Image: iStock/ipopba

Virtual selling is here to stay. That’s the message from LinkedIn’s fifth annual State of Sales report, which posed the question, how much of the change in selling is permanent? “All of it,” says Craig Rosenberg, distinguished VP analyst at Gartner, according to the report. Others concur.

The report lists seven trends LinkedIn sees as shaping the future of sales:

#1 Virtual selling is good for sellers and even better for buyers.

Half of the buyer respondents said working remotely has made the purchasing process easier. Virtual selling is now the norm, the report said. Remote job postings on LinkedIn have increased by more than five times globally since the start of the pandemic, the company said.

SEE: LinkedIn: 50 best companies for career growth in the US (TechRepublic)

As a result, it has been difficult to reach buyers any way but virtually. In North America, 64% of buyers were working remotely more than half of the time, according to LinkedIn’s survey data.

“Buyers appear to like the arrangement: 70% say they would like to work remotely half or more of the time in the future,” the report said. Perhaps most significantly, 50% of buyers [said] that working remotely has made the purchasing process easier.”

The need for virtual selling skills won’t be changing anytime soon, the report said. Over half of buyers (65%) said they won’t be meeting sellers in person until at least the second half of 2021.

#2 Sales organizations and managers must adjust to a remote working world–now.

The study found that 86% of sales managers agree the ability to cope with change is more important than it was five years ago. By contrast, the last LinkedIn sales report put that figure at 70%.

The changes most cited by sales professionals are measuring sales processes and outcomes in different ways (51%), adding new technologies (51%) and instituting new hiring practices (50%).

With the rise of remote work, sales organizations will be able to hire talent from virtually anywhere in the world, creating better geographic diversity, the report said. Beyond locales, companies can also expand the diversity of their sales teams when it comes to gender, race and other characteristics, the report said.

#3 Sales organizations are preventing sellers from putting buyers first.

While 65% of sellers said they “always” put the buyer first, only 23% of buyers agree, survey respondents said.

The report advocates organizations adopt a “Buyer First philosophy,” which includes five principles: Learn, then define, share readily, solve, don’t sell, deliver value and earn trust. The survey data found that “buyers definitely say these kinds of selling behaviors are important to them,” the report said.

#4 These six sales behaviors are killing deals.

Seller behavior makes a difference. Not surprisingly, 48% of buyers won’t buy from sellers who proffer misleading information, the report stated.

The factors that would make buyers more likely to select a sales professional’s company as a vendor are:

  • if the sales professional works for a company with a strong professional brand (49%)
  • if the sales professional offers favorable pricing (47%)
  • if the sales professional is informed about the buyer’s company and business needs (44%)
  • if the buyer has a favorable impression of the sales professional (43%)
  • if the sales professional is referred or recommended to the buyer by someone in their professional network (33%).

Buyer respondents also ranked the factors that are important in influencing the purchase of a product or service: Trust in the brand of the product/service, trust in the relationship with the salesperson, price, ROI and service after the sale.

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

The survey suggested that buyers appear distrustful of the sales sector, with only 40% of buyers saying that salespeople are trustworthy, according to the report.

“At the same time, buyers say that trusting a salesperson is a top factor in selecting which salespeople they do business with,” the report said. When asked what qualities buyers value in a sales professional, buyers ranked “trustworthy” as the No. 1 trait at 58%. Second was “transparency,” a trait closely related to “trustworthy,” at 37%, the report said.

“In our survey, 89% of buyers describe the salespeople they ultimately do business with as “trusted advisors.” So it seems clear that for sales professionals, getting past that initial distrust is crucial to getting deals done,” the report said.

When the pandemic limited in-person meetings, sales technology became the go-to for gaining insights and understanding into potential customers, the report said. Consequently, 77% of sales professionals say their organization plans to invest more in sales intelligence tools.

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

With the increased use of sales technology comes the need for better data. The LinkedIn sales survey found that 85% of sellers said they lost or delayed a sale in 2020 because a key client stakeholder had changed jobs.

“For sales orgs, data has become table stakes,” the report said. Sales organizations are increasingly using data for a number of tasks such as planning and setting the strategy.

The top five ways sales organizations are using data are:

  • to select accounts to target (47%)
  • to select industries to target (44%)
  • to assess performance (43%)
  • to select geolocation to target (41%)
  • to define the buying committee (39%)

But data is only as good as its source, the survey noted. Overall, seller respondents said they are confident in the efficacy of the data in their CRM system.

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

The survey found that 74% of sellers said they will expand the use of their LinkedIn network in 2021.

On the flip side, 82% of buyers said they are more likely to consider a brand if their salesperson has an informative LinkedIn profile, the survey said.