While it has only been a decade, 2006 seems forever ago: Twitter was still in its infancy, Windows launched its Vista operating system, and sales professionals still relied on their Filofax.

Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but there’s no doubt that the world of sales has seen significant technological advances since then. From predictive data analysis and customer relationship management (CRM) to automation and mobile communication, there’s been no shortage of developments.

However, for all the good it’s done, the speed of technological change has meant that some businesses have struggled to keep up. Instead of using the new tech at their disposal, they’ve continued to hedge their bets on a sales strategy that is at least ten years outdated.

Finding a purpose

We recently conducted a survey to find out what bugbears salespeople face. Nearly half (49.5%) of respondents cited their biggest daily challenge as understanding which customers are falling in sales, and finding new opportunities.

It might sound obvious, but a lack of understanding is caused by a lack of information. And it’s information which ultimately gives salespeople purpose.

Sales professionals will be hard pressed to develop any psychic powers, but they can make use of modern tech to gain better insight into consumer buying patterns, identify potential competitor threats, and keep track of customer communications.

The benefit for those who are purposeful in their selling is two-fold: not only will they close more deals, but they will also foster healthy, long-term customer relationships, thereby increasing the likelihood of making repeat sales in the future.

The inside scoop on ‘inside selling’

While traditional field selling may seem like a tried and tested method of reaching customers, performance in this area often relies heavily on individual traits such as confidence, charisma and powers of persuasion. The success of face-to-face sales meetings also hinges on the sales professional’s capacity to present all the information the customer wants to hear, at the right time, and in the right format. This is especially true in the age of the data-driven, no-nonsense millennials.

As 6% of our survey respondents agreed, this sounds like a huge challenge. But it doesn’t have to be.

Remote or ‘inside’ selling is, according to InsideSales.com, growing 300% faster than traditional field sales. Contrary to what some may believe, inside selling is more than just sitting in an office on the other end of a phone.

Practitioners of this methodology have a whole host of tools at their disposal. For example, they’ll likely have a system in place to automatically generate sales reports for individual customers, completely alleviating the time-consuming and stressful burden of preparing for sales calls.

Tech also allows sales professionals to keep their finger firmly on the pulse in a rapidly changing sales environment: their software will send them alerts when there are key changes in customer behaviour - or an oncoming competitor threat - allowing them to take timely, insightful action.

Navigating the long sales cycle

So you’ve closed a deal or two. What difference does it make if you can’t retain customers, and build long-lasting, profitable relationships with them?

We’ve seen a shift over the past decade towards what Forbes reckons to be “the biggest trend in sales today”, otherwise known as sales development. This concept deals with not only closing the deal, but also the period beyond – the nurturing of existing customer relationships and turning them into something more than just a one-off opportunity to sell.

Technology is integral to navigating the long sales cycle, in which opportunities to upsell and cross-sell will come and go – and it is the predictive analytics offered by modern software that allows salespeople to identify and act on them. Insight into customer buying trends is a huge confidence boost for the aspiring sales professional looking to increase their commission. This can only be beneficial to the business at large.

Needless to say, robust customer relationships are also built through communication. Thankfully, sales tech developers tend to understand this, designing flexible software that can be integrated with your CRM, email platform and website, to help you track and sustain rapport with key customers.

Beyond 2016

Sales is intelligent. Sales is proactive. Sales is purposeful. And – perhaps most obviously – sales is changing.

Who knows where we’ll be in 2026, but what we do know is that technology is more important than ever.

By Paul Black, CEO, sales-i