As Stanford economist Paul Romer said in 2004, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” A few years later, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel borrowed that phrase, causing people to think it was his own. But he also added, “what I mean by that (is) that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
Neither Romer or Emanuel were speaking of sales, nor were they prescient enough to predict a crisis of the magnitude of 2020’s pandemic. But based on the data collected in the State of Global Enterprise Sales Performance report, their take on the great opportunity present in crisis is one they share with sales professionals.
Our survey of over 2,000 revenue leaders in the U.S, Canada, UK, France, and Germany reveals that 2020 forced changes on sales organizations. That came with no small amount of stress, but the data shows the experience also promises to make sales stronger and smarter in 2021.
For example, artificial intelligence (AI) was gaining acceptance before the pandemic but made a major jump in the pandemic year. The survey showed that 41 percent agree that AI should be part of any high-performing sales team; the same survey found that 39 percent of sellers thought AI was overhyped in its early years but began to show real value for sales organizations in the past 12 months.
While only 31 percent of companies say they were prepared to go remote when the pandemic-induced shutdown was ordered, with a full suite of technologies and tools in place, the switch to doing business from home paid some dividends. 46 percent of respondents said sales effectiveness is higher now than at the start of the pandemic (vs. 32 percent who say it is lower). Flexibility on employee location and the option to take meetings on video were the top two trends sellers wanted to see continue after the pandemic. And 52 percent of sales professionals said the pandemic had motivated them to work harder.
There were also some negatives. It wasn’t your imagination; selling conditions did indeed become harder during the pandemic. Some conditions were predictable - 56 percent of respondents said that sales cycles were longer than they had been before the pandemic, and half the respondents said forecasting became more difficult. Other conditions were less predictable; 58 percent of organizations saw a higher rate of voluntary sales churn, but 60 percent said they also exited people at a higher rate than in years past.
The data from 2020 shows that sales professionals endured more and evolved more at the same time. As we come out of the pandemic, has your organization learned its lessons, made changes to become smarter and more agile, or are you allowing a good crisis go to waste?
To see how your organization stacked up, see the entire State of Global Enterprise Sales Performance report.