Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result.

In 2020, the business of sales was completely disrupted, and organizations responded by taking a second look at how they onboard, train, develop and coach sellers. At the start of the pandemic, organizations shifted overnight to virtual selling, expecting to return to normal within a month or two. Experts now say that we will never conduct business the same way, even after the pandemic has run its course.

The short-term accommodations we made in the spring have started to yield long-term benefits. Organizations are iterating their sales strategies and methods, optimizing as they learn what works and what doesn’t. This year, we’ll see these adaptations become “the next normal.”

But these changes don’t make sales any easier. In fact, sellers are working harder than ever in this difficult economy. Equipping sales teams with the content, skills training, knowledge, coaching and tools to effectively sell your product or service is essential to survive and, hopefully, grow.

As a result, 2021 will be the year of sales enablement — the ongoing process of maximizing revenue per rep by ensuring sellers convey the right idea using the right content throughout each stage of the buying process. CSO Insights data has found “that organizations with sales enablement achieve a 49% win rate on forecasted deals, compared to just 42.5% for those without.”

Given its powerful impact on the bottom line, sales enablement is no longer optional. It’s crucial for survival, growth and success in the new economy. Read on for seven predictions for sales enablement in 2021.

1. Virtual Selling Is Here to Stay

In a survey from Bain & Company of more than 300 business-to-business (B2B) buyers and sellers, 80% of respondents said they “believe there will be a sustained increase in virtual interactions” after the pandemic.

In 2020, buyers and sellers realized how efficient and effective this form of selling can be. They will be reluctant to give up the time and cost savings of engaging virtually in 2021.

2. Sales Enablement Will Become a Core Capability

Now that 90% of B2B sales are virtual, a holistic approach to sales enablement is more critical than ever for keeping teams on track. There is a greater need for sales teams to be flexible and responsive and to align more closely with marketing teams. Previously siloed from the content creation and management functions, training, learning and coaching are now merging with them. Modern organizations must use all the tactics now available to support sellers with a 360-degree sales enablement process.

3. Sales Teams Will Be More Creative to Fight Screen Fatigue

As screen fatigue reaches new levels, sellers will modify their tactics to incorporate new ways to engage buyers and internal stakeholders. Asynchronous video will become more important as a way for sellers to engage with prospects and share important information. Prerecorded video will also play a greater role in virtual meetings, sales kickoffs and training sessions, enabling sellers to view content at their own pace. As sellers become more comfortable with recorded video, they will become more sophisticated and creative in their use of it at all stages of the sales cycle.

4. Data Will Drive Sales Enablement

Sales teams will begin to use 360-degree analytics that combine insights from sales activity, learning and content. This data-driven decision-making will reveal much more than which content sellers are sharing to also indicate which behaviors correlate with success. The feedback about what happens across the sales force at the moment of need will inform enablement strategy as well as content creation, deployment and management tactics.

5. Coaching and Collaboration Will Increase

Because team members aren’t working side by side in offices and won’t for some time, sales enablement managers need other ways to gather insight into the competencies and skills that need improvement and recognition. The past eight months have also shown that coaches can’t just rely on informal means of developing their reps. Formalizing peer-to-peer and manager-to-peer collaboration and implementing call coaching and other tools will have long-term benefits for entire teams, especially for new hires who can leverage best practices and advice from more seasoned sellers.

6. Mutual Interest Will Align Sales and Marketing

More than ever, subject matter experts (SMEs), top performers and leaders in sales and marketing need fast and easy ways to capture and curate insights and best practices. Marketing and training can no longer be content bottlenecks. This year, we’ll see a greater focus on building alignment to ensure that sellers can understand sales content, access that content at their moment of need, recall the information and messaging correctly, and deploy content with the right context to educate buyers and ensure it lands. Collaboration in the content creation process will solve many issues of traditional sales content management, including content effectiveness, content adoption, strategic use and sales buy-in on the overall strategy.

7. Organizations Will Do More With Fewer Tools

Modern tools that deliver continuous learning, microlearning and learning in the flow of work will enable greater sales productivity. The global average number of learning tools and platforms in use as of 2018 is 23 — double the number that companies were using in 2011. Corporate training and enablement teams don’t have the time or resources to continually evaluate solutions, never mind figure out how new tools integrate with current ones and manage the ones they already have.

In addition, finding solutions with the right capabilities at a reasonable price point can be challenging. Tech stack consolidation makes sense from a financial perspective. When possible, leveraging tools that combine individual apps, such as call recording and coaching, will lead to greater adoption and more satisfied users.

Enabling Productivity in 2021

As we head into the final weeks of a grueling year, organizations in all industries are leaning into the difficult lessons of the past few months. A new emphasis on learning and sales enablement has led to the development of new content, skills training, knowledge, coaching and tools to meet this demand. This incredible response to unprecedented times will continue next year, as organizations develop unified strategies and tactics to thrive.

I wish all of you health, successful selling and happier days in 2021 and beyond.

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