The pandemic changed everyone’s lives. We live, work, connect with others and the world around us differently. Some of these changes will be temporary, others are likely to be long-lasting. We can’t know which is which just yet.
The sales profession was prepared, somewhat surprisingly. Overnight, people became confined to their homes, immediately forced into remote working. And it worked; as a profession, we coped admirably. Technology said, ‘This is why you invested in us.’ The pandemic rapidly accelerated adoption trends that were already underway and also created new trends as businesses seek ways to grow at a time when we are physically apart.
The pandemic had a huge impact on the way we understand working. It also clearly showed how important our mental health is. Yet sales professionals, who often work long hours, including weekends, adapted to the new situation relatively well and reported feeling optimistic.
Sales is not just about selling. It is a mixture of experience, knowledge, problem-solving, empathy, and communication. It’s possible that salespeople’s collective experience and skills across many areas helped them cope with the unusual situation.
Pipedrive’s annual State of Sales report offers insights based on global research into the perceptions, implications, and unexpected opportunities for the industry. The report polled 1,702 salespeople and uncovered their pride, their working habits over the past year, and their business ambitions as they move beyond the pandemic.
It shows that almost half of sales professionals (49%) became more satisfied in 2020. With only 12 per cent experiencing a decrease in their satisfaction, the data suggests that the pandemic has been an opportunity for salespeople to show their worth. This is reflected both in their increased job success and satisfaction, as well as in their positive attitudes to the contribution that sales could have to economic recovery in 2021.
Communication became more important than ever before in 2020. It had to be transparent, regular, and effective. Organisations needed to communicate with staff to ensure everyone was OK, and proactively reach out to clients to see how they could be helped through challenging times.
Following the events of 2020, we can expect trends such as the use of online technologies and working from home to continue. Yet one constant remains: People still treasure personal connections. Perhaps we all hold them more dear than ever before.
Key sales stories in 2020-2021
Salespeople believe they have a positive impact, despite feeling undervalued. Despite the majority (61%) saying that sales is underappreciated, an impressive 91 per cent of salespeople are proud to call themselves a salesperson. Respondents are also confident that they play a role in global economic recovery, with 92 per cent saying that they believe their role will have a positive impact on the economy.
2020 was a challenging year, but many feel they can carry their success into 2021. Almost two-thirds (63%) ofrespondents say they work over 40 hours a week (which, for English-speaking respondents in particular, was a 10 percentage point increase in 2019), while 83 per cent at least sometimes work weekends. However, this extra effort is paying off, as 59 per cent of salespeople believed they became more successful at sales in 2020, and 81 per cent expect an increase in their sales this year.
The trend toward working from home has impacted the industry. Lots of people have now worked from home for over a year. 60 per cent of sales professionals reported that the place they work from the most has changed over the past year, while four in ten (41%) say they primarily work from home.
The right training and technology drive success. The vast majority (88%) of respondents regularly work on improving their soft skills, which helps their success. Those who regularly work on their soft skills are 11 percentage points more likely to usually or always hit their regular sales quota. With the right tools and technology, respondents are 14 percentage points more likely to have hit their annual sales goal in 2020.
Lead generation was a challenge for salespeople in 2020. After selling, prospecting and lead generation are the two activities that respondents spend the most of their time on. In fact, for English speaking respondents, lead prospecting has overtaken selling as their key activity since 2019. However, English speakers have turned to technology to help them manage these efforts.
Getting the most out of underappreciated salespeople
Despite the challenges they faced in 2020, respondents feel proud of their profession and their impact. However, salespeople are more likely to feel that their profession is underappreciated.
Interestingly, despite the fact that many companies have had to downsize during the pandemic, only 4 per cent of respondents left their role without finding a new one in 2020.
Respondents have every reason to feel proud, as the majority (59%) feel that they became more successful in their role in 2020. There is also a feeling of job satisfaction in the industry, with half (49%) saying that they feel more satisfied in their role.
It may be key for leaders to ensure salespeople are appreciated and well-managed to ensure they keep these high levels of pride. 2020 was, for most businesses outside of a select few industries, not a great one for revenue.
Sales professionals will be the drivers of growth as the world opens up. Cherish them, and give them the tools and training that they need to continue to bring in the business.
Sergei Anikin is interim co-CEO & CTO at Pipedrive