Europe’s State of Sales: The Enduring Trends
Five sales trends that have grown in importance during the pandemic
August 19, 2020
LinkedIn’s European State of Sales Report for 2020 reveals dramatic changes and pivots in the way that sellers sell – and buyers buy. That’s to be expected, after several months in which face-to-face meetings have disappeared from the calendar, events and conferences are off the agenda for the foreseeable future, most buyers work from home and remote selling has become the almost-universal norm.
However, our analysis of over 3000 buyers across Europe also highlights enduring sales trends that will continue through the pandemic and beyond. In many cases these trends have taken on new significance, and new momentum, as a result of the situation in which sales professionals now operate. Several have been adopted more widely as sellers that chose to stick with more traditional tactics suddenly find themselves forced to adjust. Others have jumped to the top of the agenda as priorities for sales organisations looking to meet their teams’ emerging needs.
Here are the five most important enduring trends from this year’s State of Sales report – and how they will shape strategies going forward:
Trend 1: Coaching is the key to sales performance and managing change
More time being coached topped sales professionals’ wish lists before the pandemic – and it’s become an even more urgent demand during it. Sellers who get the level of coaching they ask for are significantly more likely to exceed their quota by 25% or more.
In the UK, 33% of sales professionals say that coaching is one of the top two activities they would like to spend time on with their manager – however, only 24% actually receive this level of coaching support. There’s a similar story in Germany, where, prior to the pandemic, 34% would have liked coaching to be a top two activity – but only 25% reported that it was. Only in France were organisations managing to deliver the level of coaching their sales teams would like. In fact, in France, managers are more likely to spend time on coaching than they are on anything else, with 60% listing it among their top three activities.
Sales professionals have identified coaching as critical to their success – and the data proves them right. In the UK, top performing sellers are 48% more likely to have coaching as one of the top two activities they spend time on with their manager.
There’s clear evidence that this correlation between coaching and success will become stronger in an era of remote selling. Four out of five sales reps have reported that they need help staying engaged when working remotely – and 58% pick out more regular communication with managers as the most effective form of support.
Trend 2: Active listening is selling’s most sought-after skill
Active Listening, the ability to 'concentrate, comprehend and respond in a relevant and constructive way', is fast becoming the most sought-after skill in sales. Buyers in each of France, Germany and the UK rank it as one of the top three characteristics that they value in salespeople – and it’s surging in importance when it comes to sales hiring. Active Listening has been the number one skill that sales organisations in France prioritised for the last five years. In Germany, the number of companies seeking Active Listening as a skill has grown 4% over the same period. In the UK, it’s grown 5%
Active Listening underpins the most important ways that sales professionals set about earning buyers’ trust, which 59% of sellers choose as one of the top two factors helping them to close deals. In Germany and France, sellers regard Strategic Counsel as the second most important quality helping to get deals over the line – in the UK, it’s ROI that plays the critical supporting role. In each case, salespeople who can analyse a buyers’ specific needs and bring relevant value to the table are best placed to convert opportunities. With budgets under pressure and sellers seeking ways to build relationships virtually, the importance of Active Listening will continue to grow.
Trend 3: Smarter use of sales tech solves the productivity puzzle
Prior to the pandemic, sales professionals in the UK reported less time actually selling than those elsewhere. In a typical week, sellers in France and Germany spent around two hours more on sales calls and meetings. In a remote selling world, helping reps to increase productivity will be crucial – and the data suggests that smarter use of sales tech has a key role to play.
Sales tech adoption continues to advance across Western Europe: 52% of sellers in France, 42% in the UK and 33% in Germany expect to spend more time using tech tools over the coming year. However, this adoption is also becoming more selective. Sellers attach greatest value to the tools that can tell them their next best move. Top sellers have identified CRM and Sales Intelligence as the technology that delivers the greatest return on their time. In France, users of these tools are more likely to rate them as critical than they were a year ago. In Germany, Sales Intelligence tools are now ranked as the most important of all sales tech.
There are signs that sellers in the UK are less confident in selecting which tools to make time for – and that this might contribute to the country’s productivity shortfall. More than half of sales professionals in the UK (54%) say that having too many tools to choose is one of their top three pain points regarding sales tech. In fact, 21% described this as the most significant challenge of all. Too many tech tools can leave sellers feeling overloaded. Manager-coaches who can help guide their choices will be the key to productivity in a remote selling world.
Trend 4: Sales intelligence and social networks enable new ways to reach out
Since the pandemic, sales professionals worldwide are seeking to ‘warm up’ their approaches to prospects. During this time, the increase in warm outreach exceeds that of cold outreach.
Sales intelligence and smart use of social networks are the key to generating such warm outreach opportunities. At least a quarter of B2B buyers in Europe agree with the statement that, “I find that sales technology and data have made cold calling ‘warmer’ and more on target these days.” With 70% of all sellers in Europe now routinely conducting research with their professional network before reaching out to a new prospect, sales outreach is undergoing a transformation. Those making greatest use of social networks and sales intelligence tools reap the greatest benefits.
Securing a relevant recommendation delivers even greater benefits in terms of warm outreach. Over a third of buyers in the UK say that they are more likely to select a vendor when a seller is recommended by someone in their network, with 31% of buyers in France and 24% of those in Germany agreeing.
Across all three markets, the platform that sellers are most likely to use for gathering intelligence and sourcing recommendations is LinkedIn. In France, 50% of sellers use either LinkedIn or LinkedIn Sales Navigator for sales intelligence – more than any other platform. In Germany, 44% of sellers use LinkedIn, which is 29% more than use any other source of sales intelligence. In the UK, the 48% using LinkedIn makes it second only to Google Analytics on 49%.
Trend 5: Data drives new approaches to measurement and planning
Sales technology doesn’t just provide sellers with new sources of sales intelligence and new forms of outreach. The growing availability of high-quality data is changing the way that organisations think about how sales contributes – and plan to grow that contribution.
"Having access to timely and relevant data will be key to success,” says Joseph DiMisa, Sales Effectiveness and Rewards Leader at the management consulting firm Korn Ferry. “The most effective organisations will be able to aggregate, govern and leverage this data to give insights to both past sales efforts and to future forecasts. They will be able to match their process and organisational strengths to that of the customer buying process and specific needs."
Sales organisations in France, Germany and the UK have followed different priorities when applying data to sales strategy. In the UK, 'selecting accounts to target' is the most common use of data, followed by 'evaluating patterns from closed/won business' and 'assessing sales performance'. Germany puts more emphasis on measurement and analysis, while France plugs data directly into targeting, as a means of selecting industries and accounts. However, we can expect the range of use-cases for data to grow in each of these markets.
Sales organisations are taking a more iterative approach to planning as they accept the difficulties of forecasting in the current situation. The more trusted, real-time data they have access to, the better. CRM tools are already the technology that sellers across Europe are the most likely to use – and the most likely to rate as critically important. That importance will only increase in the months to come.
Learn more about the enduring sales trends in Europe in our full State of Sales 2020 Report – Europe Edition.