There are predictions, and then there’s reality.

I’ve never liked predictions. I’m not an economist and I’m not a fortune teller. Yet, we’re asked to make predictions all the time. I understand that predictive analysis tools can be accurate at forecasting business trends and sales performance. But what will happen in 2022? That depends on whom you’re talking to and what their biases are.

For instance, NBC reports that astrologers predict 2022 will bring “enlightenment, glow-ups, and some serious rebirths and that we should expect for secrets to be revealed, the marginalized to rise up, and chances for a phoenix to rise from the ashes.” Yet, as the author points out: “This would be cause for excitement if not for one little problem: Astrology doesn’t work.”

My problem with predictions is that they’re unrealistic. Astrologers, business analysts, and sales “experts” all tend to focus on hopeful outcomes that aren’t always grounded in reality.

That Sounds Nice, But …

Hopeful outcomes sound like this:

  • Sales and marketing will learn to play nice.
  • Sales teams will get access to their key buyers.
  • Salespeople will become proficient in virtual selling.
  • Sales teams will adopt a reliable sales process.
  • Inbound and outbound reps will work together seamlessly.

It’s good to be hopeful, but don’t be naive. We’ll make progress on many of these initiatives, but we can’t say that sales teams “will” do anything. The smart ones will, of course, attempt to achieve these goals, but success depends on the savvy of the sales executive who’s leading the team. Not only savvy, but the willingness and guts to innovate and challenge the status quo, to say “no” when it’s important and “yes” when it matters.

Are you going to spend 2022 hoping for the best, or do you have the guts to put a stake in the ground and propel your sales organization forward?

What’s (Not) New in 2022?

In Going Viral: The History and Economics of Pandemics, Stephen Davies writes:: “A major pandemic does not introduce something truly novel. It magnifies trends that were already under way.”

What COVID-19 has magnified is the over-reliance on technology to sell. Most companies met the pandemic like a deer in the headlights. Sales leaders struggled with managing remote teams, cutting expenses, and only investing in necessities. Their clients were in the same position, watching in panic as revenue declined. Companies fell back on what they’d always done—depending on technology for automation and high-volume transactions.

But sales happen, not from transactions, but from relationships with humans. Technology and data are essential, but what’s forgotten is that people do business with people, not with technology.

AI is a dominant trend, and the prediction of an AI-automated workforce is compelling. Bernard Marr reports in his article, Future of Work: The 5 Biggest Workplace Trends in 2022:

“The World Economic Forum predicts that AI and automation will lead to the creation of 97 million new jobs by 2025. However, people working in many existing jobs will also find their roles changing, as they are increasingly expected to augment their own abilities with AI technology. Initially, this AI will primarily be used to automate repetitive elements of their day-to-day roles and allow workers to focus on areas that require a more human touch—creativity, imagination, high-level strategy, or emotional intelligence, for example.”

I don’t know how accurate this prediction will turn out to be, but I certainly agree that sales requires a human touch. Always has and always will.

Go Big, Get Personal

The more technology-driven this world gets, the more we appreciate the personal touch—real recognition, in-person time, and actually getting to talk to and work with people. As John Naisbitt, author of High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning, says, “The more high tech the more high touch we desire.”

Yes, there are certain things we’d rather do for ourselves with the help of our trusty computers—and maybe some AI-powered self-service options. But at the end of the day, we want to do business with people. For example, when we fly, we no longer need a person to find the schedule, sell the ticket, or issue the boarding pass. But we do want and appreciate a real, live person to greet us as we board the plane and ensure there’s a pilot in the cockpit.

For the record: I am not tech-phobic, a Luddite, or afraid of change. As our world and culture change, so will sales—and that’s OK. What doesn’t change is that our community is comprised of people. And people need interaction. So step up and make a difference in your clients’ lives and business. Help them succeed by being a top-notch, high-touch sales professional. Be a resource, a cheerleader, a sounding board. Be part of the solution.

The Reality

Finally, there’s a growing recognition (not yet a trend) to focus on the human side of sales and build long-lasting relationships—what AI cannot do.

Relationships are what seal our deals, and you can’t automate relationships. Technology is not the answer. Perhaps this is the year sales leaders will realize that their teams’ ability to connect is seriously lacking. They’ll invest in building the skills of their reps to have meaningful, relationship-building conversations.

Of course, I’m not predicting this will happen. But I am hopeful.

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(Featured image attribution: fauxels)