2016 promises change for a select set of sales and marketing professionals due to the rapid arrival of the Internet of Things. 

Device proliferation is taking place at a brisk pace — according to Gartner, 6.4 billion devices that can send data via the Internet are already in use, and by 2020 that number will explode to 20.8 billion. Vendors are already taking steps to connect their software to those devices, combining the recent advances in analytics with the data sources to make analytics exponentially more powerful.

What does this mean for sales and marketing pros? Depending on their roles, it means different things.

Salespeople: Evolve or Disappear

Last year, Forrester made waves with a report that said that 20 percent of B2B sales jobs — 1 million in total — would disappear by 2020. Most of those jobs were entry-level jobs that allowed salespeople to break into the business.

Though intimidating, those numbers don’t reflect the real shake-up happening for front-line salespeople. 

B2B customers increasingly want to buy in self-service mode — the Forrester survey showed 75 percent of businesses preferring this but only 25 percent of vendors were capable of accommodating the shift. Further, the IoT will take rudimentary sales transactions — refills, renewals, sourcing parts for just-in-time replacement and increases or decreases in service based on actual usage — and automate them. 

For certain salespeople — those “order taker” types who wait for customer needs to present themselves via customer actions — this is an extinction-level event.

But salespeople can evolve. They’ve done it over the last 20 years by adopting new technology, and new styles of selling to match changes in customers. 

Salespeople will need to evolve into subject matter experts — on both their own products and on the methods that those products can be delivered going forward. Customers will need them for specific and personalized information, not generic overviews of products. Deliver the answer in a timely and complete way, and you’ll make the sale. Fail to deliver the information and you become useless to the sales process.

Salespeople will also need to become skilled at explaining how products and services are delivered. The SaaS era required some of this — in order for a customer to trust the cloud, they needed to be informed and reassured about security, availability and other issues. The IoT era will require sales to up its game further. Buyers will need confidence that the data they share will not be abused and also will confer benefits to them that they couldn’t get in any other way.

Next-generation sales enablement solutions will help with product knowledge — salespeople can’t hold all the information about every product in their heads, but smart ones will know where to find it. 

Sales Managers: Modify Your Metrics

While the salesforce is blooming into a team of subject matter experts, sales managers are still facing some of the issues that have challenged them for years. Forecasting and coaching will command much attention this year, and are the two issues most affected by the arrival of the IoT era.

Although we often think of IoT data as something that comes from and is acted on by machines, the aggregate data generated provides managers with new insight that can help make forecasting increasingly accurate. According to forthcoming CallidusCloud research, 31.6 percent of businesses found forecast accuracy lower than 80 percent acceptable. For about 65 percent, accuracy in the range of 80 to 90 percent is acceptable. 

The IoT will challenge that — as managers take its data to heart.

By delivering real-life usage data, the IoT should give managers a better grasp on what their existing customers’ sales needs will be in the coming quarters. Additionally, that usage data should allow managers to extrapolate the potential markets for new customers that are similar to their existing customers — a sort of value modeling, based not on hunches or guesses but on data-verified estimates.

Once the forecast is complete, managers must help salespeople to execute against it. Sales managers can watch what the sales force is doing through internal systems for compensation, training, CPQ and other functions to see what individual salespeople are using or not using to achieve their numbers. 

For instance, a salesperson lagging behind quota who’s also not taking advantage of the sales enablement system or who has completed few ongoing training courses can be encouraged to do concrete things to improve performance. Similarly, the activities of a sales pro who’s getting excellent results can be examined to understand what actions can be mirrored by other members of the sales force.

2016 will be the year when sales managers become commanders of their metrics, combine measurements and see their correlations, and realize that experience backed up by insight is more powerful than insight by itself.

Customer Experience Professionals: Remove the Grunt Work

Every business wants to deliver great customer experiences — or so they say. And those in charge of overseeing the task can often feel overwhelmed. But 2016 will push customer experience pros to focus on more strategic directions thanks to the IoT.

IoT concepts are already driving customer experience improvements. 

For example, for many years the logistics industry has been using sensor-equipped devices to track everything from individual packages to shipping containers so they can keep customers informed about delivery dates. Automakers are envisioning an IoT-enabled car that can identify an impending component failure — instead of being stuck by the side of the road, the owner can avoid inconvenient and even dangerous breakdowns if they pay heed to the warnings triggered by analysis of multiple data points. 

Examples like these allow the grunt work of customer experience to be automated — if issues arise, the business already understands them and can get to work resolving them instead of wasting time learning them.

Widespread IoT use will take that concept to the next level. Customer loyalty will increase as businesses deliver on the IoT promises of constant up-time, just-in-time resupply of critical products and the ability of businesses to suggest upsells not when the sales team thinks it’s time but when the data shows the customer really needs it. Removing the hassle for customers will create a better experience.

Beyond that, the data the IoT generates can also help businesses suggest ways of using products — or even not using products – that can enhance the customer’s perception. If an older system’s performance drops below a certain threshold compared to a next-generation system, for instance, the company can suggest a replacement in a way that emphasizes the productivity advantage for the customer. Similarly, if a business spots a non-optimal usage of its product, it can suggest best practices to help the customer get the most value from his or her investment.

Businesses often express their desire to provide customers with more information and more advice that helps them prosper through the use of their products. By understanding how customers use their products today, businesses can offer precisely what specific customers need and become real partners in their customers’ success.

Title image "Shake it" (CC BY 2.0) by  TenSafeFrogs