The role of the B2B salesperson has never been particularly easy, but as the world, and business, become more complex, so too has B2B sales. When the client's needs change, so must salespeople.
For many decades, a salesperson would provide their prospective clients with information about their company and their offerings, positioning both as superior to those of their competitors. In the current environment, a legacy approach to sales can no longer create a preference for one salesperson over another. Today, clients have access to the information that salespeople might once have shared with them. This changes the level of value that needs to come from the sales conversation.
The following is designed to provide you with a job description for the current environment, so some of what you find here may be new to you. While it will help you identify salespeople who are more likely to succeed, it also may eliminate many candidates with prior sales experience.
Job Description for B2B Sales: Opportunity Creation
Scheduling first meetings: The salesperson will be required to call prospective clients to schedule a first meeting. This role will require the salesperson to prospect every day, primarily using the phone, while also using a prospecting sequence and other media to create value for the client. The goal is to communicate the value the client will gain from a meeting. A salesperson who favors the phone is preferred.
Delivering an executive briefing: The right person for this role will be responsible for briefing decision-makers and their stakeholders on the forces that are—or soon will be—causing the client's company to experience poor results. The person hired for this position will need to be confident and curious enough to master the content necessary to create value for the client in a first meeting. A salesperson with a high level of business acumen is preferred.
Acquiring a second meeting: Success in this role requires the ability to lead a conversation about the changes that would benefit the client and improve their results. The right person for this role will need to be able to create enough value that they earn the right to ask for the commitment to a second meeting.
Accessing additional stakeholders**: Because leaders want their teams to own the decisions they make, the right candidate can gain access to the stakeholders who will be part of the conversations and the eventual decision to change. These stakeholders will also likely be involved in the choice of a partner for this change.
Job Description for B2B Sales: Opportunity Capture
Facilitate the client's buyer's journey: The right person for this position will need to be able to facilitate the buyer's journey by providing advice and recommendations that ensure the client has the right conversations at the right times to make the best decision for their future. The right person will be able to lead their client.
Educate the client and their team: Must be able to ask questions to identify the root cause of the client's poor results, or understand what the client will need to do to improve their results. This role will also require the candidate to ask questions that cause the client to learn something about themselves and the changes they are going to need to make.
Build consensus: The salesperson will need to be able to identify what different stakeholder groups need to agree to move forward in the conversation and to prefer the approach and the changes that will deliver better results. This is part access to stakeholders and part diplomacy, gaining the support necessary to win the client's business.
Match the investment to the outcomes: The salesperson must be able to acquire the right investment from their clients, matching it to the outcomes the client needs and will expect once they buy from the salesperson. By ensuring the investment is adequate, it allows the salesperson to be accountable for the results they promised their client.
Negotiate a win-win deal: The salesperson will negotiate with their prospective clients without having to ask their sales manager. The salesperson will be provided a matrix that allows them to give a concession and know what they must receive in return.
Close deals: The right salesperson will have a track record of closing deals and understanding how and when to ask the client for the commitment to sign a contract and to begin making the changes that will improve the client’s results.
Preferred Character Traits for B2B Sales
You should ask questions that help you discern whether the salesperson has these attributes: self-discipline, optimism, emotional intelligence, other-orientation, savvy, ability to read people, resourcefulness, initiative, persistence, empathy, great communication, accountability for results, authenticity, confidence, comfort with conflict, curiosity, diplomacy, engaging presence, passion, hunger (success-orientation).
Preferred Skills for B2B Sales
You should also ask questions to elicit what skills the salesperson has and where they are going to need training and development. The skills they will need are: closing (gaining commitments), consultation (providing advice and recommendations), objection handling (resolving client concerns), prospecting (creating opportunities), storytelling (sense-making and ability to present the future), questioning (asking powerful, insightful questions), differentiating (the ability to create a preference), negotiating (win-win deals), business acumen (insights and the ability to create value), change management (ability to build consensus and change), and leadership (producing results through others).
There are two major outcomes salespeople are responsible for generating. The first is creating new opportunities, and the second is capturing them. It doesn't matter if the candidate has a resume that shows they have occupied a sales title. What does matter is that the person you are considering for a role in B2B sales can create and win new opportunities.
A sales organization that can hire people who have these capabilities and also train and develop their sales force is going to have an advantage over their competitors. You are unlikely to find the unicorn—the salesperson with no liabilities. No matter how well you vet potential salespeople, you are still going to need to develop everyone over time.