Announcing LinkedIn's 3rd Annual State of Sales Report 2018

New LinkedIn report reveals how tech, marketing, and millennials are transforming the sales profession

October 22, 2018

State of Sales

Editor's Note: A version of this post originally appeared on the LinkedIn Sales Blog.

Even from your role as a marketer, you know firsthand that sales is changing dramatically.

You know that the B2B buyers that you are targeting with ads, content marketing, and other communications expect personalized experiences and can see through cold or impersonal outreach. You see that your sales teammates are navigating a more complex buying process that involves more people and distributed decision-making. Technology, and particularly sales automation, is bringing new levels of productivity to selling — but in today’s climate, productivity alone isn’t enough.

Marketers must understand that relationships, built on a foundation of trust, are now more crucial to sales than ever. Sales professionals, particularly those from younger generations, are embracing new strategies, such as working far more closely with marketing and embracing marketing and sales orchestration, a sales approach that involves tighter collaboration between marketing and sales departments to better target prospects. As you've probably experienced yourself, today’s top-performing salespeople are working more closely with their marketing teams to target leads and are closing more deals as a result.

At LinkedIn, we’re closely following the ways in which the modern sales landscape is changing (and how marketing can leverage these changes). To be successful in modern sales, salespeople need to build relationships at scale by tapping into advanced sales technology to engage with the right contacts faster, while fostering human connection and trust.

Our third annual LinkedIn State of Sales report explores this evolution from the point of view of B2B sales professionals and decision makers. Our research revealed some notable trends in the technologies and strategies that set top-performing salespeople apart, as well as the considerations that are most important to buyers today. 

These are all trends that marketers should be paying close attention to. Read on for our biggest takeaways in this year’s State of Sales report.

Sales technology helps to close deals, but it’s ineffective without a human touch

Technology is helping sales professionals extend their impact by automating administrative  tasks and gathering intelligence about prospects. It’s no wonder that since our first survey in 2016, planned investment in sales technology has grown by 53 percent.

  • 73 percent of sales professionals use technology to close more deals
  • 97 percent report that sales technology is either important or very important to closing deals

While technology plays a significant role in modern sales, decision makers still want their purchasing experiences to feel personalized. They’re more likely to engage with sales professionals who show they understand their needs and take a tailored approach to selling.

Decision makers say they’re more likely to consider a brand’s products or services if a sales professional

  • Has a clear understanding of their business needs: 96 percent
  • Provides personalized communications: 93 percent

Marketing and sales orchestration helps to close deals, but data silos remain

As more businesses pursue marketing and sales orchestration, sales professionals are starting to work more closely with marketing to target leads.

  • 44 percent of sales professionals say they work more closely with marketing than in past years
  • The number of sales professionals who say they work “very closely” or “closely” with marketing has grown 35 percent since 2016

Top sales performers (those who exceed their sales target by at least 25 percent) work more closely with marketing. On a scale from one to 10, 57 percent of top sellers rank the importance of working with marketing at an eight or higher, compared to 41 percent of their average counterparts.

However, data silos still stand in the way of successful orchestration. Just 20 percent of salespeople say there’s a significant overlap in the data used by marketing and sales to target leads. This misalignment could explain why only 22 percent of sales professionals say leads from marketing are excellent.

Millennials tap into sales technology and marketing insights at higher rates

As we saw in our 2017 State of Sales survey, millennials (ages 21-38) tend to be early adopters of new strategies and technologies. While sales professionals across generations plan to spend more time in 2018 using sales technology than last year, millennials were the highest at 62 percent, compared to 56 percent of both Generation X and Baby Boomers.

Millennials are also more likely to bring together different tools as part of their modern sales technology stack:

  • 56 percent of millennials are using collaboration tools such as Box, Google Docs, Microsoft Office and Dropbox, compared to 40 percent of Baby Boomers
  • 39 percent of millennials use enterprise communication apps like Slack and Salesforce Chatter in their day-to-day role, compared to 15 percent of Baby Boomers

Without trust, fewer deals close

Since our first survey in 2016, we’ve seen that trust consistently influences deals. Sales professionals rank trust as the No. 1 factor in closing deals (40 percent) — above ROI and price. Fifty-one percent of decision makers rank trust as the top factor they desire in a salesperson.

Professional and social networks are helping sales professionals better understand buyers’ needs and establish trust early on:

  • 77 percent of decision makers won’t engage with salespeople who don’t have insights or knowledge of their business
  • 62 percent look for an informative LinkedIn profile when deciding whether to work with a sales professional

What’s next for modern sales?

While our profession is quickly changing, a few constants remain. Relationships are still the heart and soul of sales, and the most successful relationships are built on a foundation of mutual trust.

Technology is no substitute for human connection, and our State of Sales report shows that when used strategically, it can help bring you closer to who you want to reach. This approach, combined with marketing and sales orchestration, will help you  better target prospects, personalize their experiences and build long-lasting relationships at scale.

To read the full report, download The LinkedIn 2018 State of Sales Report.