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Global vice-president of LinkedIn Sales Solutions and country manager, LinkedIn Canada.

The rise of powerful new tools and technologies has dramatically changed the sales function, widening the breadth of the role and the diversity of skills required to be successful. Today, sales professionals aren't just sales professionals; they're data scientists, strategic advisers and technologists. They're harnessing powerful insights and tools to add value for their clients and strategically pipeline and nurture leads over the long term.

So what does it mean to be a sales professional in 2017?

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AI as an opportunity, not a threat

Automation will lead to significant work-force displacement within the next few years as artificial intelligence (AI) tools dramatically reduce the cost and inefficiency of basic processes. Forty-two per cent of all Canadian jobs are at a high risk of being affected by automation.

The sales industry is especially vulnerable. According to The Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, sales-rep roles in Canada have an 85-per-cent probability of becoming automated.

Despite this, innovation is your ally. AI can make sales pros more effective rather than threatening job security. As AI tools become more readily available, they can empower you to filter through previously unimaginable pools of data to prospect more effectively, analyze business outcomes and then make predictions and recommendations for customer engagement.

Automating templated tasks can also make your sales processes more efficient and free up valuable time and resources to focus on complex, value-added activities, such as nurturing customer relationships, identifying growth opportunities and refining your strategy.

Embracing new tools as a crucial part of your daily work and viewing machine-intelligence applications as a way to enhance rather than challenge human ability will breed a new generation of agile, insightful and effective sales professionals.

Zero in on the right decision makers from the start

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Corporate spending has become committee driven. The average business-to-business (B2B) purchasing team has 6.8 members, according to CEB. Larger buying committees with diverse stakeholders are both a challenge and opportunity for the modern sales professional.

While conventional sales wisdom tells professionals to focus on the CEO, if you take that approach, you're missing 5.8 members of the decision-making committee. In fact, our 2017 State of Sales survey found that more than half of these purchase decision makers aren't even in the C-Suite.

So how do you reach the right people? Sales filters and lead bots are two essentials for the modern sales professional. Sales filters allow you to pull information out of a social platform and designate specific qualifiers, such as the geographies that you want to zero in on, titles and companies.

One of the most important weapons in any sales rep's arsenal, lead bots are an automated tool that monitor the types of accounts that you'd like to engage with and proactively recommend prospects. With today's incredibly sophisticated algorithms, lead bots are also very accurate.

Lead bots are integrated into several social platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn. There are 1.2 million B2B decision makers on LinkedIn across more than 300,000 organizations, and tools such asLinkedIn Sales Navigator can help you identify the right leads – based on their industry and unique needs – at the right time. There's no excuse for cold calling in the digital era when professionals have a trove of information right at their fingertips to help them nurture a strong sales pipeline, based on data-driven insights.

A value-based sales approach will drive better results

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Successful modern selling is value-based and insights-driven, and those adopting sales-intelligence strategies to drive ROI are well positioned for long-term success in this new era.

The rise of automation and AI tools in sales means that professionals must transform their client relationships, evolving their role from a vendor to a strategic adviser, and making sure to add value with each interaction. In fact, 74 per cent of buyers will choose the sales rep that was first to add value and insight. Demonstrate a keen understanding of your customers' business and bring forward insights that can help solve their most complex problems. In today's shifting landscape, you're not just selling a solution but your own expertise.

When prospects don't engage with the content you provide, you need to adjust your strategy. This is another inflection point in the sales funnel, where arming yourself with insights is crucial for success. Tools such as LinkedIn's PointDrive expose buying intent and automation software such asMarketo provides key information about prospects and the campaigns that they're engaging with, enriching your perspective so that the next time you reach out, you have even more value to offer.

Technological innovation has evolved the modern sales role, upping the stakes for professionals and their organizations. Customers expect more: more support, more expertise and more insight. However, new tools and technologies also present a unique opportunity for sales professionals to increase the value they offer their clients as data scientists, strategic consultants and technical experts.

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