How To Win At B2B Sales

If you are a B2B salesperson you might be rather worried about some of the research data that's being widely quoted by "the experts."  Here is a selection:

  • "Customers rate the salesperson as the least influential interaction in the buying process" - Gartner
  • "Death of the B2B salesperson: 93% of buyers say they prefer buying online rather than from a salesperson" - Forrester
  • "57% of the buyer's journey is complete before a customer's first contact with supplier" - Corporate Executive Board
  • "67% of the buyer's journey is now done digitally" - Sirius Decisions

Salespeople would be forgiven for thinking they'll all be out of work in a few short years! Yet the reality is nothing is further from the truth.

But there's a catch...

Sales and marketing functions must significantly change the way they currently go to market. The truth is B2B buyers ARE changing their purchasing behaviour and both functions are duty bound to adapt or fail.

Let's start by discussing how the modern B2B buyer purchases. The buyer's journey (a phrase originally coined by Hugh McFarlane of Align.me and now widely used) is a cognitive decision making process - a series of steps or stages through which a buyer must pass in order to select a course of action from the many, many alternatives in front of them. There are 7 stages.

buyers journey.png

Broadly speaking these 7 stages can be described in three distinct phases, firstly the learn phase where the buyer starts to feel the impact of the problems and challenges their business is facing and starts researching how to fix it. However, businesses face many challenges they must overcome. Why focus on this one in particular? At a certain point they will reach a decision gate (the acknowledge gap stage):

Decision gate #1: Asks why are we fixing this problem? What is the likely improvement or gain I, and/or the broader business will experience by removing this issue with which we are wrestling. In other words they must be able to articulate the Return on Investment (ROI) they will receive.  Without this they will not proceed, but keep investigating and learning. Its worth noting that whilst one key decision maker might be convinced others may not and the decision to proceed may stall unless sufficient momentum exists among all stakeholders.

Once the decision to proceed is made the buyer enters the solve phase. They ask themselves, "OK, so fixing this problem is worth it, but what does "good" actually look like?" In other words what is best practice and how does that apply to my specific firm. The stakeholders must agree on what it is that the firm needs and what approach, methodology or technology we need to fix our problem. Typically the number of different roles that must be consulted increases as the deal size increases. This group of influencers is referred to as a buying centre - a concept we covered in this White Paper. This leads to:

Decision gate #2: How do we solve this problem? Consensus must be reached among the different stakeholders on what is the best approach the firm should take.

With clarity around how to solve the problem, the buyer must select which vendor's product or service that will do the best job of solving the challenge, the selection phase. They must whittle down the handful of providers who seem to have solutions that will help solve the particular challenge they face and unlock the latent value.

Decision gate #3: Referring back to the original problem identified and the value of solving the problem (IE decision gate 1) whose solution is most likely to succeed.  

buyers journey gates-1.jpg

However, the buyer's journey is rarely as linear and smooth as described above and is likely to face many bumps along the way. Key stakeholders may leave, budgets might be cut or delayed, different stakeholders have different preferences for content types and ways of interacting with suppliers and to cap it all, they may well be at different stages in the buying cycle to one another! 

The role of sales in this brave new world of the B2B buyer


Sirius Decisions' Buying study of 1000+ B2B buyers concluded it's important to allow buyers to select the way they wish to be served.  They argued the best go-to-market strategy blends:

  • The degree of responsiveness (and interactivity) of information
  • The way in which information is exchanged (self serve vs human)

They found the more expensive the solution and/or the more complex the sale the higher the interactivity of the content/tactics and and the greater the level of human interactivity desired by the buyer. Their research argues for building integrated campaigns, in other words:

A blend of human (IE sales people) and non human interactions (IE digital, self-serve style content) at  a ratio of about 50/50

They found that sales reps were valued for providing information that helped them make a decision across all stages of the buying journey IE education, solution and selection and that the larger the sale the more this occurred. This is very different to the usual view that sales is confined to the later stages of the buying journey.

"The new way to think about B-to-B buying is that human interactions still occur and matter, and the rise of digital marketing does not mean that personal interactions have gone away. While providers are interacting in new digital ways, just because buying behavior is done digitally does not mean that sales representatives are no longer required to instigate or facilitate a buying process." So says Marissa Kopec of Sirius Decisions.

The underlying theme here is the changing way the B2B sales person must interact with the customer. To be interesting, educational, helpful and valuable to the buyer, salespeople must interact in a way that is specific to the stage of the buying journey that particular stakeholder has reached. If the salesperson's interaction doesn't add value and advance the thinking of the buyer then it is of no use to them at best and may actually alienate your buyer and promote your competitor at worst. The obvious example of this is talking solutions way too soon in the buying cycle when the buyer hasn't even passed through decision gate 1 yet, or more commonly rushing immediately to decision gate 3 without taking time at decision gate 2 to help the stakeholders understand the right way to solve the problem (regardless of vendor).

How does the salesperson create value in the mind of the modern B2B buyer?


The Challenger Sales model from the CEB, is a very helpful way of thinking about how B2B salespeople must adapt their way of thinking and working to the new way B2B buyers purchase. This model, underpinned by a very large survey of over 6000 B2B sales professionals, described 5 different types of sales behaviour, the lone wolf, the hard worker, the reactive problem solver, the relationship builder and the challenger. Much to everyone's surprise, the survey found the challenger rather than the relationship builder was by far the most effective behaviour style.

As the name suggests, the challenger aims to add value to all the influencers in the buying centre by challenging the status quo, by coming up with innovative and different ways to solve the buyer's problem and to match them at each step of their buying journey. Sophisticated modern B2B buyers reacted extremely positively to sellers who took this approach and saw the firms these sales people worked for as providing the most suitable solution to their problem.

...and it worked:

  • 40% of high sales performers primarily used a Challenger style - as opposed to one of the other four sales styles the book identified.
  • High performers were more than 2x likely to use a Challenger approach than any other approach.
  • More than 50% of all star performers fit the challenger profile in complex sales.
  • Only 7% of top performers took a relationship building approach – the worst performing profile.

A challenger sales person has six significant traits that distinguish them from the other sales profile types. A challenger sales person:

  • Offers a unique perspective to the customer
  • Has strong 2-way communication skills
  • Knows the individual customer’s value drivers
  • Can identify economic drivers of customer’s business
  • Is comfortable discussing money
  • Can pressure the customer


That's not to say the above traits are held exclusively by challenger reps, they’re just more commonly used together by them. A B2B sales person with a “relationship builder” style will often have excellent two-way communication skills, but they’ll lack other challenger traits - like the ability to pressure a customer. According to the book, a challenger sales person is defined by the ability to do three key things well:

  1. Teach customers something new and valuable about how to compete in their market.
  2. Tailor their sales pitch to resonate with the decision-maker’s hot-button issues.
  3. Take control of the discussions around pricing and challenge customer’s thinking around the problem.

Why B2B sales people and B2B marketers need each other more than ever.


With these three key success traits in mind it has never been more important for marketing and sales to be extremely closely aligned around the buyer and their purchase process and specifically the key challenges the buyer has that your firm is excellent at fixing.

Your content, positioning and messaging MUST be aligned. It shouldn't matter to a buyer whether they see a "why" stage presentation from a sales person or a "why" stage research white paper they've downloaded from your corporate website, your firm's ability to help the buyer see their problem differently is key to adding value.

What should you do if you want to align your sales and marketing to the buyer & boost your growth?


Simply put: Plan together.

FunnelLogicTM is a highly effective methodology that has been tested and evolved over the last 18 years and now fully adapted to today's digital world in which we all live.  It helps B2B firms, both large and small, to build a highly effective sales and marketing strategy built around your customer's buying journey. You get:

  • A fully dimensioned plan distilled into a single, highly actionable page
  • Powerful, facilitated, working sessions with your senior execs, sales and marketing teams to align your thinking
  • We work out the velocity of your funnel so you know how many visitors, contacts, qualified leads, prospects and deals you need to make plan and hit your growth goals
  • A clearly articulated set of tactics for both sales and marketing to use across the whole funnel


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Topics: inbound marketing strategy sales and marketing alignment b2b sales