Secrets of the UK’s top sales performers

The value of skilled sales people is more apparent today than ever – but what separates top performing sellers from their peers? Liam Halpin explores the evidence from our UK State of Sales report

June 26, 2019

Secrets of the UK’s top sales performers

Editor's Note: This article originally featured in Raconteur's Sales Performance Report in The Times. You can see the full report here.

No matter how innovative or disruptive your business, its growth still depends on sales people who can build trust, demonstrate value, negotiate effectively – and close deals. That’s why Persuasion is currently the most sought-after soft skill in EMEA – and Sales Leadership ranks in the top ten most in-demand hard skills. Technology may be changing the nature of sales – but there’s no substitute for sales professionals who have the skills and strategy to use those tools effectively.

The key question is: what do these salespeople look like in 2019? What marks out top performers from the rest? And how can sales organisations go about maximising the potential of their sales teams?

LinkedIn’s annual State of Sales survey provides the answers. A key element of this research involves identifying the sales professionals who exceed their quota by 25% or more and then comparing their tactics, tools and techniques to those of peers who meet quota but don’t out-perform to the same degree. This analysis helps to illuminate the secrets of the most productive sales reps – and the sales organisations behind them.

What drives top sales performance in the UK today? Here are some of the key themes:

Top sellers earn trust while acknowledging price pressures
Sales professionals worldwide agree that trust is the most important factor helping them to close deals – and top sales performers in the UK agree, with 33% ranking trust as the most important factor. However, top sales professionals are also quick to acknowledge the price pressures that UK buyers are under in economically uncertain times, ranking price as more important than their peers in Europe. The value of trust often comes from the ability to make a case for a given price delivering ongoing value and ROI to a customer – even when budgets are tight.

Top sellers use more sales technology – and use it more often
The use of sales technology is the most striking characteristic of the UK’s top sellers. They use a greater range of sales tools, use them more often, and attach greater importance to them in the selling process. Three quarters (74%) of top sellers say they are spending more time using sales technology this year than last. They are 59% more likely to use productivity apps, 41% more likely to use email tracking, 29% more likely to use sales intelligence technology and 23% more likely to use enterprise communication tools. Top sellers are twice as likely to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator for networking and sales intelligence, with 63% of them doing so, compared to 33% of their peers.

Top sellers attach a far higher priority to social media
Social media has become a key part of the buyer journey – and a key part of the sales process. Among the UK-based B2B buyers in the State of Sales survey, 77% use social media to learn about products and services, 70% say they’re more likely to consider products or services when sales professionals have an informative LinkedIn profile, and 63% say they’re more likely to consider them when a sales person reaches out on LinkedIn. In the UK, sales performance increases when sellers align their approach with how buyers use social. Top sales performers are significantly more likely to describe social networks as very important for closing deals, with 69% doing so compared to 40% of their peers.

Top sellers have sales organisations focused on alignment with marketing
How can organisations best support their sales teams to help elevate performance? The State of Sales research makes a strong case for paying close attention to sales and marketing alignment. Across every market, top sellers consistently report a closer working relationship with marketing – and this is particularly pronounced in the UK.

Top sales performers in the UK are almost twice as likely (59% vs 31%) to describe working very closely with marketing – and as a result, they are almost three times more likely (60% vs 22%) to describe the quality of marketing leads as ‘Excellent’. Across all of the factors that distinguish the top group of sales people from the rest, it’s this quality of marketing support that stands out as statistically the most significant.

A closer working relationship with marketing cuts both ways. Top sellers benefit from significantly higher-quality leads – but they are also far more likely to credit marketing with a major role in their success. They are 30% more likely to rate the importance of marketing in closing deals at 8 out of 10 or above. This suggests organisations that have succeeded in building a positive culture of collaboration across the two functions.

Top sellers deliver on buyers’ priorities
In working effectively with marketing, using technology for meaningful sales intelligence, and focusing on building trust, top sellers are delivering the precise experience that B2B buyers are looking for. Among the UK’s buyers, at least 89% say they are more likely to consider products and services from sales reps who understand their business’s needs, understand their own specific role, and personalise their approach to fit. A similar proportion (85%) describe consistency across sales and marketing as important. Trustworthy, meanwhile is the single most valued quality in a sales professional, nominated by 48% of buyers.

Top sales performance comes from skill and charisma in building trust, the expertise to approach buyers with valued insight, all supported by sales organisations that provide the technology, tools and marketing support to enable sales reps to shine. Above all though, it comes from aligning the use of these assets with the experiences that buyers most value. This has always been what marks out the top sales professionals – and this hasn’t changed.