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Why The Future of Sales Looks A Lot Less Salesy

Think about the way you shop.

If you’re anything like me, you like to look around for yourself. Maybe scour reviews on Amazon, comb through new products on Product Hunt, or even browse review sites like G2 Crowd and Capterra if you’re buying something for work.

These days, we can find out just about everything we need to know before making a purchase without anyone’s help.

That’s one of the reasons why we love products like Slack and MailChimp so much — because we truly get to try them and use them before ever having to throw down a credit card.

And even if you’re physically buying something, you can try it out first.

You can go to any Apple store and play around with that new MacBook Air you’re thinking about buying. You can order a few different pairs of new Nikes from Zappos, or glasses from Warby Parker, and then return every single pair — for free.

But imagine you went to the Apple store and just as you started typing on one of those shiny MacBooks, a sales rep jumped in front of you to say: “Hey, mind filling out this form real quick? I’d like to learn a little bit more about you and what you’re interested in.”

Learn more?, you ask yourself. I have no idea if I even want to buy this yet and I’m here in your store playing around with this laptop. Why do you need more information from me?

That part isn’t so much fun. That’s because if something gets in the way and causes friction when we’re buying–or even thinking about buying something–we don’t like it.

Like it or not, that’s how we buy today.

But then something really weird happens when we go to work at our jobs in sales and marketing: We do exactly the opposite of that. We do everything we hate when we’re the one selling something.

We Don’t Buy Things That Way Anymore, So Why Should Our Customers?

Think back to why things like marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads (SQLs) were even created in the first place. They were created to help qualify people and eliminate the noise–to get the right people talking to sales, so no one wastes time on deals that will never close. And we were doing just that at Drift. To request a demo, you needed to fill out a form. In order to see the demo, you needed to talk to sales, and so on down the funnel. But that process kind of felt like we were operating in a time when the Internet didn’t exist.

“The internet changed everything,” said HubSpot CRO Mark Roberge. “And it turned the buyer-seller relationship completely upside down. Today, the information that buyers need to make a purchase decision is just a click away. The power in the buying and selling process has shifted from the seller to the buyer. The buying process is transformed.”

Information is free now. Sales no longer gets to play gatekeeper.

So we made the switch from MQLs to PQLs: product qualified leads. This is the playbook that that modern, fast-growing software companies are using today, from Atlassian to HubSpot to Slack.

And yes, I hear you enterprise B2B people out there.

But even with something as formal as enterprise B2B sales, businesses don’t buy things, people do.

The Changing Role of Sales

So what does this shift mean for the future of sales? There are three things that stand out:

1) Helping is the new selling. Sales today is all about being helpful and building trust — not about being pushy or trying to close a deal. There are too many other options out there for consumers to go with if they feel like they’re being tricked or pushed. Customer education rules the buying process. The best sales reps today look more like product experts than traditional sales reps, and they spend more of their time educating and building trust than pushing to close a sale.

2) Businesses need to start treating people like people, not leads. That means that the sales process needs to match the way that people want to interact with a business. Shopify’s chief sales scientist Loren Padelford had this to say about the future of sales: “Our job is to do what our customers want. Customers are in control of the sales process now. We need to customize to the customer process, not to the sales company process.” Buyers behave in business the same way they do personally — they don’t want to fill out forms and deal with phone calls. That’s not natural. Instead, they want to be able to just send a business a quick message whenever they have a question or need some help, whether it’s on a brand’s website or inside of an app they’re using. The brands that are winning today are the ones that have figured out how to be personal and have 1:1 conversations at scale.

3) Sales reps will be compensated for customer success. With the shift from MQLs to PQLs, instead of focusing on growing a huge database that sales development reps can comb through in order to find people who might be a good fit, “leads” are now people who are already using your product. In this model, sales rep compensation is tied closely to customer success and is based on cross-selling and up-selling (or “land and expand”), instead of getting paid when a new customer comes onboard. Tim Thyne, who runs customer development at Help Scout, talks about sales reps as being consultants: “Our job in sales, first and foremost, is to understand the way your business operates and the processes and tools you have in place. Then we can recommend how best to proceed and help navigate the transition. Sales isn’t about convincing you to use Help Scout. It’s about helping you understand your options and being your personal concierge through the process.”

These changes might have different implications for different types of businesses, but one thing is becoming more clear every single day: the future of sales is going to be very different.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Dave Gerhardt, Marketing Lead at Drift

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