Increasingly sophisticated technology combined with changes in the way business works are transforming the role and expectations on B2B sales people. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of the relationship between the buyer and seller. Trust remains the bedrock upon which great deals are built.

Data revealed in the State of Sales 2019, a LinkedIn study demonstrates that, to be successful in modern sales, you need to build relationships at scale. That requires two very different skills – Firstly you need to leverage advanced sales technology to engage with the right contacts faster but, secondly – and just as critically you need to do so in a way that fosters human connection and trust.

The research, conducted by Marketing Cube, involved surveying over a thousand sales professionals, of whom roughly half primarily work in B2B sales and half have influence over purchasing decisions at B2B companies.

The study also reveals the secrets of the star performers – those sales professionals who exceed their company targets by 25 per cent or more, provide an insight into what the best performers are doing better than the rest.

The authors noted that sales remains one of the top areas of investment for many companies. The reason is simple: in an increasingly complex and disrupted business world, companies want to hold on to their best people.

What does this mean for sales professionals? Team and talent is still the core pillar of how organisations build successful sales teams. These investments are also providing new opportunities for salespeople at every stage of their career. That is because the relationship between the sales professional and the client remains at the heart of successful sales strategies.

“Sales development representative roles have grown 5.7x since 2012. [Among those surveyed] the compensation for experienced sales professionals is also on the rise — the median annual pay for sales managers is $121,060, plus bonuses. And as more organisations appoint a Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), sales professionals have a path to advance to the C-suite — CRO titles on LinkedIn are up 82 per cent since 2015.”

There are five stand-out findings in the report that speak to the changing nature of the sales profession — and to the expectations of clients:

1. Technology delivers a competitive edge. Almost three-quarters of sales professionals (73%) use sales technology to close more deals. Top sales performers see networking platforms as “very important” to help close deals at a 51 per cent higher rate than their peers.

2. Relationships matter, decision-makers expect understanding and human connection. Virtually all decision makers (96%) say they are more likely to consider a brand’s products or services if sales professionals have a clear understanding of their business needs.

3. Marketing and sales alignment helps to close deals, but data silos remain. Top sales professionals who work more closely with marketing are seeing better results, but there’s room for improvement. Only 20 per cent of sales professionals report a significant overlap in the data used by marketing and sales to target leads.

4. Millennial sales professionals tap into marketing insights at higher rates. Millennials (aged 21–38) are quicker to implement new strategies like marketing and sales alignment, which is contributing to their success as the highest-performing age group.

5. Trust is the most important factor in closing deals. It was ranked first by 40 per cent of sales professionals — higher than either ROI or price. On the flip side, 51 per cent of decision-makers rank trust as the top factor they desire in a salesperson.

The overarching message that comes through clearly from this is that personal connection matters to buyers

As beloved B2C brands such as Netflix, Uber and AirBnB have conditioned everyone to expect highly personalised recommendations, content and personalised interactions, decision-makers have embraced similar expectations of the B2B path to purchase.

In fact, buyers say they find conventional sales approaches at times cold and impersonal, such as cold calling.

This is reflected in the study results. “Decision-makers are more likely to consider a brand’s products or services when the experience is personalised.”

For sales professionals this means doing the simple things well, such as having a clear understanding of your customer’s business needs, their role within it and only sharing content that’s relevant to that specific role. This way your communications target the appropriate people for the initial discussion.

The importance of trust is reflected when decision-makers said they are more likely to engage with sales when introduced through a mutual connection — particularly if the sales professional represents a strong brand.

In fact, the number one factor cited by decision makers when choosing to engage with sales is the influence of strong brand, which increased by 37% over the last twelve months.

Technology has enabled us to have access to more data than ever before, but utilising and focusing on people is what drives impactful results. What does this mean for sales professionals? Not only do we need the necessary data to make better decisions, but we also need to find out more about our customers and their stakeholders in order to sell better.

Sales and Marketing are more effective, together

The emergence of technology platforms that serve sales and platforms that cater to marketing — including customer relationship management software like that from Salesforce, and account-based marketing or marketing automation from companies like Marketo— are changing the occasionally fraught relationship between sales and marketing teams.

Put simply: those that work better together sell more.

The top-performing sales professionals say they have had a stronger relationship with their marketing counterparts. For instance, these best performers are 13 per cent more likely to say they work “very closely” or “closely” with marketing in prospecting efforts than their peers.

On a scale of one (a very small role) to ten (a very big role), 57 per cent of the top sales professionals rate marketing’s importance in closing deals at an eight or above, while 41 per cent of the overall sales population say the same.

“But while the benefits of a closer working relationship can be clearly identified, there is still a damaging divide between these two disciplines.”

To avoid such issues companies should consider steps such as providing a clearly articulated and easily understood framework of communication between both teams when starting targeted campaigns.

Consumer expectations are sky-high today and are only set to grow as companies choose customer experience as the ground on which they need to compete.

For salespeople, that means the quality of their engagement with clients — and their ability to personalise that engagement —is critical to maintaining the buyer’s interest.

The State of Sales 2019 narrative is clear about the approach of the most successful sales teams: “Tap into technology to scale, lean into marketing to align insights, but don’t forget real human connections are irreplaceable. Top sales professionals are closing more deals on a foundation of trust; relationships are still at the heart of selling.”

About this author

Letrecia Tippett is the Director Sales Solutions Australia and New Zealand at LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a corporate member of the Which-50 Digital Intelligence Unit. Members provide their insights and expertise for the benefit of the Which-50 community. Membership fees apply. 

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