In today’s fast-paced business environment, change is constant. While some buyers claim they would prefer a “salesperson-free buying experience,” many also suffer from buyer’s remorse. The reason is that business buyers treat complex purchase scenarios like they are buying a big-screen television from a retail store like Best Buy.
Successful B2B salespeople seem to have one key factor in common: being “One-Up.” In a complex buying scenario, a salesperson is One-Up when they possess the knowledge and experience that their decision makers lack. This is a form of information disparity that allows them to create value for B2B buyers in the sales conversation.
The future of B2B sales hinges on professional expertise, which combines both professional and domain knowledge. This professional expertise provides a unique sales experience that virtually eliminates competition. The growing chasm between One-Up salespeople and One-Down salespeople divides our industry into sales haves and have-nots.
B2B sales teams who lack the knowledge and experience necessary to create value for their ideal customers will struggle to succeed in sales. Like those who cling to outdated sales models, leaders who fail to train, coach, and develop their sales force will arrest their development.
How Selling Has Changed
Several factors have transformed B2B sales, many of which stem from evolving customer and client behaviors. Buyers now conduct more research independently, a phenomenon called consumerization. This is like the Best Buy scenario described at the beginning of this post. At the center of consumerization is business buyers approaching B2B purchases like they do consumer purchases. The problem is that business purchases are rarely like consumer purchases.
This shift to using a consumer approach for B2B is occurring as One-Up sales organizations are recognizing the need to move from being product-focused to being client-focused.
What’s troubling is that there is no longer a single decision-maker. Instead, this person has been replaced by a task force that needs consensus to move forward. This is a process that would be familiar to anyone watching how bills are passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, and often it’s just as political. It is also the cause of longer B2B sales cycles.
Technologies like vendor management systems continue to commoditize products and services while creating an obstacle between salespeople and their clients. Over the last decade, many technologies that make up the sales stack and promise improvement in efficiency have resulted in the opposite. Salespeople spend less time with their prospective clients.
There is some good news for those with professional expertise. Because they are One-Up, they find it easier to succeed in sales.
The Coming Decline of Everything
For your entire life and mine, we have had the mighty boon of globalization. Much of what we enjoyed during this period is now ending. One factor is the United States’ decision to no longer police the entire world.
But there is a more significant factor that will change everything, including B2B selling: global demographics. Around the world, we do not have enough children to provide a replacement population.
In the United States, women have an average of 1.6 babies. You need 2.2 babies to replace the people we lose. (Don’t blame me, we did replacement rate +1.)
If you want to talk about longer sales cycles, it’s helpful to know that it takes nine months to make a baby. It takes 22 years to make an employee and a consumer.
The rest of the world faces the same predicament. You can expect less demand as 76.4 million Baby Boomers retire between now and 2030.
Let’s assume there are fewer people and that, as demand falls, there is less to sell. That means there are fewer salespeople. It also means a smaller sales funnel and fewer closed deals.
Why Buyers Need Assistance
When buyers claim they would prefer to be without a salesperson, this poses a paradox. Buyers struggle to decide on change because they are plagued by uncertainty, especially in a complex sales process.
When buyers are fortunate enough to encounter a salesperson with professional expertise, they prefer to buy from that salesperson. This is because the savvy salesperson can make sense of their predicaments and lead them through their buyer’s journey.
In The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, I wrote about the need for salespeople to control the process, which was my version of facilitating the buyer’s journey. Professional expertise includes the knowledge and experience to guide the qualified prospect through the conversations that will allow them to succeed.
The Job of Educating Clients
Information disparity means the salesperson with professional expertise is responsible for educating their clients on their challenges and pain points. They also advise, consult, and provide recommendations.
Creating Value for Clients
One simple approach to understanding how to create value for your clients is to imagine yourself as a consultant. You only sell your counsel and advice. Your client has an enormous and expensive problem, and they expect you to help them work out what they should do and how to decide. If you can have this conversation, it’s likely you will create value for your client. If this would be a stretch for you or your sales team, you need to develop professional expertise.
The lack of expertise coupled with a legacy sales approach, is the ideal recipe for irrelevance and poor sales results, now and in the future.
What does a decision-maker do? If you answered, “Makes decisions,” proceed with confidence. If a person or persons needed to make a complex decision that is important to get right, you would expect them to look for help from an expert. B2B selling is becoming a form of decision enablement. Decision enablement is the domain of salespeople with professional expertise.
Why Non-expert Sales Reps Struggle
Non-expert sales reps are already having a tough time selling effectively. The SDRs and BDRs that make cold calls and get no love have their development stunted by companies who treat them as pawns on a chessboard instead of developing peers. We will need more full-cycle salespeople, and we will not have them due to the way they have been taught to sell.
Developing Expertise in B2B Sales
There are several ways to develop professional expertise. My expertise was developed by a manager who included me in sales calls. He also accompanied me on sales calls.
Later, I asked my clients questions about how their businesses worked and what they needed from me. I also read hundreds of business books to improve my business acumen. Finally, I used a modern sales approach long before it became popular.
Here is a recipe: Train your team on modern sales approaches. Help salespeople see what is invisible by providing the coaching they crave. Develop them consistently.
The Future Is Now
The future of B2B sales lies in professional expertise or what we call “One-Up” salespeople.
The changing landscape of B2B includes factors such as consumerization, the lack of a clear decision-maker, and an environment that creates uncertainty. The world’s demographics, particularly the declining population, will also affect B2B sales in the coming years. Recognize the importance of professional expertise in creating value for clients and enabling decision-making.
Non-expert sales already struggle in this environment, and sales organizations need to invest in developing the expertise of their sales teams through modern sales approaches, consistent training, and coaching.
- Identify areas where you lack professional expertise in B2B sales.
- Invest in training and coaching to develop your expertise and improve your business acumen.
- Use modern sales approaches to create value for your clients and enable their decision-making.
- Stay up to date with the changing landscape of B2B sales and adapt your strategies.
- What is professional expertise in B2B sales? Professional expertise is the knowledge and experience that allow a salesperson to create value for their clients and improve their results.
- How does professional expertise differ from traditional sales tactics? Professional expertise focuses on helping the buyer make a good decision rather than talking about the company and its offerings.
- How can sales reps develop professional expertise? Sales reps can develop professional expertise through experience, business acumen, reading, and studying industries and businesses trends and concepts.
- How can professional expertise create value for the buyer? Professional expertise helps buyers understand their challenges and make the changes that lead to their strategic outcomes.
- What are common obstacles non-expert sales reps face? Non-expert sales reps often struggle to connect with clients, create value, and enable decision-making. This is also partially due to a reliance on outdated sales tactics.
- What should sales organizations prioritize to develop the expertise of their sales teams? Sales organizations should prioritize modern sales approaches, consistent training, and coaching to develop the expertise of their sales teams.
- How does the changing landscape of B2B sales impact the importance of professional expertise? The changing landscape of B2B sales, including factors such as consumerization, the lack of a clear decision-maker, and an environment that creates uncertainty, makes professional expertise increasingly important for creating value and enabling decision-making.
- What is the role of coaching in developing professional expertise? Coaching is crucial in helping salespeople identify areas where they lack expertise, providing guidance on how to develop their skills, and keeping them up to date with the latest trends and strategies in B2B sales.
- How can sales reps stay up to date with the changing landscape of B2B sales? Sales reps can stay up to date with the changing landscape of B2B sales by continuously learning about industry trends, participating in training sessions, and seeking coaching and mentorship opportunities.
- How does the declining global population impact B2B sales? The declining global population can lead to reduced demand, smaller sales funnels, and fewer closed deals, making it even more important for sales reps to have professional expertise to create value for their clients and enable decision-making.