In June, thousands of sales executives, managers, and reps from across the tech landscape attended our Selling Forward Conference to watch and interact with the world’s top sales and marketing thought leaders. Through more than 20 sessions over two days, the speakers and participants discussed the strategies, tactics, and technologies that they have deemed necessary for success in the “next normal.”
To understand exactly how technology companies have responded to the economic uncertainty from a sales and marketing perspective, we also surveyed the conference attendees. This resulted in 1,050 unique responses from sales and marketing leaders, primarily from B2B technology companies.
These respondents answered questions regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their business, how they have reacted to the challenges it presented, and their future outlook. Participants were also asked about their perceptions of AI in the workforce.
Key highlights include perspectives on…
- 84.4% feel that teams are as productive or even more productive when working remotely
- 22% reported that there will “never be a complete return to in-office working.”
- Only 28% expected that most people would be back in the office in Q3 2020, and 20% expected it to be Q1 2021 or later.
Technology Needs by Sales Teams
- Sales leaders say their number one need in 2020 is “operational efficiency,” followed closely by “better sales performance”
- “Cost cutting and value” ranks second-lowest, consistent with the economic optimism expressed by participants
AI and Sales
- Only 3.68% called AI a “sales job killer”
- 34% said AI definitely improves sales performance if applied correctly
- 36% reported that AI can potentially improve sales performance.
Economic Adjustments and Rebound
- 62.7% of sales teams have had some change to their target buyers, industries, or sectors.
- 19% expected a rebound in Q3, while the rest anticipate the rebound to come in Q4 2020 or beyond.
Success of Remote Work
In recent years, there has been a gradual movement towards remote work, and it seems that COVID-19 simply accelerated it. An overwhelming 84.42% of participants said they feel that sales teams are either as productive or even more productive when working remotely. Not only is work from home a success, but it appears that many feel comfortable doing it.
Of the remainder, 28% predict that they will be back in the office by sometime between July and the end of September, whereas the rest expect it to happen in Q1 2021 or even later.
Teams are also finding new efficiencies in remote work. With companies like Twitter, Square, UpWork, Facebook and Coinbase all shifting to remote forever and remote-first policies, it is clear that dispersed teams will be much more prevalent in the future.
The question remains: will remote sales teams be as successful in the long run? There are numerous factors involved in answering that question, including economic factors in the wider marketplace, technology available and more, which are covered elsewhere in this survey.
Without a doubt, the most successful remote teams will be those that embrace the best tools for managing and training remote reps. Based on these results and the overall trend among top sales teams, those tools are overwhelmingly AI-powered in nature. For example, teams that employ AI-powered conversation intelligence can train new remote reps 50% faster.
Economic Impact on Selling
It is not surprising that 80% of the respondents reported that their businesses had taken a hit as a result of the economic downturn. Most believe they will recover, but timelines differ. Only 19% expect to see a rebound in Q3 of this year, 33% think it will happen in Q4, and the rest predict it will happen sometime in 2021.
Changes to target buyers, industries, and/or sectors were not as significant as expected. There has been a general shift, with a mere 4.48% reported a “significant” change, 58% had made some changes, and 37% said that they hadn’t changed a thing.
This perhaps correlates with the positive outlook, with teams believing that their typical target markets will return to their previous positions and buyers will normalize along with them.
Positive Economic Outlook
Positivity and confidence about the future is extremely high, regardless of when a rebound is expected. The majority (over 75%) of respondents indicated that they are optimistic, with 51% said their future outlook was positive, with an additional 24% saying they were “very positive.”
Even more surprising is that only 5.68% held a negative outlook. Seeing as the vast majority of respondents were in B2B organizations, this is inspiring and exciting.
The Role of AI in the Future of Sales
Success in the current climate requires sales performance improvement with technology being one of the main drivers of change within a sales organization.
33% of participants said they would use technology to create greater operational efficiency within their teams. An additional 16% said they would use it to scale without any additional hiring.
These are both an indicator that teams still anticipate growth and expansion, but are perhaps negating their risk by looking to do more with less. In these times of reduced budgets and extreme cost control, sales tech can produce true positive ROI rather than becoming just another cost center.
It is technologies like AI that are proven to help teams to generate more revenue. Which is likely why AI is beginning to be viewed in a positive light. Just 3.68% of respondents called AI a job killer. Moreso, over a third said that they completely believe that AI improves sales performance and 36% reported that they think it can potentially improve sales performance.
Right now, many teams do not employ AI, and therefore many salespeople have not been exposed to it. When asked if they were confident that AI would make teams more efficient and effective in the future, 48% they weren’t sure. However, 39% said it would.
In the end, although most sales teams were impacted by the COVID pandemic, the vast majority were able to successfully pivot. Organizations have found their stride in remote selling and are even positive about what’s to come. In fact, forward-looking teams have turned to AI to achieve scale and growth when the time comes.