COVID-19. Virtual selling. Remote work. Zoom calls. Cancelled business trips.

The past year has changed sales. A lot. The key question now: How much of this change is permanent?

“Everything,” says Julie Thomas, CEO, ValueSelling Associates.

LinkedIn’s “State of Sales 2021: United States & Canada Edition” dives into these changes that are challenging the world of sales. Based on survey data of more than 400 buyers and 400 sellers, analysis of LinkedIn platform data, and interviews with dozens of sales leaders, the fifth annual State of Sales report identifies seven key trends, which have only been intensified by COVID-19:

1. Virtual selling is good for sellers; it’s even better for buyers. 

During the pandemic, virtual selling essentially became selling. It was the only way to reach prospects. Buyers don’t seem to mind this new reality. In fact, our survey found that 50% of buyers say that working remotely has made the purchasing process easier.

“The digital world is here to stay. The inefficiency of travel, of in-person business meetings, and of late-night dinner appointments will make face-to-face meetings less common and not necessary in many cases. Organizations will use more data, more video, and more telesales. I do not believe we will go back to the world that was.” — Shaan Hathiramani, CEO, Flockjay

2. Sales organisations are preventing their sellers from putting buyers first.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of sellers say they “always” put the buyer first. However, only 23% of buyers agree that sellers “always” put the buyer first. Sellers know they should be putting the buyer first, but in our survey data, they indicate that their sales organizations are a barrier to implementing buyer first behaviors. For instance, only 39% of sales professionals say their sales org delivers the buyer first behavior of providing free and easy access to product reviews “all the time.” Similarly, just 43% of sales professionals say their sales org stays actively engaged after the sale to ensure value delivery “all the time.”

3. These are the sales behaviors that are killing deals.

In our survey, buyers also identified a number of behaviors from sellers that were immediate deal killers. Each of the top three revolved around the seller providing accurate information and having a clear understanding of the situation:

· 48% Delivering misleading information about a product, its price, etc.

· 44% Not understanding my company and its needs

· 43% Not understanding their own product or service

“Top performing salespeople spend far more of their time researching their industry, learning about their competitors, understanding trends, reading about ancillary things that affect their industry and being thought leaders and consultants in their space than they do pounding phones, sending emails, and prospecting.” — Sahil Mansuri, CEO, Bravado 

4. Sales orgs and sales managers must adjust — now — to a remote working world.

A significant majority (86%) of sales managers agree that the capability to cope with change is more important than it was five years ago. In the previous edition of the State of Sales, just 70% of sales managers agreed that coping with change was more important than five years ago.

Change is coming at sales professionals faster every day, and one change that is likely to stay with us is the rise of remote work, a situation that sales managers are finding difficult, with two-thirds (67%) of them saying that overseeing a remote sales team is more challenging than they anticipated.

5. Sales technology provides the key pathway to building trust.  

Historically, sales professionals have built trust with prospects by meeting face to face. The pandemic blocked that pathway, so salespeople turned to sales technology. Tools such as Gong or Chorus enable sales professionals to analyze transcripts of sales calls to understand the typical customer’s state of mind and to anticipate their objections.

It’s no surprise, then, that our survey indicated that investment in sales technology is increasing. In fact, 77% of sales professionals say their sales organization plans to invest “significantly more” or “more” in sales intelligence tools. 

“Overall, virtual selling has driven rapid digital transformation in sales. Early adopters were ready technologically for the sudden move to virtual, and now laggards are investing in technology infrastructure to support their reps. The early days of the pandemic were really the ultimate test.” — Craig Rosenberg, Distinguished VP/Analyst, Gartner 

6. For sales organizations, data is more crucial than ever.  

Research shows that about 25% of buyers change roles every year. It’s crucial for sellers to stay on top of any data about their prospects’ moving on or moving up. In our survey, 85% of sellers say they lost or delayed at least one deal in the past year, because a key client stakeholder had changed jobs. One-third of sellers say they had lost or delayed at least three deals due to a stakeholder leaving. 

“Data is table stakes now. I mean, you can’t sell without data.” — Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing

7. Buyers and sellers are ramping up their use of LinkedIn.

Since the start of the pandemic, sellers, who can no longer prospect at in-person conferences and events, are boosting their reliance on LinkedIn. Almost three-quarters (74%) of sellers say they committed to expanding their LinkedIn network in 2021.

“Posting content to LinkedIn and engaging with others on LinkedIn is my primary source of demand generation. So many people see LinkedIn as a waste of time or see LinkedIn as not an opportunity to drive true business development when, in fact, it couldn’t be more the opposite. LinkedIn gives me an opportunity to share my subject matter expertise on a daily basis.” — Sam McKenna, Founder, #samsales  

Keep your eye out for the Asia-Pacific (Australia, India, and Singapore) edition of the State of Sales schedule to be released in the coming weeks.