As 2023 nears, there’s no denying it’s a tough sales climate out there. Strong economic headwinds, not just here in the UK but worldwide, are making it harder than ever to land that sale. Anxious to make sure that every pound is spent well and wisely, business leaders scrutinise every line item as they seek to cut superfluous spending and justify every purchase.
But this sort of climate does come with a dose of opportunity. Now is the time for the switched-on seller to build a trusted partner relationship with their buyer. By working alongside their customers, sales professionals can demonstrate how they reduce risk and develop solutions that help their customers outperform the market. It’s time to build a sales proposition that moves the buy/sell relationship away from cost and towards investment.
For this to happen, sales professionals need to understand the particular conditions and trends the current economic climate is creating. Then, they need to develop strategies, not only to react to those immediate conditions, but that also strengthen their relationships with customers in a future beyond the current economic challenges.
LinkedIn Sales Solutions has revealed five big ideas for 2023 that are going to be central to successful sales strategies, whatever the economic weather.
The great rationalisation
‘Lean productivity’ are the watchwords for 2023. Business leaders are keen to demonstrate that the investments they made during the pandemic are still delivering value for money, but many want to go further. Despite encouragement from many quarters to continue investing, even during a recession, budget holders will be looking closely for any costs to cut.
As a result, the onus is on the seller to demonstrate value for money and make good on projections about how their particular product or service will deliver return on investment. LinkedIn’s own research, Global State of Sales 2022, found that top performing salespeople , or those who exceeded their sales targets by 50% or more, were far more likely to focus on their buyer’s needs (72%), compared to just 40% of those who only met their targets.
It’s also likely that any potential deals will see even greater involvement from top leadership. The accepted fact that any business purchase sees multiple stakeholders involved in the process will be adjusted to include these more senior voices. There is also greater potential to ‘fall at the first hurdle’ as senior leadership involvement earlier on in the purchase journey will make new deals more challenging to close.
“In 2023, strategic sales leaders will leverage intelligence on buyer intent to efficiently prioritise their work and optimise for success…Macroeconomic uncertainty has exacerbated the situation. Organisations are approaching purchasing decisions with more scrutiny,” says Nicole Desjardins, head of product and solutions marketing at LinkedIn.
There will also be increased scrutiny over long-term commitments, and multi-year investments will attract particularly strong attention given uncertainty over medium-term economic health. But, this is also an opportunity. Companies that have proven themselves easy and transparent to do business with will find themselves first in line for new contracts as they introduce a welcome element of certainty.
Understand the long game
According to the LinkedIn B2B Institute, 95% of B2B buyers are not in-market at any given time. Therefore, it’s highly unsurprising that the most common response to first contact that pushes product is ‘no thanks’ or ‘not just now.’ Given straitened economic times, that is only going to increase as those who might normally be in-market become even more cautious about large spending commitments.
Sales-led organisations will therefore have to rethink their KPIs and understand what behaviours are more likely to shift the needle. Instead of focusing on weekly or even monthly sales targets as a determinant of success, sales leaders should be integrating measures such as relationship-building targets into their KPIs.
“Relationship building will become a key performance indicator for sales organisations. Most sales professionals will likely hear more ‘nos’ and ‘not right nows.’ This will result in more stakeholders involved in making decisions, potentially making B2B sales cycles even longer,” Grace Kerrison head of sales solutions – APAC at Linkedin, says.
Finding moments of connection with potential customers that aren’t primarily dependent on closing a sale will be much more important at the top of the funnel, building warm connections through other value-added activities. Indeed, LinkedIn’s research suggests that pure cold calling is on its way out, with only 34% of UK salespeople still using it as a tactic.
Warm contacts might include flagging thought leadership, offering help, building networks and so on; activities that bring the buyer and seller closer together but that aren’t transactional in nature. But there must be an implicit understanding that this is a long-term strategy, and that monetary ROI may still be several months down the line.
Build on buyer intent
Crucial to creating those long-term relationships is understanding buyer intent. Not only does it help sales organisations understand who is and isn’t in-market, as above, but what will be the most effective opportunities. Conducting research into buyer intent is a proven way to outperform the competition, with more than three-quarters (82%) of the UK’s top performing salespeople saying they always perform research before reaching out to prospects, according to LinkedIn’s report.
At LinkedIn, this is referred to as a ‘deep sales’ strategy. By delving into high quality first-party data on companies, their buyers and their relationships, all sourced from LinkedIn’s more than 875 million members and two billion interactions, sellers can access insights in real-time that allow them to understand buyer intent on a person-by-person basis. Accurate data is critical, as 45% of sellers say in the Global State of Sales report, their biggest challenge is incomplete information. With the full picture at their fingertips, it makes outreach much more accurate, responding directly to buyer signals that mean connections are welcomed, rather than ignored.
Drop unwelcome outreach
The reverse of course is true and reveals why so much outreach is ignored as irrelevant or annoying spam. The assumption that an inaccurate or unwanted connection is simply the acceptable excess waste from a generic outreach programme is not just wrong, it’s potentially dangerous to future success.
Executive attention and resources are stretched to the limit; while many are noticing an uptick in antipathy toward cold outreach. When they receive communications that breezily fail to acknowledge their particular set of circumstances, it isn’t just the wrong message at the wrong time, it’s now downright annoying and an example of poor judgement on the part of the seller. That leaves a lingering bad taste, likely to resurface even when the time for purchase is eventually right. There’s never been more pressure to get it right first time, every time.
Vice-president of marketing at LinkedIn, Gail Moody-Byrd, says: “2023 will be the year that over-zealous sales outreach isn’t just considered an annoyance anymore. Instead it’ll now be a net negative; it’ll destroy brand equity and it will make it less likely that buyers will want to do business with you.”
Equip teams for the future
Many organisations and employees also note that the pressures placed on sales is forcing them to deprioritise training and skills development. By refocusing the sales organisation on different KPIs including relationship-building, building a much longer-term cycle that accommodates warm outreach and using data tools to support more effective sales planning, there will be more capacity to upskill staff.
James Burnette, vice-president of global accounts at LinkedIn, says: “Leaders and sales organisations that prioritise skill development for their people, leaning in to building a learning culture and enrichment. Having career conversations. These are the orgs that are going to keep their people motivated in tough economic times, but also keep them engaged and maybe more importantly, position their reps to be the ones to have the fastest recovery when demand returns back to the market”
Not only do highly skilled staff perform better for the business overall, but this leads to higher motivation during challenging times. That means building future-ready businesses with engaged employees who are less likely to move on to pastures new.
To find out more, please visit LinkedIn Sales Solutions