In the midst of recent social and economic upheaval, sales teams have had to leave their usual tools behind. Not only have they had to deal with huge shifts in customer behaviour, the rapid acceleration of digital technologies, and new responsibilities at work, many have had to do so from their kitchens or bedrooms.
Salesforce Research surveyed nearly 6,000 sales professionals from around the world (including 3,000 from EMEA) to discover:
How sales professionals are adjusting to new expectations from buyers and their organization.
The evolving role of sales operations.
New tactics and strategies driving growth and efficiency.
The results of the survey highlight key 5 trends shaping the future of sales in EMEA, at a pivotal time. Let’s unveil them in detail.
Customer expectations are higher than ever and customers expect today’s sales reps to act as advisors and problem solvers — not just sell a product or service. According to the report:
91% of reps say that the current economic climate means that they need to anticipate the needs of their customers.
87% say that they’ve acted in an advisory role.
The vast majority of sales reps, across all performance levels, rely on publicly available news sources to inform their selling, with 88% of high performers tracking industry news and 78% of underperformers doing the same.
But high-performing sales reps are going a step beyond this by also tracking deeper, customer-specific insights with greater frequency. Top-performing sales reps are 1.3x more likely to track customer purchase history, for instance.
They also pay more attention to staffing changes, which might signal a shift in decision-making dynamics, and new competitor activity, which can enable them to tweak existing strategies and tactics. In short, high-performers are paying careful attention to the details and assessing what will strengthen their relationships with customers.
The impact of this year’s crises has been so intense that, in some cases, long-standing job positions may very well be obsolete. Our report shows that 73% of sales professionals have taken on new responsibilities at work. And most expect their roles to be altered far beyond the end of the pandemic.
Moreover, the majority of sales teams are adopting new key performance indicators (KPIs). This requires an additional change in mindset for those who may be used to already established objectives, metrics, and processes. To meet new business needs, organisations are reskilling and upskilling employees rather than laying them off or hiring externally. This is not only more cost-effective; it builds trust and drives productivity.
One of the biggest changes for sales teams has been the shift to remote working. We discovered that 74% of organisations have reskilled employees to sell from home. This massive shift should continue well into the future — potentially becoming the ‘new normal’ — as reps have been empowered to work from anywhere at any time.
The sales professionals who find innovative, forward-thinking ways to leverage these modes of working will be well-positioned to thrive in the new sales landscape.
As remote working becomes standard, we’ve seen a corresponding acceleration of technologies to better connect the workforce. Sales professionals are turning to digital platforms to log activities, connect departments and functions, and enable smooth collaboration.
Sales professionals are also leveraging AI to automate repetitive, routine tasks. This gives reps more time to concentrate on selling. It’s more critical than ever — in a customer-centric era with sky-high expectations — for personalised services. In fact, one of our thought leaders at Salesforce, Tiffani Bova, calls the seller and AI “the new power couple”.
According to the report, 82% of sales leaders from organisations that have invested in AI say that AI has helped increase visibility and allows their reps to focus on more important tasks.
Just as the role of sales reps is changing, so is the role of sales ops. Sales ops is becoming more strategic, using data-driven insights to create strategies, better connect teams, and improve efficiency.
83% of sales ops professionals say that the role is becoming more strategic.
88% say that sales operations plays a critical role in growing the business.
During this time of unprecedented disruption, where the norms no longer apply, operational efficiency and data-driven decision-making take on special importance. And in high-performing organisations, sales operations is more than just a connector between different people and processes within the sales team. It’s also a bridge to important contacts on other teams, like account-based marketers, customer service leaders, and more. In this way, sales ops can tighten relationships to create greater efficiency.
The digital imperative was here before the pandemic hit us but the series of crises certainly sped things up drastically. In fact, 79% of sales leaders in Europe say that they’ve had to accelerate their digital transformation plan since 2019. Many companies were forced to implement long-term transformation strategies in a matter of months or even weeks to keep up with digitally mature competitors. In short, what did not happen over 10 years, happened in less than 6 months!
Here you can see the top 5 sales tools that have become more valuable in EMEA since 2019:
In particular, we are seeing how video conferencing tools and mobile apps have become increasingly valuable in a time of distributed work. Our report shows that sales teams in Europe have placed a high value on AI within their digital initiatives. And our researchers note that this appreciation for the value of AI comes on the heels of a significant uptick in adoption among sales teams observed in our 2018 survey.
Use cases for AI extend across many major areas. However, the technology’s most significant impact, according to salespeople, is on understanding customer needs — especially when they’re changing so rapidly.
AI’s second-largest impact is on improving forecasting accuracy — in other words, understanding opportunities — and in so doing, helping organisations make informed decisions, even as the norms change.
The past year has certainly been challenging, but sales has responded by creating workforces that are highly skilled, agile, data-driven, and empowered by new technologies and ways of working. For sales professionals, the journey to better engagement has already started.
If you would like to dig deeper into what we shared today at a high level, you can download the full 4th State of Sales.