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December 14, 2021

The Top Five Sales Lessons of 2021

If the B2B sales cycle is a marathon, Q4 is the final half-mile.

It’s a time of triumph, defeat and resiliency — and when you’re in the middle of this race, it’s difficult to find time to reflect.

And we’re still there.

Even as you read this, you’re likely trying to secure a few key signatures or deliver your 2022 plan for quotas, compensation and territories before the holidays set in.

I’m certainly no exception, but it does feel like we're coming to the finish line at last.

As we get ready for what I hope will be a restorative holiday season for everyone, I took the time to reflect and distill the rollercoaster that was B2B sales in 2021 into five key takeaways.

Sales Professionals Face a Perception Problem

Good pay, plenty of opportunities … and no takers. The crux of the issue is this:

When recent college grads think of sales, they do not see a confident and consultative professional there to solve intriguing problems and deliver impactful value.

They see everyone’s worst nightmare of a sleazy salesman. Of course, these perceptions aren’t accurate — especially in the era when most companies are laser-focused on embracing buyer-first philosophies — but they are persistent.

To put the professional back in sales pro, sellers must harness the power of authenticity. For my full take on the solution, check out this article in Forbes.

Top Performers Share Common Habits

Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that some sales teams had a serious leg up on the competition. What set them apart?

Well documented processes, consistency and the discipline to stick with it — and that discipline created something even more powerful: habit.

When we surveyed more than 150 B2B senior sales leaders, we found that the rainmakers shared seven habits:

  1. Communicate Value
  2. Ask Questions and Actively Listen
  3. Practice Empathy
  4. Use a Sales Methodology
  5. Build a High-caliber Pipeline
  6. Stay Open to Coaching and Development
  7. Deal with Adversity

For a deeper understanding of these key traits and a guide to instilling them across your sales force, check out our ebook: 7 Actionable Habits of Top Performers.

Salespeople Need More Opportunities for Growth

Sales turnover has exploded in Q4 — it’s up 39% in the last three months (via LinkedIn), and CSOs are reporting a 36% higher than target seller attrition rate (via Gartner). Yikes!

Many factors are at play here, but the common denominators are employee experience and development. Top performers and early-career sellers are consistently seeking out opportunities to grow their careers.

When you invest in high-quality sales training and coaching, you demonstrate your commitment to helping these individuals succeed. In 2020, high-revenue growth companies that invested in sales training saw employee satisfaction, motivation and retention increase.

Sales Training Helps Companies Navigate Crisis

It’s no secret that 2020 rocked many sales orgs to their very core. Some businesses were forced to close, others survived but reported their worst year in the last five — yet, others flourished.

Did sales training play a role, and if so, what exactly were the results?

We surveyed 256 sales leaders and L&D decision-makers, and the results showed that sales training played a pivotal role in the areas of:

  • Employee Satisfaction: When you help sellers reach that next level of success, job satisfaction follows.
  • Employee Motivation: High-quality sales training creates an environment where sales professionals challenge and motivate one another.
  • Employee Retention: B2B rep turnover is a costly affair — invest in your people, and they’ll stay. 
  • Sales Results: Not surprisingly, this was the number one benefit listed.
  • Company Culture: Give all customer-facing roles a shared language and framework to create a truly customer-focused culture. 
  • Agility of The Enterprise: Effective sales training helped reps adapt to new selling situations with confidence. 

Get the full story in our ebook: How High-growth Sales Organizations Respond to Crisis.

Measure What Matters

Every stage of the sales cycle is an opportunity for sales professionals to establish and build credibility, trust and rapport with customers — the skills that our recent research identified as critical to closing deals in a virtual environment.

And while many sales leaders agree, their measurement programs tell a different story. While 98% of respondents were doing some measurement, only 25% were directly tracking sales behaviors.

That’s one significant disconnect.

The reality is despite our best efforts to stay objective, coaching reports are influenced by supervisor-rep dynamics, and even the most accurate reports are based on limited data.

To ensure your sales measurement practices reveal the whole recipe for high numbers, check out my latest in LinkedIn.

While 2020 took us all by surprise, 2021 was everything but predictable. As you plan to re-energize your efforts for 2022, I recommend that you come up with your own list of the top five lessons you’ve learned this year.

Then, create an actionable plan for applying those lessons to your future success — and don’t forget a robust plan for measurement. At the end of the day, you cannot improve what you do not measure.

Wishing you happiness, health and prosperity in 2022, 

Julie