Signals from the sales cycle: Emerging tactics to win in 2021

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There have been massive changes to the sales cycle over the past two quarters as companies continue to adjust to the new marketplace.

An unfolding pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the long adjustment to remote work have all taken their toll on how business is conducted, and sales has been no exception.

When we released our last report, the dust was just beginning to clear after the beginning of social-distancing measures, and we were just getting our first understanding of how sales organizations were reacting to the pandemic. Now, we’re back with our latest findings based on nearly six months of data.

We’ve examined data from over 550 B2B sales teams to get a clear view of what sales cycles look like now, how sales teams are spending their time, and how prospects are responding to sales strategies. We’ve also conducted interviews with sales leaders from these teams to hear their personal accounts of how things are going.

This time, we’ve focused on digging out the emerging tactics that are making a difference in B2B sales. Below, you’ll find 6 actionable signals from the sales cycle that you can put into play right now to move deals forward faster and more consistently.

Signal 1: Add SMS to the playbook

The number of touchpoints to take a deal from cold lead to closed won has taken a massive leap, increasing 65% to 26 touches from the pre-COVID average of 17. The number of calls involving a prospect’s internal team has almost doubled (x1.8), and it now takes as many as 3 touches just to schedule a demo call after leads have already been warmed up.

Fortunately, some channels are performing better than others. Teams that incorporated SMS into their outreach reduced the number of touches to won by 19%.

Signal 2: Reach out in the right order

High competition for call time has made scheduling meetings more difficult. We discovered a trend among the sales development teams setting the most meetings.

Teams that consistently lead their cold outreach with LinkedIn touches scheduled nearly twice as many meetings as the worst-performing teams, with sequences in the order LinkedIn>SMS>Email performing the best. The worst performing sequence was Call>LinkedIn>Email.

Signal 3: Connect on LinkedIn before demos

Call duration has fallen drastically because of competition for communication time. The length of demo calls has been cut almost in half, from 36 minutes on average to only 20.

Less demo time is a big disadvantage for sales reps right now. Building rapport before the demo has shown to help, though. Reps that regularly plan and execute LinkedIn interactions with their prospects before demos move prospects to the next step 67% of the time compared with just 49% for reps that use just calls and emails.

Signal 4: Extend trials instead of offering discounts

Discounts offered by B2B sales teams have jumped 60% since the beginning of the year, thanks to cut budgets and falling win rates. They’re working. Sales organizations that offer discounts win 22% more deals per month than orgs that don’t.

Interestingly, longer trials perform even better. Organizations that offer to extend trials of their product win 56% more than orgs that don’t. The sales leaders that we interviewed say that offering longer trials secures trust with the buying team and makes it harder for decision-makers to say no.

Signal 5: Shorten sales cycles with AI guidance

Sales cycles have been lengthening for years, and the pandemic hasn’t brought any improvements. The average B2B SaaS deal for the companies in our research group now takes 182 days to complete compared to 160 before COVID.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though. We followed sales organizations that started using Guided Selling during the pandemic and were able to compare their performance before and after. After an initial adoption period, average deal length dropped a whopping 67% to just 60 days.

Signal 6: Save call time for coaching

Salespeople are now spending 50 more minutes per day in calls and meetings, both internal and external. We interviewed sales managers that had implemented Guided Selling to see if better visibility and guidance was cutting down the time they spent going back-and-forth with reps.

On average, the sales managers we interviewed estimated that they were saving about 1/4 of the time that they had previously spent trying to get updates from their reps. Invaluable time that can be redirected to one-on-one coaching.

Adjusting for 2021

Sales organizations are facing many challenges in the coming year, but none of them are insurmountable when approached with a flexible outlook.

That’s one thing that was clear throughout our research: a willingness to experiment and change is directly correlated with sales success right now. From trying out new communication channels to testing which order to use them in, the best sales teams are leaving no stone unturned.

That’s why we weren’t surpised to find out that the sales teams in our research who had implemented Guided Selling were, on average, doing much better in the new marketplace than others.

Guided Selling makes it easier to test new sales activities and to add the best-performing ones to the official playbook. Sales teams that had implemented the technology weren’t just finding better ways to sell, they were scaling those successes faster across the organization.

As the first sales software provider to introduce Guided Selling, we were eager to compare performance between teams that had adopted this emerging technology and those without it.

It turns out that controllability of the sales process is just one of several benefits that sales teams with Guided Selling are using to overcome new challenges.

How sales teams with Guided Selling overcome new challenges

Saving time for selling with better visibility

Time is always at a premium for salespeople, and finding out where deals stand is a notorious drain on that time.

Sales teams with Guided Selling spend more time selling and less time calling or messaging back and forth to stay up to date. Instead of interrogating reps to see what’s happening with individual deals, sales managers can quickly get the full story right where they’re already working.

Engaging on multiple channels, automatically

Remote work has put new demands on communications for everyone. Old channels like calls and emails are losing effectiveness because people are dealing with so many of them.

The sales teams seeing the biggest results right now are the ones exploring new channels for engaging prospects. Teams with Guided Selling are testing channels like social, SMS, and messaging apps right from their engagement sequencers—and adopting the most effective ones right away.

Saving deals at risk with next step suggestions

In a more competitive market where companies are spending less, sales organizations are fighting to close every deal they can.

With Guided Selling, reps always know the best next step to take. When deals are at risk, reps find out immediately and know exactly what to do to get things back on track. With healthy deals, reps get signals to take the most effective actions at exactly the right time.

With Guided Selling, sales teams get more time to sell, keep deals moving at top speed, and save more deals at risk. Sales leaders can easily see where each deal stands and why at anytime. With the help of AI analysis, they find out which actions are performing best and scale them across the team.

Better visibility, controllability, and guidance equip sales teams with Guided Selling to adapt to any changes the market brings.

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