How to Overcome 5 Common B2B Sales Challenges

Dec 21, 2020
Author: Nahla Davies

Here is the worst kept secret in digital marketing: B2B sales is hard. In comparison to B2C marketers, those focused on generating and retaining business customers have to deal with longer (and more complicated) sales cycles, more demanding customers, and huge amounts of data. 
Given this, it’s no wonder that we all need a little help from time to time. We’ve previously given you lists of proactive B2B sales strategies, shown you how to write sales texts for B2B marketing, and explained how AI is transforming B2B marketing strategies. But in this article, we’d thought we’d take a more direct approach: here are the 5 most common B2B sales challenges, and how to overcome them.

1. Finding and Retaining Talent

Before we even get into the technical side of B2B marketing, let’s look at the human factor. Given that very few college classes deal with digital marketing – let alone B2B marketing – it’s no surprise that one of the biggest challenges for B2B marketers today is recruiting and retaining talent.

Even where managers are able to identify which graduates and other potential hires will be valuable for their teams, hiring them can be a very competitive process: 88% of tech graduates are working in-field within six months of graduating, and will typically receive dozens of job offers a year. 

With continual offers coming in, it’s no wonder that most salespeople don’t love their job. Overcoming this challenge rests, first and foremost, on creating a culture that nurtures and nourishes sales talent, and rewards effective B2B salespeople with incremental promotion and pay rises. While success should be rewarded, and this should be assessed in terms of results, rewards programs of this type should also be implemented alongside extensive training programs.

2. Leaky B2B Processes

B2B sales processes can become extremely complicated, and this can lead to huge inefficiencies. Customers can easily be lost as they are passed from one team to the next, and especially at the interface between marketing and sales teams, where inaccurate communication can lead to customer frustration. 

This is such a problem, in fact, that missing sales targets has become something of a given within the industry. Research indicates that B2B processes are now so convoluted that 57% of sales reps expect to miss quota, according to Salesforce. 

Complex B2B processes also have knock-on effects on the ability of B2B marketers to focus on what is important. Since so much of their day is taken up wrestling with over-complicated sales systems, they spend only 34% of their time actually selling products.
The solution here is to take a radical approach to simplify B2B processes. Though they have fallen out of favor recently, models in which individual salespeople take charge of individual customers can slash complexity, improve resource allocation, and dramatically increase efficacy. Some approaches of this type have seen exceptional results – increasing website traffic by several orders of magnitude, for instance – but your mileage may vary.

3. Data Protection and Compliance

Another of the top challenges in customer prospecting in 2020 is the sheer number of data management and compliance frameworks that B2B businesses need to pay attention to. Just as many B2B marketers have got their heads around the GDPR, and have put systems in place to ensure compliance with it, we hear that the CCPA may be extended in this year’s Californian elections.

Data and privacy compliance is such a headache for B2B marketing because it cuts at the root of industry best practices at the moment. On the one hand, marketers are being told that data is key to effective engagement with business clients, due to the expectation that marketing materials will be highly personalized. On the other, a key tenet of the GDPR (in particular) is that we should only be collecting the bare minimum data required to do our job.

Reconciling these seemingly contradictory demands is difficult, but is best achieved by starting with the relevant legislation for your industry, and building a strategy from there. Frameworks like the GDPR are so detailed that they can actually form the basis of entire data acquisition systems, even if they don’t (yet) apply to your business. And basing your data collection strategy on legislation – rather than the other way round – has the advantage that demonstrating compliance is much more time-efficient.

4. Poor Engagement

Finally, let’s look at the dark secret that sits at the heart of B2B marketing – that most of the time, the efforts of B2B marketers themselves make little to no difference to the success (or otherwise) of the companies they work for. Though marketers are generally embarrassed to admit the fact, B2B buyers can spend nearly 70% of the buying journey processing data without any assistance from a sales rep. 

Even where sales reps are able to engage directly with potential buyers, in the B2B space they face significant challenges. B2B purchasing decisions generally involve a larger number of stakeholders than their B2C equivalents, and getting buy-in from multiple levels of management requires skilled, knowledgeable, and determined sales staff.
Unfortunately, given the other challenges we’ve listed here, keeping up this level of engagement can be extremely difficult for staff struggling to work with vast, complex data acquisition systems. This means that engagement – time actually spent with customers, rather than with spreadsheets – should be one of the most important KPIs for eCommerce businesses, right from the beginning of your B2B journey.

5. Personalization vs. Scale 

Here is one of the fundamental contradictions of B2B marketing today: the tension between personalization and scale. B2B customers can be extremely demanding, in comparison to their B2C counterparts, and not least because the average purchase is far larger than in the standard consumer space. B2B customers, therefore, expect salespeople to really listen to their needs, understand their business, and offer solutions to real-world problems: to offer, in other words, a highly personalized experience.

There are several ways of achieving personalization at scale. A good approach in the first instance is to use the tools that you already have to hand, and that have proven their effectiveness. For most businesses, that will mean personalized email campaigns based on data collected from your most valuable clients. That might sound outdated in the age of AI and data analytics platforms, but sometimes it pays to take a direct approach: email campaigns are still seven times as effective at generating sales than social media.

Once you’ve got the basics in place, you can use sales enablement tools and engagement platforms to scale further. These tools will help you to optimize multi-channel approaches and instigate email/call sequences through A/B testing, intent recognition, and data-backed recommendations, while simultaneously helping you to avoid data overwhelm.

Conclusion

Of course, since these are just the most common B2B sales challenges, your team is also likely to encounter many issues that don’t appear in the list above. That’s part of the fun, and a large part of the challenge, of B2B marketing – that every client is different, and every situation unique. 

You can prepare yourself for the unexpected, though, by taking a look through our new ebook “The Ultimate Guide to Kick-Start 2021”, where you’ll find much more detailed information from top sales leaders.

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