The Elevate 2018: Innovation in Action conference is less than two months away. As we prepare for another opportunity to share knowledge with the best sales professionals in the country, we’re taking time out to reflect on the lessons we learned at Elevate 2017 in Nashville.

Whether you missed last year’s conference or want a refresh before you attend this year’s event, here are four Elevate 2017 quotes from Byron Matthews, president and CEO of Miller Heiman Group, that will prepare you to make the most of this year’s conference:

1) “Selling is much, much harder than it ever has been before. It’s getting harder and harder every single year.”

Effective selling was more difficult than ever last year and it will become even more challenging throughout 2018. In fact, only 53 percent of organizations achieved quota plan attainment last year, according to research from CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group. That’s down 10 percent from just five years ago.

Why? Buyers are more informed and there are more people involved in decision-making (a trend that’s only increasing). With more people and more processes, sales reps must overcome more obstacles to close deals.

With that in mind, the old way of selling (when sales reps could show up, ask questions and educate prospects) isn’t enough anymore. Sales reps need to understand their clients and add value immediately, from the start of the sales process.

2) “What is sales: an art, or a science?”

If you asked a group of sales professionals this question 40 years ago, everyone would have responded with the same answer: Sales is definitely an art. Historically, sellers relied almost exclusively on conversations, relationship-building and an understanding of the undefinable nuances that lead to sales. While these “artful” skills are still necessary, they are no longer the only skills required for successful selling.

We work in an increasingly data-driven sales environment. AI-enhanced technology can eliminate the guesswork from the process and prompt salespeople with the exact actions and content they need to achieve success. As a result, the sales process is becoming as much a science as an art — a trend that will redefine how sales organizations approach strategy, processes and even talent recruitment.

3) “Almost all sales behaviors and activity will be stored, analyzed and understood.”

The inability to fully document and understand the relationship between the seller and the prospect undoubtedly contributed to the perception of sales as an art. Sales reps were able to manually document action steps, record conversations and attempt to analyze patterns, but they’ve never had a foolproof way to use data to their advantage.

In a future much closer than it may seem, everything in the sales process will be documented and analyzed — and technology will equip sales reps to act in real-time based on data, not just intuition. Sales enablement teams will grow, armed with solutions that can personalize content for individual prospects. Additionally, this transparency will empower sales coaches to fine-tune feedback and train reps more effectively.

4) “The future sales professional will look more like an engineer than a communications major.”

As the scales tip toward the science side of selling, sales professionals must become scientists. The skills that define communications and business professionals are still critical, but the new sales environment requires a new mindset. Analytical thinking, data literacy and familiarity with financial systems and management will not just be nice skills to have, but necessities that ensure sales teams retain a competitive edge going forward.

Sales teams need to rethink recruitment and hiring processes to attract a new breed of sellers or risk falling behind in the marketplace. Forward-thinking sales organizations are already targeting sales professionals with STEM backgrounds in their recruitment efforts.

Last year’s conference touched on the future of sales. That future is approaching fast, and the stakes are higher than ever. Here’s your chance to get ahead of the competition. Register now to join Miller Heiman Group at Elevate 2018: Innovation in Action from April 16-17, 2018 in Scottsdale, Arizona, and learn about the transformative trends that will define sales in 2018 and beyond.

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