Digital promoting is right here to remain

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Like all sales technology companies, we at LinkedIn spend a lot of time discussing the future of sales – and the competitive advantages that come from getting to that future first. By applying technology, businesses are able to unlock the potential in data, prioritise their pipeline and build relationships virtually. We know that the top performing salespeople in Europe are those using advanced sales networking and intelligence tools.

However, changing sales processes can costly and time-consuming, and the temptation for organisations can be to stick to traditional sales methods that their reps are comfortable with. After all, many reps are really good at building rapport in person, commanding a room and demonstrating their responsiveness. They are the 55% of salespeople who’ve told us in surveys that they rely on face-to-face meetings to build relationships. 

Up to now sales organisations have been able to choose to live with a slower rate of growth and a slower moving pipeline because they’ve been much more comfortable doing sales the traditional way. They may have done fewer deals – but they’ve been able to get deals done. They’ve been able to choose the present over the future and still function.

Suddenly, at the end of 2020, that’s no longer an option. The future of sales has arrived all at once, ahead of schedule.

 

The real reason there’s no going back to traditional sales

Salespeople may be worried about the disappearance of face-to-face meetings – but interestingly, buyers are not. In September, a McKinsey survey found that only 20-30% of B2B buyers globally ever want to interact with sales reps in-person again – even in an ideal post-COVID world. In fact, 96% said they’re happy to make purchases through a wholly digital buyer journey.

Tellingly, salespeople need to build relationships with more of these buyers than ever before, in order to keep deals moving. The average B2B sale today will involve seven different people on average. You want to engage everyone who can influence deals over the course of the sales cycle, you have to adapt to the way those buyers want to engage.

To many salespeople, an end to face-to-face might seem like an unacceptable future. But to buyers, it’s very acceptable indeed. They’re telling us that the genie is out of the bottle and they like it that way. There’s no going back.

 

Buyers don’t miss the old way of doing sales

Why do buyers miss face-to-face meetings so much less than we’d like to think? It comes down to who actually got most value from those meetings – and who tends to get more value from a digital buyer journey. It’s the difference between designing a sales process that works for the seller – and genuinely putting the buyer first.

In research from CSO Insights, only 27% of B2B buyers believe that vendor representatives are truly knowledgeable about the buyer’s specific business. And when sales reps set up meetings without actually knowing buyer needs, the buyer is coming second by definition. They’re being asked to make time and share information in the hope that they’ll get something back of value later. They’re being moved through someone else’s process to suit someone else’s agenda.

The shift to digital selling means that this won’t cut it anymore – and that’s why buyers themselves are so enthusiastic about the change. Digital journeys are self-directed, and buyers expect and need to use their time more efficiently. They make time for encounters with sales only when it makes sense to them, and only when there’s already a clear sense of the value that will bring. They’re discovering that this adds up to an experience of sales that works far better for them. 

 

Buyer first is working

Throughout the pivot to digital selling, I’ve seen sales organisations using LinkedIn Sales Navigator as the foundation for a buyer first approach – and thriving as a result. Between March and May 2020, Sales Navigator users made 5x more connections to decision-makers than the average non-user – and when Sales Navigator users connect to decision-makers and engage with their content, they increase win rates by 28%. 

The sales organisations that are succeeding have recognised the shift in buyer expectations and are responding to it. They’ve invested the money saved on travel, in-person events and meetings in sales technology – and they’re also investing the time saved in coaching and embedding a new type of sales methodology. They’re not interested in escaping back to the past. The only time machines they’re building are set to a buyer first future.

 

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