b2b salesI was reading an article recently, by some sales trainers at a conference, who were saying how B2B sales are becoming more complex, and sales and marketing people don’t know how to overcome this complexity.

First of all, sales are not more complex than say they were in the 1970’s or 80’s or even 90’s.

But they are right about their second premise, B2B sales and marketing people do not know how to overcome this complexity. Read on to see how it can be overcome by using strategies and techniques I was taught in the 1970’s, and have used since with great success.

The complexity comes from the fact that salespeople actually have to sell again, particularly when it comes to technology sales.

I am talking about selling technology, not using it. Obviously, there is a lot more technology than needs to be used in today’s B2B sales world, but that is another problem unto itself.

B2B Sales is Sophisticated rather than Complex

Let me explain about complexity back then and now. I like to use the word sophistication rather than complexity because sophistication means composure, elegance and finesse. Whereas complexity means complicated, convolution and entanglement.

All through the latter half of the 1980’s, all of the 90’s and the early part of this century, most B2B sales people were order takers, especially in technology, because everybody wanted and needed technology because all of their competitors were buying it.

And very few if any of these so-called sales people had any training. Mostly because they didn’t need it. They were too busy simply filling orders.

And now many of those same sales people are sales manager, VP’s etc. and because they had no training, most of them do not know how to train and coach a sales force they might be overseeing now.

When I started my sales career at IBM in the mid-1970’s, selling was really sophisticated.

B2B Sales The IBM Way

Let me describe one scenario for you at IBM when right after I started.

Every year, near the end of the year, the sales person (Strategic Account Manager) that was in charge of one of the one of the five large banks in Canada would invite all of the senior people in the bank to a year-end presentation.

Mostly he would discuss what had happened that year and what was new with IBM, and what possibilities it brought the bank for the following year. Isn’t it strange that this concept is finally coming back again, according to the CEB? Well, with some of us, it never left.

But that year he decided to do something quite different.

He did have his discussion about the past year and the year coming up, but what he did next was quite extraordinary.

He showed the bank everyone, in IBM, that worked on their account.

He showed the sales people, the systems engineers, the client engineers (they fixed the machines), and everyone who had anything to do with the account like A/R, A/P, the executives, etc.

When he had introduced everyone, there 104 people standing in the room who had some or all of their workload belonging to the bank.

Well, the bank was blown away. They had no idea how “complex” and extensive their “care” was.

Now, don’t forget, this was around 1978/9, before many people were even born, who are now saying how complex and difficult B2B selling is now.

IBM B2B Sales Training in the 1970’s

When I joined IBM in 1974, they put me though nine months of training, in a class room, with about 30 other new recruits.

They ran about four of these classes a year for over ten years.

It cost them a fortune to do this, but their management back then realized that the only way to dominate a market was through extensive training.

The training was in three different areas;
1. Learning about IBM products,
2. General business knowledge,
3. Sales and marketing.

And about 70%, was on sales and marketing.

Today’s B2B Sales Marketplace

In today’s marketplace, there is virtually no training (never mind much-needed, ongoing coaching) in sales and marketing, only on a smattering of product/service knowledge.

And for some reason, most B2B employers believe that everyone they hire for a sales and/or marketing job has all of the training they need; when most of them have had none.

B2B selling is sophisticated, and it always has been, as described above.

Sure, there are more technologies now – too many in fact, and most sales and marketers spend too much time trying to learn too many technologies, as opposed to talking to their clients and prospects more.

Marketing people, and especially sales people need to be trained with ongoing coaching on how to sell.

Two other facts about IBM training back then.

We had to take a two-week sales training program after about a year of being in a branch. Again this was one of the most extensive programs I have ever been on.

Oh, and BTW, we were graded throughout the nine-month training program, and especially during that two-week program. We were graded in ten areas, and eight of them were on practice sales calls; aka “role plays”. IE: how to get better at B2B sales and marketing.

Now, almost all of today’s sales people, in particular, have very little, if any, sales and marketing training, except as I mentioned, on product knowledge.

The world of B2B sales is extremely complex and sophisticated. And it is even more complex when you don’t have a clue what you are doing, because you haven’t had any training and especially on-going coaching.