Sales professionals don’t lack for technology solutions, but using them effectively and establishing customer trust are keys to keeping and maintaining customers. These are two of many insights from LinkedIn’s annual State of Sales report that surveyed more than 500 sales pros as well as 500 buyers in August 2018.
“Relationships are still fundamental, but how you do that has shifted from wining and dining customers to generating trust. You have to be showing as credible and having the best interest of the buyer,” Justin Shriber, vice president of marketing at LinkedIn, told eWEEK. In the survey, 40 percent of sales professionals ranked trust at the No. 1 factor in closing deals (over ROI and price), and 51 percent of buyers said trust was a top factor in their decision-making when it came to purchasing.
While after-work dinners and entertainment still play a role in engaging key clients, Shriber described that as a first generation of sales.
“When we went to power phone dialers and email, there was less face-to-face contact and it was less personal, but you could make up for it in the volume of people you could reach,” he said.
But for at least the past decade, Shriber said buyers have been rejecting impersonal technology. “The number of cold calls needed to get someone has doubled, while email’s [effectiveness] has dropped in the past 18 months,” he said.
Shriber said we’ve entered a third era where sales technology vendors are trying to help companies build relationships and highly personalized communication that scales.
“Customers have Alexa and Netflix at home, and they expect salespeople to have that same familiarity of who they are and what they need,” he said.
The latest advances in customer relationship management (CRM) promise to deliver a level of personalization. In the survey, 73 percent of sales pros said they use sales technology to close more deals. This was especially true among top sales performers who said networking platforms are “very important” to help close deals at a rate 51 percent higher than their peers.
The survey also confirms one of the truisms in sales: “Know your customer.” Ninety-six percent of the decision-makers surveyed said they’re more likely to consider a brand’s products or services if sales professionals have a clear understanding of their business needs.
Why Your Online Profile May Help Close More Deals
Shriber said a growing number of buyers surveyed are using services like LinkedIn to check the credentials or worthiness of the salespeople pitching them.
“They want to know you have relevant knowledge and that you’re actively engaged in the industry,” said Shriber. “If all they see in a profile is that you’re No. 1 in sales and you beat your quota, forget it, that’s not enough.”
Another way sales could improve is by working more closely with the marketing department that might otherwise be siloed or cut off from the sales process.
The survey indicates that top performers work closely with the marketing department and Millennials in particular are more apt to do so.
"Only one in five people that marketing is going after are also being pursued by the sales team, so there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity if sales and marketing will get complete alignment and marketing will focus on the leads that sales cares about, and vice versa,” said Shriber.
It’s important to note that being a good salesperson requires a set of skills that no amount of technology can replace. But Shriber said those who don’t embrace the tools at their disposal, including information that can be gleaned from social networks, risk losing out on opportunities.
“I think one of the fallacies people embrace is that career sales people have a level of expertise that will carry them,” he said. “We don’t diminish their expertise, but the buyers are younger and they embrace social technologies. If you’re not meeting them where they are, you are missing an advantage.”
Investing in Sales Technology
LinkedIn said that planned investment in sales technology has grown by 53 percent, a trend a majority (53 percent) of sales professionals expect to continue next year.
A majority (64 percent) of sales pros surveyed said they use CRM tools like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics, a 28 percent bump from 2017. Collaboration tools like Box, Google Docs, Microsoft Office and Dropbox are used by 62 percent of the sales pros surveyed, a 6 percent jump over last year’s figures.