The Future State of… People

November 18th saw the release of Mercuri International Research’s much anticipated report, ‘The Future State of Sales’, timed to coincide with their annual event, The Sales Conference.

The report was wide-reaching and ambitious in its scope, compiled from interviews with 1000 leading executives in a range of industries across 30 countries and detailed the 10 most important trends in the sales world today. 

But what role do people play in the Future State of Sales? From the urgent need for sales skills transformation, to the increased prominence of social responsibility, to the rise of ‘happynomics’  – we take a closer look at the human trends playing a key role in the evolution of sales.

Sales skills transformation

“As many as 375 million workers globally might have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030. New technologies, automation and new ways of working are disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them.”

McKinsey Global Institute report 2017: “Jobs lost, jobs gained”

Back in 2017, when the McKinsey report came out, there was already acute awareness of the implications to the workforce of technological disruptors – of new, more sophisticated processes that might render certain roles obsolete, or at least change the skills required to do them. Estimates suggested that as much as 30% of the time we currently spend on certain functions could be eliminated by improvements in automation and AI – and workers were uncertain as to whether this was the first step to obsolescence or an opportunity to remove repetitive, tedious tasks from their to-do list.

Almost 5 years later, the landscape of sales has evolved at an extraordinary rate, driven by both these technological factors and the events of the last two years. So have companies equipped their sales teams with the tools they need to adapt?

The short answer is no. 90% of executives interviewed reported an existing skills gap within their sales and marketing teams, of which almost a quarter regarding the gap as severe. This is not to say that there are no efforts to address this – many companies are pouring huge sums into reskilling and upskilling, with global firms such as JP Morgan, Amazon, and PwC recently announcing investments in the billions of dollars. 

The mood within the industry also reflects this perception, with 84% of respondents to our survey saying that they felt it was either ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ urgent to close the skills gap. However, that might be easier said than done. The most common reason (54% of respondents) that executives saw as being behind this gap was the fact that sales processes had become more complex, with changing customer behaviour (52%) and digitalization of sales and marketing (51%) following close behind. 

One thing is certain – that companies need to invest now if they are to avoid repercussions down the line. While many firms are saying the right things, spending per employee on training has stagnated since 20101. Companies now spend on average 2,300 USD per salesperson per year on sales-specific training , but it’s where this money is spent that really matters. Our research has shown that the biggest gap is within areas such as social selling, lead generation, and value based selling – all areas which are becoming increasingly important as the social and professional landscape changes.

Companies are going to have to move fast and become more focused in their training regimes if they are to prepare their sales teams with the skills they really need in the years to come.

Social responsibility

“To be successful in the future companies need to be socially and environmentally accountable. For sales this is critical, as customers increasingly place higher demands on their suppliers to live up to their sustainability goals.”

Henrik Larsson-Broman, Mercuri International Research

The climate crisis isn’t exactly new, but what has changed is the decreasing separation of environmental and financial business imperatives. Where once a company’s ‘green’ policies might have been buried in a footnote or an obscure website page, that message is now front and centre. It’s clear that being competitive is increasingly becoming aligned with environmental credibility.

However, this trend goes well beyond climate and environmental responsibility. It’s part of a much broader movement that places a company’s ethics and values in the spotlight – with profound implications for their future success. We’ve entered a new age of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), where returning shareholder value has to be seen in the wider context of a company’s impact – environmentally and socially.

57% of respondents stated that in the next 3 years it will be critical to base a company’s business model on being economically, socially, and environmentally accountable to stay competitive. 

There are two main drivers of this trend – the customer and the workforce. 64% of millennials say that they won’t take a job if their employer doesn’t have a strong CSR policy – when one looks at this in the context of the increasingly competitive ‘hunt for talent’, it’s easy to see why companies are taking this seriously.

On the customer side, more and more of us are choosing suppliers, products, and services that stand for something, with 65% of customers wishing to support companies that have a strong purpose 3.

No one is moving away from the idea of building growth and revenue wherever possible – it’s just that the creation of profit beyond all other concerns is not sustainable, from a fundamental business perspective, let alone a moral one. Company leaders must to an increasing degree now balance not only the owners’ demands but also the wisers of their customers, employees, media and stakeholder organizations if they are to stay competitive.

The rise of happynomics

“Happy employees matter. Research shows a strong correlation between happiness and sales performance. More and more companies are therefore adapting to the trend of Happynomics.”

Happynomics may seem at first glance like a product of 60s San Francisco, but it is founded on rigorous research and a hard-headed business pragmatism. In basic terms, happy workers are more productive. Numerous, peer-reviewed studies and items of academic research have demonstrated this, concluding that, for example, happiness can raise nearly every business and educational outcome – raising sales by 37% and productivity by 31% 4.

This is perhaps why 56% of executives surveyed said that Happynomics is a critical trend to adopt to stay competitive in the future – a ‘happy’ example of a win-win situation, where doing the right thing also happens to have positive business outcomes.

For the companies that don’t take the concept seriously, it can prove extremely expensive. Gallup estimates that the American economy experiences costs upward of half a trillion dollars annually in the form of lost productivity when employees are dissatisfied .

One thing is certain – happiness is not just it’s own reward, but can be read in a company’s bottom line.


1 Statista (2019) Average spend on workplace training per employee worldwide from 2008 to 2019.

2 ATD Research )2019). State of Sales Training.

 3 Globescan (2016, 6 June) Aspirational Consumers Are Rising. Are Brands Ready to Meet Them?

4 Anchor, S. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

5 Asplund J. & Blacksmith N. (2011). The Secret of Higher Performance

The Future State of Sales report

If you’ve found the topics raised above interesting, download the full report. Covering the 10 trends that really matter to your business - a fascinating snapshot of an industry changing faster than ever.


The Future State of People infographic

What role do people and culture play in the future state of sales? From the urgent need for sales skills transformation, to the increased prominence of social responsibility. We look at the report extract regarding the future of people...