B2B Sales: Reasons sellers fail (and ways to succeed)

Modern Sales

Let’s face it. B2B sales is hard. Like, getting-a-job-at-Walmart-hard (for real, only 2.6% of applicants make the cut – that’s less than Harvard!).

Just like all those applicants who fail to get into Harvard or Walmart, failing is part of the process of selling. Keep that in mind because if you let failing get to you, sales may not be your thing.

For managers, an open sales role may be a difficult role to fill with the right candidate – there are many contributing factors, a few of which we’ll examine more closely below.

5 reasons why B2B sales is hard for sellers

Cold calling

Making cold calls is a challenging part of being a seller. It can be uncomfortable, potential clients can be rude or impatient, and some days it can make you, as a seller, feel bummed at best and like garbage at worst.

Fortunately, there are also days where your prospects are compassionate and actually care for what you have to say.

According to Smallbizgenius, 82% of buyers say they have accepted meetings with salespeople after a series of contacts beginning with sales cold calls. 82%! That’s more than 100 million potential people employed in the US who are open to taking a business meeting. They may not be in your target market, per se, but the point is, most people in business are willing to listen.

The biggest takeaway from this is: don’t give up, make the calls, and navigate to the right person. Eventually, you will find success.

Sometimes it takes five to seven calls before getting a prospect on the phone. Either they’re interested (or they’re not) – that’s a part of the game.

According to Velocify, the ideal number of calls to win a sale is six. If they don’t answer the fifth time, try again the following week.

It’s also common for buyers to be out of the office, in a meeting, or on another call. So if you call a sixth time, it may even be the first time the prospect is noticing your call. Experienced reps will tell you this happens numerous times a quarter!

If you’re reading this and are new to selling, cold calling probably sounds intimidating. As hard as it seems though, it’s one of the most efficient ways to communicate with your buyers.

Smallbizgenius reported that 51% of company owners say they would rather hear from sales reps via phone compared to email, faxes, drop-in visits, and other media.

Yes, emailing is important, but at least half of the people your sales reps call would rather connect over the phone. Plus, it’s more efficient because your reps get to learn more about the buyer AND offer them a solution that best fits their needs.

According to Stuart Leung, SEO manager at Salesforce.com, emails can leave you guessing at what the customer’s pain points are. By calling, you get the buyer’s attention much more quickly, and you’re able to customize your sales pitch.

“With actual, real customer interactions, you will be able to pinpoint the problem by asking specific questions and offer the prospect a solution,” says Leung.

As long as you know what you’re talking about and have a good attitude, buyers will listen. If they don’t, don’t take it personally. And if you need to, put down the phone and take a breather.

Closing B2B deals

In B2B sales, depending on the marketplace you’re in and the product you are selling, closing deals can take many months. Long sales cycles can be draining on sellers counting on that commission check.

Why am I not making a sale? Why did my most promising contact ghost me? Is this the wrong job for me?

Your sales reps are most likely asking themselves these questions if

  1. They need to adjust their sales process,
  2. Your onboarding process needs a touch-up or
  3. The current selling environment is fraught with uncertainty (COVID pandemic, anyone?)

Remind your reps that sales cycles in the B2B world can take time – this report found that almost half of B2B sales to new customers take seven months or longer to close.

In regards to industry, here are the close rates Trevor Hefford with Stoic Sales Minds found for seven different industries:

  • Internet & Telecom 26%
  • Computers & Electronics 23%
  • Information Technology & Services 22%
  • Computer Software 21%
  • Finance 19%
  • Media 18%
  • Marketing & Advertising 11%

For someone who is new to sales, this can be overwhelming.

If your sales reps develop the perfect mix of persistence and patience and remember to not take their job too seriously, it’ll help with the pressure of closing deals.

When beginning sales it can be stressful for a rep when told how long it may take to complete a sale.

Sellers need to completely forget that it may take a year and instead focus on the present moment. As a sales director, it is absolutely key to engage with your sales reps and allow them to understand quota may not be met this month, and that’s OKAY.

To help understand your close rate, here is a tool from HubSpot that allows you to compare yours against industry competitors.

Conversion rates

Another important and challenging element in sales is moving the prospect closer to the end of the cycle. You’ve gotten them interested – now you need to convince them to write a check.

This takes confidence and a solid understanding of the sales process.

Recent research looked at pipelines from hundreds of companies and analyzed the data to understand conversion rates for the cohort examined. Researchers looked at what works and what doesn’t when converting a lead to an opportunity, and opportunities to deals.

Salesforce’s report found that on average it takes 84 days to convert 13% of leads to opportunities, while it takes 18 days to convert an opportunity to a deal, with only 6% of opportunities reaching the closing stage – that’s less than 1% of leads that will reach the closing stage!

The biggest takeaway from this again is patience and persistence. If you have a good mix of the two, you’re on the right path.

You don’t want to be so patient that you hesitate to call a buyer when they go silent, but also don’t be too persistent that your buyer walks away. When a seller gets ghosted, we advise the rep to call once every two weeks for a friendly check-in.

Friendly check-ins every few weeks can help you stay on your prospect’s radar, and let them know you have their best interests in mind when they are ready to complete a purchase decision. We’ve heard (and experienced) the story where a prospect sales had been chasing changed companies, and decided to become a client through their new firm. Staying top of mind enables that prospect to consider you when they change roles and firms.

Implisit also discovered one of the drivers for high conversion rates: employee and customer referrals.

According to their study, referrals get the highest conversion rate at 3.6%. If your sales team is struggling to convert opportunities to deals, they say it’s smart to increase spending for referral programs.

Additionally, it’s enormously helpful to grow a relationship with your prospect. There is a lot of value in having conversations that have nothing to do with the sale or the product. Don’t forget to ask about their dog’s name or kid’s sports so you have something to mention the next time you are on the phone. Be human.

Get to know your buyer for who they are as a person. They will appreciate you and look forward to speaking with you on that next call.

Lazy onboarding process

All of the hardships listed above are even more challenging when management has a lazy onboarding process.

Selling is difficult, but if B2B sales reps have management who engage and train their sellers well, it’ll be a lot easier.

Jen Dewar stated in a Sapling article that only 12% of employees strongly agree that their company has a good onboarding process. That means 88% of organizations don’t onboard well!

Dewar also shared that the HCI claims most organizations stop their onboarding process after the first week. This can leave a lot of employees feeling confused and unmotivated.

Cold calling, negotiating deals, and closing them is impossible without an onboarding process.

Especially if you are onboarding entry-level sales representatives, they likely need months of training and guidance in order to accomplish their duties.

Not only that, understanding CRM software and all of the technology that comes along with sales today requires dedicated training.

Feeling confused and unmotivated isn’t fair for two reasons. Firstly, the seller isn’t working to their full potential and are most likely beating themselves up for it. Secondly, this can be more unproductive than the day after a 21st birthday!

According to this report, 77% of employees who had a formal onboarding process hit performance goals and 53% of HR professionals report that enhanced onboarding boosts employee engagement.

Onboarding is vital. If a sales rep doesn’t have a positive training experience, selling is going to be even harder.

Unprecedented B2B selling environment

There are different seasons of selling, and well, we’re in one of the hardest ones of them all. COVID-19 season.

Selling into certain industries during a pandemic is something many will never forget, or, maybe they will. It’s been rough on many firms.

When selling in a difficult environment, you don’t want to come off as abrasive, but you also have to do your job. Every day varies, but one constant is that buyers need assurances that investments they make during this period will pay off.

For some, these seasons may come with ease, but for others, making calls is comparable to trying to reach your long lost lover who doesn’t exist.

Sellers get sent to voicemail, people hang up on you, and you hear new excuses every day. This is one of the most painful hardships in sales, and in times like these, it’s simply out of your control. But don’t give up. Navigating challenging times can spark big breakthroughs.

For example, understanding that certain macroeconomic conditions may be out of your control lets you use this time to better your knowledge of the product and the sales process you need to close deals once business conditions improve.

Ways to succeed

There is a long checklist on how to succeed in B2B sales, but here are a few that we find to be crucial at RaaStr.

The most important items to focus on to succeed are persistence, listening carefully and having fun.

Persistence is important because sales takes time, and reps must make what seems like endless outreaches before finally getting somewhere.

According to TOPO, sales representatives generally make an average of 18 calls to reach one potential buyer.

There will be days where sellers make 50 calls and never reach a soul. Sales reps, keep at it and you will get there.

Listening carefully is key. Understanding a buyer’s biggest pain point and addressing how your product can help them resolve their problem will show that you care.

As a seller, refrain from being too pushy. Instead, show the buyer that your product can genuinely help them and the problem they’re looking to fix.

Ask questions, and let the prospect talk as long as they want to. Not only will you learn, but they’ll respect you.

When a seller is having fun they are authentic. Authenticity is a highly valued quality and makes for a good sales rep. If a buyer answers the phone to someone monotone and unhappy, they’re most likely not going to enjoy the conversation.

We know this job is hard, but making cold calling into your favorite game will do wonders. Put a smile on your face, and open the conversation with care. One tip for doing this is to always expect the seller to answer.

If you can set your mindset to act as if every call will be answered, your demeanor and confidence can come through loud and clear when the prospect does answer the phone. Calls are a lot more effective with this attitude.

A favorite opening line is, “How have you been?!” It makes the prospect feel like you’ve met before, and begins the conversation in an easy going way.

If you aren’t persistent, you won’t get the numbers you’re looking for. If you don’t listen carefully, you won’t meet the buyer where they are, and in turn you won’t lead them where they need to be. If you’re not having fun, you’ll drive yourself into the ground.

What Comes Next

At RaaStr, we have deep experience building and running high performance B2B sales teams.

We’ve identified eight critical success factors, from a winning sales playbook to the latest account management strategies, that help sellers succeed in the most challenging and competitive environments today.

Selling is hard. We’re here to help!

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