Throughout the decades, sales experts and consultants have touted a variety of so-called surefire tips and tricks for account prospecting, targeting and conversion. Some strategies have fared the test of time better than others, but by and large, as the modern selling environment continues to shift, many of the old “best practices” no longer apply.

You can think of the traditional approach to B2B sales like fishing with a net. A salesperson may throw the net and pulls in everything within their reach, tossing back the leads and accounts that don’t align. If they’re looking for a “trout,” they’ll have to sift through the crabs, fish and snakes to isolate the prospects who fit the bill and then throw everything else back. While this used to be a reliable method of account targeting and acquisition, in many sales situations today, it’s as ineffective as it is inefficient.

Fortunately, as we’ve moved from an analog to a digital world, an influx of sales tools is making it possible and preferable to throw a spear and bring back exactly what you want, without having to sort through the bycatch.

But we all know that sales success is truly an ‘inner game’. To reach the highest levels of success, you must address not just how, but also why they sell to unlock the potential that resides inside each of your salespeople. The next step is to then get them focused on and in front of the right people that they can truly make the most positive differences for.

Several months ago I was fortunate to speak with Jamie Shanks, CEO at Pipeline Signals and Sales for Life and author of the books Social Selling Mastery and Spear Selling. He’s one of the true pioneers in this area and encourages salespeople to replace the net with a spear, taking advantage of social selling and sales intelligence to be more focused, efficient and successful.

Our podcast conversation was about the intricacies of learning to fish with a spear in sales. He also offered some invaluable insights about aligning core values, creating intention in sales relationships and preparing for the future of B2B sales.

The past and present of B2B sales: It’s all related

For those who are used to relying heavily on the wide net to find new accounts, the shift to a more fine-tuned approach may initially seem more time consuming or complex. However, with the right mindset, salespeople will quickly discover that a strategy of precision allows them to be much more effective and productive.

Complexity also has been driven by the rise of decision makers. Instead of purchasing teams, we’re now seeing purchasing armies. There are more people involved in buying decisions; buyers can know more about you before you ever make contact; and people are changing jobs more often, so higher turnover rates means decision makers are changing more often, further lengthening and complicating the sales cycle.

In fact, modern, social and account-based sales are all interconnected and closely related, but regardless of the approach, all salespeople need to operate by a set of beliefs that keep the customer’s best interests at the forefront at all times and drives value creation. According to Shanks, “You have to believe that you are either making people money, saving them money or mitigating risk: the three core value creators in a business.”

When salespeople think of their role in the context of these guiding beliefs, if will naturally affect their actions and behaviors in ways that make them more valuable to their customers and, as a result, more successful in their jobs. It will also make it easier to shift from traditional sales practices and begin to learn how to fish in the ocean of accounts with a spear to target those that they can truly create differentiating value for.

In a perfect world, each member of a sales team would be able to operate with this kind of precision. However, there are a few obstacles that can get in the way.

Sea monsters and other things that scare salespeople

Let’s face it: The overwhelming ocean of sales can be terrifying. Whether there’s a sea of competitors vying for the same fish, a few plucky upstarts threatening to disrupt the whole ecosystem or a vast school of stakeholders that has to be brought into the net, salespeople are facing new challenges today that can erode their confidence and overall performance.

While there are a few factors that can keep sales teams from performing at their best, once you’ve identified what the problems are, you can start taking positive steps to counteract them.

And despite what you might assume, meeting quota isn’t always the biggest fear. Instead, most salespeople struggle with the knowledge that their destiny is in their own hands. It can feel daunting… As a sales professional, you only control two things: the decisions you make and the actions you take. Inbound sales activities can and should help, but they can’t do the job of sales for you. That’s up to you.

While sales leaders should help build the decision-making processes of novice salespeople, it is ultimately within the power of each salesperson to create and add value to their clients, grow their relationships and expand their overall reach.

In order to do this, salespeople have to get more intentional and their thinking and their actions. Specifically, Jamie told me, “Salespeople need to focus on intent signals and relationship and intelligence signals.” In our podcast conversation, we went into more depth about what this means, and he notes that the salespeople who do take on this accountability and ownership will become more successful and will continue to grow, both professionally and personally.

Selling with a spear in rough economic waters

Experts worldwide continue to share varying opinions and forecasts of a looming economic downturn. The high tech sector in particular has already seen significant layoffs. While professionals and businesses across many industries suffer during recessions and economic crises, sales are often hit hard.

But an economic downturn doesn’t have to spell disaster for sales. If we learned anything in 2020 it was that customer relationships- and the role that salespeople play in cultivating them- has never been more important. By building these relationships and homing in with precision, we believe sales can and will continue to thrive. In fact, it may be even more critical during volatile economic times when stress and distractions are high and morale and employee engagement may take a hit.

“It’s about leveraging sales intelligence to make objective decisions about where you focus your time,” Jamie told me. Use technological advances to cut out distracting and unnecessary expenses and systems, he adds, and focus instead on large value-adding systems. Rather than merely treading water or struggling to stay afloat during rough economic waters, you can make smart moves that will lead to incremental payoffs, each fueling and reinforcing self-confidence and creating more momentum for the future. Fortune, as they say, favors the bold.

The Future of B2B Sales: Drop the net and pick up a spear

It’s no longer efficient or profitable to rely solely on casting a wide net and sifting through every prospect you reel in. Whether an economic downturn is around the corner or months or even years away, every salesperson today must be focused on developing the mental strength and mindset to approach the job with precision.

Indeed, the future of B2B sales is now. High-performing salespeople will view themselves as value creators and problem solvers for customers, taking advantage of the technology and intelligence that’s now available to them, while making sure to pay attention to the essential human elements of relationship-building. Nothing beats the human touch –and, specifically, the quality of customer conversations. By embracing this mindset and approach every day salespeople can become more targeted, focused and successful, all while delivering tangible, meaningful impact for their customers — and for themselves.

Tune in to the Mental Selling podcast to hear more from experts like Jamie Shanks about the mindset, attitudes and beliefs needed to become successful sellers and the essence of keeping customers at the center of everything you do and creating real value for them at every turn. 

About the Author
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Will Milano

Chief Marketing Officer

Will has driven brand and content marketing strategies for leading professional services companies for two decades including 16 years’ experience...
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