The state of sales right now might not be clear to many reps, considering the effects and ongoing concern over the COVID-19 outbreak. Now that we are halfway through 2020, insight into the current state of things can be beneficial to reps planning the rest of the calendar year. LinkedIn recently released its fourth annual State of Sales report, and it highlights what new trends have emerged during this challenging time, as well as pre-COVID-19 trends that have stuck around. “It’s true that coronavirus is driving some changes in the short term,” writes Seah Callahan, senior manager of content marketing at LinkedIn. “At the same time, many trends that were already in motion before this year are only gaining strength in the current environment.”
State of Sales: Emerging trends
Salespeople have had to quickly recognize and readjust their own strategies recently in light of the pandemic and the impact it's had on the economy. LinkedIn uncovered notable ways that reps have had to shift, and will likely continue to do so, in response to the new environment. One of the notable new trends is:
Wider embrace of virtual selling. “…with travel restricted, conferences canceled, and face-to-face meetings limited, sales professionals are embracing digital selling,” LinkedIn reports. While salespeople had tiptoed into virtual selling on an inconsistent scale, COVID-19 forced most to jump in fully. The State of Sales report revealed
- 77% of respondents are holding more video meetings.
- 51% of respondents are sending more emails.
- 57% of respondents are making more phone calls.
In-person meetings likely won’t be around soon, so salespeople should take the time to optimize their virtual selling process. Consider how you use email, social media, virtual meetings, networking online, and other digital sales approaches. Now is the time to get comfortable and master online sales because likely, even after the pandemic has ended, sales will continue to happen virtually.
This focus on virtual selling also aligns with shifting customer preferences. According to SalesFuel’s Selling to SMBs study, email and phone calls are the top two ways consumers prefer to be contacted by salespeople. “Even before the pandemic hit, in-person sales were only the third most popular method of communication consumers preferred when talking with sales reps,” explains SalesFuel’s Rachel Cagle.
Joseph DiMisa, Sales Effectiveness and Rewards Leader at Korn Ferry, points out in the State of Sales report that his own observations support the report’s data. “Everything has shifted to virtual selling, using video conferencing, sending emails, creating webinars and info sessions,” he points out. Make sure that you aren’t left behind in the race to online selling.
Sales technology is key. A trend that has stayed during this time of chaos is the continued importance of sales technology and intelligence and its use among reps. Pre-pandemic, salespeople had grown their use of sales tech: LinkedIn reports that “The number of sales professionals relying on sales intelligence tools [had] increased by 54% in the past two years.”
The State of Sales report found that sales teams are still putting data to work, with 51% of respondents saying their companies are using data to assess sales performance. Specifically, 48% of respondents are evaluating patterns from closed-lost business to apply these learnings to future deals. Also, salespeople are using data to better search for and narrow down the best prospects:
- 56% are using data to prospect
- 49% are using data to select specific industries to target
The use of sales intelligence is also definitely here to stay, which particularly stood out among other kinds of sales technology covered in the State of Sales report. “Sales intelligence tools showed the largest increase in usage, jumping from 28% in 2018 to 43% in 2020,” according to the report. “Among sales intelligence users, 74% described the tool as extremely critical or critical in closing deals.” The report also found a gap in usage of sales intelligence tools when comparing top-performing salespeople (49%) and the remainder of respondents (41%). If you haven’t already, consider implementing sales technology, especially intelligence, into your sales process to keep up with competitors and enhance your targeting.
Trust is vital. Not surprisingly, trust continues to be a driving force among buyers, and this seems to be even more the case during the pandemic. “While only 40% of buyers describe the sales profession as ‘trustworthy,’ buyers do eventually find salespeople they can trust: 88% of buyers describe the salespeople they do business with as ‘trusted advisors’.” The role of trusted advisor has long been touted as incredibly important to securing and retaining business; the report confirms that it still is vital to buyers.
The State of Sales report lends some insight into exactly how salespeople can increase trust among prospects by meeting expectations and delivering what buyers want. According to their survey, buyers “strongly agree” that they’re more likely to consider a brand when a sales rep:
- Demonstrates a clear understanding of our business needs — 56%
- Has a clear understanding of my role in the decision-making process — 51%
- Provides personalized communication — 47%
- Shares content applicable to my role in the decision-making process — 44%
Even more so than in the past, salespeople must work before, during, and after a sale to earn and keep a buyer’s trust. As LinkedIn points out, “Building trust begins even before a salesperson makes the first outreach to a buyer. By being prepared about who the buyers are, what they need, and what roles they play in the buying process, sellers can start developing trust from the first interaction.”
The findings from this year’s State of Sales report from LinkedIn can give salespeople some direction when planning for the future at a time when few things are “normal.” Take a look at both the emerging and enduring trends to adjust and adapt your own strategy to be successful through the remainder of 2020 and beyond.