Emerging Sales Trends: 6 Keys for a Difficult 2021

Author: Julia Nimchynska

Everyone can agree that 2020 was one of the most surprising, and confusing years for businesses of any size or industry. There’s no need to get into the complexities and unique experiences of the year, as most of us have experienced these changes together. What’s important now is figuring out how to jump ahead into 2021.  

If you managed to survive the twists and turns of 2020, you’ll know that the years ahead are going to bring their own challenges. Preparing for a transformative sales cycle and new demands from your customers is the only way to future-proof your operations.  

At Revenue Grid, we used data from more than 550 cutting-edge B2B sales teams to make our own list of the most crucial trends all companies need to be aware of as we head into 2021. Here’s your guide to what’s driving sales today and tomorrow.

1. SMS Joins the Digital Playbook

The number of touchpoints required to take your cold leads to the point of a closed deal is increasing. Before 2020’s pandemic, the average number of touches in any sales cycle was 17, now, that number has increased by 65% to a massive 26. The number of calls required to a prospect’s internal team has also almost doubled, with some sales calls taking up to 3 touchpoints to schedule.  

Even before the rise of COVID-19, the complexity of the sales cycle was a serious concern. Around 18% of deals took more than 12 months to close, and companies needed to start approaching other strategies for communication aside from in-person conversations and calls.  

Today, we’re finding that teams incorporating SMS are getting great results, reducing the number of touches required to win a sale by around 19%. SMS could be a powerful new addition to the sales journey in 2021 and beyond.

2. Planning the Right Journey is Crucial

Now that there’s more competition for call time than ever before, setting meetings isn’t as easy as it once was. We discovered that Teams that consistently begin their outreach with LinkedIn touches scheduled almost twice as many meetings. This indicates that the best sales journeys may start with LinkedIn touches.  

In 2019, around 71% of decision-makers already said that social media was an influential channel for them when making decisions about new company purchases. Starting the sales cycle with a social media experience could be an excellent way to drive faster sales.  

Our research revealed that LinkedIn>SMS> Email sales journeys perform best at delivering successful meetings, while the worst journey was Call>LinkedIn>Email. Knowing how to plan a journey that drives successful sales will be essential moving forward.

3. Use LinkedIn Before Demos

Adding social media to the beginning of your sales journey has a lot of benefits for modern sales teams. First, it offers an informal way for teams to connect with buyers without seeming pushy or aggressive. Time spent on LinkedIn with your prospects can help to build the initial connections that make progress through the sales cycle more likely. 

LinkedIn interactions can also help to reduce the amount of time spent in demo calls. You can answer common questions and provide information to your customers before the demo call, so that the interaction feels as streamlined as possible. 

Our research revealed that engaging on LinkedIn before demos helped to reduce the amount of time spent on demo calls, while increasing the conversion rates for social teams. Teams that engaged on LinkedIn before demos moved their customers to the next stage of the journey 67% more often, compared to only 49% of the time for teams using standard calling and email before a demo. 

4. Customers want extended trials more than discounts

Discounts are an excellent way for companies to appeal to clients in a difficult position right now. We found from our studies that discounts offered by B2B teams have increased by 60% since the beginning of the year, thanks to falling win rates and cut budgets. However, the most interesting finding was that longer trials seemed to be more appealing to customers than discounts when it came to increasing deal length.  

According to the annual selling report from Salesforce, the biggest concern for sales leaders right now is figuring out what customers need and predicting their future requirements. We know that great customer relationships are crucial to sales success, but discounts aren’t the only way to preserve those relationships. Offering longer trials could be an ideal alternative.

Offering longer trials creates greater feelings of trust with the buying team and gives testers more time to get accustomed to the benefits of the product. Eventually, it becomes harder for decision-makers to say no.  While discounts in our research lead to 22% more deals won per month, offering extended trials led to a 56% increase in deals won.

5. AI Step Suggestions are Valuable

Part of our research into the current sales trends also examined the kind of tools that teams are using. Examining B2B clients using opportunity scoring tools, we found that the people using AI tools that could suggest practical next steps for reps were 30% more likely to win opportunities. 

The teams reported that using AI suggestions meant that deals marked “at-risk” were less likely to rich an extremely critical condition. Once flagged, reps can use AI tools to determine what they need to do to get things back on track with an at-risk deal.  AI can speed up the deal process too. The average B2B SaaS sale now takes around 182 days to complete, compared to 160 pre-COVID. However, using guided selling tools with AI helped to drop the average deal length by 67%, to around 60 days.

AI solutions are rapidly gaining more value within the sales toolkit, providing deep-dive views of the customer journey and the needs of your clients. Artificial intelligence tools also have the benefit of becoming more valuable the more you use them. As your team continues to take advantage of disruptive technology, the benefits of your AI system will grow, with access to new information and ideas.

6. Automated Deal Coaching is Essential

One major challenge for sales leaders today, is ensuring that their employees can spend the right amount of time on actually selling to customers. Salesforce indicates that sales reps are only selling around 34% of the time. The rest of the workday goes towards things like prospecting, tracking down information, and getting guidance from supervisors. 

Efficiency and access to the right information is key in a good sales strategy. We found that salespeople are spending around 50 more minutes each day in meetings and calls, both on an external and internal level. However, the teams deploying automated deal coaching opportunities were able to reduce the duration of internal reporting and planning calls by around 27%. 

Interviews with B2B sales teams confirmed that less back-and-forth conversations between reps and sales managers helps to reduce stress and improve morale. This is crucial at a time when burnout and overworking issues are more common than ever. Use your buyer personas, CRM tools and AI technology to automate a series of “best next step” suggestions for your teams that help to usher them through the right stages in the buyer journey.

Adjusting Your Strategy for 2021

Aside from following the trends we’ve outlined above, companies are also going to need to make some significant changes to their sales processes as they head into 2021 and beyond. Perhaps the biggest challenge for 2021 will be navigating high volume communications both internally (within the business) and from a sales perspective. 

The increased level of communications in the current landscape means that traditional sales methods are no longer as effective as they once were. Sales teams need to gain better visibility over the sales pipeline and adapt to where buyers are now if they want to keep closing deals.  

To accomplish sales goals in the years ahead, companies are going to need to figure out a way of overcoming common concerns, such as struggling to keep everyone up-to-date while team members aren’t working in the same physical space. Guided selling could be the answer to many challenges.

The Benefits of Guided Selling for Sales Opportunities

As trends like the ones mentioned above continue to transform the sales experience, guided selling is quickly emerging as a new must-have solution for sales. Guided selling can empower both sales reps and managers by providing better access to contextual information. With this technology, businesses can pull valuable insights together from various internal and external data points, giving teams a dynamic map to success in the sales landscape.  

Already in 2020, companies have begun to discover the benefits of guided selling for improving pipeline visibility and enhancing customer relationships. Remember, the Salesforce annual selling report says that 86% of experts now believe that customer relationships are crucial to long-term success. With guided selling, companies can:

  • Improve pipeline visibility: Enhanced visibility into sales team activity and deal information means that employees can spend more time selling and less time reporting or searching for information. Additionally, sales leaders have more scope to quickly and easily check in on the progress of deals to find out what’s happening and what needs to occur next. Sales leaders can also make sure that sales teams are executing the right plays too.  
  • Better revenue signals: One of the most powerful features in new sales tech solutions like guided selling tools is the ability to automate coaching. The opportunity to have automated guidance in place that informs your team members on what they need to do next to succeed in a sale saves everyone time. The right guided selling solution sends revenue signals to team members that remind reps what kind of best practices are best for their current situation. Employees get the support they need with AI-enhanced insights into how to close deals. Supervisors benefit from less time dedicated to training employees, and customers get more contextual experiences relevant to their needs.  
  • Conversational intelligence: Conversational intelligence is another valuable feature that appears with the adoption of guided selling. By analyzing calls with prospects, companies can get more of an edge in the market and better understand their audience. Conversational intelligence solutions make it possible to understand the sentiment and needs of your customers in real-time. You can even guide reps to the right next step based on the intentions and needs of prospects. When keywords are detected in a conversation, an AI algorithm can automatically suggest the best solution to a customer problem.

Guided selling also opens the door to smarter, more omnichannel solutions for selling. Our research found that sales teams exploring different channels for engaging and supporting prospects generally receive the best results. By scheduling engagement sequences that go further than calls and emails, businesses can strengthen their relationships with consumers on a significant level.

As social, SMS and other channels grow more popular, the ability to schedule the right touchpoints at the right time could be essential to future sales teams.

Are You Ready for What Comes Next?  

We’re moving into a new era of sales, where customers demand deeper relationships cultivated over a host of new and expanding channels. The sales cycles of B2B consumers are growing longer and more complex, while the needs of your target audience change to suit a new landscape. Sales teams are under more pressure than ever to adapt quickly, or risk destruction.  

Fortunately, with the right tools and processes in place, you can ensure that you’re properly prepared for the new age of selling.  

Now is the time to examine the trends in your sales landscape, and invest in the technology that’s available to help you master the new marketplace.

Julia loves all things innovation, productivity, and tech. Currently, she’s helping companies increase their ROE (Return on Customer Engagement) at revenuegrid.com

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