LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2021

In its recently published State of Sales 2021 survey,  LinkedIn stated that “Virtual selling is good for sellers and even better for buyers.”  50% of buyers say that “working remotely has made the purchasing process easier.”  Buyers have benefited from the greater acceptance of sales intelligence and sales enablement services.

Furthermore, 70% of buyers want to retain remote work at least half of the time.  48% of buyers do not expect to be meeting face-to-face until H2 201, and 17% anticipate waiting until 2022.

“The bottom line is this situation requiring virtual selling skills won’t be changing anytime soon,” commented LinkedIn.

59% of buyers do not anticipate attending live events until H2 2021.  While 90% of the surveyed buyers have previously attended events, 48% of sales reps have now closed deals above a half-million dollars without meeting the buyer in person.

“Sellers will go back to face-to-face meetings but not remotely close to pre-pandemic levels. Digital transformation was coming no matter what.  COVID-19 just accelerated everything. In other words, digital transformation is here to stay.”

Gartner VP-Analyst Craig Rosenberg

Sales Managers recognize the acceleration of change and digitization, with 86% agreeing that “the ability to cope with change is more important than it was five years ago,” up 16% over the past year.

“Generally speaking, sales is slow to adapt,” opined Gartner VP-Analyst Craig Rosenberg.  “If the way sellers are doing things works, then they will keep doing it.  This drastic event is driving change.  Also, when the buyer changes, sales is forced to change. We often think of ‘sales’ as having to move virtual as the driver, but actually our buyers moved virtual.  Ultimately, sales is going to gravitate to the buyer’s preference.  In other words, it is much easier to adapt to change when you have to.”

The top three sources of change cited by sales managers are measuring sales processes and outcomes in different ways (51%), adding new technologies (50%), and instituting new hiring policies (50%).

LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2021

Remote sales job postings increased five-fold in Q3 2020 year-over-year, with remote positions growing 8.8X in Canada and 4.5X in the United States.  The transition hasn’t been easy.  67% of sales managers said that managing remote teams is more challenging than expected, and 65% of sales reps found it more difficult than anticipated.

Sales Operations and Customer Success roles proliferated between 2018 and 2020.  LinkedIn captured a 38% increase in Sales Operations roles over this period, 4.8X the growth of sales titles.

Customer Success positions trebled between 2018 and 2020.


Continue to Part II, which discusses diversity effort in sales, SalesTech, and Sales Navigator.

XANT: Inbound Lead Response Rates

In March 2011, the Harvard Business Review published “The Short Life of Online Sales Leads,” which discovered that companies were slow to respond to sales leads, and there were considerable benefits from rapid responses.  The study is often cited, but there was little subsequent data to determine whether these issues and opportunities still held.  Fortunately, XANT recently replicated the study, looking at three years of inbound lead response and contact rates.

The new study analyzed 55 million sales activities at over 400 companies.  XANT looked at 5.7 million inbound leads and found that 57.1% of first call attempts took place after a week or more, and only 0.1% of inbound leads were responded to within five minutes.  However, firms that responded within those first five minutes had an 8X conversion rate versus later return calls.

“Maybe we simply didn’t realize what we were leaving on the table,” wrote XANT. “Maybe we over-rotated on targeted ABM strategies at the expense of speed-to-lead.  Marketing automation shouldn’t replace meaningful and quick sales engagement.”

XANT proposes a second problem that slows lead response times, the manual assignment of leads to individuals, resulting in two sets of delays – the lead routing process and the sales reps’ ability to respond quickly when a batch of leads is handed to them.

“Leads sit, go cold, and revenue slips,” warns XANT.

To address the slow response problem, XANT added a shared record option to their Sales Engagement Platform.  The goal is to work every lead with named accounts properly routed and other leads delivered to a shared pool with priority leads immediately offered to reps.   XANT provides AI tools and a rules-engine to auto-assign leads from target accounts and load others into a shared pool with prioritized leads labeled urgent.  The top-rated leads are then offered to the sales team on a round-robin basis, ensuring that all reps have access to top leads and that priority leads have rapid response rates.

“With records in a shared pool, reps won’t get bogged down or locked out,” said XANT. “High-performing reps can blow through their leads quickly and continuously draw from the shared pool.”

XANT describes Shared Leads as another robot that improves the efficacy of sales reps.

“Whereas many treat automation as a way to email spam, we treat it as an enhancement to improve engagement and sales,” explained XANT Head of Product Mark Littlefield. “The basics of Robots include auto-enrolling records, opportunity funnel progression, prioritizing tasks, triggering reps to customer events, performing reliable data entry, and a lot more.  With Shared Records, we’re bringing teams the flexibility to compile records into shared folders or automatically assign them to the right reps so they can accelerate their speed-to-lead and their time-to-value.”

LinkedIn Sales Navigator Pipeline Reviews & Buyers Circle (Q3 2018)

Buyer Circle, a new Sales Navigator feature released in Q3, provides drag-and-drop functionality for defining purchasing roles and players.
Buyer Circle, a new Sales Navigator feature released in Q3, provides drag-and-drop functionality for defining purchasing roles and players.

Last month, LinkedIn rolled out its Q3 Sales Navigator release to admins and trainers.  Enhancements include a new Deals feature to assist with pipeline reviews, “Buyer Circles,” an updated search user experience, and revised mobile lead pages.  Several partner platforms are also rolling out version 2 of their SNAP integrations.

During pipeline reviews, “managers are really trying to find out what are areas of weakness in the pipeline and how they can help. A lot of times, because the information that’s been put into CRM is incomplete, that can be a challenging conversation,” says Doug Camplejohn, VP of Product Management at LinkedIn Sales Solutions. “The problem Deals is ultimately trying to solve is how do you increase the quality of that data that is ultimately stored in the CRM, and by making it much easier for the rep to quickly see missing points of information as well as to add in what one could argue is the most important information—who are all the people that are involved in that buying decision at the target company.”

LinkedIn noted that pipeline review sessions are often frustrating due to incomplete and out of date CRM information resulting in a “20 questions” session in search of deal risks.  The new Deal feature pulls deal and contact intelligence from the CRM and streamlines the update process.  Instead of jumping between opportunity records, reps can manage their pipeline updates from a single pane of glass.  The update table allows reps to quickly enter deal intelligence including deal size, stage, close date, and next steps with information immediately written back to the CRM.

Deals requires that the Salesforce Admin enable CRM synch.  Reps will only be able to view and edit fields for which they have been granted permission and only for Opportunities in their name.  Managers will only be able to view Deals for their team members.

Deals includes a Buyer’s Circle feature which helps reps quickly fill gaps in their Buying Committee.  “The real power comes when you want to add missing role contacts,” Doug Camplejohn, LinkedIn Sales Solutions VP Products wrote to licensors.  “Buyer’s Circle makes it easy to select anyone on LinkedIn and drag them to a role, which, again, automatically updates your CRM. And if that contact is not already in your CRM, Deals lets you create a new CRM contact associated with that opportunity in just a few clicks.”

As LinkedIn does not deliver member-specific details to third-parties, Buyers Circle only uploads First and Last Name, Title, and Company.  Other buyer details would need to be keyed in by the sales rep or populated by a third-party enrichment vendor.

Deals is available in Salesforce.com with the Q3 release and will be available in Microsoft Dynamics in Q4.

The new Deals feature provides a tabular view of opportunities for rapid update and sharing with managers.
The new Deals feature provides a tabular view of opportunities for rapid update and sharing with managers.

Deals is part of the Team and Enterprise editions and is based on a Heighten capability “rebuilt from the ground up.”  Heighten was acquired in 2017.

“B2B selling is more complicated these days where you often have half a dozen people involved, but they’re not all recognized.  A sales rep will put a single contact into the system, and if the deal goes sideways it’s hard to figure out who to contact or how to move forward.”

  • Doug Camplejohn, VP of Product Management, LinkedIn Sales Solutions

“I think the Deals module is the most interesting part of this release because it offers the biggest benefit,” said Gartner analyst Todd Berkowitz. “If you are in a market like tech or manufacturing or a complicated services deal, the number of people involved keeps going up including those who can influence the deal or an assassin who can kill it. The more information you can provide about all the people involved in the deal, the better. And the way the Buyers Circle surfaces information on people and brings it forward with one click is a real benefit.”


Part II covering additional features such as new SNAP integrations and mobile Lead profiles will publish on Monday.

Gartner Predicts Increasing Sales & Marketing Tension Due to ABM

Todd Berkowitz, Research Vice President at Gartner, sees Account Based Marketing (ABM) as increasing tensions between sales and marketing in the short-term.  While ABM has long been advocated as a facilitator of departmental alignment, he sees ABM as disrupting sales processes and generating friction:

“Between ABM and adoption of various new technologies and data types, there is a lot of disruption that is happening with regards to sales teams. Even if these changes are going to be beneficial to tech companies in the medium-term, and some of the “A sellers” get on board quickly with the changes, there are many sales reps that will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new world. (This is why I always advise trying an ABM pilot with a select set of reps). So even if there is pretty good alignment and agreement between CMOs and sales leaders, don’t expect all reps to magically do what they are being asked to do. There needs to be an adjustment period, along with good sales enablement, before everyone plays nicely.”

So, while ABM will facilitate agreements in process, messaging, and metrics in the medium-term, it will generate resistance amongst sales reps unwilling to adopt new processes and tools or unconvinced of its value.  This friction is probably exacerbated by predictions of sales force reductions due to the implementation of AI and other information and workflow technologies.

WWII Era Poster (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
WWII Era Poster (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Resistance to technological change has long been an issue.  Early in the Industrial Revolution, The Luddites sabotaged British plants, particularly cotton and wool mills.  While sales reps are unlikely to sabotage initiatives (or their careers), they may hesitate to learn new platforms or adopt new processes.  As such, the problem may be more akin to soldiering, the assembly line equivalent of reducing individual productivity to the level of the laggards on the line.  Frederick Taylor, the father of time and motion studies, was very concerned about soldiering and recommended piece work rates to create productivity incentives.  But sales reps are very attuned to incentives.  While they may be hesitant to adopt new technologies, they will do so if they help make them more efficient and effective at selling.  So long as sales reps are paid on a commission basis and long-term employment is tied to making quota, the level of soldiering should be minimal.

This isn’t to say that sales reps won’t resist learning new tools.  If they believe the time invested in such training is less than the incremental revenue for the lost selling time spent in training, then they will avoid training and learning new tools.  However, if they see others on their team benefiting from the new tools, they will not hold out long term.  Thus, tool training needs to be visibly supported by management with an emphasis upon the benefits to sales reps (e.g. less time spent on non-sales tasks and more time interacting with customers and prospects, improved account intelligence, improved account targeting and message timing).  With the proper incentives and information, resistance should be minimal.

To help ensure adoption, vendors should be looking to integrate solutions into CRMs, email, and mobile devices so that new tools are integrated into current workflows.  They should also be providing inline tool tips, initial training focused on their capabilities which provide high levels of efficiency and efficacy improvements, tool-based win stories, and usage tools for tracking training, usage, and ROI.  A few gamification elements may also be in order, but they should be organic to the product and not hokey.

Still Not Convinced that Data Quality Is an Issue?

 

Integrate evaluated over 750,000 records from B2B companies and found consistent data problems whether the firm was and SMB, Enterprise, or Media Company. In each case, roughly 4 in 10 records contained inaccurate or bad information.
Integrate evaluated over 750,000 records from B2B companies and found consistent data problems whether the firm was an SMB, Enterprise, or Media Company. In each case, roughly four in ten records contained inaccurate or bad information.

While the primary theme of my blog is sales intelligence, you cannot have sales intelligence if your databases are rife with duplicate records, invalid emails, missing or incorrect firmographics, and non-standardized values.  These errors wreak havoc on marketing and sales.  I came across a 2016 Integrate report that had a series of quotes on the subject which addressed the impact of bad data quality across multiple marketing activities:

The issue of data quality continues to be one of the biggest roadblocks to effectively analyzing the prospect and customer journey. It also dramatically increases the costs of analytics projects and negatively impacts performance.
– Sameer Khan, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, IBM Customer Analytics


Dirty data is the silent killer of marketing campaigns. It makes you look bad, depresses the impact of great content and offers, and can put your brand, reputation and domain at risk (or worse).
– Matt Heinz, President, Heinz Marketing


Data is the oil of any marketing engine, and in order to create perpetual demand generation, data accuracy needs to be a top priority. Marketers must be ruthless and deliberate about data quality and standardization at point of entry.
Jonathan Burg, Sr. Director, Marketing+Customer Acquisition, Apperian


And if you still aren’t convinced that data quality can choke your initiatives, their research found that 40% of B2B records have some form of data quality issue with duplicate data representing 15% of your marketing database.  Invalid Values and Ranges (10%) and Missing Fields (8%) were also common problems.

So if forty percent of your marketing data is faulty, then a significant percentage of your Marketing Qualified Leads passed to sales will contain errors including contacts not at companies (not evaluated by Integrate but contacts decay at a 25% rate per annum), and bad firmographics resulting in wasted time, incorrect routing,  inaccurate lead qualification, and poor messaging.  Furthermore, initiatives such as account based marketing (ABM), account based sales development (ABSD), and predictive analytics will stall if they are fueled by bad data.

GIGO: Did We Lose on Price Again?

Loss Reason

Steve Silver, a Research Assistant at Sirius Decisions, recently blogged about a client where the overwhelming reason for losing deals was price.  But the client had a differentiated service where price should not have been the primary factor.

Silver discovered the reasons for this anomaly:  The field was not used by any departments at the firm.  Without an owner, the path of least resistance was selected — the first choice in the picklist.  And in the case of the client, 90% of the losses were flagged as price-based.

Did we establish value?

Silver omitted a third reason, and one which is common amongst sales reps.  Price is an easy scapegoat for lost opportunities.  But if your service is well differentiated and you focus on your value proposition, price should not be the primary loss driver.  Yes, some deals will be lost because a competitor low balls the deal (a true price loss), or the prospect simply does not have the financial means to purchase your service (a poorly qualified prospect), but in most cases, losing on price is a failure on the part of sales reps.  If they thought about it more, they would realize that price is not an exogenous variable outside of their control.  That’s because price is tied to value.  Price is the critical variable if your value has not been established.

This isn’t to say that pricing could be wrong.  If your competitors are quickly moving up the value curve, your historical price may no longer be sustainable as you become less well differentiated.  With good data and analytics, you would capture this shift in the competitive marketplace and act accordingly (e.g. R&D to better differentiate your service, better product bundling, or reduced prices), but price should only dominate the loss reasons in a commodity business.

GIGO

So what else could be gleaned from this situation?  First, somebody needs to own data quality within the CRM.  If a field is viewed as busywork, your sales reps will populate it with junk data.

Garbage in, Garbage out.

Managers should also be pushing back on reps to better understand why deals were lost so that mistakes can be avoided in the future.  Does the sales rep need additional training or coaching?  Are additional sales tools needed for competitor handling or establishing value?  Are we poorly qualifying opportunities or failing to identify the key decision makers?

Yes, it is easier to move onto the next deal without taking the time to analyze deal losses; but a learning organization needs to understand its failure points.

Sales Operations

Sales Operations should be cross-checking fields.  If the loss reason is price or features, then a competitor had a better offering.  Was the primary competitor recorded in the CRM?  If the competitor is blank, then additional explanation should be required.  Did you really lose on price or features if you don’t know who the competitor was?

Or did you lose to no decision or the incumbent because there was insufficient value established to warrant funding the purchase or sustaining the switching costs?

If you don’t collect the data or you allow a field to be treated as busywork, it won’t be available for analysis.  I have had several instances where my clients did not record the loss reason or the competitors.  I have also had others where the fields were usually blank.  In short, the firms were operating in a competitive fog and not using their CRM for market monitoring.

In the end, it is important to not only gather win/loss information, but to use the data for sales training and coaching, marketing communications, sales enablement, and product development.  When information is valued by the organization, then sales reps are less likely to blithely skip fields or enter the first field in the required picklist.