There are many problems plaguing B2B sales organizations, but the one that garners the most attention relates to how buyers buy. You can be certain they are doing their own research and inviting more stakeholders into the decision-making process, including some with a tenuous connection to the decision. But the largest change in buyers’ behavior is their unwillingness to accept the poor sales experience of the legacy approach, which creates no value for them. The proof is the number of salespeople who get a first meeting and cannot acquire a second one. More evidence is the number of opportunities in your pipeline that are old enough to get a driver’s license.
The B2B sales process is now largely nonlinear. The start-and-stop nature of the buyer's journey causes sales teams to struggle to efficiently pursue opportunities. It doesn't help that stakeholders show up for some meetings only to disappear for a period of time, making it difficult for them to move forward. The average sales cycle for a lot of organizations continues to grow.
Yet there are still more challenges for B2B sales organizations. In 2021, The Wall Street Journal reported there were 700,000 sales job vacancies, and no one wants them. The article explained that the jobs pay better than other options and provide much more autonomy. Despite this, when young people take sales roles, their tenure is slightly greater than the lifespan of a fruit fly.
Still, there is something even more important than the many factors listed here—something that simmers underneath these problems that the community of sales organizations will need to address. What is it, you ask? It's the return of a negative stereotype of salespeople.
How Salespeople Earned a Bad Reputation
In the past, sales organizations and salespeople used aggressive strategies to reach their goals. Many salespeople selling their product or service put a deal above their client's outcome. Salespeople had the advantage of information disparity, allowing them to conveniently leave out information that would cause the buyer not to buy. By hiding information, they created an advantage for themselves.
Once I tried to buy a car from a dealer and the salesperson tried to take advantage of me. He offered me a low price for the car. Then, when I asked about the term, he offered seven years. When I told him I wasn't buying from him, he brought in his manager (the closer). They refused to give me back my car keys and tried to intimidate me into buying. The salesperson blocked the door with his arms.
Most salespeople have never been introduced to high-pressure selling, which was once considered an effective sales strategy. I will share with you an example: "Mr. Johnson, you do love your wife, don't you?" Johnson says, "Of course I do!" The salesperson continues, "You love your three beautiful children, don't you?" Johnson responds, "Of course, they mean everything to me!" The salesperson continues, “I can't leave here without making sure your beautiful family will be taken care of, should something happen to you, God forbid. Sign here."
The only thing missing from this example is that you needed three “yes” answers to close.
The Forces that Professionalized Sales
There is a truth about competition that few acknowledge: Your competitor is often willing to do what you refuse to do. Here in the United States, the economy has grown ever larger. The United States is the third largest country by population and the largest economy. The estimates suggest there are over 32 million businesses.
The first factor that professionalized sales wasn't asking clients about their pain points. It was that the number of companies in most industries constantly increased and provided more choices. The result is that today, every industry is now treated like a commodity. The second factor that professionalized sales was the long line of sales methodologies, techniques, approaches, models, and training. These resources offer a new approach and have allowed professional sales to evolve, even if Hollywood continues to find it profitable to retain the negative stereotype. It took a long time for potential customers and decision-makers to stop worrying about high-pressure tactics and invite B2B salespeople to sit across the table. The linear sales process made it easier to work through the sales conversation, but it is not flexible enough to meet the needs of modern buyers.
As buyers’ needs and wants have changed, many salespeople have regressed. Faced with increased difficulty in closing, they act in ways that cause buyers to resist interacting with any sales reps, even you and me, and all the salespeople doing good work.
The Atrocious Strategies of Techno-Brutes
I love technology. I buy and use a lot of it. It has made our lives a lot better and much more comfortable. You need technology to sell effectively. The long list of technologies we use in sales goes beyond the CRM. When I criticize sales technology, it's not because the platforms are not good or helpful. I am critical of how technology is used.
A techno-brute uses technology to bludgeon their prospects with sales automation. Every day, my InMail box fills up with people who want to automate my outreach, promising I will close deals. I have no interest in automating LinkedIn. I have even less interest in contributing to the degradation of B2B sales. Email is no better.
Our conversation here is efficiency versus effectiveness. The techno-brute believes that activity is efficiency, avoiding the fact that if it doesn't produce the result, it's inefficient. After spending years carefully targeting our ideal customer and the companies that would benefit from what we sell, other salespeople have returned to the "spray and pray" approaches that annoy contacts. No one needs an automated salesperson to "bubble up," an email that was deleted on the first contact.
As soon as Chat GPT appeared, some salespeople immediately started using it to write cold emails and sales scripts. While the legacy approach completely commoditized the discovery call, technology is going to commoditize prospecting and cold outreach. You and I can expect more communications because new tools allow people who lack the creativity and experience to craft a message. They use technology to ape a better salesperson.
The reason antibiotics no longer work as well as they did in the past is because the bacteria have built up resistance to them. As other salespeople copy sales messages and bombard everyone they consider to be a potential buyer, your contacts ignore your email because they have developed a resistance to sales outreach messages.
How to Earn a Bad Reputation Today
B2B sales teams will be plastered with the techno-brute stereotype, a high cost to pay for someone else's bad behavior. The rules for sending bulk emails are that you must have permission and an unsubscribe link.
LinkedIn's contract prohibits automation, but if your InMail is like mine, it’s clear this rule is frequently broken. It’s easy to identify the people using automation because it auto-sends a message with a calendar link less than a second after you accept the invite. For fun, when someone invites you to connect, look at their profile and see when they followed you. If it was during the current month, they’re likely using sales automation.
The worst of our brothers and sisters believe that sales is a number game. While that may be true, they are looking at the wrong numbers. They believe that a high level of activity is the key to winning deals, while all that really matters is effectiveness. I would trade a pipeline of 300 percent for a 65 percent win rate every time.
How to Create and Maintain the Human Advantage
In B2B selling you need to worry about efficiency and effectiveness. In the future, something like Chat GPT will be the equivalent of power steering and power brakes. You won't notice it. When everything is driven by technology, humans have an extreme advantage that stems from what and who we are. Empathy, compassion, creativity, imagination, the ability to give another person your full and undivided attention, caring for others, helping people in need, making art, telling stories that instill values, making emotional connections, and inspiring others all fall into the domain of humans. When compared to humans, technology is dark and cold. Algorithms lack anything close to a soul. When everything is technology, your sustainable strategic advantage is being human. When something is a commodity, success means being different.