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B2B Sales

Your sales culture is killing your business.

If you still measure and manage B2B sales people around sales quotas, commissions and a steadfast focus on top-line revenue attainment, then you are being surpassed by the savvy vendors whom have already woken up to the new reality.

There’s a massive elephant in the room when it comes to B2B sales: put simply, it’s impossible for your business to be “customer centric” whilst you continue to run a sales focused culture. That is, if you still measure and manage B2B sales people around sales quotas, commissions and a steadfast focus on top-line revenue attainment, then you are being surpassed by the savvy vendors whom have already woken up to the new reality.

The game has changed (thank goodness) and it’s now time for vendors to drop the relentless focus on revenue and profit maximization. Deny it all you like, but the truth is that buyers’ interests are diametrically opposed to those vendors that are fixated on quota smashing. Buyers care only about the value/experience that they gain from the purchase decisions that they make. And whilst this has always been the case, the recent power shift in the new buyer-led era means that buyers no longer have to accept being sold to by self-serving opportunists harboring a hidden agenda…...whom simultaneously pretend to have the buyers best interests at heart. Frankly, this is what has always been at the center of the distrust of sales people, and buyers are now voting with their feet.

Ironically, when vendors do actually shift the culture to one that places the buyers interests at the forefront, the top line revenue, profits and likelihood of sustainability increases anyway as a natural by-product. Don’t believe me? Then just ask buyers whom they think are the really successful vendors of today – and then ask them which vendors they think are still stuck in the 1990’s with the worlds leading banks.

“A sale is something that happens when you are immersed in helping your buyers to get what they want”. 

In a recent post, I ranted about the disgusting sales cultures and treatment of front-line staff by some of Canada’s largest financial institutions. Just this week, I was very pleased to read in the Australian Financial Review Newspaper that the 'Australian Bankers Association' recently commissioned a review into remuneration structures in the Australian Banking system amid continued complaints of pushy and unsavory sales tactics by front-line staff. In short, the outcome of this 12-month long review is that most of the Australian Banks have now FINALLY recognize the need to transition from a sales culture to a service culture. Westpac Bank CEO – Mr Brian Hartzer – revealed that Westpac is now intending to "remodel its culture on Disney". What the?

Hartzer said that “Disney recognized that they weren’t selling products but experiences”. Wow, what a revelation [sarcasm intended]. Savvy businesses recognized this a long time ago and actually did something about it, but the laggards are still focused on sales, sales, sales - and that's just plain dumb, dumb, dumb!

Surely, we all know that customer experience (CX) is the key to repeat business, loyalty and that all important customer advocacy? – which are all now more important than ever before. The CX that we offer our customers, from cradle to grave, is increasingly the only differentiator in this VUCA world of mature markets and global competition. So, do yourself (and your shareholders) a favor and drop the focus on sales, and focus instead on CX, customer service and customer success.

One of the Australian banks decided to run a trial whereby they removed the “sales leaders board’ from the office locations to see what effect it had on performance. Surprise, surprise, when you stop driving and measuring front line staff likes it’s still 1985, you also remove the unacceptable risk of promoting bad behavior. Whilst the sales leader board (and other peer exposure/pressure tactics) might motivate some, it also drives a dog-eat-dog culture which nearly always becomes counterproductive and eventually toxic which spells disaster for vendors in this modern buyer-led era. If you need any further proof that what I’m saying is right, then just consider the following:

  1. Average sales tenure for B2B sales people is now 16.8 months (SalesHacker).
  2. 63% of B2B sales people are now failing to meet of exceed quota (HBR).

These above 2 stats alone help shine a light on the continued decline in the old ‘sales focused’ models.

Putting aside the obvious financial benefits of having happy (loyal) customers, there are some ancillary benefits for vendors when they shift away from the old ‘sales driven’ culture:

  • Happier employees and a culture that will help attract and retain high quality staff. 
  • Less turnover, sick days and stress related health issues among sales staff.
  • Less HR/legal issues and the negative energy generated from those draconian Performance Improvement Plans (PIP).
  • Less reputational/brand damage as seen in the Canadian (and Australia) banks in recent times. 

Sales people create a win/win when they focus on the customer outcomes!

Sounds so obvious to say but CX is what drives loyalty and repeat business, not the extent to which you smash your quota. So, why not give you customers exactly what they want? Customer outcomes and vendor outcomes don't need to be mutually exclusive, and it’s only the narrow minded vendors that are yet to understand the fact that when you focus on helping buyers you win also. 

Buyers all know that their vendors need to be profitable and I have never met or interviewed a single buyer that expects their vendors to make a loss on any transaction. On the contrary, smart buyers want to know that their suppliers are not only viable, but are financially able to continue reinvesting in on-going product and service innovation.

Actions speak louder than words, and vendors must now take the leap of faith and change the sales culture to a ‘customer success’ culture, and when they do, they will soon see that their renewed focus WILL produce optimized sales results as a natural by-product anyway. Makes sense, right?

Imagine the joy that B2B sales people around the world will feel when their management finally wakes up and commits to the modern way of doing business: "from this moment forward, as sales people you are now to focus 100% of your time and energy on delivering the best outcomes possible for our buyers at each and every engagement.......because, when we do this, everything else takes care of itself".

Are you surprised that the world banks are still struggling with this concept? I'm not.