Five Trends Shaping the State of Sales in Europe
How technology is reshaping sales strategies in France, Germany and the UK
May 9, 2019
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the LinkedIn Sales & Marketing Solutions EMEA blog.
Skilled sales people have never been in greater demand than they are in 2019, with ‘Sales Leadership’ ranking in the Top 10 most in-demand skills in EMEA, and ‘Persuasion’ the second most sought-after soft skill in the region. Which, though, are the sales skills that are most effective for engaging B2B buyers, closing deals, and securing revenue and lifetime customer value for their businesses?
Technology is changing the way that both buyers and sellers approach the sales process. Across Europe, sales organizations are rapidly adopting new tools and tactics. However, the importance of traditional sales skills and qualities remains. It’s sellers’ ability to combine the two that is critical to meeting buyers’ evolving expectations.
LinkedIn’s Annual State of Sales report provides a detailed analysis of sales trends and techniques across different markets. Each year we speak to buyers and sellers about the most important factors that influence them to start a conversation – and what matters most when it comes to closing deals. For our 2019 report, we took a detailed look at three markets in Europe: France, Germany and the UK. In each of these countries, we spoke to more than 500 B2B buyers and 500 sales professionals. By comparing the data for each market, we can identify the key sales trends that are influencing the region as a whole – and the subtle difference that show how buying and selling varies across countries.
All of the sales professionals in our survey had succeeded in meeting or exceeding their quota during the previous year. However, within this sample, we also identified a group of top sellers who had beaten their targets by 25% or more. Comparing the techniques adopted by these sellers to those of their peers helps to identify the approaches that are proving most effective in each market.
Here are the key trends shaping sales in Europe:
Trust is the key to closing deals – but other factors vary
The ability to establish trust is the skill considered most important by sellers when closing deals. In every market, over a third of sellers describe it as the single most important factor in sales success: 38% in Germany, 35% in the UK and 33% in France. Well over half of all sellers place trust in the top two most important factors, including 59% in Germany, 58% in France and 57% in the UK. The ability to form a human connection with buyers remains vital across the region.
However, when we look at the supporting factors helping sellers to close deals, interesting differences emerge. Sales professionals in the UK are sensitive to the impact of price and the value and Return on Investment (ROI) that they can demonstrate. Over half of UK sellers (57%) select price as one of their top two factors, compared to only 34% in France and only 29% in Germany. Similarly, 53% of UK sellers select Value/ROI in the top two, compared to 47% in France and only 35% in Germany.
In Germany, by contrast, it’s the ability to provide ‘Strategic Counsel’ that provides the basis for trust, with sellers selecting this as the second most important factor in securing a deal. In France, Strategic Counsel also ranks second among top sellers.
Sellers increasingly depend on tech
Across Europe, technology is transforming every element of the sales process through tools for CRM, collaboration, networking, sales intelligence and more. In Germany, 99% of sellers describe technology as either important or very important to their ability to close deals. In the UK, it’s 90%. In France, over half of all sellers say that their use of technology has increased in the last year, whereas only 10% say they use it less often.
Sellers in France make the most regular use of sales tech with 34% using such tools on a daily basis, compared to 33% in the UK and 26% in Germany. However, in every country 80% of sellers use sales technology at least every week. Top sellers use significantly more tools than their peers. In France they use tools from 3.9 different tech providers on average, compared to an average of 2.6 for other sales professionals.
The influence of sales technology is set to increase further as B2B businesses invest in a greater range of tools. More than half of the sellers we surveyed (56% in France and the UK, 48% in Germany) expect their company to increase its investment in sales technology this year.
Three types of sales technology were used by more than half of all sellers across all three countries: CRM, networking platforms and collaboration tools. Of these, networking and collaboration technologies had consistent levels of use across markets while the popularity of CRM tools varied more significantly. In Germany, 70% of all sellers use a CRM system, compared to 60% in the UK and 55% in France.
Top sellers are more likely to use sales intelligence tools – and more likely to use LinkedIn
B2B buyers demand that sellers reach out with insights that are relevant to both their business and their own specific role. In the UK, for example, 78% say they won’t engage with a sales rep who lacks business-specific insight. This puts a growing emphasis on sales intelligence tools, and across the countries that we surveyed, we see top sellers making significantly greater use of these tools.
In the UK, 49% of top sellers use sales intelligence technology, compared to only 38% of their peers. In France, 58% of top sellers use sales intelligence tools for three hours a week or more. Of these, 35% use the specialist sales intelligence capabilities of LinkedIn Sales Navigator, with a further 43% using LinkedIn in general as a sales intelligence platform. LinkedIn is also the most significant source of sales intelligence in Germany, where 37% of all sellers use Sales Navigator and 21% use LinkedIn.
Social media plays a growing role throughout the buyer journey
Social media isn’t just an important source of sales intelligence. Both buyers and sellers depend on it at crucial stages of the journey towards a purchase: from researching options to closing deals. Sellers in Germany are the most social in their approach, with 60% using networking platforms, compared to 57% in France and 55% in the UK.
Relevant social media is the first place that buyers turn to when researching their options. It’s chosen by 27% of B2B buyers in Germany and 26% in France. In the UK, 87% of sellers describe networking platforms as very important to their ability to close deals – and this rises to 95% among top sellers. B2B buyers agree, with 63% saying they are more likely to consider suppliers whose salespeople reach out on LinkedIn.
In Germany, 65% of sellers follow potential customers on social media. When asked to choose the one social network that’s most important to their selling efforts, 42% opted for LinkedIn, more than any other platform.
Marketing alignment delivers massive competitive advantage
Our report confirms that effective marketing alignment delivers massive competitive advantage to sales teams – and this rule holds true across Europe. Top sellers are significantly more likely to describe the quality of their marketing leads as ‘Excellent’. In France they are almost three times more likely to do so, with 60% of top sellers agreeing compared to 22% of their peers. In the UK, 75% of top sellers agree that marketing plays a big role in closing deals.
The importance of sales and marketing alignment is confirmed by B2B buyers themselves. In the UK, 47% say they are more likely to engage with a sales professional who represents a strong, professional brand. In Germany, 72% say that consistency between sales and marketing matters. However, across markets, buyers say that this consistency is often lacking. In France, 55% of buyers say they experience different messages from sales and marketing either most or all of the time. In the UK, it’s 52% - and in Germany, 44%.
A shared view of the buyer journey is an essential starting point for aligning sales and marketing more effectively. However, sellers across Europe report different rates of progress towards aligning their data in this way. In France, 40% of buyers report a lot of overlap in the data used for targeting. This drops to 31% in Germany and 25% in the UK.
What the trends mean for the future of sales
Our survey shows that technology is transforming the experience of buying and selling across Europe. Sellers’ ability to manage their time, build stronger relationships and engage larger buying committees increasingly depends on having the right tech tools available – and having the effective support of data-driven marketing. However, the ability to close deals still depends on human qualities and connections.
Buyers respond to sales people who can build rapport and demonstrate an understanding of both their own and their business’s needs. That depends on the smart use of sales intelligence and sector insight. It’s significant that the top-performing sales professionals in our survey were significantly more likely to use the specialist tools available through LinkedIn Sales Navigator for both sales intelligence and closing deals.
You’ll find more detail on the State of Sales in Europe in our country-specific reports for France, Germany and the UK. Our full, global report is also available for free download now.