Relative to the wider business community, the nation’s sales teams are a generally optimistic bunch, says Mike Stokes, chief executive of sales and leadership consultancy Indicator.
But despite that, only 63 per cent of sales leaders are setting a growth budget for 2023, the lowest since Indicator’s Mood of the Sales Leader survey began six years ago.
The consultancy polled almost 400 sales leaders and salespeople from a range of industries, to get a sense of how the sales force community sees the outlook.
Salespeople and sales leaders were an important group to survey “because they’re the ones at the coal face”, Stokes says.
“They’re the ones that are having the conversations with customers every day about how business is going.
“There are dark clouds out there,” he said. But while there was agreement that 2023 will be harder than 2022, there was also a feeling that there will be opportunities.
“There’s tempered optimism.”
The research shows that only 9 per cent of sales leaders were feeling outright pessimistic about the year ahead - although that was three times as many as at this time last year.
Just 14 per cent were feeling bullish and expecting strong growth. Another 20 per cent were reasonably upbeat and anticipating modest growth, 48 per cent said business will be more challenging but there will still be opportunities for growth while 9 per cent expected similar results to 2022.
When we look at the biggest challenges and expectations from last year it was all concerns around the supply chain and recruitment,” Stokes said.
“This year it’s all about the economy. It’s inflation and clients with reduced budgets.”
There was fear that if the economy went off a cliff, companies wouldn’t be purchasing as much as they did in the past.
The Mood of the Sales Leader report found that about two-thirds of companies achieved revenue growth through 2022 months when compared to 2021.
But what wasn’t so clear was how many were factoring in inflation to that growth.
“We were surprised that more companies did not increase their prices or increased them less than the inflation rate,” Stokes said.
That could mean that some companies which achieved revenue growth, did in fact go backwards, he said.
Despite the ongoing challenge of finding good people, almost half the respondents increased the size of their sales team in 2022, the survey found.
However, it was not easy, with four in 10 claiming it has never been harder to find good salespeople.
While the majority gave their sales teams an increase in base salaries, only one-third gave all their teams an increase.
Over half of the salespeople claimed they were either looking to leave or are unsure if they will stay with their current employer, which reflected the current “talent war”, Stokes said.
“Skilled sales professionals are able to ‘call the shots’ more than ever before,” he said. “Most salespeople surveyed confirmed they were approached about a new role in a new company in 2022.”
While remote and hybrid working had been the trend in the past two years, there had been a move back toward the office with one-third now working in the office most of the week.