Death of the B2B Sales Rep?

By Warren Shiver on Oct 7, 2021

2 Minute Estimated Read Time

Have you bought a car in the last 18 months? If you want to take a trip down memory lane, walk into a car dealership and buy or lease a new car -- that is, if you can find one given today's supply chain-driven shortages. If the TV series “Mad Men” has taken us back to the world of 1960’s Madison Avenue and three martini lunches, buying a car today from a traditional dealership harkens back to the era of Willy Loman.

Many companies are on their way to radically changing the way they sell. Tesla has pioneered a new direct-to-consumer model that utilizes showrooms where customers place orders online (partly due to state dealer franchise laws). Auto manufacturers are exploring ways to increase direct-to-consumer connections through vehicle automation (again, like Tesla) and smarter online car configurators. Auto dealers are also increasingly focused on modernizing marketing and sales capabilities and maintaining relevance with a new generation of buyers who’ve never seen a “stick shift.”

How has B2B buying and selling changed?

While we are not suggesting the “Death of the Salesman”, as predicted in this Forrester podcast from 2017, we are seeing consequential shifts in buying (and therefore selling) at an industry level and amongst our clients.  These shifts challenge sales leaders to rethink the structure, skills, and support their sales organizations need.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of virtual work and increased the thresholds of purchases, even complex ones, remotely. Much has been researched and written in the past 18 months about these changes, including these particularly good charts by McKinsey, one of which highlights that 2/3 of surveyed buyers now prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service.

What are the implications for B2B sales teams?

Based on our clients’ and our own experiences, we see the following four trends impacting sales teams:

  1. Hybrid skills are essential – in our research for our Multigenerational Sales Team book, we were seeing the early results of “digitally proficient” millennials and Gen Zers entering the workforce and sales teams. The global pandemic has only accelerated the need to adopt of technology in sales and customer support interactions. Who knew in 2019 that we’d all be Zoom experts by 2021?

  2. Increased specialization and expertise – sellers will need to continue to develop their knowledge base and provide value that transcends the classic relationship-building profile (some may say cliché). The sales enablement industry has been preaching this since the early days of Rackham and Bosworth, and more recently through the Challenger®selling approach. As Neil Rackham is fond of asking, “Would you write a check for that sales call?” (see this HBR article for a great synopsis.)

  3. Shifting sales enablement priorities and budgets – while there will still be a strong desire to bring sales teams together for camaraderie and training, annual budgets will continue to shift away from the classic sales methodology and skills training to digital learning and selling tools. Refer to this blog from Forrester focusing on role-specific enablement.

  4. A higher bar for in-person meetings – across industries, our clients are pointing to a much higher bar for their sales teams to conduct meetings in person. After saving millions in T&E expenses, CFOs will be reluctant for travel budgets to fully rebound – both for internal company training and events as well as for customer-facing meetings. On the customer’s side, sales teams will need to confirm who will attend in person vs remote. Nothing like spending the time and money to show up in person only to find that the key decision makers are joining virtually.

To us, all of these trends support a continuing focus of B2B sales teams overall. It might mean changes to GTM strategies and definitions for sales efficiency and effectiveness.

Admittedly, the world may need fewer sales trainers and consultants in the next decade. It takes one to know one…😊

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Warren Shiver

Written by Warren Shiver

Warren Shiver is the founder and managing partner of Symmetrics Group, a management consultancy focused on end to end improvement in sales force effectiveness. Through Warren’s leadership, Symmetrics Group has helped numerous organizations build high-performing sales teams focused on the right go-to-market strategy, disciplined sales process and well-designed enabling tools. Clients and consultants appreciate Warren’s uncompromising focus on quality and measureable impact and how he embodies the firm’s core values.

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