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Discover the evolving dynamics of B2B sales in the 21st century and the strategies to stay ahead.

Observations on B2B Sales in the 21st Century

Here you will find several observations about the current state of B2B sales in the third decade of the 21st century. The one thing you can count on never changing is change. Most of the changes during this period are not helpful for sales organizations or their sales teams; few improve results or the salesperson’s role.

The Shift in Cold Calling Strategies

If you were to look at all sales content on social media, you would find that the largest percentage is about making cold calls. While it is important to be able to book a meeting with your prospective clients, other development needs are equally or more important.

The Evolution of Sales Development Roles

Rather than building full-cycle salespeople, sales organizations have decided to stunt the growth of another generation of salespeople by splitting the sales process into separate pieces. As a result, there are salespeople who have mastered the cold call, but lack the ability to sell. Soon, organizations that continue down this path will regret their decision. I wish I was wrong, but it is rare that I miss on these kinds of predictions.

Enhancing Discovery in Sales Processes

All the emphasis on a single call to a client seems to have stolen the focus from discovery. Over the last three decades, discovery has changed more than anything else in sales because buyers and decision-makers explore available options on their own. If salespeople need anything, it's to improve their effectiveness in discovery. See Elite Sales Strategies for more on discovery.

Building Winning Sales Relationships

Why do we believe that salespeople know how to build the relationship that would win the client? It’s about more than rapport or value creation, even if both are helpful in building relationships. Too many salespeople believe the relationship is about the transaction, a belief that will have them losing their clients for a lack of an ability to maintain and sustain the relationship.

Reassessing Pipeline Strategies in Sales Leadership

One reason cold calling garners so much attention is that sales leaders require their sales force to have 3X, 4X, or 8X their quota. Unfortunately, more opportunities can’t ensure the sales rep hits their quota. The only way to reach your quota is to win enough deals that you hit your number.

Focusing on Sales Force Effectiveness

All the time and energy spent building a pipeline that is much larger than it has should be invested in increasing the sales force’s effectiveness, as effectiveness is the variable that determines whether you reach your sales goals. I asked a successful sales manager to tell me her team’s win rates in order from top to bottom, and she did so without opening her laptop. Her team is winning because that is what she is enabling.

The Importance of Business Acumen in B2B Sales

When you see B2B sales, you must understand that each B stands for business. In B2B sales, you are acting as a business advisor, providing counsel, advice, and recommendations. But few focus on building a sales force with the business acumen to be consultative.

Visioning the Future in Sales Strategies

Salespeople are not taught to read and research the forces and the trends that provide mostly headwinds with an occasional tailwind. Instead, they believe the solution is all they need to win a client’s business. This transactional approach causes reps to lose deals they might have won, had they treated the pursuit differently.

Understanding Client Engagement and Ghosting

A lot of salespeople complain that their contact ghosts them. They complain about the client, as if the client is to blame. The only reason a client misses a meeting with a salesperson is that the salesperson wasted the client’s time. Had the salesperson performed better by creating value in the first meeting.

Evaluating Technology's Role in Sales

If more technology could improve sales results, we should have already seen evidence of this being true. Most sales organizations need nothing more than a CRM and a data source. You might do just as well with a stack of index cards and a phone instead of an expensive tech stack.

The Risks of Sales Automation

As technologies are automated, we are all but ensuring that no salesperson will be able to email their clients and prospects. As some are automating cold calls, the phone will also become less effective. If a sales force adopts these practices, it’s not a problem, but when hundreds and thousands adopt these harmful tactics, it will hurt salespeople and the companies they are pursuing.

Challenging the Linear Sales Model

A lot of sales forces adopted the linear sales approach, the kind that starts with targeting and ends with a won deal. The theory was that by managing a set of outcomes that, done well, would ensure every salesperson should win every deal. As you might imagine, the claims were never delivered, as buyers have their own ideas about the sales conversation.

For those of us that care about the profession, many of the observations here need to be addressed by sales leaders, sales managers, and by those who counsel sales organizations. These bad practices have already caused all kinds of harm to salespeople, their clients, and their prospects, and the sales organizations themselves.

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Sales 2024
Post by Anthony Iannarino on January 22, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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