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2020 has finally come to an end, and for many business leaders, the chance to start fresh can’t come fast enough. Despite plenty of careful planning in 2019, most companies haven’t come anywhere close to the revenue and sales predictions they set in place for 2020. This year has thrown salespeople quite a few curveballs, and business leaders are feeling the pinch.

Now that 2021 is just around the corner, it’s time to start planning again (and fast). Unfortunately, many team leaders don’t have the right answers to pressing questions that would help them to make intelligent predictions. You may still be left wondering:

  • Which of my customers is still buying in this new market?
  • Which deals in my pipeline are currently at risk?
  • How can I ensure that my pipeline and forecasts are correct?
  • Are my old strategies for sales as effective as they once were?

The sales environment is evolving, with sales agents embracing more tools and technology to help them reach their goals. So, how do you set realistic goals and revenue strategies for 2021, when 2020 was so marred in uncertainty?

Getting to Grips with the Current Sales Landscape

The first step in realistically planning for 2021 is understanding that the sales landscape is different today than in 2019. The marketplace has experienced some incredible changes in the last year, prompted by a huge selection of economical and social evolutions.

After a poor year for forecasts in 2020, sales leaders need to ensure that they don’t damage shareholder confidence even further by agreeing to outcomes they have no chance of achieving. The consequences of committing to unrealistic quotes are dire.

Sales reps face the pressure of numbers they can’t possibly achieve, prompting turnover. Sales leaders miss their goals and end up losing their jobs. Investors lose faith in the company.

According to Forrester reports, it’s crucial to be realistic about what’s possible when you’re preparing your team for success. Even if you execute your plan flawlessly, 48% to 70% of a company’s growth depends on overall market performance.

The following steps will ensure that the goals you’re setting aren’t just inspiring – they’re achievable.

Step 1: Understand your audience

This is a critical part of any sales strategy. If you don’t know what your audience wants from you, it’s impossible to predict whether you can serve their needs. The latest annual Salesforce report says that adaptation will be the key to achieving critical business goals.

86% of respondents believe long-term customer relationships are more important today than ever. A further 83% say it’s essential to build trust before a sale to ensure success. 58% of sales reps say that their role is likely to change permanently in 2021 to serve a new audience.

Start by examining your current customer base. Which of your clients will still be buying in the year to come? What kind of personas are stepping back from the plate, and where can you replace their revenue with new opportunities?

Take a look at the internal data that you’ve collected in the last few months. Your CRM environment is a good place to start, but don’t be afraid to branch out to new technology forms. Artificial Intelligence is one of the top new technologies for sales teams in the current landscape because it helps with:

  • Competitive intelligence
  • Lead prioritization
  • Forecasting
  • Understanding customer needs
  • Personalizing customer experiences

81% of sales ops say that technology for sales has changed drastically since 2019, and 81% also say that they’re implementing changes faster than ever before. Taking advantage of new technology will give you deeper insights into your customers, so you can determine which of your leads are disintegrating and which new opportunities are worth pursuing.

Step 2: Leverage Technology to Understand Data

As mentioned above, technology is playing a significant part in the evolution of the sales process. Around 79% of sales teams were using email/CRM integration technology in 2020. 67% relied on sales reporting and analytics, while 64% used sales forecasting tools.

Data is how we go beyond assumptions of what customers might want in an unpredictable environment. This is crucial in an environment where 42% of sales reps say that they spend too much time discovering a prospect or customer’s needs.

So, what kind of data should you be looking at?

Once you have all the information you can access about your internal processes and customers, look beyond third-party outlook data. Your sales planners need access to the latest outlook data in your industry. Knowing which markets and industries are expected to gain strength in the year ahead will help you to make more realistic assumptions about what’s to come.

Using the expected 2021 growth for your market or industry will help you to empower your sales team with a reasonable set of numbers that they can realistically achieve. It also means that you can get everyone in your team on the same page.

Remember, less than a third of newly implemented sales strategies are successful. A significant reason for this is that there’s too much misalignment between corporate and sales knowledge. Missing internal communications and conversations lead to gaps in business processes and understanding.

Sales management, their team, and any other affected parties in the sales landscape need to start planning by examining the key figures and data available both internally and externally for their business.

Step 3: Arm Yourself with Suitable Planning Solutions

With your data in place and a knowledgeable team behind you, it’s time to begin working on your plan for 2021. Forrester notes that team leaders need to arm themselves with all the right information to make successful business decisions as early as possible.

It’s often difficult to initiate and complete the process for sales planning when you’re facing the very end of the year. Closing the fiscal year comes with a lot of demands, and you’ll have the launches and programs of next year to think about too. In an ideal world, your planning process will begin before the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, most sales teams find themselves behind schedule. Around 55% of sales plans appear before the end of the year – and that’s it. The rest of the sales landscape is left to finish adjusting quotes and account assignments at the beginning of the year, so they can’t jump into action as quickly as their competitors. Around 32% of sales organizations suggest that this evaluation at the beginning of the year leads to a loss in productivity.

Once you organize your schedule, you can begin building a structured process for planning. In other words, decide how you’re going to create your sales plan successfully. Are you going to be looking at one territory at a time, or focusing on specific goals your company wants to achieve?

In some cases, getting stakeholders involved in the planning process is helpful. It’s a chance for them to see the concrete numbers and information you’ve gathered to help make your predictions about the year ahead. It also shows that you’re willing to consider their input on making changes and improving processes going forward.

Step 4: Leverage Guided Selling

We mentioned above that sales processes are changing almost constantly. Sales Ops are now more involved in everything from sales performance analysis to strategy planning, coordination, technology management, and more. The demands on sales teams are growing larger, while our styles of work are changing, with more distributed teams than ever before.

We’re living in a world where sales cycles are also increasing in length. Around 18% of deals now take as long as one year to close. If today’s companies want any chance of meeting their sales quotas and goals, then they need a more structured approach to selling.

Guided selling could be the answer to this problem. With guided selling, companies switch to a seller-focused solution that helps sales teams to truly have full visibility over everything from the pipeline to team activity and deal operations.

More importantly, guided selling allows business leaders to take full advantage of all the benefits of big data. Companies can combine sales communication information with AI and find correlations between specific actions and results. This means it’s suddenly possible to create playbooks with automation and tactics that are proven to deliver quick wins.

Guided selling solves a wide variety of pain points for sales teams. Remember, around 91% of customers say they’re more willing to buy from companies that offer deals specific to their needs. Guided selling ensures that your rep can create a more personalized experience for every audience. Just some of the challenges that teams can overcome with guided selling include:

  • Pipeline visibility: Guided selling shows you exactly what’s going on in your pipeline, and where the friction points are in your sales and deals. You can see which deals are at risk and where you need to take action to turn things around.
  • Team support: Business leaders can see whether team members are actually following the methodologies and playbooks laid out for them, and why they might be veering off course. You can also examine which methodologies work best so that it’s easier to scale processes that can deliver results for your team.
  • Customer insight: Guided selling is all about leveraging data. Your system can automatically capture communication data that goes beyond the basics of CRM. With AI integrations, you can find correlations and trends in the customer buying journey and automate playbooks and best practices to the needs of different personas.
  • Guidance: Guided selling does what it says on the tin. It provides your reps with the advice they need to take the best next step in every purchasing experience. It directs sales leaders towards more won deals, removing guesswork and human error.
  • Coaching: With guided selling, team leaders also have more support for properly coaching team members with strategies based on data and insights.

Step 5: Reduce Unpredictability with Technology

Unpredictability is a serious problem in today’s sales operations. However, it isn’t easy to know for certain what might happen in any industry. The best thing you can do is ensure you have full visibility into the past and present to forecast your future accurately.

Guided selling platforms that leverage artificial intelligence and data curation ensure that teams can see all of their pipeline and team activities, with real-time signals into which actions deliver the best results. Companies can even use these intelligent tools to determine which deals are at risk and how they can reduce the chance of failure.

Seeing pipeline health at a glance means that sales teams can have everything they need to push healthy deals forward and stop issues from increasing until opportunities are lost. In the list of the 5 top technologies that have become more valuable since 2019, Salesforce lists AI, mobile sales apps, and customer relationship management in the top five, along with sales prospecting tools.

Of course, it’s not just guided selling and AI systems that can strengthen your chances of success these days. While guided selling supports the controllability of the sales process, creating repeatable sales journeys and proven guidelines, other innovations have value too. For instance:

  • Automation: According to Salesforce, teams can achieve higher performance levels by automating things like logging sales data with advanced tools, managing administrative tasks, generating quotes, and more. Guided selling automation instantly tell teams what action to take on an account to generate results, reducing time wasted.
  • Digital communication: Through digital communication tools like the online webinar and video conferencing experiences, businesses can create more immersive face-to-face interactions with clients. This creates more touchpoints in the buyer journey and can potentially increase the rate of deals closed.
  • Artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence doesn’t just have a part to play in guided selling. It can also assist with gathering information, and even serving customers with automated responses and self-service systems.

Step 6: Coach the Team For Success

Finally, with access to all the information you need to make an informed prediction about your revenue and sales goals, and the tools required to help you succeed, you’re almost ready for 2021. The only thing left to do is ensure that your employees have the skills and support required to leverage the tools to drive them towards their goals.

Combining experience with data-driven reports, sales directors can provide their team with the advice and guidance they need to survive in a changing landscape. In 2020, many businesses have already invested more into training and coaching experiences, with revised KPIs for teams to consider, new personalized approaches to outreach, and simplified sales processes.

If you’re implementing new technology, whether it’s a guided selling platform, automated playbooks, or even just video conferencing, make sure your teams know how to use it. This is crucial to ensuring that your team members know how to make the most of the tools available to them.

Sales Leaders rank things like increased flexibility with customers, improved data quality, and simplified sales strategies at the top of their goals for 2021. However, it’s only possible to achieve those outcomes if everyone in your sales landscape is on the same page.

Start by looking at the teams you already have in place and determining what kind of support they need. For instance, is time management an issue? Do your current team members not know how much time they’re supposed to spend with customers? Show them how to use guided selling suggestions to accelerate the process.

If your sales teams aren’t sure how to personalize the experience for clients, show them how they can tap into unique information to make their message more relevant.

Be Realistic About Your Sales Opportunities

It’s tempting to look at 2021 lingering on the horizon and assume that the worst is over. Companies facing challenges caused by the drastic changes that happened in 2020 will be looking for a return to simplicity. While optimism is great for any sales team – it’s important to ensure that you’re still being realistic about what you can accomplish.

The steps above will ensure that you have the data, technology, and insights you need to make a more accurate prediction about what your team can do in 2021. This will reduce the risk that you’ll be putting too much pressure on your teams in the new year. It also means that you’re less likely to lose the confidence of shareholders and investors by promising them numbers that you can’t deliver.

At the same time, the tips above also show you how to ensure that you can follow through on the numbers that you promise, by empowering your team to deliver the right results. Investing in the right tools like guided selling and data-driven systems will support your employees in this changing environment. It also ensures that you can gather more information for accurate predictions at the end of 2021 too. The more data you collect now, the better prepared you’ll be in the months to come.

As a sales leader, it’s up to you to ensure that the goals you set for your team are realistic. Diligence in being data-driven will help to keep you on the right path.