State of Sales 2020: Companies are accelerating digital transformation in pandemic times

The Fourth Edition of Sate of Sales report from Salesforce Research surveyed 6,000 sales professionals worldwide to discover the changing behavior of sales organizations and customers in the pandemic. The research identifies new growth strategies and tactics that sales leaders are adopting in the next normal.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

For the fourth edition of our "State of Sales" report, Salesforce Research surveyed nearly 6,000 sales professionals worldwide to discover: 

  • How inside and outside reps are adjusting to new expectations from leaders and customers
  • The evolving responsibilities and elevated importance of sales operations
  • New growth strategies and tactics that sales leaders are adopting 

The sales respondents self-identified into three categories:

  • 9% high performers - Completely confident in their ability to close deals
  • 68% moderate performers
  • 24% under performers - slightly or no confidence in their ability to close deals

2020 State of Sales - Salesforce Research 

In this research, groups of respondents are identified as:

  • Sales reps: Quota-carrying sales representatives
  • Sales leaders: Sales executives and managers
  • Sales organizations: Sales professionals answering on behalf of their teams.
  • Sales professionals: All types of salespeople, including reps, leaders, and development staff.

Here are the three main takeaways of the research: 

  1. Sales reps retool tactics for a new selling landscape. Sellers are adapting quickly to changes both inside their companies and outside from customers. High-performing reps recognize the importance of empathy, trust, and insights in building strong customer relationships that will outlast the current crises.

    The vast majority of reps - 79% - say they've had to adapt quickly to new ways of selling.
  2. Sales operations gets a bigger seat at the table. The back-office operations is stepping into a more active role as the selling landscape shifts and customer expectations increase. Teams are working quickly to adapt their systems, people and processes to respond to the new challenges and opportunities, elevating sales operations role in the organization..

    88% of sales professionals agree that sales ops is becoming increasingly strategic. 

  3. Sales leaders pivot for recovery and growth. Sales leaders are steering their ships towards recovery and growth in a changed world. Despite a future riddled with ambiguity, leaders are quickly adjusting strategies and implementing needed changes.

    77% percent of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since 2019.

To extract the 10 most important takeaways from the State of Sales Report, I asked my colleague Tiffani Bova to join me in highlighting the major insights from this incredible report. Tiffani Bova is the growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce and the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book GROWTH IQ. Here are the 10 biggest takeaways: 

  1. Sales reps are adopting to new ways of selling due to COVID-19 pandemic. 79% of sales reps say they've had to quickly adapt to new ways of selling. Adopting new tactics includes numerous changes themselves - new responsibilities, new metrics, and new ways of engaging with customers. 58% of sales reps expect their role to change permanently. 88% of sales reps place a strong value on building long-term relationships with customers. 83% of reps focus on establishing trust before a sales - this number should be 100%. 

Adaptation is key as customers face unprecedented changes 

2. Sales organizations are balancing process and autonomy. Work from anywhere since the pandemic means that traditional methods of monitoring in-office sales performance is no longer viable. 73% of sales teams are increasingly monitoring outside reps' activities. 67% of sales people say enforcement of activity logging is stricter than in 2019. 63% of reps log more details about customer interactions than they did in 2019.


Sales performance is a balance of process and autonomy 

3. Sales reps are using automation and AI to optimize processes. As technologies like artificial intelligence mature, reps are finding some relief in the form of automation to help them spend more time on actual selling activities.


Top sales professionals are using automation for repetitive tasks 

4. High performing sales reps are using additional data sources to gain better customer insights. Reps voraciously devour information from many sources so they can understand and advise customers - powering a process called insight selling. 88% of reps say current economic conditions make it important to anticipate customers' needs. Customer insights include customer communication history, customer purchase history, competitor insights and customer staffing changes. 


High performing sales reps gain better customer insights 

 5. Sales operations gets a bigger seat at the strategic table. 85% of sales professionals agree that sales ops is increasingly strategic. 75% of sales ops professionals say they have new responsibilities at work. The ability tor sales organizations to improve forecast accuracy, accelerate the sales cycle, engage other departments like services and marketing to increase the customer value is all functions that matter to strong sales ops teams. 


The increasing importance of sales operations 

6. Sales ops jobs are expanding and more strategic. From training, to technology, to performance analysis, sales ops wears many different hats these days, and colleagues recognize their vital contributions to both keeping the lights on and developing strategies for growth. 89% of sales professionals say sales ops plays a critical role in growing the business.


Sales ops jobs are expanding 

7. To improve the customer experience, sales ops must orchestrate inter-departmental communication and value creation. 79% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments. 59% of customers say it generally feels like they're communicating with separate departments, not one company. This is an opportunity for high performing sales ops to ensure all customer touchpoints are timely and personalized.

Top sales organizations are 2.3 times more likely than under performers to be increasing sales ops' management of work across teams. 48% of sales ops teams have increased their involvement in cross-functional work-stream management.

8. The sales toolkit is focusing on high value insights and engagement. 84% of sales ops professionals say digital transformation has accelerated since 2019. According to the research, the usage of video conferencing during the sales cycle has become an increasingly valuable sales tools, especially for field sellers who are now unable to meet face to face with customers - something that will come as no surprise in the midst of a pandemic. AI mobile sales apps and CRM systems have also earned more prominent roles in sales tool-kits - as sales ops seeks to provide teams with both on-the-go and data-driven tools to do their jobs. 


Video conferencing leads the roster of increasingly valuable sales tools 

Sales use of AI has significantly grown in the past two years. AI is gaining fast adoption in sales ops. While AI is not yet as prevalent in sales (57% adoption by high performing sales) as in marketing (where 84% use it), its adoption in sales has shot up in recent years - 21% adoption in 2018 versus 37% adoption of AI in 2020. The growth of AI in sales thus represents an extension of human capability, not a replacement of it, as reps are tasked with more complex mandates. 


AI and Sales are the new power couple. 

9. Sales leaders say they are accelerating their digital transformation plans since 2019. Many leaders admit they're not completely ready to map key business priorities to changing conditions. For instance, only 26% feel completely capable of adapting team culture, and 28% say the same about staff skills. 77% of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since 2019. 66% of sales leaders are also focusing on reskilling existing employees. 63% of sales professionals are confident in their organization's ability to train/reskill reps - this is key in order to best use new emerging technologies like AI. 

Sales leaders are placing emphasis on re-skilling and training to respond to the accelerated technology and digital transformation. 


Sales leaders are placing an emphasis on technology and digital transformation

10. Sales leaders are more dependent on data quality in order to achieve success. Customer adaptability is the first priority for sales leaders, followed by high quality, accessible data. Sales leaders know that speed to value is function of informed decision making and organizational execution velocity. 


Sales leaders value customer flexibility and data quality and accessibility as top success factors 

 Bova and I highlighted only 10 important sections from the State of Sales 2020 Report. There are incredible amounts of sales insights in this extensive research. To learn more about this report, you can visit here

This article was co-authored by Tiffani Bova, growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce and the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book GROWTH IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business (Portfolio). Bova was recently named to Thinkers50.

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