The evolution of B2B sales is a fascinating phenomena and one of my favourite topics. There’s a great article here by Frank Cespedes and Tiffani Bova that discusses the evolving nature of sales and the continuing importance of salespeople in the context of successful B2B companies – contrary to the popular notion that sales is a dying profession. They’ve provided some great insights, and explain that B2B selling has evolved so much that:

“it should be the end of glib generalizations about sales and selling, which remain complex, changing, and people-dependent activities in most B2B markets.”

Here are my top three takeaways on the insights shared by the authors about the evolution of B2B selling:

1. The B2B sales force is more important than ever

Data indicates that for B2B companies, salespeople are absolutely critical. Digital marketing channels, on the other hand, and particularly social media, are currently some of the least impactful on sales success. This means that investing in the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, and compensation plans of your sales force is imperative for healthy business growth.

Gone are the days of simply hiring someone with sales experience and hoping you’ll find success: you need to heavily invest in the sales force of your business, and work to create a high performance sales culture. Differentiate your business by creating a pro sales culture that’s company wide: buy-in on the importance of sales from the C-Suite will have a massive impact on your sales force performance.

Evolving Nature of B2B Sales

2. There is no silver bullet in B2B sales

There is no single perfect tactic and selling model that works today. The right selling approach is, and has always been, highly dependent on the specific selling environment of each seller. While this is something that has always been true, the rise of solution selling and a increasingly competitive and empowered customer market has changed the way B2B companies understand selling.

Today, there are numerous factors that impact your sales performance cycle and customer value proposition, including:

  • Sales organization (how you measure effectiveness and manage channels)
  • Performance management (hiring, evaluations, incentives, development)
  • Company environment  (cross departmental functions, strategy management)

In the current world of B2B selling, there’s no formula for success, there’s just making and executing strategic choices.

3. B2B sales effectiveness isn’t a generalized trait 

While it’s useful to assess the characteristics and sales DNA that will make someone great at selling, there is no “golden rule” that will lead you to a great seller. Simply put, the common stereotypes of a good seller are just that: stereotypes. The context and environment the salesperson will be working in are just as critical as sales DNA.

We have spent a lot of time understanding the role of sales DNA in a top performing salesperson, and it can be confusing to determine whether DNA or the resume is what you should hire for. While every sales situation is unique, and each sales manager will know whether their sales team really needs to have the sector experience in order to be successful, DNA typically beats out resume. The best way to accurately predict whether the sales DNA you hire for will be successful in your selling environment? Have a crystal clear definition of what and who your ideal salesperson is before making a hire.

A lot is changing, but some things remain the same

B2B sales is no doubt evolving, however it is interesting to note that the DNA of top salespeople remains consistent – even while we learn that environment plays a big role too. Having spent more than 20 years building sales teams, and the last 10 years helping B2B companies recruit top sales talent, we have observed that there are several primary traits that are common to the top performing salespeople, including:

  • Ambition
  • Self awareness
  • Persuasiveness
  • Competitiveness
  • Resilience
  • Drive

Successful experience in a similar selling environment is critical, and obviously the ability to adapt is also critical – but you’ll find this list of traits common among every successful seller you meet. 

Cespedes also notes in his book, “Aligning Strategy and Sales,” that companies who try to recruit great salespeople cannot expect organizational success, since “stardom” is not easily portable. Instead, success comes from disciplined and growing from within. We would add that if time does not permit the luxury of growing from within, that success can be accelerated by targeting candidates with the requisite sales DNA, or behaviours, and success selling from within a similar sales environment, not to be confused with selling within the same industry. 

B2B sales is unquestionably evolving, so if you want your sales force to remain ahead of the curve, remember: B2B sales is now more important than ever to business success, there’s no sales silver bullet in creating your selling model, and sales effectiveness depends on the selling environment as well as selling DNA.

Like what you’ve read? Get your secret weapon in making your sales hiring process more effective by downloading our eBook, Make the Right Sales Hire, Every Time.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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