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The 3 Changes B2B Sales Veterans MUST Embrace To Stay Relevant

“What about the good leads?…. But these leads are s**t. They’re old…I’ve seen them 100 times…..What about the new leads, huh? The new leads, the Glengarry leads.” – Shelley (The Machine) Levene (the Jack Lemmon character in Glengarry Glenross)

You can almost sense the rank desperation of the aging sales pro in that exchange, and after 25 years in B2B Sales perhaps it’s time for me to start identifying more with him and his challenges. In fact, why just me? My advice to all fellow veterans of the B2B Sales trenches is to start getting desperate. The fact is, the way we have been selling is rapidly going out of fashion and the sooner we recognize that the sooner we will start doing something about it. And make no mistake, if we don’t do something soon it will hurt us.

My agency is in the midst of putting together an event focused on how B2B Sales has changed in the modern age (more details here for those interested: http://www.i-midastouch.com/event/why-b2b-sales-must-harness-the-power-of-digital-marketing-to-go-international/) and this has given me an opportunity to have many conversations with business leaders as well as sales pros. The problems they highlight seem to be remarkably consistent. Most of them report:

  • A dramatic drop in conversations with “new” prospects
  • Sharply lower responses to cold phone calls and email campaigns
  • Unpredictable sales cycles – some are really short, others seem to drag on with endless tyre-kicking

Do you see something similar happening? Are you finding yourself searching for those elusive “Glengarry leads” hoping to break a dry spell? Does that sound familiar? If it does, I’m here to tell you that the malaise runs deeper. Let me elaborate.The

Good Ol’ Days

Us grizzled veterans of the B2B Sales game have traditionally relied on getting into business conversations early. Our hard-working inside sales or cold-calling teams set up a steady stream of new meetings or calls driven by the campaign of the moment. Then we swing into action, directing the progress of the discussion with a reasoned, planned, and consultative approach that takes shape over many discussions. We have always been the primary source of information for our prospect. We have helped them define their problem, map the impact of not addressing it, and then built up to a “hey presto” moment where we unveil a solution that is specifically addresses all these problems with a spend tailored just right. Our ability to shape the landscape in our client accounts was reflected in what we called ourselves. We did “Demand Generation” – as if we miraculously made a need appear where none existed previously. We were “Client Partners” – fighting the good fight on behalf of the client. The truth is that today this way will just not work – some fundamental things have changed.

What Has Changed?

  1. Cold outreach, if not dead, is on the deathbed. There are some truly scary stats out there on how many cold calls it takes to connect with a prospect now – and those numbers will continue their southward slide. The same is true of unsolicited email campaigns. Making more calls and sending more emails is not really going to solve the problem – especially in the B2B Sales game when the target universe is smaller. You’ll just run out of people to connect with sooner.
  2. A significant part of the buyer journey is no longer accessible to us sales folks. Reports are that anywhere from 50% to 80% of the sales process is complete by the time “prospects” deign to connect with us poor vendors. That means that we cannot get in early – something that was central to our “demand generation” way of life.
  3. The buyer is now uber-informed and no longer dependent solely on the information we provide. The WWW is a far richer source of information than a single vendor will ever be. Decision-makers are turning to content available online to define their problems, identify possible solutions, evaluate their relative value, and making a shortlist of vendors they think it fit to engage with – all on their own. If this is denied to us, how do we go about building the relationship (the “Client Partnership”) that is key to our ability to drive the process forward?                                                                                                                    The Change Begins Now

B2B Sales pros who wish to stay relevant must recognize, no embrace these changes. The “What should I do now” list offers enough material for a follow up post to this one but let me offer a couple of suggestions here as first steps.

  1. Get social. Use channels like LinkedIn and Twitter to get in the eye line of key decision-makers at your target companies. The key is to be “social” not to “connect and pitch”. Be visible, engage, comment on the content they share, offer reasoned opinions – you know, all those things you used to do while building a relationship earlier. Building warmer connections on social platforms is more likely to get you into relevant conversations than the efforts of the cold-calling team.
  2. Leverage content. Your company’s content has to play a key role here – show who you are, what problem you solve, who do you do that for, how you are different, what specific unique value you bring to the table, and all this while not being overtly salesy. Turn to your content often to inform and educate, and use that as a means to perhaps drive the thinking of the right audience in the direction you want it to go.

The best B2B Sales pros are driven super-achievers who have built successful careers after facing down challenge after challenge –surely you are the same. If that is so, then it’s time to face down the challenge the digital world has thrown at you – and the first step to take is to embrace the change.

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