5 B2B Sales Trends for the Post-Economic Downturn Era

In 2023, B2B sales teams are no strangers to change. Three years ago, the dramatic onset of COVID-19 forced nearly every industry to pivot and transform its practices in response to an increasingly digital world. Lunch dates? Canceled. Zoom meetings? Ubiquitous.

In many ways, our current economic downturn’s recent uncertainty (or rather, the certainty) should feel familiar. We’ve dealt with industry-wide shifts before. And while we can’t anticipate catastrophes like a global pandemic, we can prepare and empower our teams with best practices to withstand times of upheaval. 

As a smart sales leader, you know taking advantage of an economy in hibernation is critical to coming out the other side even stronger. In our current era of layoffs and downsizing, we’re entering a period of hypervigilance concerning cost-savings and efficiency. If you prepare your teams, revamp your sales process, and put the right strategies in place now, then post economic turndown, you’ll be ready to rocket ahead of the competition.

Where will our industry land after this up-in-the-air period of economic fluctuation? Nobody can be 100% sure, but we can hazard a few guesses. Here are five predictions for the post economic downturn trends in the B2B sales industry, as well as some suggestions for the best practices every B2B sales leader should be enacting right now to ensure your team is among the winners on the flip side.

The Downturn: Recognizing Where We Are

The question we’re hearing from all sides seems to be, “Are we in a recession yet?” 

While the economy is not officially in a recession according to the traditional definition, there’s no denying that we’re in the middle of a decline in economic activity. And any economic slowdown that overstays its welcome has major effects on businesses

From small startups to enterprise, we’re all desperate to find ways to cut costs and reduce bloat as we face declining sales and revenue. But simply hunkering down defensively isn’t a winning strategy. Bain’s research on the 2007–2009 global financial crisis and the 2009–2012 double-dip recession revealed that teams who went into “survival mode” stalled out

The good news?  Companies that prepared with an aligned strategy grew during recessions.

So, how can you prepare your team with the right practices to thrive, not just survive? It starts with recognizing the patterns in what we see happening today. Here are five predictions for the changes on the horizon and what you can do to prepare  for them. 

5 B2B Sales Industry Trends — And How You Can Prepare

No downturn lasts forever. When we emerge from the other side, the world won’t be waiting for us to catch up. We must recognize what we see today and strategize for what’s coming. So, what might that future look like? 

1. Efficiency is the new king, so tighten up your process to spring out of the starting gate lean and mean.

As companies of all stripes have sought to bounce back from COVID-19, there’s been a real sense of urgency to foster growth at all costs. But that kind of growth isn’t sustainable. It isn’t even necessary. So instead, when the economy takes a dip, embracing a philosophy of efficiency is more effective. 

Prediction: Post downturn, efficiency will be our guiding light.

In B2B sales, we’re already seeing a drop in quota attainment, while nearly 80 percent of SaaS B2B sales reps cite significant challenges in achieving their goals. Less than a third hit their targets. 

Traditional thinking tells us that when numbers drop, reps should be finding more leads.

But that’s not working.

When efficiency is our guiding light, rather than chasing a continually shifting target to achieve growth at any cost, smart sales leaders will focus on boosting conversion rates for leads we’re already nurturing.

What you can do now: Find ways to do more with less and make your process more efficient.

Of course, companies need to look for ways to increase efficiency during an economic downturn. Budgets may take a haircut. Departments may be thinned. But these aren’t the only solutions to increasing efficiency. 

Efficiency means doing more with less. During a downturn, that’s a necessity. But as the economy revives, don’t let bloat overwhelm your newly lean and mean process.

2. CRM will rule again, so make it the center of your tech stack.

In the era of “There’s an app for that,” tech stacks have exploded. It seems like there’s a tool designed to improve every micro-step of the sales process. And that’s helpful…right?

While more tools may sound good in theory, in practice it can be overwhelming for your reps. According to the Salesforce State of Sales Report, sales teams use an average of 10 tools to close deals, which leads to 66 percent of sales reps feeling overwhelmed by too much tech. Much like growth at all costs, this level of tech bloat isn’t sustainable.

Prediction: Post-downturn, tech stack tools need to be proven ROI drivers.

A cost-effective tool can deliver a solid ROI. But is it really delivering on its promise to increase your win rate by 20 percent? Did a different tool promise a 30 percent increase, and a third tool 50 percent? Well, if your rate didn’t increase by 100 percent, then maybe it’s time to slim down your toolbox. Keep the ones that are demonstrable ROI drivers, and toss the rest.

What you can do now: Trust your CRM and go back to using it the right way.

Instead of continuing to play whack-a-mole with single-purpose tools, sales teams are more likely to—and should—rely on their CRM software. A solid CRM platform likely performs the tasks you’ve purchased single-purpose tools for. When sales reps actively work within and understand how to best utilize the CRM, they will be less confused and overwhelmed. Plus, using an all-in-one tool instead of a barrage of single-use tools is more efficient and cost-effective.

Your CRM is your most cost-effective tool, so it’s smart to reorient it at the heart of your tech stack.

3. AI is killing the human part of sales, so the top-of-funnel must reinvent itself.

Do you remember how we all felt in mid-2021? After over a year apart from family, friends, and colleagues, everyone desperately craved real human contact. Two years later, the proliferation of AI tools has created the same issue with our leads. They are desperate for connection—and skeptical of anything with even a whiff of artificiality.

We can see this reflected in companies’ struggles with their top-of-funnel lead generation. For one thing, people lose trust when they’re interacting with bots and tools rather than another person. When nearly 90 percent of emails have a company name as the sender instead of a human being, it’s no wonder most of those emails are filed straight into the trash folder. Though many tools tout personalization, B2B prospects crave the real thing from actual people, not AI bots and algorithms. 

Prediction: Post-downturn, B2B sales needs to refind our persona as a good, trusted friend.

Customers are looking for a personal touch that’s genuine and human, and—let’s be honest—so are we.Many folks are more than ready to return to in-person meetings after years of video chats and conference calls. That means we need to be where our customers are to build trust and cultivate interest. Gain customers with handshakes, not mass emails generated with ChatGPT.

What you can do now: Rebuild trust by fostering human relationships.

Spend some valuable time reinventing your sales process to improve the top-of-funnel experience. Encourage your sales reps to find new customers through word of mouth and asking for referrals. These approaches build trust because there’s a real person behind them. 

Push for a process that’s humanized, not mechanized.

4. RevOps is the fastest-growing role in sales, and this is just the beginning.

LinkedIn’s 2023 Jobs on the Rise list cited the head of revenue operations as the fastest-growing role this year. RevOps roles unify a variety of disparate tasks under the umbrella of operations alignment. In other words, RevOps boosts efficiency by unifying operations across the board—from sales enablement to marketing to customer experience. But these positions are more than just the latest trend in sales. 

Prediction: Post-downturn, RevOps will keep going as the major strategy driver in sales.

As data, tools, and teams grow increasingly  complex, the sales team’s operational backbone is more important than ever. Today’s sales reps need more than soft skills. They must be equipped with the best data, tools, and technology. RevOps has a bird’s-eye view of what sellers need and how to apply data strategically in order to build a strong, aligned process. 

What you can do now: Give RevOps a permanent seat at the table.

Now is the time to increase hiring in RevOps to ensure a solid operational infrastructure. With sales generating a perpetual stream of data, you need RevOps to organize and analyze that data to make it both accessible and useful to your sales team. These strategy gurus can provide the infrastructure that translates data into actionable results, which means you’ll have a unified, aligned, and efficient operation.

5. Go back to fundamentals with your sales process.

We’ve been stuck on a merry-go-round of tools and tactics that purport to replace our sales process. But the sales process cannot be replaced. A downturn is the right time to hop off that carousel and reevaluate. We’ve known for years, thanks to research from the Harvard Business Review, that only 9 percent of companies manage to thrive after an economic downturn. How? By preparing for what comes next.

Prediction: Post-downturn, the sales process will be much more significant in daily discussions.

We can’t know when the end of the downturn will come, but one thing is certain: the sales industry won’t be the same as before. Spray and pray is over. The sales process must be front and center every single day, ensuring that measurements, analytics, and monitoring are part of every step. 

What you can do now: Return to fundamentals and put your process front and center.

Go to your whiteboard and ask, “What is our sales process?” Is your team performing the right activities at the right time? Audit your tech stack. Are the tools you’re using enhancing your process? Utilizing the right KPIs to measure analytics? Are you measuring leading indicators, not just lagging ones? Most importantly, are you set up to perform ongoing monitoring to ensure your process is as efficient as possible?

Prepare for that upswing by checking your day-to-day operations and maximizing the efficiency of your process.

Get ready for the day after by preparing now.

As sales leaders, it’s tough to watch layoffs and belt-tightening churn up panic around us. But your power lies in your ability to recognize the downturn not only as a challenge—but as an opportunity. You have the time to audit your tech stack, assess your sales process, rebuild that process to be more efficient, and test its efficiency. Now is, in fact, the best time to do that. By preparing now, you can outstrip the competition when the downturn ends.

Build a well-defined, efficient process today, and no matter where this uncertain economic future leads us, you’ll be set up to succeed when the economic picture gets brighter.