Thriving in 2021: The top six trends for sales and marketing leaders

James Frampton is SVP and general manager EMEA at SugarCRM.

The impact of 2020 was far-reaching, especially for sales and marketing teams. With business and consumer spending habits having dramatically changed due to uncertainty, as we move forward into 2021, how can businesses overcome this challenge, especially in the wake of three national lockdowns, a furlough scheme and a general lack of organisational spending?

One positive outcome from the pandemic has been the realisation for businesses of the importance of technology to keep them afloat in troubled times. With innovative technologies such as data analytics and automation remaining key to customer loyalty and engagement, it’s clear that sales and marketing teams need to work together to better understand their audience, what products and services they want, and how best to sell to them.

With this in mind, here are a few of the trends we foresee in 2021:

Trend #1: The future of B2B selling will pivot from solutions to insight

To see successful sales growth, sales leaders must always think ahead, otherwise, they’re at risk of losing business to competitors. Moving at this fast pace ensures they are fully prepared to capture any opportunities created by rapidly changing buyer behaviours, which are starting to shift towards online purchases – a trend which will continue into 2021. In fact, Forrester predicts US B2B eCommerce will reach $1.8 trillion and account for 17% of all B2B sales in the US by 2023.

Moving into the future, where buyers will be able to access the information they need about a product or solution online, the role of the salesperson is set to change to an ‘insight selling’ model. This will transform their role, making it less about striking a deal, and more about building a relationship, providing insight and sharing accountability with customers. Marketing teams will also play a role in this shift through the communication of actionable insight to salespeople in a clear, compelling and timely manner, allowing them to see where a customer needs support, all while linking back to relevant solutions.

Trend #2: 2021 is a time for collaboration

The relationship between sales and marketing experts has always been close. Collaboration between these experts will help brands succeed as sales teams have expertise in B2B sectors, while marketing teams dominate B2C. Aligning sales with marketing will make sure everyone is aware of who they’re targeting and what they’re selling. To do this successfully, businesses need to create a single customer journey, understand their customer persona and ensure both marketing and sales teams are working towards the same goals.

In 2021, both chief marketing officers and heads of sales will continue to engage with each other as the brands who don’t collaborate between teams could see a significant impact on their performance, and as a result, may disappoint customers and see a loss in revenue.

Trend #3: Higher adoption of automation and increased impact

Automation has been proven to improve business processes and, within the traditional sales function, can boost sales productivity by 14.5%. Throughout the coming years, automation will only become more popular, and brands have already seen a 225% increase in the volume of prospects that converted to sales opportunities with lead nurturing sales automation.

Automation usage for tasks such as data inputting and processing is increasing within sales functions, something we will see continue this year. This is a positive trend, with teams taking advantage of automation to, for example, keep CRM data accurate, handle sales forecasts or the use of Robotic Process Automation to answer basic questions, and handle the more simple, repetitive tasks, freeing up agents to sell. Working alongside machines will be vital for a successful sales year and, to aid this, salespeople need to continually develop the skills machines can’t yet replicate, such as building relationships, as well as building an understanding of the solution, market and customer in front of them.

Trend #4: Virtual reality will boost sales

Technology is becoming more sophisticated and we’re constantly looking for new ways to interact with it. This is creating opportunities for sales teams to look at future tech, such as virtual reality (VR), to tap into a new way of selling.

By using VR to bring sales to life, revealing a new interactive universe, salespeople will be afforded new opportunities to sell. Whether it’s at a trade show, where a business can show off its whole product range without bringing all the products to the stand, or through a ‘face-to-face’ VR meeting with prospective customers – something the current pandemic has taken away from sales teams – innovative technology is the future of sales.

Trend #5: Innovation beyond the four walls

The four walls of IT can be confining however, organisations must not be constricted by this and, instead, need to think outside the box to innovate.

Organisations will use 2021 to ensure innovation is a priority throughout the business, specifically when looking to align sales and marketing departments. Customers are now used to seamless and personalised experiences which have emerged following an acceleration in digital transformation and those who fail to complete digital transformation initiatives, risk disappointing customers and revenue. Companies which prioritise strategic initiatives will be the ones who will fully see the benefits.

Trend #6: Proactivity will prove fruitful

The pandemic has proven to every industry and sector that proactivity will prove invaluable to businesses during times of crisis, and we’re set to see more of it this coming year. Whether its proactively looking at growth opportunities or purchasing innovative technology, the sales leaders who get ahead will be able to significantly contribute to business growth. 2021 will prove fruitful for those leaders ensuring themselves and their teams are proactive about moving forward.

There is a huge amount of opportunity for sales and marketing teams to grow and improve performance over the coming year and, getting a head start on some of the mentioned trends, is one way in which businesses can flourish following a tough 12 months.

Photo by Arisa Chattasa on Unsplash

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