How to Change Your B2B Sales Culture for the Digital Age

Something is rotten in the state of sales. Buyers would rather get a root canal than speak with sales reps.

Okay, that might be a little dramatic. But, according to Forrester, 59% of buyers prefer to do research online and not interact with a sales rep as a primary source of research. That’s largely because sales reps spend their time pushing for a sales presentation – rather than helping buyers research and solve their problems.

That has to change. To make their numbers, sales teams need to undergo a cultural shift. Sales leaders and reps alike need to abandon the “This is the way we always did things” attitude. And they must replace it with a “My buyer has embraced the digital world, so, too, shall I” attitude.

For organizations with rigid policies and procedures, this can be scary. But here are a couple steps that you can take your sales team towards a social- and digital-friendly atmosphere.

Step #1: Understand and Assess Your Current Culture

To truly implement change, you have to assess where your team stands right now. More important, you must understand why those traditions and legacy cultural artifacts anchor the company.

Remember that change is a balancing act. If you don’t change, your competitors will, and your sales culture will hold you back from winning in the marketplace. Then again, if you completely remove your team’s cultural foundation, there will be pandemonium and resentment. A good sales leader, instead, needs to decide what traditions to keep in place, what to replace, and how quickly the change must happen.

To assess your current situation and to chart a path towards change, take a look at the image below. Think critically about your situation. Ask yourself, for instance, Are we trying to engage digital buyers in the same way that we engaged our long-standing customers? Is revenue suffering because of it?

Step #2: Decide Which Levers to Pull

Now that you have assessed your team’s culture and have an idea of where you need to go, it’s time to think about which levers you want to pull in order to initiate a cultural change. Here are a few ideas.

Leading from the Top

For sales teams to adapt to the digital buyer, they need visible and vocal champions. That means sales leaders need to embrace digital communications – not just in word, but in deed, as well.

Sales leaders need to actively partner with marketers to create a coherent experience for the buyer. The playbooks they create can’t center on cold calling and “pounce and pitch” tactics – tactics that used to work in pre-internet days. The sales leaders themselves need to use digital channels like Twitter and LinkedIn to build relationships with customers, and they need to encourage their sales team to do the same.

If such leaders don’t already exist in your organization, your company may need to consider hiring additional leadership. Here are a few more resources for your perusal:

Role Definitions

Perhaps it’s time to update your team’s job descriptions. Job descriptions, after all, give your sales reps a clear idea of what’s expected of them.

Many a sales rep is told that they need to master the “sales presentation.” It’s in their hiring docs. By singling out “sales presentations,” companies are giving sellers the wrong impression. They’re telling sellers that they need to pitch the product all the time, everywhere. Instead, they should be told to use content like blog posts, industry news, and reports to nurture, spark conversations, and add value throughout the buyer’s journey.


When you find yourself stuck in a sales rut, ask yourself whether you’re hiring the right people. To change your culture, you may need to change your hiring practices and look for candidates with a different skill set. Golfing skills and a secret Rolodex of sales contacts are no longer necessary. What modern sellers need is the ability to educate buyers through online and offline conversations.

Make sure that your HR department understands that you want to hire, train, and reward people based on their online performance – in addition to their offline performance. Here are a few additional resources that may help:

Key Behaviors

Let’s face it. When you’re undergoing a digital transformation, there are many behaviors that you could change. Trying to change everything – all at once – will overwhelm your sales team.

As a sales leader, you need to select a few key behavioral changes that will have the greatest impact – both in terms of revenue and in terms of introducing digitization to your company. For example, as a starting point, you may want to ask your reps to research all of their prospects on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as share content on those networks daily.

The Bottom Line

To sell to the digital customer requires sales teams to adopt new ways of working. They must adopt a digital culture – one that embraces both online and offline interactions, fosters a culture of learning, encourages sellers to help buyers, and promotes collaboration with marketing. Without both structural changes and behavioral changes, digital transformation will never take root, and companies will find themselves losing to their competition.

So, what are you waiting for?

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