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The Evolution of B2B Sales: Key Strategies Through the Decades

Explore how B2B buying changes have reshaped sales strategies over the years, and what it means for your business today.

It is important that you pay attention to the changes in B2B buying, as it often has a greater impact than you might expect. You can make selling much more difficult by using methods that are no longer as effective as they were in their time.

By understanding these different eras, you can understand the evolution of B2B sales and the different approaches and strategies used to win clients and customers. Not everything in an era will make sense to you. You will need to look at these approaches in their time.

From Information Asymmetry to Buyer Empowerment

It can be difficult to understand this era, as it was quite different from how we sell today. In this period, a buyer had only one way to acquire information about a company and their products. That one way was meeting with a salesperson. There was no internet. This era used approaches and strategies based on information disparity. Salespeople were taught and trained not to provide the client with any information that might deter their prospect from buying. There are still sales organizations that approach their clients using strategies developed sixty years ago. This is the era of caveat emptor (buyer beware).

The Stability of Transactional Sales

You may not remember a time when things were stable. In this era, things didn’t change as fast as they do now. In this era, one could count on things being pretty much the same for a long time. Even though we think of transacting as something to avoid, when things don’t change, it is easier to transact.

To be fair, there are still sales organizations that transact, and for good reason. If a buyer knows what they need, they don’t often need the long sales processes of a complex decision. It’s important to know that there are no start or end dates, as these eras crossed over.

The Legacy Approach: Why Choose Us?

This is what we describe now as the legacy approach. Your marketing people love this approach, as they believe that they can help salespeople win deals by singing the praises of their company and their products and services. If your first meeting has you opening a slide deck with a section on your company, followed by your clients, and swerving into your offerings, your approach is no longer as effective. Your contacts have the internet, causing this approach to lose its power to create value for your clients.

I spent years using this approach until my clients asked me to talk with them without slides. My beautiful slide deck was retired to wherever slide decks go when they no longer create value for clients. Note: I still have this slide deck.

Nothing here is to suggest that any of this is all good or all bad. Most of us who use a modern sales approach move the question of “Why us?” to the end of a presentation, where it does create value.

Solutions-Focused Sales Strategies

At some time, sales organizations started to notice that their clients were more interested in the solution than the earlier conversations. They wanted to ensure it would work, and not too much later, they started asking salespeople and their companies to make adjustments to make the solution fit the company buying from this period.

There are still many sales organizations that use this era’s approaches and their strategies. In this era and now, the solution is the star of the conversation. A large number of tech companies use this strategy, with their buyers focused on the solution and its ability to produce the outcomes the client needs. There is a merging of these last two eras, as the answer to “Why us?” includes the solution.

The Linear versus Nonlinear Sales Process

When nothing worked well enough for sales leaders and sales organizations they turned to the linear sales process. The promise of the linear sales process (still being used today) was that every salesperson would hit their targets by following the linear path from qualifying to won deal. Even those who pursued this path found that their best reps were still the best reps and their average reps were still average or worse.

Some have abandoned this approach, replacing it with a nonlinear sales approach like the one you will find in The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales. As my clients rejected the linearity and demanded to have some say in the conversations they needed to be able to acquire the information and insights they needed.

Embracing Technology in B2B Sales

It is difficult to address this era. For nearly three decades many sales leaders and their sales force have turned to technology to improve their results. Recently, one might have noticed more leaders rejecting technology. But with the advent of AI, it is certain that technology will dominate attention and budgets.

Some of us worry about the impact on cold outreach and the push back from contacts overrun by emails and cold calls, especially when it is automated. This may cause smart sales leaders to avoid these strategies and focus on the salesperson and their contacts.

Decision Making in Times of Uncertainty

Let me introduce you to the era of decision making. When you live in a time of uncertainty, you seek certainty. Over the last two decades, you may have noticed your clients have a difficult time making decisions. When you have no idea about when the next shoe falls, you wait to see what happens next. I believe this era will last for three decades. Do good work and do what you need to succeed now and in the future.

Sales 2024
Post by Anthony Iannarino on May 13, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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