As HubSpot’s Sr. Trends Researcher, I’ve tracked a lot of evolutionary changes in 2023. But, there’s a major shift hitting the sales world that might be the most impactful of them all.
While we spent all year prophesizing about the way AI will disrupt marketing, customer service, and SEO, AI’s effect on sales is even more significant as it signals a fundamental shift in human relationships.
To get these insights, I surveyed 1,477 sales professionals across the globe to find out what they're hyperfocused on – and get a better understanding of how AI will affect their roles as we move into 2024.
Low on time? Feel free to skip ahead to one of these sections:
- Sales Benchmarks
- Top Sales Survey Findings
- Top Sales Goals & Challenges
- Most Effective Sales Channels
- Other Trends to Watch
Before we dig into the key themes that are leading, transforming, and impacting sales metrics, here are some sales benchmarks to help you get a sense of how your business stacks up:
- The average sales win rate is 21%
- The average sales close rate is 29%
- The median deal size is $4,000 (47% of all deals are between $1-$5,000)
- 91% of sales professionals upsell, and team upselling tactics drive 21% of company revenue on average.
- 87% of sales professionals cross-sell, which similarly drives 21% of company revenue on average
Now that you've seen how sales teams are performing, let’s dive into our top trends – starting with what we're calling "The Age of the AI-Powered Buyer."
Top State of Sales Findings & Trends
1. The Age of the AI-Powered Buyer Is Here
Even before AI arrived, buyers overwhelmingly did their own research, with a whopping 96% of sales pros saying that when they first speak to a prospect, they've already done research on the product or service of interest.
What's more, 71% of consumers say they prefer to gather information themselves rather than speaking with a human.
Now, with AI tools, a buyer's ability to gather information is hypercharged, making them more knowledgeable and confident than ever. This also means they rely much less on sales pros to gather information.
Where Does AI Leave Sales Reps?
Rather than focusing on sharing information, sales pros will act as consultants. They’ll prioritize building strong relationships, boosting buyer confidence, understanding their needs and challenges, and using AI to offer a highly relevant, personalized experience.
To sum it up, both parties using AI will create a better experience for all by fostering stronger relationships, more productive conversations, and shorter deal cycles.
2. Hitting quota may feel harder than ever before.
When it comes to sales professionals' top goals, it’s no surprise that exceeding targets or quotas takes the top spot.
Top Sales Goals
Making the sales process more efficient, targeting new markets, winning market share, and improving sales-marketing alignment are also top of mind. (We’ll come back to some of those throughout this report.)
With those goals come challenges: 54% of salespeople say selling got harder in 2023.
Top Sales Challenges
Interestingly, many challenges still linger from the COVID period, with sales reps saying inflation and supply chain issues are major sales barriers.
A lack of high-quality leads is another top challenge, with just 59% of sales reps saying leads from their marketing team are high-quality.
Longer deal cycles are also a key challenge. On average, sales reps report that there are five decision-makers involved in the sales process, with 28% of respondents pointing to drawn-out sales processes as the biggest reason prospects back out of deals.
Next, let’s take a look at how sales pros are performing in 2023 and the ways they see AI boosting their effectiveness.
3. Sales professionals are still meeting or exceeding goals (and hope AI will help even more).
Despite making sales feeling more difficult, 56% of sales professionals are surpassing their goals this year, while 29% are hitting them. Just 15% report underperforming.
While that’s great news, sales professionals see AI boosting their performance even further.
66% say AI can help them provide a more personalized experience and understand their customers better. On top of that, 63% of sales leaders say AI makes it easier for them to compete with other businesses in their industry.
Sales professionals also see AI significantly boosting their ability to upsell, cross-sell, and down-sell customers.
41% of salespeople already use AI to recognize and respond to buyer emotions or sentiment, with 83% of them saying it's effective. Our data also shows that sales professionals using AI to recognize or respond to buyer emotion and sentiment are 52% more likely to exceed goals than those who don’t.
Even though most sales professionals are performing well, companies are still looking for ways to do more with less, bringing us to our next trend – a renewed focus on efficiency.
4. Sales organizations are hyper-focused on efficiency.
2023 has been branded the year of efficiency for many tech companies, so it's no surprise that sales professionals' second priority is making processes more efficient.
Right now, salespeople only spend around two hours a day actually selling, with at least one hour per day on manual or admin tasks.
Luckily, AI is again making a huge impact here, saving salespeople an average of two hours per day. A whopping 81% say AI helps them spend less time on manual tasks, while 78% see it helping them be more efficient in their role.
With this focus on efficiency, 62% of sales pros say their company is taking fewer risks. What's more, 70% say budgets are being scrutinized more than before.
One avenue sales leaders are considering to boost efficiency is trimming their tech stack, with one in four sales leaders saying they have too many tools.
On top of that, 45% of sales pros are overwhelmed by the amount of tools in their tech stack. More than one in four say if their company reduced the number of tools they use, it would make them more efficient, they would spend more time selling, and have higher quality data.
5. Sales is an increasingly hybrid job, but in-person meetings are still key.
71% of U.S. sales pros work hybrid, up a drastic 58% from the 45% of salespeople we surveyed last year. Another 20% work person, while just 10% are fully remote.
Comparing the three work styles, hybrid sales pros are 28% more likely to outperform against goals than in-person and fully remote salespeople, respectively.
But in-person meetings are still critical: While 56% of hybrid sales reps say working remotely has made it easier to sell, they admit that meeting in person is the most effective approach.
Most Effective Sales Channels
Overall, the most effective sales channels are in-person meetings, phone calls, email, social media, video calls, and live chat tools.
6. Self-service tools and sales enablement content are vital.
We know buyers prefer to do their own research, so offering them self-service tools will remain key through 2024.
Currently, 64% of B2B sales professionals offer self-service tools to buyers to help guide their purchase decisions, and 85% of them say it’s effective. On top of that, sales pros who offer buyers self-service tools are 47% more likely to be performing better than their goals this year compared to those who don’t.
B2B sales professionals say the most effective self-service tools for helping buyers make purchase decisions are product demos, free trials, customer stories, user reviews, and chatbots.
Self-service tools are also becoming more popular among buyers, with over half (52%) of B2B sales pros saying buyers use self-service tools more than they did before.
Usage of sales enablement content is also up significantly, with 59% of B2B sales pros in the U.S. using it in 2023, a 48% jump from when we ran this survey last year.
What's more, 79% of B2B sales pros who use sales enablement content say it's important to making a sale.
When it comes to the type of sales enablement content that's most effective at helping sales pros win deals, social media content, market research, reviews, customer testimonials, and product demos take the lead.
One other plus for sales enablement content – salespeople who use it in their role are 58% more likely to outperform this year than those who don’t.
7. Smarketing continues to be an uphill climb.
While just 30% of sales professionals say their sales and marketing teams are strongly aligned, 61% say alignment is more important now than it was last year.
Sales professionals at companies with aligned sales and marketing teams are also 107% more likely to beat their goals this year than sales professionals at companies that aren’t aligned.
When it comes to what salespeople need most from their marketing teams, higher quality leads (43%) and alignment on goals and strategies (39%) are most needed.
One tip to get your teams aligned is to leverage your CRM to its fullest potential. 78% of sales professionals say their CRM is effective at improving sales and marketing alignment. Additionally, sales professionals who use a CRM are 79% more likely to say their teams are strongly aligned.
To wrap up, we'll dig into one of the sales teams' most promising opportunities: current customers.
8. Existing customers drive both revenue and new leads.
Focusing on your existing customers is a key sales strategy, considering they make up 72% of company revenue on average, while new customers account for just 28%.
Not only is prioritizing existing customers highly profitable, but delighting them pays off when they spread the word about your company. In fact, sales professionals say the highest quality leads come from referrals from existing customers, followed by social media, and email marketing.
For more on the specific trends we saw in this particular survey, as well as sales themes that experts in the industry are pointing out, check out this post.
Other Trends to Watch
Quotas aren't the only thing sales people are focused on.
Like research has shown us in previous years, most sales professionals are obviously focused on crushing quotas. But, that's not there only major focus area at the moment:
Channels offering the most leads don't always provide high quality.
The top lead channels include social media, email marketing, and current customers -- but not all of them provide the best lead quality. Look below to see just how effective they are.
The human connection is still important to sales teams.
Despite COVID-19, digital transformation, and the influx of AI, tradition human-based sales tactics are where salespeople focus their selling time. But are they the most effective? Find out below.
Good sales people know their customer. Great ones build rapport.
Throughout the last three years, we've continued to see a growing importance of building rapport with prospects. In 2024, it will continue to be a key focus area of B2B and B2C sales professionals we've surveyed.
What are the keys to doing this? Sales people say it requires:
- Being attentive and engaged.
- Staying positive.
- Finding common ground.
Profit margin is still a key sales metric, but productivity tracking is gaining steam.
In past years, sales productivity was a close second behind profit margin when we asked sales professionals about their most important metrics. Today, it comes in first with 30% of professionals saying they prioritize it, followed by average profit margin and conversion rate, which tie for second with 24%.
Social selling will continue to rise.
While only 18% of sales people considering social selling one of their top five focus areas, as seen above, this strategy might only gain steam as more companies and users attach themselves to social media platforms.
When looking back at this years selling activities, 56% of sales professionals were already using social media to find new prospects. 75% of salespeople use Facebook to find leads, followed by Instagram, Linkedin, and YouTube.
Since then, we've seen consumers grow even more accustomed to researching and buying products directly from social media platforms, as marketers -- who you'll likely want to align with, have increasingly made social selling part of their own cross-functional work.
To put it plainly, social commerce isn't just a passing fad -- and although it might not be big in B2B just yet -- some brand is likely figuring out just how to leverage those audiences and channels as we speak. Check out this deep dive to learn more.
These traits set high-performing salespeople apart.
In 2023, we dug deeper into research on high and low performing sales people to identify the traits and tactics that set them apart. While some of these things might change in the transformative era of AI and efficiency processes, much of this data should still be taken down as it could be useful to you in the new year.
Most notably, high-performing salespeople are:
- 35% more likely to say sales/marketing has become more aligned at their company from 2021 to 2022
- 19% more likely to analyze their data to optimize the sales process (B2B)
- 17% more likely to describe their CRM as very important to the sales process
- 14% more likely to describe sales/marketing as strongly aligned at their company
- 12% more likely to use social media when selling
- 12% more likely to work at a company with a dedicated sales enablement team
Putting Your Prospects In the Spotlight
Now that you’re up to date with just a few key highlights from our State of Sales analysis, check out our State of AI in Sales Report to learn more about the impact of AI and actionable ways sales pros are already leveraging it.
Lastly, for more data and insights from this survey as well as experts in the sales field, check out our State of Sales Report below.