Salespeople navigating digital transformation, data, virtual selling in new normal, says LinkedIn

A LinkedIn survey highlights how sales departments are struggling and transforming operations to prepare for the post-COVID-19 new normal.

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Salespeople are adjusting to the new normal of work in an era of social distancing with a mix of virtual selling, video conferencing, a lot of emails and a heavy dose of phone calls that may not be returned, according to a LinkedIn survey.

While many roles within enterprises have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, sales departments are arguably the most impacted. After all, sales efforts often revolved around travel and face-to-face meetings. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have changed sales dramatically.

LinkedIn's State of Sales survey found that salespeople are accelerating their own digital practices. The State of Sales survey, which focused on B2B in the US, is informed by a series of surveys conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic as well as during it. LinkedIn's two latest surveys consisted of 511 North American sales professionals April 2-9 and one of 200 sales pros between March 11-16.

Keith Richey, senior director of global marketing at LinkedIn, said the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated shifts that were already happening in sales organizations. "The enduring trend will be the rise of the data driven sales organization," said Richey. "Data is going to be critical now the world has changed dramatically."

Richey added that things like sales quotas and planning will happen more frequently depending on the purchasing cycle for each industry. "Organizations will have to start planning on a more frequent basis, and to some it will probably feel always on," said Richey. The burden will likely fall to sales operations teams instead of individual reps, who may see quotes set for 6-month windows instead of annually. 

Consider:

  • 70% of sales managers in the US said that a manager's capacity to navigate change is more important than it was five years ago.
  • 77% of respondents are having more video meetings.
  • 51% are sending more email and 57% are making more phone calls.
  • The sales funnel has also suffered due to the economic slowdown and 55% anticipate a decrease in pipeline with 44% anticipating a decrease in responsiveness to outreach.
  • 60% anticipate a decrease in closing deals and 51% say customers are experiencing budget cuts.

Given those moving parts, it's not surprising that 70% of sales people are making customer retention a higher priority. And 74% said agility is a higher priority.

In LinkedIn said that its courses on LinkedIn Learning are seeing surges on themes such as social selling as salespeople look to upskill.

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LinkedIn

LinkedIn's State of Sales survey also concludes that sales departments are becoming more data driven due to COVID-19. This sales approach to analytics was in play before but accelerated by the pandemic. A few data responses to ponder:

  • 51% of respondents said data was used to assess sales performance.
  • 48% said data was being used to evaluate patterns in lost business.
  • 56% said data was used to prospect with 49% using data to select industries to target.
  • Overall, long-term metrics for sales may move to the forefront. For instance, 43% of sales people said customer satisfaction were the top metric for measuring performance with 40% citing customer retention.

LinkedIn also found that 47% of buyers wanted their salesperson to be trustworthy with 44% citing responsiveness and 40% wanting an expert in the field. That trust is also essential to proving to buyers that salespeople understand business needs, the decision process and personalization. 

What remains to be seen is how much of the new normal for sales remains once COVID-19 restrictions ease. Today, Richey said employee safety is critical and CEOs and HR execs call the shots on travel and business practices. Over time, travel will be more scrutinized and connected to the bottom line, he added. That discussion is more for CFOs, revenue officers and sales and marketing executives.

"In phase 2 we'll see what warrants travel and what doesn't and how it relates to the bottom line," said Richey.

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LinkedIn