What has changed in sales in the past 10 years

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BY SONYA MELOFF | September 14, 2017

This month, our company Sales Talent Agency will be celebrating a very exciting 10 year milestone as a business and,  in honour of the occasion, I spouted my mouth off in a meeting (as I'm so apt to do) that it would be fun to put out a content piece reflecting  what has changed in the world of sales over the past 10 years.  Working with hundreds of companies every year to help them hire their best salespeople, we've had front row access to seeing what has changed in the profession and discipline of sales and, though some changes seem remarkable, it feels like things are at a pivot point and only now starting to change at warp speed.  We can only imagine where the next 10 years will lead us.

Here’s a breakdown of 7 fun changes we’ve seen in the past decade of sales, as seen through the eyes of Sales Talent Agency!

Sense of Community!

Grassroots organizations supporting sales people are popping up everywhere, creating a community for sales people to connect with each other to share and learn best practices.  Networks like the Enterprise Sales Forum (now in 80+ cities),  SalesTO based in Toronto, and conferences like SalesMachine are doing a brilliant job of elevating the profession and creating an eco-system where sales professionals can come together to network, learn and share best practices with each other.  

Prestige and the Rise of the CSO

It was around 2009 that we started hearing the title Chief Sales Officer popping up more and more.  As sales organizations grow, so do the opportunities and layers of management needed to support these teams.  Sales went from being the accidental profession, to recognized as one of the highest paid job and most valuable roles with an organization, and now the fastest path to CEO. 

One of my favourite stories of an original door-to-door salesman is the story of Bill Porter, a top-performing sales rep who worked for Watkins Incorporated selling soaps and mops door-to-door for over 40 years. He suffered from cerebral palsy and the movie Door to Door featuring William H. Macy does a brilliant job of showing that with hard work, discipline, positive nature, and some good smarts, anyone can be successful in sales. Today, thanks to greater education around sales as a profession, people are graduating university and college and choosing to go in to sales.

Some of the notable CEO's that made their rise through sales include: Marc Benioff from Salesforce, Mark Cuban of Shark Tank and Larry Ellison from Oracle.

Technology has invaded

Back in the day, sales people could get away with keeping their leads in excel, but when customer relationship management (CRM)  software came on the scene, thanks mostly to category creator Salesforce.com, it helped to provide a systematic approach to pipeline management and provided salespeople a proper tool to ensure their activities were being done.  This helped hold sales people accountable and provided sales managers with insight they so desperately needed to do their job effectively as well.

Today, the SalesStack as it’s come to be known, includes tools well beyond CRM– everything from datascraping tools, to tools that can unleash the contact details of any prospect a salesperson is trying to reach, to auto-dialers and software that records the tone of sales calls providing predictive data on how the calls went, to sales automation platforms that literally set every next step for a sales person in the sales process.  Finding leads has gone from scraping newsletters and press releases to specially curated lists via tools such as Sales Navigator from LinkedIn to Pitchbook.  SocialSelling is a term that has entered the vernacular as sales people look to leverage social media tools to also drive leads and foster connections.

The Rise of Inside Sales

Ten years ago, 75% of the sales jobs that companies were hiring for were outside sales roles, meaning that the sales reps were on the road, dressed in fine suits and expected to be meeting with clients and prospects for face-to-face meetings. They were equipped with car allowances, flight reward packages, and much time was spent shmoozing at lunch or on the golf course.  

Today, one could well write a book called The Vanishing Outside Sales Rep, as more companies invest in building inside sales teams that are equipped with top of the line video-conferencing and communications tools. At the most recent annual conference of the American Association of Inside Sales, the worldwide sales leader of Microsoft gave a keynote that laid out their plan for building a myriad of inside sales teams around the globe, effectively eliminating their channel business. Today, it would be safe to say that 75% of all sales are done from an inside sales perspective, with sales people rarely having to leave the office.

Cold Calling Didn't Die

Around 2010, marketing automation started to dance a little closer with sales, and it was around this time that chatter started popping up everywhere that cold-calling was dead. The thought of never having to make a cold call is still music to many people’s ears, but the reality is that just isn’t the case.  We always found it most ironic when the marketing automation companies themselves would call us to help them hire cold-calling sales reps, and eventually things settled down and everyone acknowledgement that cold-calling was an every day essential.  Today, the expectation is for it to be strategic and precise, and sales reps have no excuse not to be well informed on the prospects they are calling. Can I Google that for you?

Books we are reading

If you've ever been to a sales conference, you know that sales people love their books!  I can’t think of another profession that has so many books on how to be good at your job and as business evolves, so do salespeople. In 2007, everyone was reading Good to Great, which was quickly followed and eclipsed by The Challenger Sale which remains an extremely popular book and methodology used by sales leaders today.

The Next Generation

Possibly one of the most exciting changes that we’ve seen in the sales profession over the last 10 years is the excitement and enthusiasm for sales among new graduates, and the opportunities that are being created and fostered for entry-level sales jobs everywhere.  We are seeing more interest by Academia towards the sales profession and courses are popping up across Universities and Colleges that focus on educating students about sales as a career.

As founders of The Great Canadian Sales Competition, we’d like to think that we played a small part in sparking the conversation around how awesome new graduates can be in sales!

For the love of Sales!