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Sales Processes Research 2020 – Something Old, Something New


Despite the huge growth in marketing and sales automation, along with the growing popularity and acceptance of self-service sales processes, reports of the death of the salesperson are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.

Higher value B2B sales still need a competent salesperson to close the deal. But how have the processes and techniques of salespeople changed in the modern world?

This was what CRM vendors Really Simple Systems set to find out in their 2020 Sales Professionals research project.

The audience

The global survey asked salespeople from the company’s own customer base of CRM users and augmented that list using the SurveyMonkey Audience tool, as well as inviting other sales professionals to participate through social media. This resulted in 168 people completing the survey, with over half of them having more than five years’ sales experience. The respondents were spread across 35 different business sectors, of which the technology sector made up the largest group at 16%.

Adapting to COVID-19

The research highlighted the rapid change experienced in the sales environment over recent years and how salespeople have needed to revise their approach. On top of this, in the last few months, it shows how traditional sales methods have become largely outdated and ineffective. The global pandemic has shaken up the market, and technology is influencing this change.

Here we look at some of the more surprising aspects of the research and what this might mean for sales in the future.

Prospecting for new leads in 2020 – the old and the new

The survey first looked at how salespeople prospected for new leads. The most popular technique was the old stalwart email marketing with 50% of respondents saying this was their preferred tool. Next was good old-fashioned referrals and networking, and then the newcomer LinkedIn, both through personal accounts and using Sales Navigator.

Perhaps surprising was the fact that many people were still cold calling and using telemarketing. Surprising because these activities were effectively outlawed by data protection legislation, such as GDPR, which was introduced in 2018 in Europe. Old school exhibitions and seminars together with direct mail were shown to be still unexpectedly popular, together with new techniques such as influencer reviews and social media.


Further questions in the survey were related to whether and how salespeople researched their prospects before they contacted them. Unsurprisingly, 90% said they did research their prospect first, although maybe we should be surprised that 10% did not.

Most people (77%) claimed they checked the company’s website in the first instance. Then 63% checked the individual’s LinkedIn profile, with 43% going on to check their social media activity, and 42% looking at the company’s registration record.

With the popularity of LinkedIn, both in primary lead generation and for researching prospects, businesses need to make sure that their company and individual profiles are up to snuff. It seems that sales prospects will invariably check them once they are contacted.

How do people respond to a new lead?

So when do you contact a new lead? If you reach out too soon, the prospect may be annoyed, but if you reach out too late, some other vendor may have already got in first. A lot depends upon the culture of the country you are operating in. In the US, an instant response may be expected, but this is not the case in Europe. Obviously, if the prospect has called in asking for information, an instant response is needed. Less so if they have signed up for a software trial and received an automated response.

The research showed that email was the preferred response mechanism with a traditional phone call as the next most popular. Certainly, a call (if you can get through) is the better sales approach as it allows the salesperson to build rapport, ask more questions, and qualify all at once. From experience, we know that in the UK and US it can be hard to get through to the prospect, but in Australia that’s not the case. The next question in the survey covered that point.

How persistently do salespeople follow up?

The number of times a salesperson will attempt to create conversation with the prospect depends upon various factors. It was no surprise that the value of the sale was of key importance, with the higher the value prompting greater resolve. However, other factors such as how many other – and possibly better – prospects they have may also have an influence.

Three attempts to call seemed to be the norm, but many people said they continued for more than six times.

What’s the best sales follow up?

This survey was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020 and shows that 38% preferred to follow up with a video call, as opposed to 46% face-to-face. Will that change when the pandemic is over? Probably, but having become used to video calls it is likely they will still be popular in the future. Meanwhile, email follow up is still the favored method, with 60% of salespeople preferring it.

A CRM system is best for managing leads

The research found that most people (63%) use a CRM system to manage their leads. However, a surprising 45% say that they are still using spreadsheets and/or other manual methods. Twenty percent of people were also using lead scoring.

As all the above add up to more than 100%, we can assume that many people are using a combination of these methods. That still leaves 37% not using a CRM system. This implies that a lot of businesses are not managing their leads in the most effective way, so they could be missing sales.

Sales survey summary and conclusions

The key takeaways from this research:

  • LinkedIn has grown to be a major tool for salespeople
  • Email still holds its own as the favorite communication method for both lead generation and follow-up
  • Video conferencing takes off for prospect meetings
  • Many businesses are still to adopt CRM software
  • Data protection legislations, such as GDPR, on cold calling and emailing are being ignored

With all these surprising facts, there is no doubt that we need to survey salespeople more often in order to find patterns that will help us improve sales tactics. If you’ve found this research helpful, share it with your colleagues to empower the greater sales community.

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