Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

April 10, 2023

Two Key Shifts to Overcome Your Four Big Selling Problems

By Tom Stanfill, CEO, ASLAN Training and Development
Two bronze keys facing each other.

You don’t have 99 problems. You have four: Buyers are resistant. Reps aren’t engaged. Leaders aren’t coaching. Results are down.

Those four realities impact every single one of you. Regardless of how intensely you’re experiencing them, they are there – and they are steadily deteriorating your effectiveness.

The problems are familiar, but let me put some color to them, starting from the last.

Results Are Down

World markets have been in constant flux since early 2020, and uncertainty continues. Every day, news headlines make B2B buyers a little more cautious. While investment in certain spaces (such as tech) may rise, belt-tightening is happening in other sectors. Leaders and reps are up against a general unease about the market, which may not be going away any time soon.

Doubtless, you’ve seen this in your numbers.

Leaders Aren’t Coaching

Speaking of pulling back, your leaders are probably being asked to do more with less. From culture challenges to generational clashes to being under-resourced, many of the B2B sales leaders I’ve talked with aren’t coaching effectively.

They’re training (a little) or investing in sales training (again, a little). They may be interfacing with their teams or doing ride-alongs or call shadowing from time to time. But when it comes to long-term, deep, personalized coaching, it’s just not happening. At least not enough to really empower and equip reps on a large scale.

Reps Aren’t Engaged

Speaking of reps: They’re hard to find and even harder to keep. The talented ones are going to industry leaders where selling is marginally easier. Great people have choices, and a plague of quitting or quiet quitting is spreading through our teams. They show up, but they’re not really there – and their performance reflects that.

Buyers Are Resistant

Now to the heart of the matter. Many of these issues – if you trace them back to the start – are related to what I think is the big one: resistant buyers.

People don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be challenged or coerced by arrogant, pushy salespeople.

Your reps don’t like climbing uphill. So they don’t want to sell to these people or keep knocking on closed doors. Their leaders don’t know how to fix that. The marketplace looms large, creating anxiety.

What Then?

I’ve painted quite a bleak picture, but we as executives must be alert to the realities of what we’re facing.

The good news is that I have high hopes for how you can turn the ship.

In fact, you can solve most of these problems with two key shifts.

1. Turn the Pyramid Upside-Down

Reps don’t need to be motivated exclusively by being the star of the show. They need actual strategies and tactics that make them effective. That’s what they want: for this to work.

This isn’t achieved by putting your sales leaders or executives (or even the company) in the spotlight. Being focused on others – I call it Other-Centered® – is the new name of the game, and it requires an upending of the traditional pyramid structure.

Reps don’t already have the answers they need. That’s what discovery is for. Each engagement should be hyper-tailored, with reps listening closely to what a prospect needs. I have coined the phrase, “What’s on their whiteboard?” for this purpose.

What’s scribbled on the whiteboard in a leader’s office? What are the highest, most urgent priorities and efforts? When those are discovered, the whole conversation changes.

Reps need to learn how to dig in and find out what matters. Too many think they’re done once they’ve identified surface-level, observable issues. But this isn’t what opens someone up. It’s taking the time to be careful, considerate, and others-focused.

Uncovering actual priorities and value drivers happens through thoughtful, inquisitive conversations, and it’s how other-centeredness takes shape in a real sales environment.

Reps who can flip the pyramid and put the customer at the center of the conversation will have value-packed conversations that reveal whether their solution is the right one.

2. Transform the Process

How much of what reps are trained to do is ultimately self-centered? Think about it for a minute.

Having spent 30 years with executives, sales leaders, and reps, I know that we tend to teach reps repeatable processes that center on their own self-presentation, idea delivery, negotiation tactics, and strategic application of pressure.

But this is a mistake. Pressure causes people to close down, which is a key tenet in my book Unreceptive. The more pressure a rep applies, the more likely a prospect is to walk away. In today’s fast-paced, virtual environment, it’s easier than ever for a prospect to get turned off and never resurface.

Reps who operate according to this old-school playbook will lose. People don’t want to sit and listen to a rep go on and on; they don’t want to learn about a lot of bells and whistles they don’t need; and they really don’t want to be pressured.

Instead, reps need to learn how to create receptivity. This means the aforementioned pyramid flip. It means listening well. It means tuning in to the big picture of what an organization is up against and what someone needs to solve their right-now problem.

Reps who take this stance earn trust. They earn attention. They ultimately earn a deal. In an increasingly tense and competitive business-to-business environment, it may feel counterintuitive to let the customer lead, to Drop the Rope®, and to depressurize, but, I assure you, it will work. It’s the process that fits a new kind of buyer, and it’s one your reps can’t afford to ignore.

Is That Really It?

You may have read those two steps and think I’m oversimplifying. But what I’m really proposing is a giant mindset shift among executives, sales leaders, and reps. These shifts are anything but simple and they will require an all-in, measured approach. Often, they will require a complete transformation of your current systems and procedures.

But remember: You are up against resistant buyers, disengaged reps, ineffective leaders, and fledgling results. You can’t stay where you are. You can’t keep doing what you’re doing. You have to change.

And you have to start now.

As co-founder and CEO of ASLAN Training, Tom’s primary role is to create content that helps people live, sell, and serve more effectively.