Are B2B Sales Dead Yet?

By Tom Williams
4 people fist bumping over a table containing a group of papers, computers, and phones.

Rumors have the position known as sales rep on life support. It’s well known that the buying-selling process is undergoing a transformation where sales reps are no longer the only channel to customers.

Instead, buyers are increasingly taking a digital-first approach. In fact, a recent Gartner study found that customers spend an average of 17% of the buying cycle researching independently. Further complicating matters is a growing generational distrust of sales reps. Consider that 44% of millennials reported preferring no sales rep interaction in a B2B buying process and are over two times more likely to be skeptical of sales reps compared to baby boomers, according to the study. While the old way of selling may be heading out the window, that doesn’t mean the traditional selling method is doomed.

The Problem(s)

If you’re in the market for B2B software, you’ll endure countless sales deck presentations, hear an unending string of promises, and, once you’ve settled on a vendor, face an uphill climb trying to get buy-in from organization stakeholders. If you’re the seller, on the other hand, you’re tired of trying to earn buyers’ trust and feeling the relentless pressure to close that sale (a tradition that will never die).

Buying is an emotional process and buyers on average just don’t trust sellers. As the sales rep launches into the pitch, the buyer is looking for a way out of the conversation. For the seller, showing proof of value is fundamentally difficult without trust. So, the seller has to spend time building credibility at the same time the buyer is questioning if they even have a problem that needs solving. And even if the buyer knows they have a problem that needs solving, they wonder: is it urgent? Is it more important than other things they’re working on?

The biggest barrier to a sale is never just budget. For buyers, it’s other, intangible factors like trust and timing. For example, can they trust the vendor to do what they say they’re going to do? The buyer isn’t going to expend political capital at their organization to gain buy-in from stakeholders if they can’t trust the vendor to begin with. This is the heart of the antagonistic buyer vs. seller relationship, and what sellers need to change.

Getting their internal team onboard is another key challenge for buyers. This can be stressful, take a great deal of effort, and gobble up valuable time. The buyer often feels powerless – after all, they are putting their corporate reputation in the vendor’s hands by moving forward. This causes a high-risk/high-reward situation, with the buyer assuming all the risk. They need to prioritize and evaluate the potential rewards of having to fight and spend political capital to justify their decision up the management chain. If the seller delivers on-time and on-budget, the buyer ends up looking like a hero. On the other hand, if the deal goes wrong, it poorly reflects on the buyer, not the seller.

Finally, navigating the buying process is a lot of work. The buyer doesn’t know what they don’t know, and they already have a day job without adding the side hustle of dealing with a vendor. This leads to feelings of resentment toward the seller, and a nagging sense of dread that it could all go wrong. That’s why a verbal “yes” is only a quarter of the way to winning the battle, because in the SaaS industry, buying is only half of the way to providing and expanding value. The other half is implementing the technology correctly, training the right personnel—and making sure people actually use it.

How to Fix It

The first step toward fixing this problem is for sellers to realize that buyers want transparency, and they want collaboration in solving their problem. Buyers want a partner who will bring solutions—not a smooth-talking sales rep who will do and say anything to close the deal. Here are three steps sellers can take to making the buying process smoother for buyers while increasing the odds of closing the deal:

  1. Provide proof of value: Develop a Mutual Action Plan (MAP) that shows how you’ll deliver value. The plan needs to show how you provide value, how you’ll deliver value, how you’ll implement the technology, how you’ll train personnel, and how you’ll provide support along the way.
  2. Help gain internal consensus: The beauty of MAPs is that it holds each party accountable and provides transparency, so the buyer doesn’t hold all the risk. It empowers the buyer to progress the deal forward by making it easy to invite others to review documents, as well as providing a mechanism to add comments and provide updates. This collaborative, transparent approach builds trust and will pay off in a quicker time to close.
  3. Process navigation: A MAP lays out the buying process from the beginning, charting milestones, deliverables, and key dates. Start by charting the safest path to success with buyers that holds sellers accountable. This lays the foundation for trust and ensures each side has “skin in the game.” This happens at the outset of the relationship, even before the product demo takes place which should be the last step in the sales process.

The New ABC = Always Be Creating Value

Corporate buying and selling are unbelievably inefficient. A 20% success rate is considered very good, but that means that 80% of the time both buyers and sellers are wasting their time. The cost of that could be in the billions of dollars in wasted time and resources each year. There is no category focused on solving this massive waste because traditionally the buyer and seller have had an adversarial relationship and accepted that it was just the way things are. They lack credentials, verified data and history to trust each other’s facts or motivations. But by using MAPs to provide proof of value, help gain internal consensus, and provide a clear roadmap to help navigate the buying process, sellers can remove the most significant barrier to sales—distrust. In the process, sellers can help B2B buying suck less for buyers – and close more sales.

Tom Williams is Head of Align at Clari, the leader of revenue operations.