Business to Business Sales Acid Test: How Could You Improve Sales Performance?

What could you do to improve sales performance in these very demanding times? An important first step in your b2b sales strategy is to identify the primary skills and attitude issues that are having a negative impact on your company’s sales performance. The majority of these will be associated with what I often refer to as “comfort zone selling”. This article is primarily aimed at companies selling business to business solutions, services or consultancy.

Do You Have An Effective Business to Business Sales Strategy?

Many b2b salespeople go through the same tired old sales process time and again, without every really understanding the psychology or dynamics behind the complex buying decisions that involve value add or business critical solutions or services. Sometimes they get lucky and very often they don’t. Yet there is another breed of b2b salespeople who would seem to experience more sustained “luck” in this area. The reality of course is that they make their own luck through a more intelligent and strategic approach to complex sales scenarios.

This sales acid test looks at the top 20 business to business sales growth killers that tend to defy a company’s efforts to improve sales performance and it applies as much to large corporates as it does to small or medium enterprise (SME). Engaging an experienced sales coach can bring a valuable external view with fresh ideas to catalyse your sales strategy.

Business to Business Sales Acid Test – A Health Warning

This b2b sales acid test sets out to highlight only those business growth killers that are directly sales related. A separate article will focus on other “people related” business growth killers. These two areas are obviously closely related with many interdependencies and it may be beneficial to consider them collectively for your sales strategy to succeed. Some of the sales issues described here will have a direct impact on other business areas and vice versa.

There is a health warning with this b2b sales acid test in that any changes it may inspire you to make are best carried out as a sales evolution, rather than a sales revolution. In other words, beware of trying to address too much too soon or you may end up with a confused and revolting sales team (pun intended). It is advised that you consider engaging an external b2b sales coach with relevant experience to assist you in determining what to tackle (importance), when to tackle it (urgency), and how to tackle it (best approach).

Salespeople Are at the Heart of Both the Problem and the Solution

The market tends to place expectations on the role and function of a salesperson and how they should and shouldn’t behave and weaker or less experienced salespeople largely tend to conform to this unfortunate stereotype. Therein lies the core challenge as conformance will ensure mediocrity at the very best. No key influencer or decision maker wants to spend time in the company of the stereotype salesperson as they recognise that there is little value in engaging with such people. Many will however choose to spend time with that rare b2b salesperson that really brings value as a trusted advisor.

There are strategies and approaches that may work for retail sales, business to consumer (b2c) sales and others that may work for business to business (b2b) commodity sales. However these are all guaranteed to fail miserably when selling b2b value-add or business critical solutions, services or consultancy. When a key influencer or decision maker knows their career may depend on the supplier selection they make, there is no room for a salesperson whose primary interest is in trying to flog them something. Such complex scenarios require a far more credible and considered b2b sales strategy, winning credibility and the confidence of senior players in order to create a decent chance of success.

Some b2b salespeople will be more receptive to change and have the potential to modify their attitudes and behaviours, learn new skills or adopt new approaches. These people are more likely to be worth investing in as you seek to raise the bar on sales performance. However, there will always be others that will either lack the potential or be unwilling to move out of their comfort zones. It would help to improve sales performance if the latter were to be encouraged to pursue their sales careers elsewhere, being replaced by those more willing and able.

And Now to the Sales Acid Test Itself

What follows is a summary of the top 20 “sales related” growth killers that I have come across in recent years. Any one of these will impact a company’s overall sales potential and many companies suffer a combination that tends to exacerbate the negative impact, causing the sales growth of some to slow down, stand still or even recede. It’s all too easy to hope such things will simply go away and many managers may want to avoid any potential confrontation that might arise if they tried to address such issues. That’s where the support of an experienced external b2b sales coach comes in.

Top 20 Business to Business Sales Growth Killers (in no specific order)

Concerning Prospective or Existing Customers: Note: “client” is used below to represent prospects or customers.

  • Poor returns from presentations, demos, trials, proposals or bids.
  • Regular sales forecast slippage or forecast order value reduction.
  • Suffering late stage disappointments with key forecast opportunities.
  • Some clients become unresponsive after proposals are submitted.
  • Being used for free consultancy by people with no intention of buying.
  • Investing time bidding on client projects that fail to gain funding.
  • Difficulty getting in front of key influencers or decision makers.
  • Difficulty in gaining client commitment to progress to next steps.
  • Clients holding us at arm’s length preventing any real relationship.
  • Clients not keeping us well-informed of changes that might impact us.
  • Clients not being straight with us by withholding information or lying.
  • Clients see us more as a product supplier than a strategic partner.
  • Clients expecting our key value-add at little or no additional cost.
  • Our pricing or terms are too often compromised in sales negotiations.
  • Salespeople too frequently requesting client discounts or concessions.
  • Reluctance of existing clients to meet us on a regular enough basis.
  • Sales reluctance to involve management in key client relationships.
  • Inconsistent or weak sales strategy failing to gain enough traction.
  • Some salespeople failing to meet expectations or hit sales targets.
  • Inconsistent overall sales performance leading to feast or famine.

Relating the B2B Sales Acid Test to Your Company

Your sales entity may suffer a combination of these issues that will serve to weaken any strategy you might implement to improve sales performance. No company is or ever will be perfect and in reality most of these sales issues will apply in some degree or other to every business. Therefore it’s important to focus on those proving most detrimental to your company’s sales strategy rather than shooting for overall sales perfection.

You may benefit significantly from taking a pragmatic look to understand how many of these sales issues apply to your business and don’t despair if its more than one. At least you will have started the process of sales evolution by identifying these as key change focus areas. If we first identify and then look to address the most important and urgent and aim to do this over a period of months rather than weeks or days, we will have a far greater chance of success. Engaging an experienced external sales coach may be critical if you are serious about evolving your b2b sales strategy for growth.