2020: What Winning Sales Organizations Did Differently

As you well know, 2020 had a tremendous impact on sales leaders, salespeople, and learning and development professionals. The rapid shift to virtual selling and the collapsing delta between B2B and B2C buying behaviors fundamentally changed how most of us interact with customers and prospects — and the results weren’t always pretty.

It’s likely that you know a business that was forced to close due to the economic changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’m sure we can all think of businesses that weathered the storm but came away significantly battered.

However, there were also the companies that flourished — those that increased their market share, expanded their services and teams, and some that recorded banner years of revenue growth, which got me thinking.

Did sales training play a role in the success of these companies? And if so, in what areas did effective sales training have the most impact?

We surveyed 256 sales leaders and learning and development decision-makers to find out, and two distinct groups emerged: high-revenue growth companies (those that saw significant growth) and negative-revenue growth companies (whose leaders said that 2020 was their worst year in the past five).

Now, you might think that sales training is just for sales, but the data disagrees — we found that high-quality sales training impacted business growth beyond the sales function.

Sales training played a pivotal role in the areas of:

  • Employee Satisfaction: After all, salespeople are hunters — they’re constantly striving to improve, and when you help them reach that next level of success, job satisfaction follows suit.
  • Employee Motivation: Solid sales training creates an environment where sales professionals challenge and motivate one another. If you support them with the proper tools, they’ll be more driven to put in the work.
  • Employee Retention: B2B rep turnover is a costly affair — costing upwards of $200,000 in sales productivity (via Forrester).
  • Sales Results: Not surprisingly, this was the number one benefit listed.
  • Company Culture: When you give all customer-facing roles a shared language and framework to guide their interactions with customers, you create a truly customer-focused culture.
  • Agility of The Enterprise: Sales organizations were forced to pivot at nearly every turn of 2020 — and effective sales training helped reps adapt to new selling situations with confidence.

Interesting indeed! And still, I wanted to dig deeper to find out what exactly were the essential skills that successful enterprises instilled in their sellers.

Naturally, everyone we talked to was laser-focused on moving opportunities forward and closing deals in such a volatile market, and the two groups were fairly neck and neck in terms of the emphasis they placed on skills like active listening and social/emotional intelligence.

In contrast, high-revenue growth companies were worlds apart from their floundering counterparts when it came to prospecting, negotiating, driving differentiation, empathy, and — especially — presenting in virtual settings.

In fact, nearly half, (47%) of high-growth companies focused on helping their sales reps master virtual presentations, while only 13% of negative-revenue growth companies did. The majority of winning sales organizations (87%) were also more likely to take a value-based approach to selling, compared to less than half (45%) of negative-revenue growth companies.


Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and sales leaders everywhere were forced to make tough calls last year. But it goes to show that the sales teams who were able to quickly and confidently adapt were the ones that came out on top, and that effective sales training provided the foundation that enabled that agility. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that we need to maintain our flexibility and be ready to continually put the buyer first and adapt to their preferences.

If you want to dive deeper into our findings on what winning sales organizations did differently, check out:

“What Companies That Grew In 2020 Realize About Sales Training” in Forbes

“Critical Sales Concepts and Skills to Succeed in 2021″ in the LinkedIn Sales Blog

Download our latest eBook: “How High-growth Sales Organizations Respond to Crisis”

Until next time, happy selling,