Change is constant in the age of the coronavirus, and it’s having deep effects on sales organizations. With the sudden transition to digital selling, lengthened sales cycles and personnel changes such as layoffs and furloughs, not only has the flow of prospects in sellers’ pipelines trickled to a drip, but customers have also become harder to reach and deals have become more challenging to close.

LinkedIn and Korn Ferry recently took a deep dive into the impact of the coronavirus on sales organizations. The global State of Sales Project, which surveyed more than 500 B2B buyers and 500 B2B salespeople and sales managers from companies of various sizes and industries, found that COVID-19 is strengthening and accelerating trends that were already starting to transform sales before the pandemic hit.

Below, we highlight five of the most critical of these trends affecting sales organizations.

1. Sales Organizations Are Focusing on Long-Term Metrics

Even before the coronavirus, organizations were focusing less on metrics that measure short-term successes in favor of longer-term key performance indicators—and this trend is likely to continue. Post-virus, the top two long-term measures identified by respondents in the survey were customer satisfaction (43%) and customer retention (40%), followed by the short-term measures of meeting the sales team’s quota and individual quotas (both 37%).

It’s critical that organizations start to take the long view of what success looks like, particularly since individual sellers’ performance is hampered, and focus on growing existing relationships with clients. One key strategy for moving forward will be implementing formal customer experience strategies designed to strengthen customer relationships.

2. Sellers Are Relying More on Data

Sales organizations are using data-driven insights in just about every aspect of their business. For example, 56% of respondents are using data to target industries, geographies and accounts, 51% of respondents reported using data to assess seller performance and 48% are using data from closed-lost business to inform future sales strategies.

As you contemplate how to use data to inform which deals to target, our scorecard can help you focus in on the metrics that matter.

3. Sales Technology Is Playing a Transformational Role

Sales technology—including collaboration tools, CRM, networking platforms, sales intelligence apps and other productivity and communications tools—has filled some of the gaps caused by limited face-to-face interactions. In the survey, 97% of respondents said that sales technology was “important” or “very important”; 69% of respondents said they were using sales collaboration tools, while 65 percent reported using CRM tools.

This continues a trend that has been building for some time: the average sales organization is already using 10 tools and planning to add four more. But most organizations aren’t yet maximizing the value of these tools, because they haven’t fully integrated them into their workflows: less than 30% of sales organizations reported mastery of integrating their technologies.

4. Buyers Want More Trustworthy Sellers

Only 40% of buyers said that they believe the sales profession is “trustworthy”; more troublingly, a quarter said the profession is “morally and ethically challenged.” Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that buyers said sellers could put them first by taking a more honest approach—especially during these times of uncertainty. They ranked trustworthiness (47%) higher than responsiveness (44%) and expertise (40%) on the list of traits they valued most in sellers.

With COVID-19, it’s difficult for sellers to engage in traditional trust-building activities, so they will need to find new ways to engage—and that’s where data can help them. By studying their buyers, sellers will discover how to break the buyer apathy loop and use perspective to propel deals forward.

5. Sales Organizations Need to Equip Sellers With New Skills

In our 2018 Sales Talent Study, we found that 84% of sales leaders don’t think they have the sales talent to succeed in the future. And that hasn’t changed with the coronavirus, which has forced sellers to rely on new and different skills to reach buyers.

And the gap between the traits that buyers expect in sellers and the traits that sales managers prioritize is widening. For example, the LinkedIn survey found that buyers value experience and industry expertise more highly than sales managers. Buyers (42%) rank “active listening” as the top skill they want from sellers, but only 26% of hiring managers value that skill.

How can sales organizations find sellers who will succeed? They can create a profile for their ideal candidate by studying assessment data that highlights the traits of their top performers that are linked to success. They can also build in coaching and training on skills such as active listening to close the gap and differentiate themselves in the market.

How Sales Organizations Can Cope With Change

Change is inevitable—and now its pace is relentless. To survive in the new and next normal, sales organizations and their leaders must learn how to navigate and lead through this change. The State of Sales Project findings can inform what steps to take next, and sales leaders and managers can turn to our latest resource, Selling Through the Turn: Strategies for Rebounding from the Crisis, for detailed suggestions and tactics to help them prepare for the next phase of our recovery.

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