The State of Sales in 2020

LinkedIn recently released their 2020 State of Sales Report and it is a fantastic snapshot of how the world of sales is rapidly changing. It brings to light some things that had been transpiring but are accelerating and also new challenges that teams are facing.

In a nutshell, we believe the report shows how old thinking and processes are amplifying poor investments, win and close rates. We don’t expect things (nor does anyone else) to go back to “normal.” Ever.

This has been and will continue to be a problem for sales organizations mired in old models and false assumptions. In this post, we break down some key highlights of the report and add commentary based on our own rigorous research about how companies can find a way forward.

State of Sales Report Key Point: The Data Driven Sales Organization is Here to Stay

What the report found: Sales organizations are and have been using data to varying degrees of success for years. In the report, the below were all identified as key data points for organizational review.

  • performance
  • patterns of lost deals
  • prospecting
  • targeting

Our Research Shows: While the above are all important, there is one critical data point that is missing because most organizations aren’t doing it. And that is gathering and interpreting data to understand the common buying situations that your sellers face. According to this report, the #1 and #2 traits that BUYERS look for in salespeople are active listening and problem solving. We will dive deeper into those traits and how you can achieve them a bit later in this post.

For now, as it relates to data, the point to be made here is that if you don’t have (1) data on your previous engagements and (2) a model for clustering that data together to understand the common buying situations your team is facing, you are missing the most valuable insight that your sales organization can collect and learn from. Your high-performers are already doing this in their own selling efforts.

“In three main cases, top-performing salespeople are more likely to consult data than their counterparts: evaluating patterns from closed-lost business (56%–45%), evaluating patterns from closed-won business (49%–40%), and selecting geolocations to target (41%–33%). This implies these reps are curious to learn what’s working and what’s not so they can optimize their approach.” – LinkedIn State of Sales Report

Our research with Florida State University (FSU) Sales Institute agrees. Your top performers naturally execute with agility. Our data from:

  • 10,000 opportunities
  • 5,000 salespeople

Led to our being able to codify:

  • Dozens of buying situation factors ID’d
  • Identifying the 5 factors that matter most in ANY organization
Mental Model based on Machine Learning

Figure 1. Florida State University Machine Learning Data Analysis

State of Sales Report Key Point: Buyers Want Salespeople to Listen and Respond Like a Human, Not Like a Process

What the Report Found: “The top trait desired by decision makers in the salespeople they interact with—active listening— isn’t even in the top six for sales managers. This is a miss, and sales managers must boost their own awareness of active listening as a trait valued by their customers and raise their efforts to uncover this trait in the interview process. Additionally, sales managers should emphasize active listening in training and coaching. Prioritizing this skill is a pathway for your sales team to stand out in the marketplace.”

Our Research Shows: If you’ve read anything else we’ve written about the problem with training a single sales methodology (or even multiple ones without context and data), this report brings to light why it is so important that you train your reps to assess the situation they’re in (active listening), choose tactics with the best likelihood of winning (the data on previous engagements) and execute them flawlessly.

It is also evident from this report that sales managers do not understand the importance of seller agility, how to coach to it and provide clarity on high-impact activities. And that is a shame because complexity isn’t going anywhere. Last year Gartner identified that:

  • In B2B sales, the average size of buying team is now almost 11 people
  • The average number of channels that each person on the buying team consults with is 4.5
  • Of all the time spent over the course of a purchasing evaluation, only 17% of their time is spent with salespeople

And, no one knows how the volatility and uncertainty of the current crisis will impact buying behaviors and buying cycles moving forward.

These market dynamics are demanding that you focus on training your salespeople with agility, because if you don’t the negative effects are far-reaching

The Negative Impacts of One Size Fits All Sales Methodologies

Figure 2. The Negative Impacts of One Size Fits All

State of Sales Report Key Point: Problem Solving is Important to Everyone

What the Report Found: Problem Solving is the #2 Trait Buyers Value in Salespeople AND the #1 Trait Sales Managers Want

Our Research Shows: Have you equipped your sales team to solve your buyer’s problem or have you armed them with heavy process without context? Have you trained your managers to know when, what and how to coach to address the activities that will make the most impact?

When you train agility and clarity in your organization, you:

  • Match the most effective strategy to the situation
  • Give your buyers a fluent experience aligned to them, not you
  • Instill confidence in your sellers to engage the chaotic, complex buying cycles that aren’t going away

State of Sales Report Key Point: The Role of the Front-line Sales Manager Cannot be Understated

What the Report Found: “In responding to LinkedIn’s fourth annual State of Sales survey, 70% of sales managers in the United States agreed that a manager’s capacity to navigate change is more important than it was five years ago. More than ever, transformation is an inescapable reality in the sales organization, and the pace of change is only accelerating.“

Our Research Shows: We created a simple calculation to determine the negative impact of an underperforming front-line sales manager in an organization. On average, it is about $3.5M per manager per year, however that number varies widely across organizations. One of our customers used this calculation and found the number to be $10M per manager per year.

How to Calculate the Cost of an Underperforming Manager

Figure 3. How to Calculate the Cost of an Underperforming Manager

Unfortunately, many are still not factoring this vital role into their equation for sales success.

He or she is the most important factor for driving the desired impact of all your investments.

But this critical function is often the most-overlooked resource when considering investments—leaving a FRONTLINE VOID.

Sales managers are failing—despite the fact that many sales organizations have invested a lot of money in them. They’ve invested in:

  • leadership models
  • general coaching models
  • sales coaching modules aligned to whatever sales methodologies you’ve deployed over the years…

There’s no shortage of coaching models and tools. In many organizations, sales managers have been through 5 different coaching models!

Common coaching models and tools

Figure 4. Common coaching models and tools

But what sales managers lack is a way to integrate these into a workable and effective approach for sales coaching – especially when you consider the day-to-day reality of a sales manager.

So – while every sales manager knows coaching is the vital link to quota performance, they can’t figure out how to incorporate sales coaching into their daily “sales manager craziness” in a doable way that works

The results of lack of clarity

Figure 5. The results of lack of clarity

As a result of this, sales managers are not coaching in a way that drives impact. So, reps do what’s comfortable or what they see other reps do. They don’t get the clarity that’s essential for driving performance.

Which means…

  • There’s a lid on how many reps will hit their number (because mediocre doesn’t fix itself)
  • Reps don’t get the clarity that’s essential to fuel motivation and performance
  • The business can’t scale—because sales managers aren’t “force multiplying” – they’re either doing all the selling or they’re relying on the backs of too few sellers
  • Continuing the cycle of disappointing investments in tools, technologies
  • Not to mention, the potential missed opportunity of untapped investments in your sales managers

Instead…

Organizations must establish a high-impact sales coaching culture with a common language for sales-specific coaching that’s…

  • research-based, pressure-tested and proven
  • directly linked to the results you’ve targeted (what matters to you)
  • and doable – sales managers actually execute coaching in their regular routines