Sales Beyond 2020: Stats on What Buyers Want Now

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks


The golden age of sales is dawning. This is true despite the fact that more than two-thirds of buyers would rather shop online than talk to a salesperson. What is the role of a salesperson in an automated, self-service world? 

 The answer comes down to something that computers will never be able to simulate: leading sales reps are trusted advisors. This type of salesperson generates three to 10 times more revenue than their peers. It’s simply common sense. B2B buyers need practical advice from people whom they trust in order to perform better at their jobs. If they can’t find someone like that, they would often rather just enter their credit cards on an e-commerce site.

Introducing the Sales Rep of 2020 and Beyond

The future of sales is the past of sales. Sales used to be about shaking hands and getting referrals. In the heyday of post-WWII America, the traveling sales rep was an iconic figure who had all the answers and made it rain on a regular basis. Those days are long gone, but the salesperson of the immediate future will share some commonalities with that persona, along with a few stark differences.

1. They Are Team Players

Competition is motivational and healthy, but lone wolves who thrive on going it alone will have to find a new line of work. The size of purchasing teams is continuing to expand, from an average of 5.4 members in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017.

Social skills, both online and offline, are imperative in piloting large deals to a close. Sales skills don’t exist in a vacuum anymore. Social selling brings sales and marketing efforts into alignment and encourages C-level execs to bring in sales leaders to help plan strategically for future markets.

2. They Excel at Adapting, Not Just Interviewing

The ability to understand and adapt to goals — both the employer’s strategic goals and the buyer’s professional goals — is a defining characteristic of high performers.

An analysis of how well new hires performed in their jobs after successful interviews found zero correlation. Instead, hiring needs to be more strategic and focused on next-generation sales skills. Companies should also incorporate recurrent training to keep sales teams aligned.

3. They Are Great Listeners

Sales is not about weaving a magical web of persuasion with words anymore — if it ever really was. Instead, it’s about listening. For instance, Forrester found that 77 percent of executive buyers felt that salespeople did not understand their issues or know how to help them.

Under these conditions, an online sales portal is a better use of a buyer’s time. Instead, top sales reps are those who understand the challenges the buyer is facing and gain their trust by solving problems. Social sellers outperform traditional sales reps by researching, using social listening software and engaging more with buyer networks over longer periods. 

4. Their Skillsets Are Broader and Deeper

Sales was once considered the art of closing. Overcoming objections, following up with determination and getting there first were indicators of success. While all those skills still matter, they are only one part of a personal brand that demonstrates individual areas of expertise.

LinkedIn conducted an analysis of what sales organizations are looking for as compared to candidate profiles. They found that demand had nearly doubled recently for skills like solutions selling, consulting, networking and relationship building. However, just 11 percent of sales reps include those skills on their profiles.

Along the same lines, demand for high-level sales skills such as enterprise relationship management, business alliances and partner management have tripled, although fewer than 2 percent of salespeople present evidence that they are ready to fill those roles. The law of supply and demand is pointing a giant arrow toward where the future of sales is headed.

5. They Have Already Moved on to the Next Big Thing

One area where people far outperform automation and AI is in the ability to teach themselves new ways of operating. Salespeople learn what buyers need, learn what their own organizations can do and learn how to apply new technologies to bridge the two.

The concept of continuous improvement, borrowed from Agile software development, applies to sales training that tends to rev up revenue and profitability. Through adaptive and recurrent training, the focus of sales moves from closing to defining the problem.

Summing Up

If sales organizations want to see top-level performance in terms of their profitability, it starts by throwing out old assumptions about what salespeople do and what they can do. Social selling is not a technique, it is a customer-first strategy that has implications all across the organization. Sales can’t exist in a separate silo anymore. Instead, sales leaders should consider the implications their goals have on marketing, operations, strategy and product design.

On the front lines, sales reps beyond 2020 will be buyer advocates and trusted advisors, with skills in listening, social coordination, automation, technology, personal branding and solution selling. This is not a prediction. It’s a simple review of the sales landscape as it adapts to changes in business and society today.


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