The Future of Agency Sales

As part of London Tech Week, Pipedrive hosted a “Sales in the Digital Age” session dedicated to exploring the challenge of how sales tech can help to ease the pressure on salespeople. Adam Graham, one of our Co-Founders was invited to speak and here are his key tips and outtakes:


To what extent can we further optimise sales processes today?

  • Define clear processes so that everyone knows what they should be doing throughout the sales process.  What are the stages?  Who is overseeing the process from beginning to end?  How are they tracking progress? etc.  I see agencies waste plenty of time not having a clear process.
  • Be wary of automation!  We’re selling complex solutions that are expensive, which rely heavily on relationships.  At this time, technology cannot replace the ‘human’ element of sales and if you are using automation tools, you could be doing yourself a disservice.  Think how you feel when you receive comms with a lack of thought or personalisation.
  • Create easily adaptable sales collateral so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.  Think about your creds, case studies and standard RFI questions and how they are structured and saved.  Are they easily accessible and editable by anyone in the agency?


What future innovations can we expect to see in sales?

  • I think we will see AI used effectively to make the process more personalised but I don’t think anything can substitute for human interaction and tech is nowhere near sophisticated yet – it may never be.  So remember the most important sales tool is you.
  • Technology should be an enabler not a replacer.  For example, tech should provide more insight on prospects so that you can tailor your approach to what’s most valuable for them.
  • Good sales people will focus on the problem to solve and then use tech to aid them as opposed to finding a cool bit of tech and hoping it will throw you a lead.
  • I would like to see innovation that connects agencies and brands based on culture and requirements with a higher accuracy rate.


What element of the sales process is likely to see disruption?

Recently I have seen a lot more discussion around Account Based Marketing and more respect between the sales and marketing disciplines, which in my opinion is a huge positive.  Maybe the attitude of ‘hard sales’ is changing to being more receptive to marketing; moving from chase to attract and putting branding and purpose at the heart of sales.  It’s a less ruthless and long term approach, so hopefully we’ll get more ethical salespeople and end users will get a better deal.  In the long term, this will help businesses build stronger relationships with their clients.


Has the sales industry been unresponsive to digitisation?

I don’t believe so, in the marketing industry.  I have seen a lot of automation tools like Hubspot crop up but people are quite over reliant on these things.  Tools like Slack, Asana, Trello and CRM systems are the norm.  I think there is too much on the market and this is confusing people and over complicating the process.  Lazy or unknowledgeable salespeople are often using these tools a crutch they are overly reliant on.

Cloud based solutions have made it much easier and quicker to track leads and input information anywhere, anytime.  There is no excuse for not being on top of your new business.  Most of these platforms have apps so you can operate straight from your phone.


What are the main issues facing modern salespeople?

I think smaller, entrepreneurial agencies and more freelancers cropping up are adding more competition to the industry and that is making sales a tougher environment, particularly for agencies.  Buyers are also much more empowered through online tools and research and therefore you can’t pull the wool over their eyes.  They are savvy and sales people need to recognise this and realise they are not always the solution.  They need to add value and be helpful rather than pushy sales people.  Modern companies are also recognising that they shouldn’t put extra pressure on sales people to deliver and instead are supporting them more by creating a wider new business culture outside of the pure sales function.


How does the sales industry need to evolve?

Business leaders need to set clear visions and brand mantras, employees can get behind.  These leaders should be empowering sales people and turning staff into brand ambassadors  so that everyone is driving towards the same success.  This will create a sales culture and then sales people can become the orchestrators of these cultures, as opposed to the guys who are blamed when the agency doesn't hit its target.


“Everybody is a salesperson. If you want a pizza on a Sunday night, you’ve gotta know how to push your agenda to your partner. Tap into your passion and you’ll be able to sell.”


How can we improve customer relationships? Which approach would you suggest?

I’ve always liked things like Net promotor scores or tools like the Happiness Index.  I talk to a lot of agencies around new business and we always make a point of saying 60% of your new business will come from your existing client base.  However, 90% of agencies are off chasing new clients and not putting in place and organic growth plans or strategic roadmaps for clients.  This feels like an easy win and a complete no-brainer!  Ask yourself: who runs the client relationship?  What target would you like to put on the relationship? What do they need now and in the future?   What is the roadmap to helping them get there?


How has sales culture changed?

When I started my career, sales was a lot more aggressive and a bit ‘boiler room’.  It was just a lot of hot air and testosterone with no real value.  Maybe it’s just me who has changed but generally I think sales has become more honest – I think clients see right through bullshit.  I would also like to think, there is more focus on the long term commercial and business objectives as opposed to, we need money quickly!  If you're still acting like this, then come to our next Rehab event or read this blog.


Women still only represent a small % of the UK’s sales workforce - how do we sell sales to women?  Do you think diversity is an issue in sales?

Yes.  I still think we have this old school view of women do marketing and PR and men do sales. I think this could be down to the historic aggressive work environments of how sales used to be done.  Most sales teams I worked with were very male heavy and there was a real ‘lad’ culture.  As a society we are maturing (slowly) and there are plenty of women who are echoing the message, fuck being humble.  Whether true or not, someone on the panel raised the point women have fantastic listening skills and ability to persuade, which are two essential skills when it comes to new business.  I’m no scientist to know if women are better at these things but I think we need to do all we can to welcome diversity in sales.


Do you think sales culture is a positive or negative?  Does sales have an image problem?

The word ‘sales’ still makes people’s toes curl up but this is because the minute you hear the word you automatically think of a sleazy car salesman.  This is archaic and we need to change this to realise sales culture is no different to brand culture.  It should mean everyone in an organisation clubbing together to drive one vision. We talk about Hunter and Farmers and there is a place for them to work together for the benefit of everyone.  Where it goes wrong is when Hunters get greedy and just think about themselves.


Do salespeople bear much of the burden for company growth?

I have always seen the salespeople get no appreciation for winning but all of the blame for losing.  That was the general feeling among the 10 years I spent working in-house for agencies.  The role for me became more of a personal assistant or project management role as opposed to commercial strategy.  Sales is a culture, not a person.  Until we realise that and everyone in the organisation takes responsibility, sales will always be seen as an add-on.  Salespeople will also find much more motivation and fulfilment when they are trusted with the growth of a company rather than having their hands tied but still asked to deliver.


“If you’re in any entrepreneurial business – you need to sell. Tap into your own beliefs and use your passion to tell your story.”


How can sales teams showcase the value they bring to the wider company?

Salespeople are under appreciated by their companies and society at large.  I would like to see sales teams stand up more for the value they bring and take more responsibility and ownership for what they do.  Sales people don’t just bring in new opportunities but they are also the ‘ears and mouth’ of a business and therefore should be effecting everything from product to pricing.  I see them as the glue in any organisation, often getting many different teams and personalities to work together to pull in the same direction.  Decent sales people are true leaders and can navigate many different types of people.


How should small businesses approach sales? Dedicated teams, or should it be done by the CEO?

No one can sell the business more passionately than the founder of a small business.  But when you’re small you also have to service the accounts and do all the admin, so scaling can be tricky especially if you don’t learn to delegate and empower at an early stage.  Having a decent new business process is crucial at this early stage and if you engrain the culture early, then you’ll be in good shape further down the line.  Keeping track of every conversation you have with prospects and the wider industry will help you build a consistent pipeline and staying on top of short term KPIs will ensure you are constantly pushing forward.  Don’t look at the big picture all the time as it will overwhelm and cripple you.  Also, if you can use tools like Pipedrive or delegate smaller jobs then you should try to do this so you can be out there meeting people and selling.


Will GDPR lead to a loss in sales?

There’s been a lot of talk about GDPR and a lot of hot air.  My view is that, in the B2B world, if you’re using data transparently and honestly, giving people options to opt in and out, then you’re fine.  I believe GDPR was brought in to shake up the industry to stop spamming but most importantly put some value behind what people are doing with this data.  It is also more concerned on consumer data.  When it comes to B2B marketing, many of you will have heard of a clause called ‘legitimate interest’, meaning organisations need to show that there is a balance of interests – their own and those of the person receiving the marketing.  If you are providing real insights and value that could protect the vital interest of a business, then this would class as ‘legitimate interest’.  So in answer to the question, GDPR might lead to a loss in sales but only to unethical companies who don’t offer any value to others and are only interested in their own benefit.


I hope you enjoyed some of my views and we welcome any debate or discussion around these topics to make sales a more respected discipline.  You can contact us here.

Pipedrive also published a summary of the key takeaways of the Sales in the Digital Age event - along with some videos of the whole panel discussion.