Introduction to The State of Conversational Sales

The rate of digital transformation has accelerated greatly in the last year, sped, in large part by the pandemic. And, according to McKinsey, this rapid digital transformation has both amplified the challenges and exposed “the weaknesses in existing sales models and gaps in digital readiness.”

Sellers are left with more channels to cover and interactions to manage and buyers are often left to “choose their own adventure.” In fact, research from Gartner shows that today’s B2B buyers spend only 17% of their time talking directly to sales. While the majority of their time is instead spent everywhere else in the buyer’s journey. With nearly limitless access to content and resources online, buyers can find whatever information they need right at their fingertips. And this control further solidifies the buyer’s place in the driver’s seat.

But that control comes at a cost. And choosing your own adventure can have its risks. Because while buyers may have greater access and influence in the buying journey, they are also spending up to 15% of their time simply prioritizing and reconciling the information they’ve gathered.

Buyers rarely lack information. But they do lack the means to surface the right information faster. And now, more than ever, sales teams need to affirm buyers’ decisions and guide them towards their desired outcomes in meaningful, helpful ways.

But how can sales teams both enable their buyers and accelerate the conversion to revenue?

With the power of Conversational Sales. From buyer enablement to revenue acceleration, in this digital age, sales need to do more than sell. To find success, they must lead.

New research from Drift, Sales Benchmark Index (SBI), and Heinz Marketing explores the digital transformation of sales and the impacts of Conversational Selling on sales productivity, effectiveness, and revenue.

Methodology

To understand the state of Conversational Sales in B2B, Drift, SBI, and Heinz Marketing conducted a survey in Q4 2020. The following data comes from 254 B2B sales professionals across multiple experience levels, company sizes, and industries.

Respondent Breakdown

state of conversational sales respondents

Key Findings

1. Sales teams are busy, but not necessarily productive as they attempt to sell to unqualified buyers.

As sales teams continue to respond to the changes brought by digital transformation, the need for better buyer data to enable prioritization and segmentation, inform strategies, justify actions, and direct approaches also continues to grow.

Unfortunately, data remains a persistent challenge for B2B sellers – a gap that is only widened as more buyers engage through hard-to-manage, nontraditional digital and self-service channels. And in turn, it creates situations where sales teams may be busy, but not necessarily productive as they attempt to sell to unqualified buyers.

On the one hand:

  • 70% of sellers report they very frequently spend their time prospecting and qualifying net new buyers.
  • 57% of sellers very frequently meet with their existing customers to both ensure that the customer is satisfied with their service and to attempt to upsell or renew.

But on the other hand:

  • Only 47% of all B2B sales respondents report that they very frequently meet with qualified net new buyers.
  • 10% of sellers don’t frequently meet with qualified net new buyers at all.
  • 76% of sellers frequently spend their time meeting with – specifically – unqualified net new buyers.

And when it comes to frustrations around data:

  • 43% of sellers are frustrated by being unable to quickly or accurately find or interact with enough qualified buyers.
  • And 47% of sellers are frustrated by their lack of predictive analytics to help them be more proactive and productive when planning their sales strategies.

Data drives productive selling. Without it, sales largely becomes a guessing game – as even the most skilled salespeople are left with little information to direct how they should proceed. But with the right data – in the right hands – skilled sales teams are given the insights they need to book more qualified meetings, engage target accounts, and win more business – faster.

2. Poor data and processes hurt both buyers and sellers.

Data impacts everything. And while great buyer data can inform valuable, revenue-driving strategies, poor buyer data does the opposite – hindering sales’ ability to sell to qualified buyers and, ultimately, accelerate revenue.

  • 48% of sellers – and 71% of self-identified unproductive sellers – say their biggest frustration with their current sales process is having limited or siloed data about their buyers to inform their sales strategies.

But it’s not just sales teams who feel these effects. Buyers are impacted too.

  • 47% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most by a lack of relevant or personalized website experiences, content, resources, or information to support their needs.
  • 42% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most when they have to repeat the same information to multiple team members.
  • And 41% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most when they’re asked to schedule a meeting before they’re ready to have one.

When salespeople lack data about their buyers – and when buyers are met with unnecessary roadblocks in their buying journey – it damages the entire relationship between the buyer and the seller.

Therefore, The State of Conversational Sales finds that for sales to succeed in revenue acceleration and creating long-term loyal customers, they must possess the data and processes to better enable their buyers – removing friction from and adding clarity to the customer experience.

3. A lack of automation and self-service offerings hinder productive selling and digital buyer enablement.

With chatbot automation, organizations can engage every buyer on their site in seconds, at any time, to guide them towards desired outcomes. But without it, productive selling becomes that much harder as sales teams have to manage multiple manual sales prospecting tools and repetitive processes that take time, resources, and focus away from the work that’s truly meaningful to the organization: selling.

  • 59% of sellers very frequently spend their time having to follow-up just to attempt to schedule sales meetings with net new buyers.
  • 43% of sellers say they’re frustrated most by a lack of automation or AI to replace manual, repetitive processes.

But automation on the sales side isn’t the only challenge that needs addressing. Because from repetitive online forms to a lack of immediate, remote, or digital self-service capabilities, sellers also believe their buyers’ frustrations stem from their limited ability to conduct independent research and gather resources online without disruption or friction.

  • 37% of sellers report that their buyers are frustrated by having to fill out repetitive online forms to get the resources and content they need.
  • 36% believe their buyers are frustrated by a lack of digital self-service options available to them.
  • And 28% believe that slow responsiveness or poor sales follow-up further impedes success.

Automation helps reduce the number of manual, repetitive processes that hinder an otherwise productive, well-functioning sales team including helping to qualify buyers, answer questions, or provide useful resources. And without it, sales is forced to spend less time actively selling and more time managing everything else.

4. Conversational Sales solutions play a critical role in digital transformation and enable that transformation in B2B sales.

As the waves of digital transformation continue to alter the ways that buyers make decisions, sales teams must be at the ready to make similar adjustments to their own sales strategies. As we’ve seen, data, technologies, and processes continue to challenge how sales teams sell productively. Fortunately, Conversational Sales software can help to bridge the gaps.

9 in 10 B2B sellers believe it is valuable to some degree to have a Conversational Sales solution in their sales process. And they’ve found that these solutions can enable success throughout the sales process.

Using a Conversational Sales solution:

  • 53% of sellers saw improvements in overall revenue growth.
  • 49% saw improvements in their overall customer lifetime value.
  • 45% were able to learn more about their buyers in less time.
  • 42% were able to accelerate revenue generation, and
  • 38% could book more qualified meetings.

In utilizing Conversational Sales solutions throughout the sales process, sales teams can optimize and engage at every stage of the customer lifecycle – offering each individual buyer a unique experience, catered to their needs, contexts, and histories.

And in an age when buyers have greater access to resources, content, and data than ever before, B2B sales organizations must transform the way they reach, sell to, and serve their buyers to accommodate our new digital reality.

The Digital Transformation of B2B Sales

Walker predicted that in 2020 and beyond, “the B2B customer relationship [would] grow in complexity as [more knowledgeable] customers continue to gain the upper hand and dictate the experience.”

Today’s buyer is highly knowledgeable, highly independent, and highly digital. And this evolution is continuing to shape the role of sales as well.

Even just a few years ago, in-person sales was believed to be the norm. And while certain industries still hold this belief, the impacts of digital transformation on how buyers actually buy have turned the tide. With the rising use of digital, self-service channels it’s easier than ever for buyers to research, vet, and make decisions entirely on their own.

So how can sellers respond? Does this mean sales teams are obsolete?

The short answer is: No. However this transformation only serves to further highlight the weaknesses of a traditional, largely non-digital sales process – one that does little to actually enable the buyer.

But such change has also amplified the need for B2B sales to undergo a digital transformation of its own.

In the wake of the pandemic, the B2B industry has experienced an incredible acceleration of – and growing imperative for – digital transformation throughout the sales funnel. And according to McKinsey, “more than three quarters of buyers and sellers say they now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions.”

Now, for organizations to find success, their sales teams must be equipped with the right tools to effectively sense, manage, and act-on the digital signals of today’s highly sophisticated buyers.

Sales Productivity

For B2B sales teams to succeed, they must be hyper-aware of what their customers want, need, and experience through each critical stage of the buyer’s journey.

And in this digital age of buyer enablement, sellers rely on meaningful data to inform sales strategies, remove barriers, affirm decision making, and enhance the buyer experience at every critical stage.

Sellers Feel More Productive Since Transitioning Their Processes to Remote and Digital Channels

Since early-2020, B2B sales teams have minimized the gaps in their digital readiness in order to improve sales productivity in an age when the majority of buyers is working – and making decisions – remotely.

Drift State of Conversational Sales

In Q4 2020, 65% of sales respondents felt their sales productivity had increased since transitioning to remote and digital channels.

As buyers continue to adopt digital means of engagement, it becomes just as important for sellers to make similar adjustments to effectively support, reach, and engage them at pivotal moments in the buying journey.

Sales Channels

To achieve greater productivity, B2B sales teams must be willing to utilize a wide array of buyer-centric channels if they hope to be able to continue to engage their buyers in more meaningful, relevant ways.

To dig deeper into how sales teams have done this, we asked respondents how their use of certain channels – since 2020 – had to change in order to reach, sell to, and serve their buyers.

What sales channels have helped enable greater sales productivity?

Video Reigns Supreme in the Remote, Digital Era

In a time when it’s challenging, even prohibited, to meet with people face-to-face, sales teams have adopted greater use of sales video tools to meet with and serve their buyers – from wherever they are.

State of Conversational Sales

77% of sellers have used video conferencing more since the beginning of 2020. And 76% have used pre-recorded videos more as well.

The growing utilization of video channels also starts to underline the need for better video and audio equipment. Especially if video is planned to be a core component of a digitally-transformed sales process. And when even just the quality or connectivity of a recorded video or video conference alone can make or break a first impression, it only makes sense to ensure that your video channels do more to help, rather than hinder, the interactions between you and your buyers.

Phone Calls Have Been Used Less Frequently Than Any Other Channel

Surprisingly, our survey finds 12% of salespeople report using phone calls less since the start of 2020 – the greatest decrease out of every channel surveyed.

This is likely caused by the upsurge of video utilization. Because when it’s impossible to meet face-to-face, at least being able to see the person on the other end offers a good compromise. Especially when you’re meeting someone for the very first time.

Email, Social Media, and Online Live Chat Channels Have Also Gained Usage

Video isn’t the only channel to gain popularity since 2020. Email, social media, and online live chat have also experienced a boom.

State of Conversational Sales
  • 76% of salespeople have used email even more since the beginning of 2020 to reach, sell to, and serve their buyers.
  • 67% of buyers like to use email to communicate with businesses. (SoCM report)
  • 70% have used social media more.
  • And 60% have used online live chat more as well.
  • 45% of buyers like to use online live chat software to communicate with businesses. (SoCM report)

Automated Chatbots Are Getting More Love Too

32% of sellers report also using automated chatbots more since the start of 2020.

According to research from The 2020 State of Conversational Marketing the use of chatbots by buyers to communicate with businesses saw a massive 92% increase from 2019 to 2020. Introducing this kind of technology into your own sales process gives your buyers a much-desired channel to engage through.

Chatbots help make salespeople more productive too. By helping to qualify buyers, answer questions, and manage and direct traffic to key destinations, salespeople have more resources to focus on what they do best – selling to qualified, interested buyers.

The adoption of automated chatbot software on the sales side and the growing willingness to engage with automated chatbots on the buyer side is creating an ecosystem of enabled buyers and sellers. One where buyers can find the resources they need without having to bother sales, and where sales can focus on the work that’s most important to them – selling to qualified, ready-to-talk buyers.

Sales Tactics

The channels sales teams utilize to engage with buyers is only half of the story. The other half lies in how they’re utilizing them.

As sales teams continue to respond to the changes brought by digital transformation, our research finds that the need for better data – to inform strategies, justify actions, and direct approaches – also continues to grow.

B2B Sellers Spend Their Time Moving in Every Direction

State of Conversational Sales

To no one’s surprise, sales teams are incredibly busy. Especially now when everything must be done through digital and remote methods.

So when asked about how they spend their time, B2B sellers (unsurprisingly) report that they very frequently spend their time doing just about everything.

The Good

Generating net new business.

Top-of-mind for all salespeople is generating net new business. 70% of respondents report they very frequently spend their time prospecting and qualifying net new buyers.

Meeting with existing customers.

57% of respondents very frequently meet with their existing customers to both ensure that the customer is satisfied with their service and to attempt to upsell or renew.

The Bad

Follow-ups and meeting attempts.

59% of respondents very frequently spend their time having to follow-up to attempt to schedule sales meetings with net new buyers.

Not meeting with qualified buyers.

While a majority of salespeople are frequently trying to generate net new business, their efforts to do so may be in vain.

Only 47% of all B2B sales respondents report that they frequently meet with qualified net new buyers. And 10% of respondents report that they don’t frequently meet with these types of buyers at all.

Not meeting with others in the company to coordinate approaches.

Only 46% of salespeople report frequently meeting with others in the company to align and coordinate their selling approaches. 13% say they don’t frequently do this at all.

The Ugly

Meeting with unqualified net new buyers.

76% of respondents say they either very frequently or somewhat frequently spend their time meeting with unqualified net new buyers.

The Implications: Staying Busy vs. Being Productive

When sales is spending a majority of their time prospecting, qualifying, coordinating, and booking meetings, it means that they’re not able to spend as much time doing what they’re meant to do: selling.

Only 47% of sellers very frequently meet with qualified buyers. 34% meet just as frequently with buyers who are specifically unqualified. This, not only makes sales feel like their time is being wasted, but it also slows down the entire revenue engine for a business.

And our report finds that these issues are only the tip of the iceberg.

State of Conversational Sales

Challenges and Frustrations

While salespeople report being productive with their current digital processes, it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. In fact, data from our survey shows there’s still a lot of room to improve and opportunity to advance.

When sales teams are unhappy and unproductive with their current sales processes, it hinders the efficiency and growth of the entire organization – slowing down business and grinding close rates to a halt.

To uncover more of sales’ biggest challenges and frustrations, we asked respondents about key issues both from their own perspective, as well as from the perspective of their buyers.

Let’s start with the latter.

Buyers’ Biggest Frustrations

Sellers believe their buyers’ biggest frustrations with their current sales process include:

  • A lack of contextual data and supportive actions
  • Limited content and resources
  • A lack of independent and digital self-service options
  • And overall slow or poor responsiveness.
State of Conversational Sales
Lack of Contextual Data and Supportive Actions

A lack of contextual data hurts both sellers and buyers. Because without it, selling becomes an uphill battle filled with guesswork. And the buyer is left to suffer a poor, unengaging experience.

  • 42% of sellers report their buyers are frustrated most when having to repeat information to multiple team members.
  • 41% believe frustrations are biggest when buyers are asked to schedule a meeting before they’re ready to have one.

According to Forbes, “it takes 12 positive experiences to repair the damage caused by a single unresolved negative one.” And with those odds, ensuring your sales processes can effectively serve your buyers is vital to long-term success.

Limited Content and Resources

Limited content and resources is another pain point that sellers surveyed for The State of Conversational Sales believe their buyers face.

  • 47% of sellers believe their buyers’ biggest frustration with their current sales process is a lack of personalized content, resources, or information to support their needs.

And buyers’ lack of patience for inaccurate or inadequate information is thinning. In 2019, 41% of respondents said that if a chatbot wasn’t helpful or if it provided inaccurate information they would stop using it. And in 2020, we saw that number grow by 45%. (SoCM report)

When it’s easier than ever for buyers to find the information they need online, having up-to-date content that supports each unique stage of the buyer’s journey is paramount. Otherwise, buyers will simply move on to the next search result, leaving your company off their shortlist.

A Lack of Independent, Immediate, and / or Digital Self-Service Options

From repetitive online forms to a lack of immediate, remote, and / or digital self-service capabilities, sellers also believe buyer frustrations stem from their limited ability to conduct independent research and gather resources without disruption or friction.

  • 37% of respondents believe their buyers are frustrated by having to fill out repetitive online forms to get the resources they need.
  • 36% believe their buyers are frustrated by a lack of digital self-service options.
  • And 28% believe that slow responsiveness or poor sales follow-up further impedes success.

In our State of Conversational Marketing report, buyer frustrations with having to fill out repetitive online forms grew 1.6x from 2019 to 2020. And only 22% of B2B buyers would prefer to fill out a web form than interact with sales reps directly.

Simultaneously, buyers are expecting responses to come faster and faster. Suggesting the immediacy isn’t just an advantage – it’s a necessity.

Limiting Buyer Enablement

Ultimately, the challenges and frustrations sellers believe their buyers face all result in one thing: a poor buyer experience. Limited buyer enablement can have detrimental effects on sales productivity, close rates, and pipeline generation.

Poor contextual data about your buyers leads to uninformed selling approaches and redundant processes. Limited content and resources stymie buyer engagement. And restrictive access to key resources hinders buyer enablement.

If your buyer experience isn’t poised to handle the needs and continuous evolution of your buyers, then your buyers’ likelihood to engage – let alone convert – plummets.

Sellers’ Biggest Frustrations

On the sales side of things, sellers report that their biggest frustrations include:

  • Limited data about their buyers
  • A lack of qualified buyers in their pipeline
  • Complex processes and disjointed technologies
  • A lack of a well-defined sales process and coordinated approaches

And these issues can severely impact a seller’s ability to sell.

State of Conversational Sales
Limited Buyer Data

Data impacts everything. And while detailed buyer data can inform valuable, revenue-driving strategies, poor buyer data does the opposite – hindering sales’ ability to sell to qualified buyers and slowing revenue growth.

  • 48% of respondents said their biggest frustration with their current sales process is having limited data about their buyers to inform their sales strategies.
  • When looking at the data from the perspective of B2B sales respondents who reported being unproductive in how they reach, sell to, and serve their buyers, our data shows 71% of these respondents also report this as a top challenge.
A Lack of Qualified Buyers

Pair that data challenge with a lack of qualified buyers in the sales pipeline, and sales productivity falls even more.

  • 48% of sellers report their biggest frustration is having to spend time serving unqualified buyers.
  • And 43% are challenged by being unable to neither quickly nor accurately find or interact with enough qualified or sales-ready buyers.
  • 86% of self-identified unproductive sellers believe this to be their biggest challenge as well.

Without the right data, it’s difficult for sales to separate the buyers who are ready to buy from the buyers who aren’t. And this creates a vicious cycle that continues to damage sales’ effectiveness and their ability to accelerate revenue.

Complex Processes and Disjointed Technologies

The more that sales teams have to manage and coordinate, the more difficult it becomes for them to focus on reaching, serving, and selling to their ideal buyers. And while technology is touted as a way to make sellers more efficient, without a communicated holistic and integrated strategy to use it, more technology simply adds noise to an already-noisy ecosystem.

32% of sellers report frustrations around having too many complex processes or disjointed technologies

A Lack of a Well-Defined Sales Process

A highly strategic, effective sales process helps eliminate guesswork, outlines next steps, and ensures that all team members across sales and marketing are aligned in their roles and responsibilities. Unfortunately, nearly one-third of all sellers surveyed reported frustrations in this area.

  • 29% of sellers report frustrations with a lack of a well-defined sales process.
  • 28% are frustrated by a lack of coordination with others in their organization to inform approaches and strategies.

Without a well-defined process to guide and support your approach, even with the right data and technologies, selling becomes a challenge.

State of Conversational Sales

The Fundamental Challenges of Poor Data

65% of respondents may feel their sales productivity has increased since transitioning to remote and digital channels, but there’s still clearly work needed to further optimize and refine how and where they spend their time.

And much of that work stems from the need for better, smarter data.

  • When looking at the data from the perspective of B2B sales respondents who reported being productive, somewhat productive, or unproductive in how they reach, sell to, and serve their buyers, our data shows that 49% of productive sellers, 44% of somewhat productive sellers, and 71% of unproductive sellers all share the challenge of limited or poor buyer data.
  • Of somewhat productive respondents, 65% say their biggest challenge is not finding or interacting with enough qualified or sales-ready buyers. And 86% of unproductive respondents echo this challenge as well.

According to McKinsey, “with more data flowing in from nontraditional sources such as video calls and webinars – few of which are captured by current sales processes – understanding which customers to focus on, what they care about, and how they want to engage can often feel like a guessing game.”

For sales organizations to truly reap the rewards of digital transformation, they must be able to capture, interpret, and act-on detailed buyer data. Otherwise, the ability for sales to be more productive, close more deals, and accelerate revenue through the pipeline is hindered before it can even begin.

Sales Technology

We’ve uncovered the channels, tactics, and challenges of today’s B2B sales organizations. Now it’s time to take a more holistic look at the technologies that support this complex digital ecosystem.

Most Sellers Believe Their Current Digital Ecosystem Will Support Their Revenue Goals in 2021 and Beyond

State of Conversational Sales

61% of State of Conversational Sales respondents – and 84% of self-identified productive sellers – strongly believe that their current digital ecosystem will support their revenue goals in 2021 and beyond.

Less Productive Sellers Are Less Confident about Their Tech Stack

However, 39% of respondents – and 57% of self-identified somewhat productive or unproductive respondents – believe their digital ecosystem could be improved and optimized.

As sales continues its digital transformation, it’s essential that the right tools and technologies are implemented to support the shifts. But having the right technology is one thing. Effectively using it to fulfill your organization’s goals is another challenge entirely.

Technology Frustrations

The technological frustrations B2B sellers highlight point to the need for better integration, better automation, and better data and analytics to make informed, strategic decisions.

And while 61% of respondents believe their technologies will get them to where they need to be in 2021 and beyond, if left unresolved, these challenges around data – both in how to capture it and how to utilize it – will continue to plague the sales process.

State of Conversational Sales

Lack of Integration

When systems and technologies are freestanding and not properly integrated into an organization’s technology stack, it complicates processes and adds greater complexity to an already-complex sales ecosystem – one that has only just begun its own digital transformation.

52% of respondents say their biggest frustration with current sales data and technology revolves around a lack of or limited integration across their different channels, tools, and systems.

Lack of Predictive Analytics

Having current buyer data on-hand is essential for sales to be strategic and productive with their time. But being able to use that data to make predictions about the future of a buyer is what separates high-performing sales teams from the rest.

Without predictive analytics, sales can only truly justify their actions for the tasks at-hand. But they will struggle when it comes to planning for potential buyer actions.

47% of respondents say that a lack of or limited predictive analytics to prioritize and inform sales strategies is another big frustration with their current digital ecosystem. 

Lack of Automation

Sales automation helps reduce the number of manual, repetitive processes that hinder an otherwise productive, well-functioning sales team. Without it, sales spends less time actively selling and more time doing everything else.

43% of sellers say they’re frustrated by a lack of AI or other intelligent solution to replace manual, repetitive processes.

Limited or Siloed Buyer Data

As we saw previously, the challenge of limited or siloed buyer data continues to be a thorn in the side of sales. When data is sparse or even siloed, the role of sales becomes that much harder as sellers attempt to determine the best course of action to engage with a buyer. And selling becomes more guesswork than anything else.

41% of sellers are frustrated by limited or siloed data buyer data.

Lack of Coverage

Having the right technology is a good first step, but who’s helping to deploy, implement, and manage it? Frustrations around a lack of coverage to own and operate these tools is the final area of concern for B2B sellers. Because while technology may enable better sales processes, if those tools require hands-on management, it further complicates sales’ role – adding additional tasks to their already overflowing list.

35% of respondents are frustrated by a lack of coverage to help deploy, implement, and manage their sales technologies.

Sales Processes

So, how does all of this stack up into a unified and holistic sales process? And how do sales professionals expect their sales processes to support their businesses now and in the future?

Most Sellers Believe Their Current Sales Processes Will Continue to Support Their Revenue Goals in 2021 and Beyond

State of Conversational Sales

60% of respondents – and 85% of self-identified productive sellers – strongly believe their current sales processes will continue to support their revenue goals in 2021 and beyond.

Others Believe Their Sales Processes Could Be Improved

However, 40% of State of Conversational Sales respondents only hold a somewhat strong belief or have no belief at all that their current sales processes will support their revenue goals in 2021 and beyond.

Enabling the Digital Transformation of Selling with Conversational Sales

We’ve uncovered the impacts of digital transformation on B2B sales teams. And how changes in buyer habits, their preferred channels, and ways they engage online have forced sellers to rethink their sales approaches.

Now, in order for sales teams to find success in 2021 and beyond, they must reach and engage their buyers on their buyers’ terms.

Simply put, the sales landscape has shifted.

We no longer live in a world where companies are the gatekeepers of product information, or where sales teams get to decide how (or when) potential customers to talk to reps.

With the rise of real-time messaging, and the on-demand economy, buyers have come to expect a new type of sales experience – one where their voices are heard and where conversations happen on their terms.

But here’s the thing: Most sales and marketing teams still haven’t adapted to this new reality.

Over the past decade, we’ve become so obsessed with driving traffic and generating top-of-the-funnel leads that we’ve simply doubled down on what we know instead of addressing this fundamental shift in how people research and buy products.

To make up for dwindling conversion rates we’ve hired more BDRs, sent out more email blasts, and made more cold calls.

But this just isn’t sustainable. What’s more, it’s not how today’s buyers want to buy.

If your sales team is starting to feel the strain of constantly sorting through a sea of bad leads, we feel your pain. The good news is that there’s a new approach that’s perfectly suited to the real-time, on-demand world we now live in.

It’s called Conversational Sales.

What is Conversational Sales?

Conversational Sales gives sales teams the real-time visibility, insights, and communication tools they need to prioritize target accounts, be more productive, and win more business, faster.

With Conversational Sales, sellers can engage the right buyers, at the right time, every time.

The Value of Conversational Sales

9 in 10 B2B sellers believe it is valuable to some degree to have a Conversational Sales solution for their sales process.

State of Conversational Sales

Improving How Conversational Sales Gets Implemented Creates an Opportunity for Growth

However, just as we saw with Conversational Marketing solutions in our State of Conversational Marketing report, there is room to improve how Conversational Sales tools are utilized.

53% of sales respondents who have a Conversational Sales solution believe they’re using it effectively. But 47% of respondents believe their implementation is only somewhat effective or is wholly ineffective.

State of Conversational Sales

The gaps in effectiveness create an opportunity for improvement. And while sales organizations see the value in having a Conversational Sales solution, how that solution gets utilized is a gap in need of addressing – not only for the organization to reap the rewards of the technology itself, but also to provide their buyers with new and improved ways to engage in a remote, self-service ecosystem.

Full-Sales Application

While the effectiveness of how Conversational Sales solutions get utilized could be improved, sales professionals are finding that these solutions have applications throughout the sales process.

State of Conversational Sales

Just how are Conversational Sales solutions getting utilized? Our data identified two primary use cases.

To Foster Buyer Engagement

B2B sales professionals are utilizing the advancements of Conversational Sales software to enable greater buyer engagement and facilitate independent buyer research across their websites.

In doing so, buyers are able to get the information they need – when they need it – to make confident decisions. And salespeople can rely on automation to take care of the buyer until they’re ready to talk to sales.

  • 60% of respondents utilize their Conversational Sales solution to provide their buyers with relevant content, resources, and pertinent information.
  • 57% use their solution to expediently answer questions and resolve issues.
  • 52% use it to better engage buyers on their website.

To Convert Buyers into Customers

With Conversational Sales software, it becomes easier than ever for buyers to schedule meetings, attend demos, and reach out to sales whenever they’re ready. And because these solutions can help manage and track the readiness and qualification of a buyer, salespeople don’t need to waste their time chasing after low-quality leads.

  • 50% of sellers use Conversational Sales solutions to help their buyers make purchases.
  • And 46% use their solution to help buyers schedule meetings with reps.

Key Challenges

But while Conversational Sales solutions can support a myriad of functions throughout the sales cycle, there are still challenges preventing sales teams from getting the most out of the technology.

State of Conversational Sales

Technological Limitations

Limitations or lack of knowledge around integrating and automating Conversational Sales solutions are two factors that have made sales processes challenging for users of the technology.

  • 40% of respondents report their lack of or limited integration with their internal set of tools makes using their Conversational Sales solution most challenging.
  • Even 41% of self-identified productive sellers struggle most with the lack of integration with their other tools, channels, and systems in their tech stack.
  • 37% of respondents say that a lack of AI to replace manual processes and a lack of relevant, sharable content also create difficulties in using their solution.
State of Conversational Sales

Strategic and Content Limitations

Limited knowledge to support Conversational Sales strategies and limited resources and content to push through those strategies further amplify sellers’ challenges.

From a strategic perspective:

  • 34% of respondents lack a strategy around how to best implement their Conversational Sales solution.
  • And 32% struggle with a lack of incentive for their sales team to adopt new tools and processes altogether.

And from a content perspective:

  • 37% of respondents say a lack of resources or content to share with their buyers hinders their ability to better utilize their Conversational Sales solution.
  • And 30% feel their lack of self-service capabilities further hinders usefulness.
State of Conversational Sales

Data Limitations

Lastly, but arguably most importantly, data challenges limit how Conversational Sales solutions are utilized and leveraged to better engage with, reach, and sell to interested buyers.

  • 34% of sellers report that a lack of actionable, contextual, or predictive buyer data inhibits their use of a Conversational Sales solution.
State of Conversational Sales

The Technology Is Only as Effective as the Strategy to Utilize It

A Conversational Sales solution is only as effective as the organization allows it to be. And without the right resources or strategies behind it, it risks becoming just another tool in the tech stack.

Limitations, whether they’re technological, strategic, or data-driven, are not solved by simply purchasing a new solution or technology. To truly get the most out of any solution, it’s important that further investments are made to effectively onboard and train the owners and users of the solution.

While Conversational Sales solutions can help prepare organizations for new buyer trends and habits, they cannot fix an organization’s broader foundational challenges.

And to separate the leaders from the laggards, users of Conversational Sales solutions must understand how to effectively deploy, integrate, and operate the technology all within their overarching sales strategy.

Key Benefits

While certain challenges hinder the effectiveness of Conversational Sales solutions, overcoming these challenges reveals a sea of opportunity.

Conversational Sales Solutions Enable Greater Productivity and Results

Sales professionals are utilizing Conversational Sales tools to bridge the gaps between their sales processes and their buyers. And in doing so, sales teams are able to optimize and engage every stage of the customer lifecycle, offering each individual buyer a unique experience, catered to their needs, contexts, and histories.

We’ve identified four key areas of impact.

State of Conversational Sales

Buyer Enablement

Conversational Sales solutions are impacting sales’ ability to not only enable buyers, but also to learn more about them.

  • 45% of sellers were able to learn more about their buyers in less time.
  • 41% of respondents without a Conversational Sales solution are interested in its ability to help them learn more about their buyers and customers more naturally and quickly.
  • And 42% of sellers saw greater engagement from their buyers and accounts
  • 59% of respondents without a Conversational Sales solution are also keenly interested in its ability to help them generate greater engagement from buyers and accounts.

Sales Productivity

Sales’ ability to actively reach, engage, and sell to qualified, interested buyers is also heightened with a Conversational Sales solution.

  • 38% of sales respondents saw more booked qualified meetings when using their Conversational Sales solution.
  • 26% also experienced shortened or accelerated sales cycles.

Revenue Growth

Our data also shows benefits impacting respondents’ ability to generate revenue.

  • 53% of respondents saw improvements in overall revenue growth while using their Conversational Sales solution
  • 42% also report achieving accelerated revenue generation.

Customer Success

Customer success is another area where Conversational Sales solutions can be implemented to beneficial results.

  • 49% of respondents saw improvements in their overall customer lifetime value
  • 39% saw increases in their annual contract value.
  • And 25% were able to reduce customer churn.

These Solutions Enable Growth Across Numerous Functional Areas, Too

Looking at the impact of Conversational Sales solutions at the functional level, our data shows similar benefits across four key areas:

State of Conversational Marketing

Prospecting and Business Development

Utilizing Conversational Sales solutions can further facilitate sales’ business development efforts, enabling greater automation, efficiency, and data-driven approaches.

  • 55% of respondents have seen success in their business development efforts.
  • 53% also see success in how they generate and prospect net new qualified buyers.

Nurturing Engagement

As a buyer continues their journey down the sales funnel, nurturing their engagement is critical in order to keep them interested, affirm their decisions, and accelerate the sales process.

  • 46% of respondents see success with account engagement when using a Conversational Sales solution.
  • And 44% see success in how they qualify and nurture their buyers.

Campaign Activities and Account-based Selling

Sales professionals also report seeing improvements in their campaign and account-based selling initiatives using a Conversational Sales solution.

  • 35% of respondents have seen improvements in their account-based selling initiatives.
  • 27% have seen impacts in their event campaigns .

Post-Sale Initiatives

The sale isn’t finished when the deal is signed. From there, it’s important to continue to nurture customers to foster confidence, validate the decision, and eventually up-sell or renew the contract.

  • 40% have seen improvements in cross-selling or up-selling existing customers when using a Conversational Sales solution.
  • And 25% have also seen improvements in their post-sale campaigns.

The Essentials of a Successful Conversational Sales Solution

Throughout this report we’ve talked a lot about the typical experiences, challenges, and benefits that come with using a Conversational Sales solution in today’s digital age. But what makes these types of solutions actually successful?

What do buyers and customers value most in a Conversational Sales solution that facilitates responsiveness and target account engagement? What do they prioritize? What do they deem to be most important?

Simply having a Conversational Sales solution in your technology stack doesn’t immediately guarantee success. So what enables the kinds of benefits experienced by today’s most proficient users?

Friendly, Immediate, and Human Responses

In a time when everything feels automated and robotic, it’s important that you engage your buyers with an authentic, human approach – even if you are using a chatbot.

State of Conversational Sales
  • 59% of respondents believe their quick, friendly, and helpful responses to buyers factored into their success with their Conversational Sales solution.
  • 49% of respondents also believe that their human, authentic buyer experience enables their success.

Fostering Buyer Independence

As buyers continue to own more of the buyer’s journey and conduct independent research online, doing everything you can to enable greater discovery and self-service is key. Rather than introduce friction into the buyer’s journey, think about ways you can remove it.

52% of self-identified productive sellers believe that their Conversational Sales solution’s ability to help their buyers make self-service purchases has also led to their success.

Meaningful Content and Timely Outreach

Lastly, your knowledge about how to reach out to your buyer, when, and with what, will further demonstrate your attention to detail and care. And with a Conversational Sales solution, that becomes even easier with real-time alerts and data to know how your buyers are engaging online.

  • 50% of respondents attribute their success to having real-time alerts that let them know when buyers are engaging on their website or with their content.
  • And 58% of self-identified productive sellers also believe this to be one of the major factors for success.

Enabling Better Sales Experiences

As our data shows, users of Conversational Sales solutions can significantly impact the way their organization generates and accelerates revenue throughout the buyer’s journey.

And by creating digitally immersive, customer-centric, and personalized experiences, sellers can better connect with buyers in ways that enable greater engagement, remove friction, facilitate faster close times, and build long-term loyalty and revenue.

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The Conversational Sales Imperative

Digital transformation is here. And with it comes new ways for buyers to research, engage, and make decisions – independently and digitally. And this evolution – as we’ve seen throughout this report – is continuing to shape the role of sales as well.

In the waves of digital transformation, Conversational Sales solutions have emerged to help enable B2B sales organizations to better reach, sell to, and serve their unique, digitally-savvy buyers. These solutions enable sellers to meet their buyers where they are, removing roadblocks and affirming decisions at every pivotal point in the buyer’s journey.

Conversational Sales solutions give sales teams the real-time visibility, insights, and communication tools they need to prioritize target accounts, be more productive, and win more business, faster. And in an age of rapid digital transformation, they give sellers the means to not only sell, but to lead their buyers to better, more confident decisions.

About Drift

Drift is the Revenue Acceleration Platform that uses Conversational Marketing and Conversational Sales to help companies grow revenue and increase customer lifetime value, faster.

More than 50,000 businesses use Drift to align sales and marketing on a single platform to deliver a unified customer experience where people are free to have a conversation with a business at any time, on their terms.

About Sales Benchmark Index

SBI is a management consulting firm specializing in revenue growth. We’re comprised of former sales and marketing leaders who spend every minute of every day thinking about one thing: helping you make your number. We are a firm that is drawn to companies with aggressive goals and unreasonable timelines because we enjoy working on projects with a lot on the line. Our business is built to over-serve a small number of clients. We’re not trying to please everyone, and we always put our money where our mouth is. Because of this we tend to develop deep and long-lasting relationships with our clients and coworkers that extend far beyond the office. For more information, visit www.salesbenchmarkindex.com.

About Heinz Marketing

Heinz Marketing is a B2B marketing and sales acceleration firm that delivers measurable revenue results. Every strategy, tactic, and action has a specific, measured purpose. Instead of focusing on the activities, we focus on the outcomes. What really matters is sales pipeline, closing business, and accelerating revenue. For more information, visit www.heinzmarketing.com.

2021 State of Conversational Sales

In today's world, sales needs to do more than sell. And that's exactly where Conversational Sales comes in. Learn more in the 2021 State of Conversational Sales.