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Salesforce State Of Sales Research: AI, Data Insights, Alignment Necessary To Keep Pace With Buyer Expectations

Featured Salesforce State Of Sales Research: AI, Data Insights, Alignment Necessary To Keep Pace With Buyer Expectations

As buyers become more sophisticated and able to navigate their own buying journeys, the role of sales is drastically evolving to align with their needs. Combine that with technological innovation and sales teams face a number of challenges to cater to expectations. Unfortunately, new research from Salesforce has revealed that a majority of sales teams are lagging in terms of meeting these expectations. According to the third edition of the company’s State of Sales report, more than half of sales reps (57%) expect to miss their quotas in 2018.

The report also revealed current buyer standards, which are increasingly making it difficult for sales to keep pace with:

  • 82% of buyers want the same experience as when they are buying for themselves;
  • 79% say it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere;
  • 78% seek salespeople who act as trusted advisors;
  • 73% agree that their standards for how companies interact with them are higher than ever;
  • 72% expect vendors to personalize engagement to their needs; and
  • 67% feel more empowered than ever when it comes to relationships with companies.

“Customer expectations today are at an all-time high,” said Robin Grochol, VP Product Management, Sales Cloud at Salesforce, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Sales organizations are accountable for not only quotas, but also customer satisfaction and retention. Salespeople have far greater mandates than before, to the point that a mere one-third of their time is actually spent selling. Much of their time is spent on managing emails, logging activities and inputting sales data/customer notes. In other words, reps spend quite a bit of time on administrative tasks when they could be building relationships with customers.”

The Salesforce State of Sales report revealed a variety of new and emerging trends in the sales space, including how sales reps are coping with buyer demands. Key takeaways from the research spotlight:

  • The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) adoption among sales teams to aid in administrative tasks;
  • The importance of data-driven insights to gauge propensity to buy; and
  • The need for collaborative selling and alignment with marketing.

AI Adoption Is On The Rise

According to the report, AI stood out as one of the fast-growing sales technologies. The research found that sales leaders believe their teams’ AI adoption will grow faster than capabilities such as marketing automation, partner relationship management systems and sales process automation.

Key findings around AI from the report include:

  • 21% of sales leaders say their organizations use AI today;
  • Sales leaders expect AI adoption to grow by 155% by 2020;
  • 76% of teams using AI have increased sales rep staff since 2015;
  • 67% of teams planning to use AI within two years have increased sales rep staff since 2015; and
  • 62% of high-performing salespeople foresee a big role for guided selling that ranks potential opportunity value and suggests next steps.

“We were surprised by the expected adoption of AI,” said Grochol. “Despite industry rumblings that AI will displace sales jobs, those using AI continue to expand their teams. In fact, sales leaders expect AI adoption to grow by 155% by 2020. This is why we're so excited about AI. So many salespeople are drowning in mundane tasks (like scheduling meetings, sending routine follow-up notes to prospects, keeping up to date on news impacting their leads). AI will help streamline all of that and, in turn, free up salespeople's time and get them back to what they do best — selling.”

Top Sales Teams Are Data-First

According to Salesforce, sales reps turned to their intuition to gauge which opportunities to pursue in the past. Today, they prioritize leads based on data analysis of propensity to buy. The research found that high-performing sales teams are:

  • 1.6X more likely to prioritize leads based on data analysis; and
  • 1.5X more likely to base forecasts on data-driven insights.

“Data is the weapon of choice for top sales teams, and lead prioritization is a great example,” said Grochol. “In the past, sales reps depended on intuition when weighing which opportunities to pursue. The reality is that intuition is no longer enough, and data is needed to nurture both current customer relationships and potential leads.

“Modern sales teams are leveraging data and analytics to identify a customer’s propensity to buy,” she continued. “Reps also place high value on insights like estimated revenue from an opportunity and likelihood for add-on business that could tip the scale in making one opportunity more of a priority than another.”

Collaborative Selling & Alignment Across Departments Is Critical

Delivering an exceptional customer experience is not just a weight on sales teams’ shoulders; it requires alignment and collaboration between different departments. In fact, the research showed that 75% of buyers say connected processes across marketing, sales and service interactions are very important to winning their business. In addition, 77% of salespeople say selling collaboratively with other departments is important.

Per the research, high performing sales teams are 2X more likely than underperformers to have fully integrated systems, showing a clear need for alignment not only across people, but technologies as well.

“Companies know that sales and marketing should be aligned, but the devil is in the details,” said Grochol. “Marketing teams are driven by returning visitor and brand awareness metrics, while sales teams are focused on quotas and revenue. All too often, marketing and sales teams are running on entirely different tech stacks which makes collaboration even harder. This is why it's so important to have a platform that supports both marketing and sales. That's the only way you can get to that holy grail where marketing is feeding qualified leads into sales. Selling collaboratively with other departments is key, and 77% of salespeople agree.”

As customer expectations continue to soar, sales representatives must keep pace to deliver tailored experiences and maintain strong relationships with customers and prospects. While AI won’t replace sales jobs any time soon, it is an important component to leverage that positions representatives to spend more time selling and less time handling administrative tasks and, ultimately, close more deals.

For more insights on the state of sales, download the full report here.