Why B2B Sales is No Longer Working

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A fundamental shift is occurring in Business-to-Business (B2B) sales as prospecting and sales results seem to be taking a turn for the worse. Lead conversion rates are lower, sales cycles are longer, and closing ratios are not what they used to be. We hear many Sales and Marketing executives complain that “solution selling” and other sales methodologies are no longer as effective as they once were.  We also hear that sales reps are losing control of the sales process, and that prospects just aren’t picking up their phones.

The problems our customers are facing can all be traced to the shift in control over the flow of information from sellers to buyers.

In past decades, sales representatives were conduits of highly valuable information for prospective buyers. They might open a sales call by saying, “…if you are anything like my typical customers, you probably have these challenges that are costing you a great deal of money. We have been very successful at solving those kinds of problems, and I would like to share with you how we do that.”

Twenty years ago, that opening was pretty effective. Aside from spending the time and money to attend conferences, buyers had limited ways of accessing information, insights, or new ideas on how to solve their latest problems. Speaking with a highly informed consultative sales rep was critical to finding viable solutions to their challenges.

Today, we have a different story. We have a digital generation of decision makers who prefer to guide their decision-making with digitally available information. In other words, they don’t want to talk to your sales rep until they are reasonably certain that they won’t waste their time doing so.


What B2Bs can learn from B2Cs

Business to Consumer (B2C) companies have always relied on marketing to draw potential customers to where they distribute their products or services—either a brick-and-mortar store front, or an online ecommerce site.

They live or die by their marketing strength, which means that they intimately understand their customers—their issues, worries, preferences, etc. They also know how to cut through all the noise and grab the attention of their prospects, as well as how to convert that attention into a sale at a consistently high level.

B2B companies, on the other hand, have always relied on their army of sales reps to get business. Consequently, once their sales reps started having trouble accessing prospects as well as they had in the past, sales began to suffer.

This problem manifests in many ways, but a key ramification is the huge difference in sales performance between the top and bottom sales performers. In some cases, we have seen a five- fold or more difference. This tells us that the top sales performers have figured out how to gain access to the right prospects, even in the absence of help from marketing, while the bottom performers are left floundering helplessly.

Continuing to believe that it is the sales rep’s job to gain access to prospects and leaving the entirety of the task to Sales would be missing the point. Just like you wouldn’t expect a waiter to first cook the food he serves you, you shouldn’t expect your sales team to do the marketing work of getting the prospect’s attention. This paper discusses how Marketing, Prospecting, and Sales have to work together to deliver predictable revenue, quarter after quarter.

First, let’s take a look at why B2B sales is struggling in the age of digital decision makers.


What B2Bs Sales looks like when it doesn’t work

Below is a typical scenario of how marketing and sales function in companies that struggle to consistently meet their revenue objectives. Essentially, Marketing and Sales have little or no relationship and actually resent and blame each other for missed revenue targets.


Problem 1: Marketing is not held responsible for generating leads.

While the Marketing team works very hard every day, it does not have a clear mission or mandate. Lead Generation is just one of its many responsibilities, not its priority. Because it does not focus on lead generation, it typically hands over all of the contacts in its marketing program for Sales to sort out.

Problem 2: There is no well-defined, tested, and proven sales methodology that members of the sales team follow. Each sells his or her own way, with little data captured in any system. Most of the information regarding sales is typically found in the rep’s email inbox, hard-drive, or mobile phone. Management is forced to rely on verbal reports and to hope for the best.

Because they have a skinny pipeline, sales reps that do get a meeting immediately launch into their pitch rather than properly qualifying the prospect first.

They jump too early into providing a proposal for a prospect that is not very engaged, and then they wait and hope for the best.

In such cases, it is typical to see sales opportunities remain on the sales pipeline for a year, two years, or even longer. In fact, the quickest indicator of a lack of process is the extremely wide range in average deal size, average sales cycles, and average closing ratios. 

The Exception to the Rule: On the other hand, businesses may have a top-notch sales rep that brings in a far greater proportion of the total sales than anyone else. In many cases, we have seen such a person bring as much as 50% or more of the sales in a company that had anywhere from six to eight additional sales reps.

This top-seller uses a very efficient process and methodology. However, she is typically the only one with a disciplined approach to prospecting and sales. She generally does not rely on Marketing to provide her with leads, and instead cultivates her own resources.

In some cases, we have seen such a sales rep actually employ someone to pre-qualify and set appointments for her so she can focus on moving her pipeline through closing.

The numbers for this top-notch sales rep are remarkably consistent, as the rep closes practically the same amount of business every quarter.