We are almost afraid to say it out aloud, but things seem to be looking up in the world of selling. Sentiment is up, sharply. A large percentage of our respondents expect to beat the estimates they set at the beginning of the year. Outbound conversion rates are holding. This is where we collectively cross our fingers, touch some wood, and nail a horseshoe above the door.

Download the infographic with the full survey results here. 

Our sentiment measures, which we have consistently tracked since June 2020, have finally crossed 70%. Respondents are beginning to think that the business environment has finally stabilized.

A look at the trend since June of 2020 shows that the skittishness we observed in March has mostly faded, notwithstanding the current conversation around whether or not we will see a lasting increase in the rate of inflation.

Q2 Expectations

This optimism carries over into how Q2 is trending, with 53% of respondents projecting that they will do significantly better than they forecasted at the beginning of the year. Our experience is that sellers are never more anxious than toward the end of a quarter, which makes this optimism especially noteworthy.

Market Access

Underpinning all this optimism is success at – finally – getting customers to make purchase decisions they have been putting off. To that end, we wanted to look at outbound sales activities. No surprise, we see a considerable increase in outbound volume. Gratifyingly, we also see that conversion rates appear to be holding up. Given that nothing begets activity like success, we would expect the volume to increase until buyers react negatively to the outreach.

Sales organizations everywhere are only too aware of the need to stay ahead of any negative customer reactions. We see a lot of activity aimed at making sure that messages are relevant and timely.

A few trends stand out:

1. Sales organizations are sharply focused on getting the messaging right. Ideally, you start with a bang, then reel them in. We can’t all aim for Hemingway levels of concise and emotionally charged perfection such as his shortest story ever written: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn.”, but sales organizations everywhere appear to be working hard at creating new, engaging content.

In the words of one sales leader: “Our messaging has changed to align with the current struggles our customers are facing. We are also talking about protecting them into the unknown future which catches more attention now than prior to COVID”.

2. Sellers are broadening their outreach and working to give users and evaluators reasons to make a purchase. Buyers, as we know, often look to peers and colleagues before making decisions and so it’s important to have engaged the entire purchasing group:

3. We see many sales organizations beginning to ask for in-person meetings. These have a mixed record, but we are firm believers that there is little you can do that is more salient than meeting somebody live and delivering a well-tailored piece of insight. We would encourage sellers to selectively look for live meetings if they are in a position to do so safely. The flip-side of this is the relative lack of success reported around online conferences. For all the effort that has gone into this space, and the rise to prominence of platforms such as Hopin, it doesn’t look as though anyone has successfully cracked this code.

4. A good number of companies (about 60% to 70%) are investing heavily in SEO and in outbound prospecting tools like Outreach and Salesloft. They also seem to be getting better than average returns from it. But this is likely connected to the quality of their messages. SEO is only as good as the site and the digital content it leads to and Outbound cadences are only as effective as the content being shared.

5. Executives are leaning in to selectively use their contacts and influence to book meetings. This is a tried-and-tested approach that can be very time-consuming, but we see a well-run executive sponsorship program working well for many sales organizations. This is especially true if the executive can supply a more informed perspective on what they see in the market.

6. Conversely, respondents report limited success in offering prospects incentives or promotions. Even the very best bottle of wine might not be enough to tempt somebody to take a call in the absence of a compelling message. That said, Challenger’s research team really enjoys a good bottle of Chablis 😊.

Summary

 We see a lot of optimism among sellers. Long may it last.

We also see a lot of inventiveness around market access. Organizations everywhere are doing their best to tweak their messages and to identify how to manage interactions with a larger number of individuals who might be involved in the purchase.

Spencer Wixom & Timur Hicyilmaz

Spencer is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Challenger, and has helped transform sales and marketing teams in some of the biggest and best companies in the world.

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.