The outbreak of the novel coronavirus a few months ago has changed the very fabric of the entire world order. Countries are grappling with a terror that has disrupted the social, economic, and industrial structures of the pre-pandemic world. According to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the global economy could shrink by 1% this year, counteracting a previous prediction of a 2.5% growth.
B2B sales depend on interpersonal interactions. From one-on-one meetings to product pitches to networking events – B2B marketing is built upon face-to-face interactions, which have been hampered because of COVID-19. In fact, several personal appointments and events were reported to be canceled or postponed in the months of February and March of this year.
The pandemic's wide-ranging ramifications have upset the balance of the entire B2B sector. According to a November 2019 survey by Avionos, a digital commerce solutions provider, more than 80% of B2B buyers feared a recession in 2020.
Now that the recession is here with the arrival of COVID-19, businesses are looking to cut their spending in order to alleviate total losses, avoid layoffs, and stop themselves from going out of business.
B2B companies, however, know that B2B buying will not stop completely and some of it will still occur, especially in the B2B tech sector for companies looking to equip themselves with software to enable remote work. According to an email survey conducted by the software review site, TrustRadius, where software buyers from the world over were quizzed on how they expected COVID-19 to impact their spending, 40% of businesses stated that they will spend more in the initial stages to limit work-related hiccups. The same survey also found out that 30% of the respondents that spent more bought video conferencing software, while 15% of them bought security software, such as firewalls and VPNs, to keep confidential information secure while working remotely.
9 B2B Sales Challenges Faced By Salespeople and How to Overcome Them
A State of Inbound report based on a global professional survey of 6399 sales professionals across 141 countries were asked about the most daunting aspects of sales. When asked to present their answers, most professionals unanimously chimed in with the challenges below.
Here, we will look at the challenges a little more in detail along with the strategies a salesperson can employ to convey their USPs, create a lasting impression, and most importantly, rise above the challenges with gusto.
The prevailing situation has left everyone scratching their heads on how the regular sales issues are going to morph in accordance with the times. However, even after discounting the current way of things, salespeople usually have a long list of challenges to rise above. Irrespective of the industry they belong to, the competition everywhere is rife and organizations have lately been finding their salespeople unable to convey a compelling enough value story that resonates with the customers.
Apart from that, the sales paradigms are changing, and the field gets even more complex every year. Today, much of the sale happens before you even get to the first interaction. By this time, your prospect has, in all likelihood, already narrowed down their choices to select vendors.
How to overcome
- Move from hard-selling to counseling: According to the State of Inbound Report, successful salespersons are starting to move away from orthodox hard-sell tactics and shifting into the role of a 'trusted advisor'. And in order to keep pace with the evolving consumer sentiments and expectations, sales representatives have to find ways to connect with their customers on their preferred channels, all the while maintaining an authentic and helpful approach.
2. Finding High-Quality Leads
A consistent headache for most businesses is generating enough qualified leads. According to a study conducted by Ascend2, marketers claimed that generating high-quality leads was one of the toughest challenges they faced on a daily basis.
77% of respondents from the same survey reported that lead quality was their top priority—more important than reducing costs (24%) or increasing the number of leads (41%).
The survey makes one thing painfully clear that generating tons of leads isn't a good thing and won't always hold you in good stead. Quality is the major differentiator today over quantity. You, as a salesperson, should ensure to attract qualified leads because it doesn't make sense for you to waste your precious time on someone who isn't willing to buy.
While retaining the interest of your existing customers can help you generate repeat sales, you still need to attract and acquire quality leads to meet your targets and move the business forward.
But if your organization has tight finances because of the prevailing condition of the market, then this is one of the biggest key sales challenges that you are likely to face this year.
How to overcome
- Invest in content marketing: In the digital age, your content is what differentiates you from other products, and it is the first thing a potential customer identifies you with.
Your content is also your best chance to build authority, speak about your product in relation to industry standards, show your expertise, and spark a relationship that you can continue to rear. The key to using content marketing successfully to gather high-quality leads is to know when to push the right content at the right time throughout the entire sales cycle. A few examples are:
- Share consumer-generated images on social channels to attract attention towards your product and build awareness of your brand for the top of the funnel customers.
- Write and post detailed blog posts for the middle of the funnel customers.
- Construct detailed case studies and put together demos for the bottom of the funnel customers.
2. Email marketing: Once you have hooked your prospective customers with your content, you can begin rearing relations with them.
This is usually done in the form of email marketing because it lets you appear where your audience is and share your unique value proposition with them.
An extremely powerful tool for lead generation, email marketing lets you put yourself in front of prospective buyers and remind them of your product and how it can help them solve their problems. In fact, email marketing is so effective that it has an ROI of 4400%.
Given below is a brief step-by-step guide on how to get started with email marketing as a possible lead generation tool:
- Sign up with an email marketing platform like Mailchimp so that you have a tool that helps you send out automated and mass email messages.
- Come up with an irresistible lead magnet that leaves your website visitors with no choice but to sign up with their email address.
- Send emails that nurture your relationship with the customers by continuing to educate them and provide them with value every single time. In each of these interactions, keep nudging them gently towards the sale with reminders and soft promotional emails about your product.
3. Low Call Connect Ratios With Decision Makers
The next hurdle is difficult to clear than the last. Attracting high-quality leads is going to get you nowhere if you can't find the right decision-maker in a potential client's organization. You might have all the requisites along with an excellent sales pitch to; however, if you aren't knocking on the right doors within a potential client's organization, the chances of you converting a sale and closing a deal are slim to none.
In specific scenarios, you, as a salesperson, can be denied access to the right decision-makers by the gatekeepers. Being unable to meet the right stakeholders can not only extend the lead conversion cycle, but it can also affect your morale.
How to overcome
- Use company hierarchies: Use hierarchy as a way to get past different gatekeepers in an organization. While your sales associates might engage with junior executives from a prospect's organization, the decision-maker with the budgetary control is going to be a senior member within the hierarchy. Equip your sales reps with organization mapping so that they can work their way up within the hierarchy through constant engagement and relationship-building activities with the gatekeepers.
- LinkedIn connects: Introduce the practice of making salespersons withing your team to leverage professional contacts via their LinkedIn network to get through to the decision-makers. Mutual connections can go a long way in building a sense of confidence in the client's mind about your product, and it can speed up the sales process.
- Build a rapport with gatekeepers: The primary job of gatekeepers is to keep haggling salespersons away from the decision-makers. So, rather than seeing gatekeepers as impediments, train your sales team to treat gatekeepers as an extension of the decision-makers.
Ask your sales reps to build relationships with the gatekeepers and be sincere with them. Train your team to inform the gatekeepers of their true underlying objective in trying to reach out to the decision-makers and request them to be courteous to the gatekeepers.
Building a good rapport with gatekeepers can go a long way in helping salespersons obtain appointments along with additional information about the client organization, which can then be leveraged to make a powerful and persuasive sales pitch.
4. Not Getting Enough Responses From Prospects
In a study conducted by Top Performance in Sales Prospecting, it takes eight touches, on average, to score an initial meeting or other forms of conversion with new prospects.
Salespersons often lose heart after a few tries when they don't receive enough enthusiastic responses. What they forget, however, is that the average consumer has an attention span of eight seconds and if you don't softly nudge them towards a sale at every interaction, you will never hear back from them as often as you might want to.
A single email or phone call will never be enough to grab the attention of your customers. You have to induct your sales teams in the way of serial communications with each message aimed at addressing the challenges of your prospects.
How to overcome
- Personalize your emails: Did you know that personalized emails improve conversion rates by 10% and click-through rates by 14? Personalized emails with custom content just go to show how much the prospect's attention means to you. These emails also improve customer experiences by sending the right content to the right people at the right time. Its effect is pertinent to large and mid-sized companies alike. Such emails usually stand out within the inbox as tailor-made material and as many as 31% of consumers have claimed that it serves as an incentive to make a purchase.
- Deliver the right content at the right time: Delivering the right content is the most important thing that helps prospects feel confident about your product and sign up. Relaying valuable and relevant information at the right time in context to your sales conversations shortens sales cycles and increases closing rates. Instead, provide your prospects with valuable and relevant information.
5. Not Getting Enough Sales Appointments
It is well-known to everyone working in sales that capturing a prospect's attention is difficult. In fact, 14% of survey respondents from Richardson's 2019 Selling Challenges Research Study, a study encapsulating the key challenges of sales professionals in today's market, reported that gaining appointments was their biggest challenge during prospecting efforts.
The second and third biggest challenges of "finding the right stakeholder" and "maintaining a steady temp of frequent contact across multiple channels" highlight the broken nature of selling today. Sales reps are not only required to get the customer's attention, but they must also galvanize the group and make them focus on the solution. Such tasks often require complicated logistical moves like needing to align schedules. Each decision-maker constitutes a unique need, and they have their personalized definitions of their problems.
How to overcome
- Identify a "hinge": According to an ATKearney review that recorded the answers of more than 1,600 B2B respondents, "accelerated commoditization and substitution" has enabled the customer to the point of making it easy for them to circumvent sales reps. What sales reps can do to overcome this challenge is to initiate conversations with the help of a "hinge." A hinge is a particular issue that's specific to the customer's company or its industry.
For example, a new regulation or a recent acquisition are both examples of such hinges. After recognizing the hinge, sales reps can mention the challenge associated with these events and suggest a course of action in addition to a use case that is supported by and associated with the solution's capabilities. This approach should conclude with a cited advantage of the solution and the benefit it can provide to the customer along with a request for an appointment.
2. Use appointment-scheduling tools: Once you have gotten the attention of the prospect and have built a unique case for yourself, comes the time to schedule the appointment. However, you might have a slew of appointments lined up on any particular day and making the prospect wait when you have gotten their attention is not going to help you while you look for a suitable date.
The best salespersons make it easy for them to schedule appointments by using appointment-scheduling tools or software. Such tools let prospects click a link in your email and redirects them to a web page where they can book an appointment slot after seeing the ones that are available for them to take. Scheduling appointments this way gives the client the autonomy book their slot and also decreases the amount of effort and back-and-forth emails that usually accompany the appointment scheduling process.
3. Follow up with prospects: Just because you have the appointment doesn't mean you can slack off. Prospect approvals don't mean much if they forget when the appointment due for. Ask any salesperson and they will have at least one story when they got stood up, while others will tell you it's a regular occurrence. The key to avoid this is to follow up regularly.
The strategic way to follow up is to paint the image of a partner in your prospect's mind and not that of a vendor. Dong this successfully will mean that the client sees you as an important cog in its plans. Another thing! Be novel in your quest to follow up and don't make it seem like you are begging for their business. Always try to follow up with new information, exciting developments to share, or important questions that you need answers to.
6. Objection Handling
Successful sales reps face rejections on a regular basis. However, it does not matter how much one might prepare for it, hearing "no" to every product pitch again and again can really take its toll.
One of the commonest hurdles that salespeople find difficult to clear is failing to accurately identify prospects that could or could not lead to a sale. We have already talked about how detrimental pursuing quantity over quality can be; poor quality leads can not only choke your pipeline, but it can also bury promising deals.
If you do not hold training sessions to equip your salespeople with the grit to overcome rejections, they may find themselves chasing every thin lead without actually getting anywhere.
Not knowing how to handle rejections can lead to self-doubt, increased stress, and eventual burnout. And the last people you want to be burned out are sales reps because it not only raises the risk of losing even more sales, but it also intensifies the likelihood of your sales reps quitting their jobs in search of other work.
How to overcome
- Listen to & acknowledge customer issues: Oftentimes, customers usually drop off because they don't get a word of the jargon used by salespeople. That's why the golden rule is to always listen to the prospect speak patiently and make sure that they know you are listening to them.
And once you are sure that your prospect is done explaining their concerns, repeat it to ensure that your understanding of it is correct. This will go a long way in making your prospect feel valued and earning you important brownie points.
2. Explore causes: After you have comprehended and acknowledged the prospect’s issues, try to explore the overarching reasons for the difficulties they are facing and come up with a way to solve their problems. Try to insert previous use cases of the same solution that worked for clients facing the same issue and you can be sure that the prospect will listen to what you have to say.
3. Come up with intelligent responses: When deciding on how to respond to client or prospect objections, try to come up with reasonable solutions or alternatives that have some practical use for them. Your product can't always solve every need of every client, in which case, be honest about them and let them know of the other ways that your product could still help them.
To be able to sell them your solutions, it is important that you ask questions to them after having listened carefully to their woes. Practice empathy and don't get frustrated when a prospect seems to drone on and on about their challenges. Doing this will help you win their trust and also give you the chance to find a solution in quick time. Always remember to use facts and figures while handling objections too. Share case studies, reviews, and past client testimonials to add more weight to your resolutions.
READ NOW: Guide to Handling Objections in Sales – Tips on Overcoming the Most Common Sales Objections
7. Low Sales Efficiency
The Bridge Group, in their annual study, asked participants to list their most challenging issues of managing sales professionals. The answers brought to light that improving performance and sales productivity has always remained the #1 challenge. It had remained so for the last six years and continued to be so, with the respondents stating their greatest obstacle had intensified by 5%.
44% of the same respondents claimed in 2012 that increasing sales productivity was their toughest hurdle. In 2017, that number grew to be 49%. This just goes to show what a formidable challenge getting the absolute most out of your team really is.
This isn't surprising, though while considering the nature of field sales. On average, the regular outside sales spend only 22% of their time doing active selling. As a result, this challenge of optimizing the productivity of salespersons is a taller task than could be imagined what with the number of distractions and surplus tasks getting in the way of selling.
Another survey conducted by Pace Productivity made an interesting revelation on the part of the managers. When asked, managers stated that they expected sales reps to spend at least 50% of their time doing active selling instead of the 34% they normally do, bringing to light that there is an obvious disconnect between the expectations and the time commitment required.
Sales reps already average 49.6 hours per week, just a tad shy of their managers who average of 50.1 hours per week. Managers need to understand that improving sales productivity is a consequence of understanding that it’s not because of a lack of effort. In fact, 23% of a salesperson’s time is dedicated to administrative tasks rather than selling.
How to overcome
- Embrace sales tools: With an increasing amount of time spent on administrative tasks, there’s a dire need for smart tools that can automate some of the repetitive tasks to improve productivity. Sales tools like CRM, Salesforce, Hubspot, among others, can help businesses improve sales productivity by putting repetitive tasks on autopilot.
This is due to the fact that sales tools remarkably reduce the time that is spent on redundant tasks, thus freeing them up and leaving them to concentrate on other productive revenue-generating tasks. One way to use such tools to improve productivity is by triggered events, which are really beneficial when it comes to follow-up emails. These triggers allow sales representatives to respond quickly while doing less work.
2. Create an effective onboarding and training plan: While a majority of companies do have some sort of induction or onboarding program for training new recruits, what they seem to lack is ongoing training. In fact, Aberdeen found out that it took more than seven months aggregating upwards of $30,000 to completely onboard new recruits. The same report also revealed that 87% of the training is forgotten in the matter of a few short weeks.
In order to efficiently improve the productivity of sales reps, the information should be tailored and disseminated in such a way across the organization that it can be easily remembered and brought up when the need arises. The more sophisticated a product or a process, the more crucial it is to dispense and information in a way that sales reps can associate with and correctly relate to.
As mentioned before, the onboarding program won't bear fruit if you don't have an effective ongoing plan. Despite this, only 45% of companies have a formative sales training process put up in place post-ramp. Enabling your sales team with the requisite skills to enhance sales productivity should be as important an area of consideration as equipping them with the right tools.
Effective onboarding harbors a plethora of benefits, and it can reduce ramp-up time by almost 30–40%, while continuous training, on the other hand, can give rise to a 50% increase in net sales per salesperson.
8. Differentiating From Competitors
Differentiating your solutions from that of a competitor can be a real pain in the neck. An organizations' success is very largely based on how different and better it is than its competitor while clearly being able to articulate it too.
Salespersons can often be caught lacking if they don't know the UVP of the solution as well as they should be able to sell it even when there are similar solutions that solve similar problems.
Now, how can salespersons help set your company and your solution apart from the plethora of similar solutions out there? The first and foremost thing is to concentrate on building relationships. You have to ensure that you are interacting with the stakeholder in some of the other way either through social media, inbound marketing, or direct contact and position yourself as a domain expert who is ready to help the client whenever they might need it.
How to overcome
- Treat each touchpoint as a potential differentiator: Building meaningful relationships with prospects and customers doesn't happen overnight. You have to ensure that you maintain steady communication across every customer touchpoint as all of them represent your brand. If you are able to rear customers and introduce the core functionalities to them from the get-go, it will turn them into brand evangelists sooner than you could imagine.
- Provide an enthralling sales experience: The best way to position yourself as an authoritative industry player and stand out from your competitors is to provide your prospects with a remarkable sales experience. Treat them as more than just a customer. Guide them at every step of the way. The more you advise them instead of simply selling to them, the more convincing you will be in your efforts, and the more easily you will be able to close a sale.
9. Long Decision-Making Cycles
It is true that sales cycles are getting incredibly long, and decision-making takes forever. This isn't surprising though, as it was found out that the buying committee for B2B teams comprises an average of 6.8 people for the decision making process.
Long decision-making cycles are often brought about by an abundance of options. Research shows that a comparatively greater pool of options leaves behind unsatisfied customers. This is because the wider the range of buying options is, the greater the amount of time it takes for a paying consumer to evaluate and deliberate spending on the trade-off. This is very detrimental because it not only bogs down the purchasing process, but it also elongates the sales cycle by 22%.
How to overcome
- Match content with B2B buyer journey: Research highlights that 61% of B2B buyers found the winning vendor to offer a better and more relevant mix of content; knowing which information would be requested by buyer needs and when can turn out to be the decisive factor between making or losing a sale.
Map out the B2B buyer journey and identify your buyer’s needs at each stage to supplement their needs with the right information at each touchpoint. Doing this will also tell you which content is the most impactful so that you can overlay your content strategy with it to inform, influence, and educate future prospects better and also influence the decision-making process.
To Sale or Not to Sale?
Building interactive and engaging sales experiences have proven time and again to be the main differentiator that helps in conversions and in the closing of sales. While optimizing interactions around specific ICPs may fall under the scope of the marketing team, being able to successfully convey those experiences to prospects is the job of the sales reps.
That’s why it is important that all the challenges mentioned above be solved by the marketing and sales teams working together to conduct a thorough breakdown and foster a deep understanding of each buyer persona.
Whatever challenges might exist today, the fact is that there are multiple solutions to solve them. Through the right combination of communication, strategy, foresight, and technology, you, as a salesperson, will not only be able to develop meaningful relationships with prospects but also tide over the prevailing situation with elan.