, they should be training their team to become better salespeople. That’s who will close the deal at the end of the day.

The point of all this is that an exceptional team of salespeople is the best way to protect yourself from the splash and fizzle of trends that come and go. So when these sales trends come and go, you’ve built a team that can sell. There’s always value there.

The rise of buyers having unlimited access to information and these new tools create noise. The salesperson’s role is to help the buyer cut through that noise and help them make a decision.

Five sales trends to ignore in 2017

To help you avoid any distractions from improving your sales team, here’s a list of 5 sales trends you should ignore this year and why.

1. Putting AI/chatbots in front of prospects

It’s not ready. Until Alexa can answer specific questions about your product and negotiate an annual pre-paid software subscription, there’s no need to put AI in front of your prospects.

It’s only a matter of time until we’re all frantically typing “AGENT” in chat windows, hoping an informed human shows up to help with a specific question.

2. Using machine learning as a single source of qualified leads

Products like Clearbit or MadKudu can do a great job creating profiles or lead scores for your prospects. But they don’t capture context or their intent. You can’t expect them to yet.

A prospect’s intent and interests change constantly. They have specific needs. While a certain percentage of leads can be straightforward and considered “qualified”, you still need to have a human qualifying leads. A qualifying conversation helps you determine their intent, timeframe for purchase, and who else will be involved in the process.

But most importantly, a qualifying conversation gives your sales team an opportunity to get the full context. The prospect may have the wrong impression, information, or idea of how they would implement your product. A real conversation allows you to mitigate it as it happens in real-time.

3. Outsourcing entire parts of the sales process

As you may know, we have some experience being an outsourced sales team The fact that we shut down the service should be all you need to know.

Kidding. (But not really.)

Outsourcing parts of your sales process should only be temporary. You need to look at your sales team as an entity that’s also responsible for gathering valuable information. Prospects and customers will tell you what competitors are up to, how they are using certain products, and what needs to be fixed in your industry.

If a team in another office and company are having those conversations, how can you effectively stay on top of what’s happening?

4. A/B testing everything

Have you ever caught yourself writing A/B tests for a campaign you’re doing for the first time? I know I have. Then I realize that I’m writing A/B experiments on an experiment. That’s so meta.

Instead of trying to fully optimize the first time you do something, just do it. Then do it again. After a few times, you’ll start to understand if it’s going to be a continuous activity your team engages in. If that’s the case, then A/B test.

5. Using “predictive analytics” to figure out why someone didn’t buy

If you listen to the conversations your sales team have with prospects that don’t buy, you can easily figure it out. You don't need a fancy algorithm to tell you.

It’s pretty simple. They most likely didn’t buy because:

They weren’t qualified or a good fit to begin with.
If they were qualified, you didn’t convince them.
Focus on helping your team get better at convincing qualified prospects that you are the solution for them.

You may not agree with any of this, but one thing still remains true:

No one has ever said that sales is now easy because of all these things.

The next time you want to spend an afternoon chasing some trend or testing out a shiny new tool, consider spending that time helping you or your team become better salespeople.

Don’t focus on what’s changing. Focus on what will never change: the eternal truths of sales and human psychology. That’s what we cover in our free startup sales course. No matter whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned sales veteran, deepening your grasp on the basics will be much more valuable than chasing the latest shiny new tool.

Profile of Nick Persico

Nick Persico

Head of Growth at Close.io. Previous: Co-Founder of Smart Host (StartupBus 2014, Techstars Austin S14), VP of Ops at Krossover, and sales at Sysco. Baltimore Orioles and Ravens fan. GIF enthusiast.