Why 2021 Will Be The Year Of Guided Selling

Sales teams have always needed to be agile. The marketplace is constantly changing, with new trends emerging among buyers all of the time. To stay ahead of the curve, sales organizations have to adjust to address buyers’ needs and expectations. Years ago, this meant opening new avenues for sales and experimenting with different kinds of demonstrations. Now, sales organizations are faced with a massive shift to remote selling strategies, digital experiences and virtual onboarding.

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Although every year delivers some manner of transformation, 2020 was particularly challenging. Sellers across industries were forced to adapt much faster than they had expected. In-person meetings and demonstrations practically disappeared and sales leaders had to quickly reskill outside reps for inside sales; all while learning to manage their teams remotely. Meanwhile, the buyer’s journey was evolving as buyers dealt with difficulties in their industries.

Adjusting to the new normal means tackling old challenges differently and searching for new approaches that work now. Guided selling offers clear solutions.  


Sales: As hard as ever, now harder 

Even before the stress of 2020, sales were growing increasingly complicated. Getting a firm footing in the new normal starts with getting a handle on these basic problems:

  • Lack of visibility: Even in 2020, understanding where deals stand and getting a good grip on the overall health of the pipeline is largely a matter of verbal reporting. Finding out the exact activities the team takes in each deal and their effectiveness can verge on a mystery.
  • Lack of sales process control: Many sales teams still have no way of quickly changing the processes that make up their organization’s sales cycles. Even fewer still can track execution. 
  • Less than optimal productivity: Sales teams still spend a large portion of their time on administrative tasks and other repetitive, low-value work that would be better spent selling. These types of tasks, and the sales prosecting process as a whole, are ripe for automation, and most organizations are past due for an upgrade in this area.
  • Incorrect focus with deals and prospects: Sales teams still largely rely on experience and instinct to guide their next steps. In the current environment, many teams are looking for a way to take verifiably effective steps every time to get the best odds with every deal.

These difficulties have only been compounded by the pandemic and remote work. These are the three top challenges of 2021 and beyond:

  • Increasing adaptability: With markets and buyer behavior changing, adaptability is a top priority. The ability to quickly find and implement tactics and strategies that are effectively selling right now can make or break sales organizations in 2021. 
  • Managing remote sales teams: Remote teams are the new norm for sales organizations, and they demand a different kind of support. Sales managers must find a way to bring reps up to speed remotely and guide them through deals without in-person coaching, all while maintaining high productivity.  
  • Long sales cycles and low win rates: Touches to close are up, competition for communication time is high, and companies are carefully guarding their spend. With revenue generation mission-critical, sales organizations have to find a way to close deals faster and get the best possible odds with each one. 

What is guided selling? 

According to Gartner, Algorithmic-guided selling is quickly becoming a table-stakes technology for the sales team. The company’s survey found that 51 percent of sales organizations have already deployed a guided selling solution for sales–or plan to do so soon.  

So, what is it? Guided selling is a B2B selling solution that helps teams gain complete visibility of their pipeline and implement winning tactics. With guided selling, companies can combine the unique experience and insights into their sales organization with artificial intelligence suggestions of what’s working best. Reps get contextual guidance at every stage of every deal. That allows them to turn deals at risk around and move healthy deals forward at top speed with steps that are proven to work best.

Guided selling can provide this comprehensive visibility and turn up successful behaviors by automatically gathering sales-related data from all of the communication channels and tools a sales team uses. Complete sales data is then analyzed by AI to draw correlations between actions and results.


How guided selling solves classic sales problems

Guided selling is all about empowering each member of the sales teams with the information and guidance they need to increase their performance. Along the way, it eliminates classic sales problems.

1. Complete visibility

When it comes to sales, visibility is king. What are reps doing with each deal? What results are those activities bringing? Are those deals going to close? Which won’t? Will we make it to our revenue goals? These are probably the most pressing questions your sales leaders deal with, and every one of them is directly related to visibility.

What’s surprising then, is that in many organizations, the methods of finding the answers to these questions is the same as it has been since the beginning of organized sales: go ask. In the best-case scenario, this doesn’t give the best possible results. In a remote setting, it’s even worse. Everyone is pressed for time, and essential non-verbal communication is out the window.

Guided selling is a modern solution. It pulls sales data from everywhere your sales team works: email, calendars, video conferencing, and a wide variety of partner apps. It then uses that information to paint a complete picture of each deal in the pipeline. More importantly, it puts the information that each member of your sales team needs right where they’re working so they can stop playing telephone.

  • Sales leadership can see the health of every deal, giving them an intuitive feel for the overall health of the pipeline.
  • Sales managers can see exactly what reps have done and will do next with every deal, dive into details in seconds, and find out the moment a deal goes off track.
  • Sales operations can see what activities the team is performing and the results, so they can scale winning tactics and strategies across the team.
  • Reps can see exactly what they need to do next to get deals at risk back on track and push healthy deals forward with the best odds of a win.

Real visibility is the foundation for major improvements in the sales org. From top to bottom, every member of the team needs better visibility. Providing it saves time, boosts productivity, increases accountability and wins more deals. 

2. Better control of sales processes

Salespeople and gurus spend a lot of effort in developing, training and revising methodologies and tactics. When it comes to implementing, testing and concretely changing processes, though, most organizations are still in the dark ages. 

One of the most significant benefits of guided selling is the amount of control it gives you over your sales processes. By converting your organization’s standard sales practices into automated notifications and reminders you centralize the sales strategy and make it accessible for improvement. Sales leaders and sales ops can easily check what’s working best and make changes in real-time.

This framework of how an ideal sale should proceed gives your sellers the perfect blend of freedom and guidance. Your reps never forget anything important, know the correct actions to take without having to ask, and prospects and clients receive a homogenous approach and message. At the same time, individual reps still have the freedom to take action and think creatively when they need to. 

3. Laser focus with deals and prospects

Even with a good strategy in place and quality training, most reps are flying by the seat of their pants when it comes to the specific steps that they take each day. Unfortunately, gut feelings and good intentions don’t cut it when revenue generation is critical. 

Guided selling makes sure that reps always know what to do with each deal and when to do it. It goes beyond experience-based processes and standard procedures to suggest actions that will move specific deals forward at any given stage. While your sales organization’s experience and expertise provide the foundation, guided selling is more dynamic than a simple automated playbook. The era of AI has already arrived and it can seriously enhance your team’s focus when it comes to specific steps and specific deals.

AI-analysis of your historical sales cycles allows the platform to understand what steps are needed and when. It uses that information to nudge your reps to take the right action with the right deal at just the right moment. It also monitors communications to make suggestions about who to get in touch with and when, so leads are properly nurtured and prospects don’t slip away.

4. Optimized productivity

Productivity is a perennial complaint in sales. Sales reps have been bogged down with administrative tasks since the dawn of CRM. Sales managers are loaded with time-consuming reporting and forecasting, enforcing standard procedures, and finding content and information that they need.

One of the primary goals of guided selling is to strip away low-value work and data navigation and give your teams their time back. More time for managers to coach and lead, more time for reps to sell.

For reps, that means automation:

  • Automatic data capture and organization in CRM;
  • Auto-sync of calendars and other tools; and
  • Automation of mass outreach on multiple communication channels.

For sales managers, the visibility that we already covered goes a long way in saving time. Instead of constantly searching for information or asking reps for it, the exact information that they need is built into their dashboards, and forecasts are generated automatically with the help of AI. Plus, automated reminders to reps cuts down the time they spend on simple training and making sure reps follow the rules.


How guided selling helps you meet current challenges

When equipped with modern solutions to classic sales problems, your team becomes much better equipped to tackle current challenges.

1. Leading Remote Sales Teams

The shift to remote was sudden, total and largely underappreciated. In reality, even previous inside teams function differently in a remote environment, with different needs and challenges. Leading a thriving remote sales team calls for two things: effective remote training and greater transparency.

Training while remote

In this new environment, you need a way to ramp up new reps, reskill outside reps and continuously train teams effectively—all of which your organization has probably always done in person. To top it all off, studies show that reps forget around 80 percent of their sales training within three months. To improve long-term assimilation, they need repetitive reminders while they put things into practice. 

Guided selling’s automated, contextual notifications are a big bonus for remote training. Your sales leaders and sales ops can set up training reminders that go way beyond static content that might never even get read. Instead, reps are shown the right step to take with supporting content right in the moment they need it. That means faster onboarding and reskilling, and more bang for your buck with training regardless of where your reps are working.

Providing transparency

Upgraded visibility also has big benefits right now. Your sales teams (and everyone else) are spending more time than ever in calls and meetings. Time for communication comes at a premium and the bandwidth of communication has decreased. Communicating through a screen is different from face to face—contextual clues and nonverbals are missing, especially for teams that don’t use video in internal calls.

Sales managers, as always, need to know what’s happening with deals and what reps are doing to move them forward. Increased visibility saves your team’s time on internal calls and meetings, reduces strain in reporting, and improves accountability. Sales managers can rely on easily found information without hounding their reps. Reps are saved from the stress of reporting under pressure, and everyone knows that their activities are visible.

2. Boosting your org’s adaptability

How can a single software platform effectively improve your organization’s adaptability? The truth is, no amount of money or tech can directly improve a sales organization’s adaptability without effort from the inside. 

What guided selling can do is provide a framework for a much more accessible sales strategy and provide tools to reliably test individual processes. With guided selling, the actions that make up your sales cycles are collected in a single place. Your sales leaders and sales operations can A/B test them just as they would with outreach emails and subject lines. Better strategies can be implemented as the new standard in a fraction of the time it would have taken before, with a reliable way of ensuring that they are executed.

All of this is enhanced with AI analysis of what’s working best and suggestions of what could work even better. Altogether, with a willing team, this means sales teams can pivot faster without losing momentum and alignment.

3. Shortening sales cycles and improving win rate

AI suggestions for next steps have big benefits when it comes to shortening deals and improving win rate. By showing reps which steps they need to take with each deal, they keep them moving as fast as possible. Since nothing gets neglected, reps have better odds with each deal.

Better visibility also plays a big part in tightening up win rate. The health of opportunities is always front and center, so sales managers and reps automatically keep a closer eye on where things are headed. When things do go wrong, the sales manager and owner of the deal get notified immediately, with suggestions of how to get things back on track. 

Since they cost considerably less than generating new opportunities in the pipeline, saving deals that are currently lost through human error represents a major revenue bonus.


How to get ready for guided selling (and 2021)

Guided Selling isn’t a point-and-click solution. When done correctly, it has the potential to overhaul your sales organization and strategy, so it’s no surprise that there’s a bit of preparation involved. Fortunately, all of the steps to get ready for guided selling are things that will help revamp your sales org for 2021 whether you opt for new technology or not.

  • Consider your organization’s data situation. Sales relationships and opportunities are largely made up of communications: emails, calls, messages and meetings. These are your primary sources of information about the deals in your pipeline. But there’s more than that. Your team also uses other apps to get documents signed, send invoices and everything else required to close a deal. Are you saving that data? Getting that data organized and centralized is going to make it easier to analyze your pipeline and deals and make forecasts, whichever sales tech you bring onboard. 
  • Outline essential processes that close deals for you. Not every sales org has a formalized playbook, and that’s fine. Having a plan is essential, though. Your sales leaders should know the steps it takes to close a deal and the milestones that mark that a deal is on track. If you do have a playbook, check to make sure it’s up to date. If you get guided selling, you’ll be able to automate reminders and alerts so that reps can get them right every single time.
  • Define top-priority information for sales leaders. Your sales leaders spend considerable time looking for information, asking other people for it, verifying it, etc. Getting that information in front of them automatically is a huge step for enabling your sales teams. It’s not hard, simply ask your sales managers to make a list of the questions they’re constantly asking reps in pipeline meetings and looking for to complete reports and make forecasts. With guided selling, you’ll put that information right on your sales managers’ and sales directors’ dashboards.
  • Gather your essential sales content. Hopefully, your organization has a good working relationship between sales and marketing. Your sellers need content to close deals, from sales decks to pdfs. Where is the content? Is it up to date? Do your sellers spend time hunting it down every time they need it? Get the answers to those questions so you can work them out. If you opt for guided selling, your teams can stop worrying about finding the content they need at the last minute.
  • Understand where automation is lacking. It’s 2021, if you aren’t automating repetitive work for your sales teams, you’re burning potential revenue. Your sales teams know exactly which tasks eat up their time–time they’d rather use to push their deals forward. Ask them what they are and make a list. Whether you use guided selling to square these tasks away or a handful of other solutions, you’ll thank yourself for healthy modernization with more sales, a leaner team, or both.

It’s officially a new era of sales 

There were so many changes in 2020 that it’s hard to even internalize everything that’s happened. Heading into a new year, is a good time to take stock of the situation and think about what your sales organization needs for an entirely new era of sales. “The new normal” has already become so cliche as to lose all meaning, but it’s a fact. Sales are fundamentally different now and there’s no going back.

Whether guided selling is the solution that will bring your organization into the new age or not, consider where you’re invested and compare it to where you should be invested to take on 2021. Are you still making payments on solutions from a past era of outside sales? Is your organization making do with a hodgepodge of last-minute solutions and siloed data? Can sales leaders and sales operations get a clear picture of what’s happening through every stage of the sales cycle?

Make time to consider these questions and plan how your organization will prepare for a new year and a new era.

Vlad Voskresensky is the CEO and Co-founder of Revenue Grid

Vlad Voskresensky is the CEO and Co-founder of Revenue Grid, an AI Guided Selling platform that nudges sales teams with step-by-step guidance towards actions that bring the best results, shows deals at risk and prioritizes tactics with the greatest impact.

  • Originally published January 15, 2021, updated December 15, 2021