With the start of a new year comes a host of new regulations, opportunities, and transformative technologies that will change the way business owners operate in 2015. Among them, nearly 2,500 proposed new rules to govern U.S. businesses in the New Year and a fundamental shift in the way your customers view sales people today promise to create threats to – and opportunities for – growth. With an eye toward the future, let’s look at the four biggest trends that are sure to impact your business over the next 12 months.

New Regulations
While many would like to see the corporate tax rate reduced from its current 35 percent level, more accessible green cards for foreign workers, or reforms to laws that essentially ban small businesses from crowdfunding new growth (rather than being forced to seek investment from accredited investors), such business-friendly regulations are not in the cards this year.

On the heels of 3,541 freshly-enacted rules and regulations last year – 659 of which are expected to impact small businesses in 2015 and beyond – the Federal Government is poised to consider another 2,375 rules that were originally proposed in 2014. New regulations that restrict executive compensation, govern industrial waste, and limit the ability of broadband services to provide more bandwidth to content providers may lead to higher costs for business owners and eventually, higher end-user pricing.

The Changing Role of Sales Professionals
A recent study by CEB and Google finds the average business-to-business buyer will not contact a supplier until 57 percent of the buying process is complete. Your potential customers are increasingly turning to social media, colleagues, and the internet to inform their decisions on products and services. Buyers are smart. In many cases, they know just as much about your company – and probably more about your competitors – than you do. Your 2015 prospects will value consultative sales approaches that help them make the best choice, even if it’s not your choice, rather than being bullied into a sale.

Companies that win in 2015 will invest heavily in teaching their staff how to identify and cultivate good-quality buyers. Make it a point to train your sales team to uncover needs and help prospects make the best decision for themselves. A buyer who feels they’ve been treated in a consultative way spends less time at the negotiation table and is more likely to recommend you to others (even if they end up buying elsewhere) versus one who feels bullied into buying.

Real-Time Shopping and Delivery
For those who compete in the business-to-consumer marketplace, the days of seven-to-ten-day product delivery windows are gone. Searches for “nearby” have grown five-fold since 2011, according to Google, as people look for products that are close to them. Buyers today want their product immediately; a host of new same-day delivery services and new technologies are catering to that trend. Amazon has already rolled out an expedited delivery service in Manhattan that promises a variety of items – books, batteries, shampoo, and other staples – in about an hour. New 3D printing technology allows customers to download and then create some products at home in just a few minutes.

If you’re in the tangible-goods business, now is the time to consider how you’ll integrate your sales (i.e. your website), fulfillment, and billing platforms to get products to customers faster, better, and with greater convenience.

Doing Less. Automating More.
Business owners have always struggled to find ways to do more with less. In-particular, small businesses can rarely afford to hire or outsource all of the customer service, sales, or IT people they need to remain in operation. A host of new automation software solutions are increasingly implemented by business owners whose administrative and financial teams are stretched too thin. These technologies work within and between your existing Windows and web-based platforms to automatically perform tasks that would otherwise be performed by a human. Foxtrot from EnableSoft, for example, is one that can enter customer billing information, scrape competitors’ data from websites, and even enter data from an online order into a cloud-based CRM or billing application, automatically.

The rush to automate more business processes is a result of the economic hardships of the last decade. Today, more business owners are acquiring “digital employees” to perform most of the repetitive or routine work in their back offices so that they can allocate human resources to sales, service, and other customer-facing functions. It’s a sure bet that your competitors will be reducing overhead costs and competing more effectively with automation software in 2015 – make sure your business is not caught unaware.