The impact of COVID-19 on the B2B sales industry has caused a significant shift in standard operations, as sales managers and their SDRs have to adapt to the challenges of social distancing and other safety protocols.
Despite these challenges, however, sales have become even more productive despite the pandemic, adapting their daily operations for a digital-only environment, according to a recent report by LinkedIn. The company’s new State of Sales 2020 report showed that:
- 77% of respondents are holding video meetings to maintain operations;
- 57% are making more direct phone calls to buyers; and
- 51% are sending more emails than in previous years.
“The most surprising [takeaway] was just how dramatically virtual selling is accelerating,” said Keith Richey, Senior Director of Global Marketing at Linkedin, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “It's obvious, given the macro environment and the situation with coronavirus, that there had to be a big shift to virtual selling, but we saw a really massive increase here.”
“The report showed that the top-performing sales teams have an excellent relationship with their marketing counterparts, and the best organizations have solved their [challenges with marketing alignment],” Richey said. “When you're a top-performing seller, you have alignment with the marketing team on the definition of a quality lead and the relationship is strong. There are challenges between marketing and sales alignment, but the best organizations have figured out how to overcome them.”
LinkedIn surveyed more than 500 buyers and 500 salespeople in multiple countries to comment on the impact of COVID-19, the digitization of sales and the changing relationships between buyers and sellers.
Key takeaways include:
- 97% of respondents explained that sales technology is important for operation success;
- More than 69% use sales collaboration solutions, while 65% utilize a CRM;
- 56% of companies currently use data-driven strategies to engage with prospects;
- 47% of buyers rank the trustworthiness of salespeople as the top factor in the buying journey; and
- A disparity between buyer and salespeople exists, with 42% of buyers valuing active listening as essential and only 26% of sales acknowledging it at all.
Organizations Leverage Data As An Self-Evaluation & Prospecting Tool
With the acceleration of digitization, sales managers and SDRs have adapted their strategies to better leverage data for sales success. Data has become an important element of informing sales intelligence, with 48% of respondents using it to evaluate buying patterns and closed-lost businesses to improve their strategies.
Also, B2B sellers have relied heavily on data to prospect and are leveraging sales solutions to help manage/optimize that data. Fifty-six percent of sales organizations said they were using their data to prospect and 49% use it to target specific accounts.
“We see a large percentage of salespeople saying that they're using data to prospect,” Richey said. “They're using data to determine which industries to target. I would expect that [56%] number to be higher for reps using data to prospect, but I do think it points to an opportunity for the industry to embrace selling with data to an even greater degree.”
As data continues to become a crucial element for sales strategies, sales teams must also develop a process for managing and using that data.
Sales Intelligence Tools Become Critical For Collaboration, CRM Management
The report emphasized the simultaneous rise in sales technology, with many sales teams using CRMs and lead-list solutions to reshape their operations even before the pandemic. Ninety-seven percent of sales respondents agreed that sales intelligence tools are important for collaboration, CRM management and communications.
“Sales intelligence is a big key category because it can help teams figure out which prospects to reach out to,” Richey added. “You can tailor your outreach better and have a more effective dialogue, which is even more important now that the buyer has less time than they did before due to Coronavirus and a shift in priorities. You want to make sure you're going into those calls well informed.”
Platforms such as LinkedIn have played a role in sales success, providing analytics, data management, lead generation/scoring, communication boosting and email tracking. With 74% of respondents using Linkedin Sales Navigator and other sales intelligence platforms, Richey believes there is “a correlation between performance and the adoption of Sales Navigator.”
Effective sales teams that use a sales intelligence solution or platform have a higher rate of sales success, resulting in sales intelligence tool usage jumping to 43% in 2020, drastically rising from only 28% of companies using them in 2018. However, deciding which companies to buy these solutions from is still a major challenge for the sales industry.
Buyers Emphasize Need For Salespeople To Act As ‘Trusted Advisors’ Instead Of Sellers
The report indicated that buyers have placed a deeper emphasis on trusting the seller when making a purchasing decision, as they fear most salespeople do not have their best interests at heart. 40% of respondents to LinkedIn’s research believe the sales industry is trustworthy and 88% percent noted that they only buy from salespeople they deem as “trusted advisors.”
“That [number] shows you the importance of trust and how buyers perceive it as generally lacking in the sales profession,” Richey explained. “Sellers who can win deals are the ones who are building buyer trust. If you aren't building trust as you go through the sales process as a seller, you're not going to win the deal.”
Businesses that have thrived in the digital age have leveraged their sales intelligence to build trust among new and existing customers. Active listening is the highest-ranking trait buyers value when interacting with SDRs and sales teams, but only 26% of sales teams consider active listening relevant when closing deals.
When sales teams understand their buyers’ needs and adopt a strategy of active listening, they close more deals and generate higher conversion rates on leads, according to Richey. If sales teams want to enter their buyer’s “trusted advisors” circle, they must show how their product and team are going to benefit the buyer.
By understanding buyer expectations and building trust, B2B organizations can deliver authentic experiences for customers that close deals.
“The best sellers are going to do their homework in advance so that they understand the business needs,” Richey stated. “They don't come in with a white piece of paper and say, ‘Tell me your business needs.’ They come in with a strong and informed hypothesis about what their business needs are. Then, through discovery dialogue, they validate that hypothesis and add to it. [Buyers] want to make sure the seller understands their needs. That's essential to trust, because if you feel like the seller understands your needs and is, therefore, able to tailor the solution that they're selling to your needs, then they're much more likely to buy.”