One of my friends was helping a salesperson to leave the legacy approach and adopt a modern sales methodology. At some point, my friend used the term B2B, and the salesperson asked what it meant. No one had ever explained it to him, so how could he know?
There is no shame in being ignorant, it means you don’t know what you don’t know. But what is worse than being ignorant is knowing something and not acting on it. For example, not working to increase your business acumen is failing to do something you know you should. So is selling P2B, or product to business.
Symptoms of P2B Selling
The first way you know the salesperson is a P2B sales rep is that they have no interest in business. Without an interest in business, it’s impossible to be a consultative salesperson because it requires an interest in business, including your client’s.
A second way to determine a salesperson is P2B rather than B2B is that they lack business acumen, an understanding of how business works. For starters, they don’t watch or listen to CNBC or other programs that would help remedy a lack of business acumen. They don’t read business, financial, or economics publications, either.
Still more, the P2B salesperson races to find a problem and a pain point so they can propose their product or service. They wonder why anyone would wait to share the solution to your client’s problem, when you could save time by racing past the minor details.
A Root Cause of P2B Selling
For their part, sales managers command their sales teams to pursue velocity to speed the acquisition of new clients. It doesn’t matter to them that the salesperson’s contacts need more time and understanding, or that they lack the confidence and certainty to move forward without it.
Though they should know better, many sales leaders have regressed to transactional sales approaches that prevent salespeople from creating value for the client in the sales conversation. This leads buyers to complain about the sales experience and reject the P2B salesperson’s attempt to acquire a second meeting.
When a salesperson is being onboarded, they are taught and trained to believe that their company is unique, like their products and services. They learn nothing about their future clients, what’s going on in their industry, or what they need to know to improve their results.
The Anti-Consultative Approach
Product-to-business salespeople may as well be selling some fungible product, like copy paper, plywood, or some other undifferentiated commodity one might sell. They treat the sales conversation as if it is unnecessary and speed to a description of the product or service, pitching it to a decision maker or buyer as soon as they can.
This approach is the opposite of consultative because the salesperson has little or nothing to contribute. They know little about business, including which factors the client might need to explore to figure out what they should do. When salespeople lack business acumen and the experience to lead their clients, their clients are on their own when it comes to making the critical decision they are charged with, one they must get right on the first try.
From Peddler to Business Sales Rep
Being called a peddler isn’t a compliment to a salesperson. It means the salesperson walks around and pitches everyone to buy whatever it is they are selling. Without knowing why, the peddler finds selling difficult, but they plug along, trying to win deals and succeed.
Because they believe their solution is the best in class, they have trouble understanding why their prospective clients don’t seem to need or want it. They also wonder why other salespeople seem to have a far easier time acquiring clients and orders. Unless someone joins the sales rep on a sales call and helps them understand why they are struggling, they will continue to fail.
Something that could help this poor peddler would be if a better salesperson allowed them to observe an effective sales call. Demonstrating what good looks like can help the peddler see what an effective B2B salesperson does to create value and win new clients. However, it will take time and behavioral changes to move the peddler toward a consultative approach.
The Future of B2B Sales
I would like to tell you that the future of sales will evolve, create ever more value for clients, and become truly consultative. As much as I would want this to be true, it pains me to tell you the truth.
More sales leaders and their sales organizations are swapping out the first B in B2B sales with a P, which could equally stand for product, peddler, or pitch. No one wants to buy a product; they want to buy an outcome. Buyers don’t want a pitch, but they want to understand why they have a certain problem and what to consider in order to produce the outcomes they want and need.
If you are a consultative salesperson, you are in great shape. Your approach provides you with a sustainable competitive advantage. Anyone who is something less than a consultative salesperson will need to adopt a modern sales methodology and the training and development to better understand how to sell in the third decade of the 21st century and beyond.
Selling has never been easy, but it is increasingly difficult for the salespeople who believe they are selling effectively when they are losing deals. Those who succeed in B2B sales have the business acumen and interest to learn about their client’s companies, how they can face their industry’s current challenges, and how to be truly consultative. They make sure they can provide the advice and recommendations the client needs to succeed.