For some time, there have been signs pointing to a shift in the sales industry. While it’s not immediately clear if this is just a cosmetic change or something more fundamental, our comprehensive sales statistics can help you figure it out. We cover aspects critical to the selling of products and services across various industries and channels. The aim is to enable business owners and sales executives to examine how well they are keeping up with the ongoing transformation in 2020.
We have divided these statistics into topics ranging from prospecting, cold calling, and conversion to factors that have become important in recent years, such as social selling and customer relationship management. Considering that one of the running themes in these statistics is the need to focus on the customer, we also have a section on buyers’ opinions and expectations. The final section covers relevant stats on sales agent performance and training.
The other important priorities include improving sales funnel efficiency (48%), reducing sales cycles (32%), social selling (28%), staff training (27%), sales tech investment (23%), sales enablement (16%), and CRM investment (13%). While closing more deals has remained a top priority for a long time, increasing importance is being given to aspects like tech, social selling, and investment in customer relationship management.
Reasons for this could include buyers’ perception of a slowing economy and difficulty in aligning the schedules of multiple stakeholders involved in buying decisions. According to prospecting stats, the other top challenges include maintaining a consistent cadence across multiple channels and reaching the right stakeholder. The top challenge from 2018 — creating a targeted prospecting strategy — does not feature in the 2019 list probably because sales reps now have plenty of tools to devise a strategy. The problem is delivering results with these tools.
71.4% of the respondents in the survey said that 50% or fewer of their initial prospects turn out to be a good fit. The time wasted in pursuing those can be saved by investing in avenues indicated by business sales statistics below, including customer relationship management technology and social selling. While 100% fit is nearly impossible for any product category, doing some background work before going after prospects can help improve the current rates.
More than 60% of salespeople also believe that selling is getting tougher than before. While a variety of reasons like changing consumer expectations and growing competition are in part responsible for this, experts also indicate a prudent use of sales technology can make all the difference in today’s environment.
So, how much time do sales reps spend selling? Studies suggest that sales reps working inside spend about 35.2% of their time on selling-related functions. The figure is marginally better for field reps, who spend 3.1% more time selling. Today’s salespeople spend the majority of their time on tasks such as data entry, internal meetings, handling product issues, and the like.
That sounds downright criminal. Fewer than one-fourth of sales reps manage their time to invest it better in activities that contribute to selling. It’s no wonder then that only 17.9% of their time is spent in customer relationship management, which sales follow up statistics show is essential for tracking leads and guiding them towards a sale. Activities responsible for this “effectiveness drain” include administrative tasks, catching up with colleagues, and even checking Facebook.
The good news is that the overall use of technology in sales has shown a marked increase over the last two years. There are other stats that corroborate this. 62% use collaboration tools like Box and Microsoft Office, 59% take advantage of networking platforms, and 40% use enterprise communication tools, with the corresponding 2017 figures being 6%, 5%, and 8%, respectively.
While customer service has risen in importance for buyers, pricing still remains a crucial factor that can keep deals from closing. For 31% of sales professionals, having to compete with lower-priced rivals is the biggest challenge to closing. Other challenges include creating competitive differentiation (26%), consistency in executing team meetings with prospects (26%), adding value to customer conversations (22%), maintaining profitability (17%), building trust (16%), and securing appointments (14%).
This means that, on average, about 19% of deals in the pipeline over a given period get converted into closed deals. What is a good closing percentage in sales? This depends on your industry’s average, which varies quite a bit. For instance, the average close rate in industrials is about 27%, while in the biotechnology sector, it stands at 15%. Anything above the average figure would qualify as a good percentage for your specific business.
While sales reps are trained to slip in certain words into their pitch to subtly attract customers, research shows that many of these words actually have an adverse effect on closing rates. Other such commonly used words and phrases, along with the corresponding drop in closing rates, are “let me show you how” (13%), “contract” (7%), and “free trial” (5%). Sales call statistics also show that using one’s company name more than four times in a conversation corresponds to a 14% fall in closing rates.
Certain words meanwhile help build trust and make the buyer feel that the salesperson is interested in mutual benefit. These include the use of collaborative words like “we,” “us,” and “our”. Salespeople who are successful at closing deals are ten times more likely to use such collaborative words during conversations with potential buyers. Asking “How are you?” increases the likelihood of booking a meeting by 3.4X.
And how many contacts to make a sale? That depends on the value you can offer your customers. Top performers have better targeting, messaging, and value offering, which can convert prospects into qualified leads or outright sales faster. It’s all about knowing what your customer is looking for and delivering it better than others.
Referrals often come with the initial information sharing already completed, which gives them an edge in conversion. The second most effective source are leads generated directly by sales teams, followed by leads from marketing. The relative importance of these sources, however, varies depending on the position in the organizational hierarchy. While referrals are at the top for CXOs and VPs and Directors, as per referral statistics, sales team members at manager and lower levels find direct sourcing a lot more effective.
This low figure is even more striking given the fact that more than 80% of consumers are actually willing to provide referrals. They just don’t do it because salespeople don’t ask them to. Referrals from satisfied customers are low-hanging fruit that far too many salespeople ignore. As mentioned, referrals have a particularly high rate of conversion, with a report by Harvard Business Review suggesting that 84% of buyers start their buying process from a referral, and 90% of all buying decisions rely on peer recommendations.
While cold calling isn’t dead, its role in getting leads that actually convert has grown less prominent. A classic study from Kenan-Flagler Business School found that cold calling has a success rate of just 2.5%. Background research or tools like social selling are therefore essential to ensure that the cold calling is not completely random.
In combination with the previous stat, this shows why sales teams do not rely too much on cold calling techniques anymore. Calling to acquire leads needs to evolve to keep up with consumer expectations. According to another set of sales statistics, cold calling is still preferred by 49% of buyers as the first point of contact. Yet, it seems that sales reps fail to provide what these buyers expect.
Buyers seem to prefer being contacted by email. Conventional cold calling modes like phone calls and voicemail come relatively lower in buyer preferences. This is an obvious indication of a mismatch between the preferred mode of initial communication between buyers and sellers.
If it takes eight calls just to reach a prospect, the answer to the question, “How many calls does it take to make a sale?” would easily run into the upper teens. Statistics show that this number averaged 3.68 in 2007. One reason for this change could simply be that most users now are less likely to answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize. Plus, many sales reps still rely on impersonal voicemails, which don’t work in the age of high customer experience expectations.
Too many phone calls in a day mean that sales reps are not having meaningful conversations. On the other hand, much fewer phone calls likely mean the sales rep is spending more time researching than actually selling. Then, how many calls should a salesperson make a day? 60 sales calls or 3 hours of talk time seems to be the winning formula, but what really matters is the quality of conversation.
Another good slot is between 11 am and 12 noon. Apparently, people are at their most productive during these times, making them more receptive to cold call attempts from sales reps. The worst time to contact prospects is on Fridays between 1 and 3 pm.
Outside sales reps are engaged in face-to-face selling, including what is known as direct sales, while inside salespeople generally sell remotely. Statistics show that this clear demarcation has been gradually disappearing, with outside sales reps spending nearly half their time selling remotely. While outside sales reps usually work for large organizations, with more companies adopting an inside or hybrid sales model, the division is expected to move to 50/50 even for such companies.
This preference is partly driven by technology, with enough channels available now for long-distance communication. As a result, inside sales are seeing a much faster growth compared to outside sales, with one outside salesperson hired for every ten inside salespeople brought into the organization. That said, both inside and outside sales have their respective benefits, meaning that a collaboration between the two teams is the best for the organization.
They also sent 8.8% more emails and focused more on social media, with 49% more touches than outside sales reps. Companies with teams predominantly engaged in inside selling, which should not be confused with telemarketing, also have a 9.8% higher quota attainment rate than companies dominated by outside sales reps. Companies with a majority of outside sales reps, however, have a 30.2% higher close rate. They also close 130.2% bigger deals on average.
One of the most prominent segments of outside sales, door-to-door selling was written off in 2011 and named as one of the top ten dead or dying career paths. Surprisingly, door to door sales have actually registered growth since, with a $7.7 billion increase in value between 2009 and 2017. The inherent characteristics of such selling, coupled with technological changes, have meant that door-to-door selling remains relevant.
This is compared to 41% of average-performing sales professionals who say the same. Data shows that sales and marketing teams are working more closely than they have in recent years, with benefits accruing to the organization. Sales pipeline statistics further suggest that top sales professionals are 13% more likely than their peers to work closely or very closely with advertising specialists to develop leads. On the whole, 44% of sales professionals say they work closely or very closely with marketing teams, which marks a 35% increase since 2016.
While many sales and marketing teams seem keen to work closely and share information, there is in fact a misalignment, with 21% of sales professionals finding little or no overlap in the data used by the two teams. This contributes to the quality of leads received by the salesforce from the marketing department. Only 22% of sales professionals say that leads received from marketing are excellent, while 42% see them as good.
The coordination between sales and digital marketing experts is important not just for lead generation but also for brand perception. 48% of decision-makers also say that they often or always get different messages from sales and marketing when learning about a solution.
All these benefits come from the various features of standard applications, such as sales enablement tools, process automation, detailed reporting, and built-in project management capabilities. They allow salespeople to nurture leads better by engaging them through more focused efforts. These tools also make it much easier to divide one’s time across the most important activities and track the movement of leads through the sales funnel.
Sales success depends on two factors: how many touch points before a sale the rep takes the lead through, and how good the quality of each touchpoint is. CRMs allow salespeople to both increase the number of touchpoints with a lead, and improve the quality of the existing touchpoints. Moreover, when a large number of tedious tasks are automated, sales executives are bound to find more time to devise strategies that actually result in lead conversions.
CRM software significantly improve the quality of interaction between salespeople and existing customers. This helps in retaining more customers for repeat sales. Customer retention is more critical than many businesses realize, with sales success statistics showing that just a 5% rise in retention boosts profits by 75%.
There are encouraging signs that a growing number of salespersons have already understood the benefits of using customer relationship management technology to drive lead conversion. More than 90% of companies in North America reportedly use such systems, with close to 65% rating this technology as impactful or very impactful for growing business. It is not surprising then that the market for such platforms is the fastest-growing software segment today, predicted to reach $35 billion in value by 2023.
The use of social networking platforms to develop and nurture leads has caught on among sales reps across industries. Over 60% of sales teams believe that social selling allows them to foster stronger relations with customers. Relationships meanwhile are one of the key factors for sales success.
The move toward social selling is not just a fad. Online sales statistics consistently show that social networking platforms are a great venue for quality leads as well as building relationships. The same statistics also show that 72% of agents are not proficient in social selling, while 69% say that they have not received any training for it.
LinkedIn has been widely recognized for its utility in building business contacts and helping sales teams connect with decision-makers. The platform is particularly useful in B2B sales. The corresponding scores for other platforms are 64% for Facebook, 43% for Twitter, 41% for YouTube, and 39% for Instagram.
It helps tremendously to be well informed when making sales calls. With the first call, buyers prefer to not waste time but get knowledgeable answers to the most critical questions. 54% of buyers like to discuss how the product works, followed by what their company is trying to achieve with the purchase (47%) and information on how similar organizations use the same product successfully (44%).
The brand represented by a salesperson signals the quality of product and service the buyer can expect. Brand importance has surged by 37% since 2017, becoming the number one criterion. Other major influencing factors include specific information relevant to their current job (47%), mentioning the sales professional’s company and product solutions (41%), referencing a colleague they both know (39%), and being charismatic (32%).
Customer service statistics show that consumers are increasingly inclining toward transactions that involve an emotional connection or a relationship. The fundamental aspect of great customer service is that the sales representatives of a business understand the needs of the buyer and try their best to fulfill them, instead of simply dumping any product for the sake of revenue generation.
70% of decision-makers also place the company website in their top two considerations when making a purchase decision. A well-designed, easy-to-navigate, informative website is critical for your marketing efforts, as well as for the success of your sales team. As per sales stats in 2019, other marketing assets that matter to buyers are events (28%), videos (10%), webinars (8%), blogs (6%), and eBooks (5%).
61% of buyers also say that interaction with salespeople can be improved if the latter are not pushy. Another set of HubSpot stats meanwhile argues that pushy sales tactics deter 84% of buyers. Other positive traits for salespeople include sourcing relevant information, responding in a timely manner, providing options before the initial offer, showing genuine care, and detailing how their products can help the buyer.
Salesforce statistics show that sales representatives who are interested only in selling are not going to be successful in establishing long-term relationships with customers. Today’s consumers expect sales reps to be caring and knowledgeable people who can offer advice to deliver true value to the customer.
This is another clear indication that trustworthiness is the best way for a salesperson to achieve targets. Building trust, of course, takes time and effort. The other factors decision-makers look for in salespeople are responsiveness (42%), field expertise (42%), problem-solving (37%), and transparency (34%).
Sales facts show no disconnect between buyers and salespeople in this regard. With consumer skepticism on the rise, sales professionals seem well aware that before they sell, they need to establish trust with the buyer. The same study shows that 40% of sales professionals rank trust as the most important contributor to closing a deal, even above ROI of the product or service (28%) and price (18%). 24% of sales professionals rank trust in the second position.
As expected, millennials in sales teams show a greater affinity for new technologies. The corresponding figure for salespeople from Gen X and Baby Boomers is 56%. Sales agent stats show that this willingness to try out new strategies mirrors the figures for top-performing executives, who also utilize the benefits of technology to close more deals than their peers.
This trust in the benefits of customer relationship management among millennials is markedly higher compared to Gen X and Baby Boomers, 18% and 9% of whom, respectively, consider these tools critical to success. Similarly, 30% of millennials also think sales intelligence solutions are extremely critical, compared to 22% of Gen X and 7% of Baby Boomers.
Sales stats show that millennial sales pros are more willing to break convention. This includes building a close relationship with the marketing team in their organizations. Gen X salespeople meanwhile are 23% less likely than millennials to work with marketing. In keeping with this tight-knit relationship, millennials say they see excellent leads from marketing at 56% higher rates than Gen X salespeople and 115% higher rates than Baby Boomers.
The positive result of greater use of sales technology and closer relations with marketing is clearly showing. While sales conversion rate statistics show that 19% of millennial sales executives exceeded their 2017 revenue targets by more than 50%, the figure for Gen X and Baby Boomers was 13%. Similarly, while 54% of millennials exceeded their 2017 targets by over 25%, the figures for Gen X and Baby Boomers were 36% and 41%, respectively.
That’s a strikingly low figure for a job that requires the drive to keep trying to sell to new people in the face of regular disappointments. With 47.1% rating their job as just good, it also appears that most salespeople don’t like their jobs. The takeaway for companies is that the whole “What are good sales numbers?” question should be accompanied by a question about the motivation of their salespeople.
One of the possible ways to keep your sales executives motivated, it appears, is to allow them to do what they were mainly hired for — selling. Instead of burying them under administrative workload, letting them focus on sales activity is one way to improve their job satisfaction. The same study also shows that company culture and management effectiveness matter more to salespeople than the base compensation. According to sales statistics, commission, job flexibility, and job role are all important but come lower on the list.
Better sales performance comes from understanding the buyer’s challenges, not from focusing on one’s own pitching. Top performers also ask for a lot more referrals, surf the web less and drive to many more meetings, tend to spend more hours per day on actual sales activities, and report more often being seen as experts in their field.
Many of these salespeople didn’t undergo any formal sales training before they began working. Sales training statistics from the same study also show that while 24% of salespeople have a background in business studies, 17% didn’t attend college. Salespeople pick up the tricks of the trade from various sources, such as peers, seniors, books, training programs, etc. This means that businesses should invest in formal training programs for a more focused experience.
The sales industry does seem to be going through fundamental changes. For one, aggressive sales pitches are giving way to the need for developing a deep understanding of the buyer. These sales statistics also confirm that technology has a dual role in this environment. While it could be considered one of the drivers of changing buyer expectations, technology is also how the most successful sales teams will outperform their peers.