Almost 80% of sales reps confirm they have had to quickly adapt to new ways of selling when faced with the unprecedented challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Making this the ideal time for organisations to start questioning long-held assumptions about their sales operations and prepare to embrace a new order of customer demand and expectation.

That’s the overall message of the fourth edition of Salesforce's State of Sales Report, which covers research from the period 13 May to 30 June 2020, gleaned from almost 6,000 industry professionals worldwide.

After reports of many sectors being hard hit in the UK this year, the report provides a badly needed dose of positivity, and offers a glimmer of hope for hard-hit companies struggling to adapt to the ‘new normal’.


First signs of confidence returning

For sales leaders, the key findings of the report will be those that throw light on the longer-term, post-pandemic outcomes. Given the current climate of uncertainty, it is encouraging to note that most industry professionals view the future with varying degrees of cautious optimism.

Upper management are particularly confident that their organisations will continue to handle whatever the future holds. Leaders in VP roles and higher are 1.3 times more likely to firmly believe that their organisation can still effectively close deals than those in manager or director positions. That said, these managers and directors are by no means pessimists: 40% of those surveyed were mostly confident in their organisation’s ability to close deals, while 20% were completely confident.


Challenges bring opportunities for positive change

At the start of 2020, no business leaders could have foreseen the dramatic effect the pandemic would have on projected sales targets, budgets and working practices, or ever have imagined how long the crisis would last. Most sales departments have been seriously challenged by the need to adapt to constantly changing conditions, but top performers across the board have shown remarkable agility in assessing their capabilities and tackling these challenges, particularly in the fields of technology and sales strategy.

Rather than relying on a return to ‘business as usual’, effective sales professionals are approaching the disruption as a timely opportunity to reassess their organisation’s future needs and pivot their sales operation towards recovery and growth. In fact, the Salesforce survey revealed that 77% of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since 2019.


Staff retraining is the key to a successful transition

One of the most significant practical side effects of COVID-19 has been the overwhelming move to working from home – with every indication that this will continue to be a viable option for many companies beyond the immediate crisis. 

Salesforce’s survey revealed that 70% of organisations are currently retraining field reps to successfully work from home by embracing new technologies and new ways of engaging with customers. Reskilling existing employees is seen by 64% of sales leaders as preferable to hiring new recruits to fill gaps in an organisation’s staffing needs.


Flexibility and data point the way forward

Organisations have many sales tools at their disposal for surviving and thriving through the next 12 months. According to the survey, the top tactic for success is increased flexibility. As customers are purchasing more cautiously than usual, it is important to adapt to their needs, rather than sticking to rigid, dated deal terms.

Sales leaders also viewed easy access to high-quality data – vital for informed decision-making – as a tactical must, along with simplified sales processes, personalised outreach and improved cross-functional partnerships. These strategies are crucial for creating and retaining customer loyalty in the long term.


The next step…

Salesforce’s Industry-by-Industry Path to Growth guide analyses sales leaders’ tips for propelling growth through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis. You can download the Fourth edition of the Salesforce State of Sales Report here. This informative, thought-provoking report also includes a comprehensive appendix giving wide-ranging statistics from the survey of B2B and B2B2C companies across North America, Asia Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, including sales teams’ top-ranked tactics for success over the next 12 months.