A new global report from LinkedIn is a window into the state of sales in 2020 from the perspective of B2B buyers and sellers.

This year, nearly every company has accelerated its shift toward virtual selling as it figures out how to engage with distracted buyers and manage much longer sales cycles.

Amid the chaos and uncertainty, the role of sales representative has emerged as one of the most in-demand jobs in the U.S. And sellers remain the lifeblood of most companies, facing even more pressure to close deals and protect revenue.

Trust matters most

LinkedIn's 2020 Global State of Sales Report, which is based on responses from more than 10,000 buyers, salespeople, and sales managers, identified what matters most to decision-makers when engaging with sellers, and trust is at the top of the list.

Worldwide, buyers want trust in the sales process but find it in short supply, according to the report. Sellers recognize this: Three-quarters of top sales reps feel it's important to quickly build trust with buyers in order to win new business.

Key to building trust and putting the buyer first are four critical skills that emerged from the report's findings. These are the skills that sales leaders should prioritize as they hire, train, and develop their teams -- and ultimately empower them to build strong and enduring relationships with buyers.

1. Solving before selling

"Problem-solving" is the top trait that buyers value in salespeople, with nearly half (47 percent) deeming it a desirable characteristic. Combined with software that automates the more administrative tasks, even entry-level roles are becoming more focused on problem-solving and consultation rather than simply selling. Strategic thinking and planning should be prioritized over manual tasks like updating or validating contacts in a CRM or continually replicating search criteria to identify the right buyers to target.

Now we're in a world where buyers are even more distracted. They are balancing the pressures of work with the unexpected day-to-day that they face in their personal lives. Considering only one-third (32 percent) of sales managers look for reps with strong problem-solving skills, it's more important than ever for leaders to consider how to train their organizations to understand the power and value in solving before selling.

2. Relationship building

Buyers care about relationship building, with one-third saying they value this quality in sales reps. The ability to project confidence, build rapport, actively listen, and anticipate buyers' needs is more important than ever, especially as buyers are more distracted and have access to increased information.

The report shows that sellers who demonstrate a clear understanding of their buyers' business needs, provide personalized communication, and share relevant content are those who succeed at building more meaningful relationships over time, ultimately cultivating deeper trust and respect.

3. Data proficiency

Covid-19 accelerated the need to make data-driven decisions about everything from how territories are assigned to which geographies, markets, and industries sales organizations should target for new accounts. In fact, the report found that about half of respondents (49 percent) say they are using data to select specific accounts to target and 47 percent are using data to select new industries.

Data literacy enables sales reps to identify the information they need and apply it to their outreach, so that they can not only target the right people at the right time, but also reach out with meaningful content and information, proving they know who their buyers are and what they need. Quality current data, ideally that which is updated in real time, is critical, as is understanding how to access and analyze it to make the most informed decisions about buyers. 

4. Adaptability

This year has brought about change at a dizzying pace; 76 percent of sales managers across the globe agree that their capacity to navigate change is more important than it was five years ago. Looking specifically at top-performing managers, 51 percent feel that their ability to adapt to change has become much more important. With the future uncertain, adaptability and agility will continue to be the name of the game for sales reps.

For sales leaders, adapting means keeping in touch with changing buyer expectations and coaching their reps to respond -- by solving problems, building trusted relationships, and leveraging data and technology to not just sell smarter but to really take time to put their buyers first. There are plenty of tools and resources designed to get sales professionals through these uncertain times, but ultimately the best way to succeed right now is to empathize with your buyers and co-create value alongside them.