This Is What Has Made B2B Sales More Challenging

Not too long ago, people believed the most significant changes in business-to-business sales were the internet and the social channels. Both the internet and social media were supposed to change sales forever, eliminating salespeople—along with everything that came before Twitter. While the internet is a major disruptive force, its real power is its ability to enable more significant challenges. These challenges provide a new reality. The context of sales has changed, and it’s more challenging than ever.

More Choices and Alternatives

One of the results of globalization, cheap money, the glamorization of entrepreneurship, and low barriers of entry into markets is the increasing number of choices available to businesses and consumers.

The conversation over the last decade centered on the idea that the internet leveled the playing field with salespeople. The internet provided the client with information. But this is a minor factor compared to the ability to find and be found by potential partners. In many (or most) markets, there is a glut of competitors.

Your clients are provided with options should you fail to create value for them. You might call this the commoditization of everything. More choices mean there is a higher requirement to compete, and for many sales organizations and their salespeople, a greater need to displace competitors to grow their sales.

Greater Financial Responsibility

The requirement to meet financial goals continues to cascade down from the executive leadership team. More and more, companies measure the contribution of divisions, departments, and teams. The drive to produce better results also creates more pressure to perform.

This pressure makes sales challenging because it is no longer enough to sell a product, service, or solution. Instead, your clients need your help to produce economic value. They want cost savings (not the same thing as a lower price), higher revenue, or improved profitability. Your client’s financial goals are a factor in who they choose as a partner.

The Drive for Consensus

Over the last couple of decades, leaders have moved from making decisions for their companies and their teams to strategies that allow them to improve buy-in and ownership of new initiatives. This drive for consensus is right for the organization because it builds alignment.

At the same time, it is detrimental to organizations that spend a lot of time on some projects only to set them aside when they can’t get obstacles and opponents to stand down. The difficulty clients have building consensus often becomes the sales rep’s problem, increasing the difficulty of winning complex sales (complex means the decision is infrequent and highly significant (strategic).

Push for Risk Shifting and Performance Guarantees

More companies are asking sales organizations to agree to their contracts instead of signing the sales organization’s agreement. It wasn’t long ago when the question as to whose paper you were on would have been a rarely-held conversation. The trend behind the trend is shifting the risk from the client to the sales organization.

If you are signing your client’s contract, it requires that you, or your legal counsel, negotiate indemnification clauses and insurance coverages. Another way clients shift risk is by requiring performance guarantees. This way, there are penalties for failing to produce outcomes that are part of a service level agreement.

Greater Accountability

Clients have higher expectations from their partners. They expect their partners to be accountable for the results they promise, grading them on scorecards. In the past, failures might have been overlooked, ignored, or allowed to go unaddressed.

Now, when you sell an outcome, you are expected to own it. The pressure to perform flows from your client to you and your company. Greater accountability makes sales challenging, especially in B2B sales.

The Rise of Purchasing

It started with a downturn in 2001 and gained more momentum during and after the Great Recession. Leaders invest and purchasing acts a check on their investment. They are making sure they get the best deal, even if it often means confusing price with cost.

As purchasing has gained power, complex sales around strategic outcomes are being treated as commodities. It’s as if there are no consequences for taking money out of solutions that often result in execution problems. These execution problems then show up as violations of service level agreements and scorecards.

These factors and more not listed provide context for the environment in which you now sell. While ideas like social selling and account-based marketing and technological tools dominated the landscape for a dozen or so years, we have ignored many of the more challenging sales trends that, in many ways, make selling more difficult for sales professionals. If you want to improve sales, take a deeper look at what makes it challenging. 

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