12/13/2012 09:58 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff Will Force Re-invention of Sales

Many are wondering about the impact of the fiscal cliff on business' ability to execute sales and grow in 2013. Debates regarding the elasticity of the deficit ranging between $500 billion to $1 trillion exacerbate the uncertainty that exists in business leaders' uncertainty. Companies are wrestling with understanding the potential impact to their business and revenue goals that could be imposed by sequestration spending cuts or tax policy changes. Meanwhile, companies are spending significant dollars to better understand and fine-tune the sales process using behavior modeling, greater adoption of business intelligence using predictive analytics, and development of vertical specializations for a more targeted communications strategy. A recent Harvard Business Review article highlighted the top 10 sales trends in 2013, noting that technology fatigue is a real issue for sales. Combine the changing nature of business today with the macroeconomic stress levels that exist and we are sure to face an unavoidable fact for 2013 -- selling stuff will be much harder than before.

In a recent Corporate Executive Board study of several thousand B2B customers, it was noted that customers are 60 percent through their purchasing decision before they have their first conversation with sales. In today's knowledge sharing economy, customers are more informed about their and are more willing to use their voices with unprecedented scale and amplification. With a simple web search, today's savvy business executive is able to easily navigate thousands of blogs, LinkedIn discussion groups and review sites -- all focused on their particular area of interest. Comparison shopping has never been easier and vendors need to work harder than ever to break through that barrier and show their value to a potential customer.

Customers know what they want, they understand the strengths and weakness of available solutions, and they are more decisive. Given the macroeconomic challenges that exist, business leaders are even more driven to ensure they select the right business partner -- as defined by price, features, relationships, and overall return on investment.

There are two kinds of sales people, rich ones and new ones. And in the future, the rich ones will be the socially savvy ones. To compete and win in today's market, sales must be social, mobile, and connected; otherwise they're well on their way to irrelevance. Even before the connected economy, prior to the explosive use of web, social, mobile and consumer technologies, one could strongly argue that the hardest job in most companies is not engineering, IT, or Human Resources, but rather sales. As an electrical engineer by schooling and a technologist for most of my career, it is through experience that I came to the conclusion that sales is the most challenging, and most rewarding, line of business. The outcome of your efforts is black and white -- win or lose -- and the timelines are outside of your immediate control. And so much depends on others, which makes successful selling a job only for the very creative, empathetic, resilient, trustworthy and hardworking. You must be willing to put your reputation and income on the line with the promise and ability to delight others.

Perhaps the biggest impact in business is the opportunity to leverage social collaboration to improve the predictability of sales forecasting, opportunity management, and revenue linearity (recognized revenue as a function of time for a fixed time period). The use of social business intelligence in sales can help us target our messages and interactions with people that have digital influence. When speaking to multiple contacts within an organization, understanding and measuring the contact's social footprint and reach allows us to guide our discussions by targeting our message to the person(s) in the organization that is most likely to influence the sales cycle and the buyers.

It is advantageous to review all customer and prospect contacts and maintain an internal database that stack-rank the individuals based on their social reach and influence. By using their digital thumbprints to better understand the mindset and core beliefs of customer contacts, you can personalize and improve the contextual quality of your message. The goal is to connect with and develop relationships with potential advocates that are able to utilize their influence to amplify your voice within their businesses. This idea has vast implications for the service and sales organizations within any company.

Social sales forecasting, powered by CRM, can also provide you with a very strong tool to help improve sales forecast management capabilities. Today, we are automating our sales forecast management processes using social collaboration technologies that are integrated into our CRM solution. As sales forecast fields are modified by sales associates, an extended team of stakeholders are automatically notified via social channels. Real-time social sales forecasting extends the ability to collaborate and improves the likelihood to win business.

The rules of selling are changing and the change will further separate the good from the great, ultimately eliminating those who are performing at the average to below average performance level. Only those companies and sales organizations who embrace this new model will be able to weather the looming fiscal cliff and come out on top, while their competitors look for a way to halt their descent.

This post is part of a series co-produced by The Huffington Post and Blogworld, in conjunction with the latter's BusinessNext Social 2013. That event will feature some of the world's leading social-business luminaries and influencers, each of whom will be speaking at the event to provide an up-close look at how the world's most successful businesses harness the power of social .