For many sales organizations, it’s been a challenging few months. As Scott Barker, Sales Hacker’s Head of Partnerships, put it in our recent webinar, “Mastering the Transition to Digital Selling”:
There aren’t very many jobs where you’re put in an environment where you almost feel guilty for doing your job.
This was a common sentiment among many sales professionals when COVID-19 first struck.
Sales Solutions is the division of LinkedIn that sells our Sales Navigator product, and we spend a lot of time interacting with sales leaders. We’ve seen on a daily basis that salespeople, by embracing the tenets of virtual selling, have been able to connect with their customers in a meaningful way — even with face-to-face meetings unlikely, travel curtailed, and in-person conferences postponed.
Here are seven key lessons we’ve learned from witnessing the most effectives sales organizations get back on track in these difficult times.
7 Lessons Learned from Successful Sales Organizations
Lesson 1: Digital transformation is accelerated
Digital transformation was in motion long before COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Salespeople have been using sales technology to connect with buyers for years.
But this current scenario, where face-to-face meetings are rare, forces sales professionals to embrace virtual selling tools more than ever before. For instance, our State of Sales report found that 77% of sales professionals are holding more video meetings.
It’s unclear when face-to-face meetings will return. I’ve spoken with customers who have no plans to allow vendors and salespeople on site for at least a year — even after they reopen their offices and factory floors.
The bottom line: Becoming comfortable with building relationships in a virtual environment is going to be essential for sales professionals for the foreseeable future.
Lesson 2: The capacity to lead through change is more important than ever
In LinkedIn’s recently released State of Sales report, 70% of sales managers in the United States said the ability to lead through change is more important than it was five years ago.
Note that we asked that question before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S.
My guess is that sales managers would say leading through change is an even more important skill right now.
Lesson 3: Understanding the buyer’s point of view is central to deliver value
In this environment, sales professionals need to deeply understand their customers, so they can deliver value rather than worry about revenue and bookings.
That said, not every buyer is in dire straits.
At LinkedIn, we’ve found that while some companies remain in distress, others are beginning to explore buying again. And then there are additional businesses that are in growth mode during the current environment.
For the companies that COVID-19 has hit hard, this may not be the time to be engaging commercial conversations. We are advising our sales teams to focus on how they can help potential buyers right now, and not worry about generating revenue.
And for the companies that are thriving, we are finding it is acceptable to reach out and sell to them right now.
As always, sales professionals must do their research to make sure they are delivering the right kind of value to these growing businesses.
Lesson 4: When you are having sales conversations, make sure it’s directed at the CFO
In most companies, the appetite for conversations that aren’t valuable is very low. Return on investment, the faster the better, has always been an element of purchasing decisions, but it’s truer than ever in the current climate.
For our outreach to potential buyers, our litmus test is, “Would this presentation pass muster with the CFO?”
The value story must be front and center in the language of the presentation.
While C-level executives are scrutinizing more deals on the buyer side, they are also more active on the seller side.
In fact, our sales teams are asking me and my executive team to participate in more conversations with buyers. Businesses are requiring that their purchases be integral to strategy, and so we’re seeing many high-level conversations with our potential customers.
Lesson 5: Data is only becoming more crucial in the sales process
A commitment to using data to analyze your marketplace is going to be table stakes — if it’s not already.
Tools such as Gong and Chorus enable sales leaders to analyze recorded sales conversations in the aggregate. This kind of data can pinpoint, for instance, whether some companies are becoming more likely to spend and how your salespeople can effectively address buyer objections.
Data is also very effective in assessing what accounts, industries, and geographies are relatively healthy financially.
By identifying the buyers most likely to make purchases in the current environment, sales teams can be more efficient in focusing their time on the deals most likely to close.
Lesson 6: Your team should be developing new skills
One way to take full advantage of this transitional period is to have your sales team take a step back and use this period to learn new skills.
For instance, sales leaders can use this time to teach their teams to become thought leaders on social media or to become more effective in using sales intelligence technology such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
Thought leadership is particularly crucial. It is one of the ways your sales professionals can build trust even before the initial outreach to a prospective buyer.
While your less experienced salespeople may be more comfortable with using social media to distribute thought leadership, your more experienced salespeople may have knowledge of the industry to share insightful thought leadership that can set them — and your company — apart.
For sales professionals looking to learn new skills in the current environment, LinkedIn Learning is offering a number of free courses. Three courses that especially relevant to today’s market needs: Empathy for Sales Professionals, Leading Virtual Meetings, and Working Remotely.
Lesson 7: Rethink marketing’s role in partnering with your sales team.
Marketing can make a difference in the sales team’s success. One of the key ways is via case studies, especially case studies that show a deal closing despite the kind of headwinds we’re experiencing now.
I believe the most effective case studies in the current environment show how a vendor truly partnered with their customer and helped alter the trajectory of their business for the better.
Working with marketing to profile these wins — told through the customer’s eyes — you can transform these stories into powerful sales enablement tools.
The Future Is Bright
While headwinds are likely to persist for many sales orgs, I’m convinced the ingenuity of sales teams to continue finding ways to provide value for their customers will persist.
I’ve given you seven ways sales leaders can move their organizations in the right direction, but if you’d like to hear more detail, listen on demand to the SalesHacker webinar, “Mastering the Transition to Digital Selling.”
What are some creative ways you see sales leaders create value and drive success?