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Sales Hacker’s Top 10 Trends & Predictions Heading Into 2017

Max Altschuler

December 19th, 2016

In 2011 I was tasked with scaling a sales team at a small company called Udemy. Having no real sales floor experience, I took a completely different approach. I built a highly technical process, sometime over complicating things, that would help our resource constrained marketplace scale like Amazon.

A few months in we created the first Sales Hacker meetup, where we’d share hacks on all things sales. From using the programing language Python to scrape data from the web, to  leveraging new sales email automation tools like ToutApp, and building virtual SDR teams through TaskUs and Upwork to set up demos with less overhead.

Fast forward 5 years and our little tech bubble is producing sales and marketing technologies at breakneck speeds. This is both promising and worrisome for buyers and sellers. On the one hand, any advantage you can get you should be grateful for. On the other hand, there’s a lot of bad training and poor judgement being accelerated.

That said, 2017 is going to be another great year for sales. The technologies are more developed. The reps and managers are wiser. And the industry as a whole has gotten attention that has brought talent in like never before.

So what’s next? Let’s dive in on this years top 10 trends and predictions as we head into 2017.

  1. The Big Ones

Microsoft buying LinkedIn was huge. Like MASSIVE. Salesforce and competitors are not happy. I’ve read articles from people saying that LinkedIn has stalled, or usage is declining, or ad revenue is weak, etc, but the crowdsourced database they have can be the heartbeat of any sales org.

If I asked 1000 people about their tech stack, 90% plus would probably say they use a CRM and maybe Salesforce would have the majority share of those users. But if I asked them what else was in their stack, 90% plus would also say they use LinkedIn, and there’s no competitors there. They are the Band-Aid or Kleenex brand of professional social networks.

In last years predictions we had LinkedIn going into the CRM space. Well a big player in the CRM space bought LinkedIn because LinkedIn has the data. A ton of hot companies are trying to build predictive solutions, and databases that provide insights into buying patterns, and act as data vendors, and it’s a humongous business. But nobody has a stranglehold on the most up to date data like LinkedIn does.

The kicker is, I’m curious to see how they capitalize on it. They won’t pull back from Salesforce, at least not right away. If Microsoft wants to take on Salesforce they’ll need to buy a lot more companies in the space (and get really serious about marketing but that’s next).

I think you’ll see these companies and more, aggressively spend in 2017. There are two other interesting things to keep an eye on.

  • Google is putting more effort into the G Suite. They hired the ex-VMware founder and CEO to take over, and put some real heavy hitting VPs around her. I wouldn’t be surprised if they buy a CRM on top of Gmail like Streak or ProsperWorks. It makes a ton of sense too. There’s a lot of money to be made in selling to the sales org these days, and more and more companies are moving from Outlook to Gmail. It’s too logical.
  • Salesforce is still a major acquisition target for someone. How about Amazon? Salesforce just switched all of their cloud infrastructure to Amazon data centers. They have the cash. Microsoft is likely out now, so it really leaves them and Oracle, which I thought would happen in 2016, because Benioff would’ve been the best Larry Ellison successor. I really like Salesforce as a standalone company though. I think they have a lot of potential to continue their ascent in SaaS and the public markets.

Separate from LinkedIn/Microsoft aggressively spending, they’ll need to start figuring out how to compete with Salesforce’s marketing engine. This is where Salesforce sets themselves apart. They’re a marketing company. 300,000 people come to town for Dreamforce every year. Then, they also have a roadshow. They clearly understand the importance of unbiased sales thought leadership, hence the partnership with Sales Hacker. If you teach someone to fish, they’ll go to you when they’re ready to buy a fishing pole, bait, and tackle.

I wonder how LinkedIn/Microsoft will enter the ring here. They have a massive opportunity to be the go-to place for all things sales, yet haven’t capitalized on it to date. Just see how Medium curates it’s content into niche periodicals. It’s against my best interest to go into to much detail here, but if done right, every sales professional should be glued to LinkedIn like every teenager to Snapchat. The metric that matters here is Daily Active Users. And the higher that gets, the more possibilities they have for producing revenue (training, ads, premium features, etc).

LinkedIn still sees themselves as a social selling company. Either they don’t understand the bigger data picture, or they’re worried about being a Social Network and a B2B database. Which is justified. But until that’s clear, it will be tough for them to compete for eyeballs and dollars, even with Microsoft behind them. It’s time to double down on being a premier player in the sales space, and to do that, they need to nail The Show (AKA marketing).

  1. The Little Ones

That leads me to the next logical event to play out in the near future. Roll ups. There has been so much Seed and Angel money floating around, that anyone can build an app for sales and enter the marketplace. I see a lot of companies in the $500k to $2m ARR range that have somewhat stalled. The Series A money is much harder to get with slow growth and only startup logos.

So the bigger companies and even medium size private companies will jump into the action of rolling up these stalled out Series A ready companies. And some will even merge into one single company instead of two unnecessary competitors. We’re already seeing that outside of sales with the VTS/Hightower merger. I think this will ramp up in 2017. There are too many similar point plays and not enough differentiated platforms. I think we’ll see PE funds started just for these scenarios, and not just in sales and marketing. Sales and marketing, just happens to be very ready for it.

  1. Crowdsourcing: Data, Reviews, & Networks

Jigsaw once sold to Salesforce for $300m and was renamed Data.com. They created a way for people to update other people’s contact info, and in exchange, you received contact info for people you didn’t know, that someone else had updated. This is crowdsourced data, and now they’re doing it again with Owler.

Here’s another reason why LinkedIn is key. They have the most up to date data because it’s done by the user. If only they used to collect things like “what’s in your tech stack” or “when did you buy X product”, “what do you think of it”, or “how much did you pay”?

This is where the market is going. Companies like G2Crowd and TrustRadius are giving you crowdsourced reviews for tech products, similar to Yelp or Amazon reviews. They go pretty far to make sure you actually bought and it’s a real review. At some point, when these platforms hit critical mass, and I’m not saying it’s in 2017 but when they do, this is going to change the way we buy and sell SaaS. For now, I know quite a few people who are using it not to discover products, but to evaluate products further down the sales process.

Emissary.io is another interesting model that allows you to find people who worked in certain silos of an organization you’re trying to sell to, and will tell you how to sell to the individuals that make the decisions. For example, you’re working on a deal with the Marketing department at a Fortune 500 company. They’ll connect you to the ex-VP of that product value who will tell you who to talk to and how to sell to them. This is the newest gadget in your Account Based Sales/Marketing strategy.

Speaking of Account Based strategies…

  1. Setting Yourself Apart

When I wrote Hacking Sales, I wrote it from the perspective of selling at a startup or through a go-to-market strategy with limited resources. We had to build sales at scale. Now it’s safe to say we’ve coupled sales automation and bad/no training and created a monster. Sales Automation or Acceleration or whatever you want to call it is here to support, not take over. I love that we can use technology to our advantage. We just need to make sure we train people well enough to use it.

Let’s start with outbound emailing. If you’re blasting emails to lists without segmenting, without personalizing, and without caring, then you’ll get the same crappy results as everyone else until you move on to the next job and fizzle out of sales in 5 years. If you send 100 emails in the same time it takes to send 1 email, but with both have a 1 person conversion, it’s not a draw. The person who sent 100 emails loses. They may have burned bridges, or their email server, or worse.

But this section isn’t about bad practices as much as it is about setting yourself apart. Or as a good friend once said, Angles of Asymmetric Warfare. AKA If everyone is sending emails, doing phone calls, and walking through a 21-step, 7-day cadence, what are you doing to set yourself apart? I know people who are doing interesting things in direct mail again. Using real, in-depth research is another way to do it. But this is crucial, and will become a focus for reps and orgs again, as companies look to grow ACV (Average Contract Value) and do bigger deals. How are you setting yourselves apart from the rest of the solicitors?

This is why I’m excited about the next level of Account Based Sales & Marketing. There’s a certain type of creativity that becomes an orgs most valuable asset when it comes to breaking into an account. What channels do you go through, what sets you apart, what level of research do you do, and what research really matters?

  1. The Truth About Technology

I’m not talking about emailing here. We’ve harped on email as an industry, so I won’t keep doing it. You can read more in our How Not To Send Crappy Emails eBook.

What I am talking about is all of these new buzz words. In 2016, the buzzword to add to some area of your homepage was “Account Based _____”. In 2017, it’s a variation of Sales Bots, Sales AI, or Machine Learning. Some of it is complete BS. Like adding the words AI or Machine Learning to something all of a sudden turns your product into Jarvis from Ironman. Or just because your domain ends in .ai doesn’t really mean that it’s using any real advanced AI.

Most companies are doing either one, or both of these things.

  • Doing a lot of it manually using outsourcers, and trying to figure out AI as they go.
  • Throwing a ton of developer resources behind building actual AI, selling it as AI, but it’s only halfway there.

But this is all irrelevant ramblings, because the truth is, it’s VC subsidized sales help, and you should take advantage of it and stop being stubborn about change. Things are changing. It’s good.

Here’s my point. X.ai helps you better schedule meetings. Troops.ai helps you better log things in Salesforce and stay on top of your tasks. I know a few companies in stealth doing some amazing things to help your reps make sure they’re following up. Gong and ExecVision help your reps make better calls. Take advantage of these tools and hope that they can figure it out before the money runs out. Because if they do, your team will save a ton of time, and be endlessly more efficient, and it’ll be cheap compared to the alternative.

Again, these are here to support reps and managers, not replace. Don’t get those two things confused, and you’ll be just fine.

  1. Sales & Marketing Have Morphed

The Account Based Everything hype is just the beginning. The truth is, Sales & Marketing at the top of the funnel have morphed. The whole org is working together on lead gen and demand gen. We’re seeing more and more SDRs report to Marketing every day. The best sales and marketing teams are figuring out the numbers they need to back into for the year end goals, and work together to understand what amount of leads they need to hit for each market segment, and how acquire them. They work as a team.

Some orgs are even ditching the MQL (Marketing Qualified Lead) and SQL (Sales Qualified Leads) acronyms and are going with a unified PQL (Product Qualified Lead). This makes total sense, as product/company fit should be the be all end all. Stay tuned at SalesHacker.com for more content on PQLs coming soon. We’ll see more advancements come from this over the course of 2017.

  1. Texting

Yes texting. We’re seeing more and more companies leverage texting in their sales processes. Some swear by it to confirm discovery phone calls, others use it to lock in deals and get the contract signed in the final stages.

People are ditching their works phone lines, and direct dial numbers are pure gold. Buyers are even more routinely ignoring voicemail and are interested more in going by text. I for one, set my voicemail up to say “please do not leave a voicemail as I do not check it. Instead, text this number or email me”.

The one thing missing right now is that there’s very few ways to log texts into Salesforce. I’m not sure there’s a standalone business here (yet), but it would be a valuable piece of a Salesforce logging platform. Text’s place in sales is only going to grow.

  1. Predicting Predictive

Over the past few years, Predictive Analytics tools for sales has been a roller coaster. A few companies liquidated in the form of acqui-hires, others just kind of went into slumber after big hires and large rounds raised. The hype train left the station here back in 2015. 2016 was somewhat quiet, but I can tell they’re beginning to come on strong again.

A few that come to mind are Collective (i) and Everstring. Collective (i) uses the data from how a buyer buys, not how your team typically sells. Everstring uses the patterns that would make someone a likely buyer of yours. Both are taking a slightly different angle at how predictive works with your sales team. I’ve been seeing positive results with companies using the newer predictive tools. More than when this popped in 2015.

  1. Acquisition Speculation

Ok so I brought up roll ups and massive acquisitions, but what’s really going to happen? Who’s buying the losers or laggards or just simply, the ones that aren’t going to be first or second in their category? Vista scoped up Marketo and Cvent last year and should continue their buying spree. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oracle started to get into the sales arms race. There’s SAP too.

Then Salesforce and Microsoft should end up playing offense and defense. This will make it interesting for bidding wars between the up and coming startups.

Amazon and Google are sneaky dark horses to enter the race as well. Maybe IBM too?

There’s always smaller acquisitions to companies like CallidusCloud. Startups have lots of great options. But it’s going to happen sooner than later.

What worries me from a startup’s perspective is the race to the bottom these big companies can create. They can acquire a company, and then bundle it into their package for next to nothing. So they can tell you we’ll acquire you, or your competitor, but not both. And when we do, we’ll give them out for free.

Essentially Salesforce can do this with Wave when competing against Domo or Insightsquared, with Pardot when competing against Marketo or Hubspot, with SalesforceIQ when competing with Salesloft or Outreach. They make their money on the CRM licenses and use access to these platforms as an added perk.

The counter argument that the startup has is that it would still cost you more time and more money to hire a consultant to set everything up. We’ll see how this continues to play out in the marketplace.

  1. And Finally, Sales Hacker

We’ve been around for about 3 years now, and are really excited about 2017. It’s the first time we feel like we’re ahead of the game, and understand our business and the marketplace. Like a startup, it takes a while to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and where the market is going.

We know our conference schedule, what virtual events we want to do, we’re rolling out some local exclusive VP Sales events, and we’ve nailed growth in quite a few interesting areas. We’re psyched. Now it’s just about executing.

We’ll be running 3 conferences in 2017:

The Revenue Summit – SF – March 7/8

2000+ Sales & Marketers (Pre-sale tickets on sale now!)

Sales Machine – NYC – June 13/14

1500+ Enterprise Sales leaders

-Sales Stack – Europe – Sept

1000+ Salespeople Focused on Leveraging Technology

*Sign up at Sales Hacker.com for updates.

We have some amazing partners we’re excited to grow with including Gainsight, Terminus, and Salesforce, as well as some big research and advisory brands to be announced in Q1.

Our Sales Hacker Membership is getting more and more awesome every month. We partnered with Skaled to bring you some of the best sales training around for any SDRs or AEs. Check it out here.

As for in-person training, get in touch with us because we specialize in that too. Happy customers include CallidusCloud, Terminus, PushPay, Udemy and more.

Thanks for reading and hope we can keep providing value for you in the new year. Please feel free to discuss, push back, or add-on in the comments.

See you in 2017!

Max

About the author

Max Altschuler

Max Altschuler is the founder, organizer, and editor for Saleshacker.com and the Sales Hacker Conferences. Previously he led BD at Attorneyfee (acquired by Legalzoom) and built the supply side of Udemy as their first sales hire.

  • Tom Blue – Lead411

    Great read and we look forward to your events.

    #1. Couldn’t agree more with the LI/MS piece. That was the biggest news of the year. Having LI fully integrated with Dynamics well be a huge value add and will lead to other data acquisitions.

    #2. I love the idea of the PQL. It definitely makes more sense. However just because someone is a PQL does not mean they are in a “buying pattern.” It is amazing how much time is spent on companies that maybe be qualified, but don’t buy or don’t plan to buy for at least a year (this is over 90%) The key is to figure out which ones are way more likely to buy and hammer those.

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