How to Upgrade Sales Ability for B2B Success

The essential additional skills for business to business or b2b sales competence.

Diagram illustrating the circular nature of learning to support an article Business to Business - B2B sales ability.

Making higher value b2b sales is very different from selling to an individual. While the statement is obvious, judging by the knowledge and skills of many who practice in the arena, the details are much less apparent.

In addition to all of the sales skills and competencies necessary for salespeople to be effective in a person to person scenario, business salespeople need to develop the additional abilities necessary to deal with these five issues.

1. Single Point of Contact

The most obvious b2b sales difference is the number of people involved in the decisions. Of course some decision participants may have multiple roles, particularly for low value buying decisions.

I assign the buying roles to six groups labelled Veto, Official Decision Maker, Assessor, User, Decision Influencer, and Approver.

Each group has a different function in the B2B decision making process and although one individual is usually officially empowered to make the decision, this person rarely takes any high value buying decisions without being sure of support.

Of these buying roles, which is the most influential?

I'm sure you will have realised that the answer may be different in each sales situation. Why then are most b2b sales based on a conversation with a single person?

Of course, whoever the person is, he or she will have either claimed the decision maker role or have been granted it by the sales person.

At best this is perilous because all information is filtered through this one person's perspective. At worst, it means complete exclusion from the customers buying process.

B2B salespeople need to engage with those in all six buying roles.

2. Understanding the Budgetary Process

So many b2b sales gallop towards a conclusion without the sales person having any idea if the customer has set aside enough money to pay for it.

The assumption is that the customer wouldn't waste their time if they didn't have the money. This might be fair if the salesperson is communicating with a budget holder who has set aside sufficient funds and has complete freedom to spend the money. Except for the smallest of sales, this is almost never the case. Even cash rich organisations can't spend on a whim. All organisations with more than 20 or so employees, set up elaborate procedures to make sure that money is not spent unless the need and justification are completely clear, documented, and approved according to the procedures.

At any point in the customers buying process, they can change their minds. Budgets can be reduced or diverted for other purposes that are perceived to have more importance, urgency, or political support. Being satisfied by one of the common budget question fob off responses such as, "don't worry about the money", is like skiing down hill wearing a blindfold.

3. Understanding the market and industry segments that their customers operate in.

Sales people who merely know their product or service offering are perceived to run with the crowd. The business decision makers involved in all but the smallest purchasing decisions are senior executives who are concerned with the challenges of running their business. They want to discuss solutions not products and services.

A business to business salesperson's credibility with senior executives rests on his or her market and industry knowledge much more than products or services.

4. Understanding the Customers Business

When selling to individuals - private citizens - it is appropriate to be a student of human nature and since all of us have first hand knowledge, it's not a great leap to understand the other person's perspective.

When selling to a business, it is appropriate to be a student of business and very few sales people have any experience of managing an enterprise. If business to business salespeople are to have empathy for the challenges faced by the leaders and policy makers they must influence, gaining an appreciation of what's involved is essential.

More than this, b2b sales people must equip themselves to assess any business they might sell to just as effectively as a top management consultant. They must make themselves commercially astute.

5. Understanding organisational dynamics (politics)

Politics in a sales to consumers or individuals is seldom extended beyond the dynamics between a husband and wife or between family members. People everywhere have different ideas about the best way to get things done and different levels of personal ambition. Politics exist in every business.

Many B2B sales are won and lost without ever having direct contact with the most influential people involved in the decision. Business sales people need the ability to get things done through others.

At the very least, those who intend to be influential must be able to discern the political ebb and flow in an organisation.

Article by Clive Miller


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