How B2B salespeople can become A-Graders – part two: the learning process is ongoing


In my previous post, I ran through two initial steps B2B sales people need to think about on their journey towards becoming A-Graders. These were ‘reconcile your conflicting priorities’ and ‘set long-term goals,’ which focus on transitioning from an immediate, short-term mindset to becoming more forward-thinking and planning for the long-term.

As the sales profession continues to contract, it’s due time the sales person begins looking at what other factors need to be addressed in order to accelerate their career and achieve their goal of becoming A-Graders. Here are my three remaining pointers to help the B2B sales person move towards becoming the expert in their field.

Assess your current position

Once you’ve set your long-term goals, the next step for you is to assess where you are now by conducting an audit on your current skills and experience. After all, how can you begin to plot a path to Point B if you don’t understand what Point A looks like?

A simple exercise to figuring out where you are now is to conduct a personal SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a tool that allows you to review your strengths and weaknesses, as well as any potential opportunities or threats – for example, what advantages do you have as a sales person in your industry (S), what are your areas for improvement (W), what changes in your industry can be used to your benefit (O), what are your company’s competitors doing (T)?

Once you’ve completed this exercise, think about how you can put the odds in your favour. Do you have any strengths you haven’t been leveraging to their fullest? Are there any weaknesses you can work on improving? Are there any ways you can lessen the impact of any potential threats, or take advantage of some great opportunities?

Analyse the gap

Having defined your vision and assessed your current position, you need to now conduct a thorough gap analysis in order to acknowledge what additional skills you might require in order to become an A-Grade sales person in your industry.

For many people, this comes down to how the buyer journey has changed, and how the role of the sales person must also change. In the past, a sales person was required to help a buyer transition from the stage of awareness of their problem to consideration of the solutions to the final purchase, and, in order to make this transition, buyers needed to call on the sales person’s specialist knowledge.

Today, buyers are much more capable of moving through these stages independently, due to the ready availability of product information and options in mature markets, and the proliferation of self-serve technologies. Accordingly, a vendor isn’t usually engaged until the buyer is sixty to eighty per cent of the way through the process, and is shopping around for the best deal.

While there are a number of different buyer scenarios, the ‘I need help!’ buyers are prime territory for A-Graders. Buyers who are undecided and need to learn more about a product or service, and who are also within a complex buying environment, need the most help when it comes to making the right investments. These buyers want their sales people to be consultants – people who understand their needs and can help them navigate the internal buying environment while still explaining complex products and services.

The sales people most likely to position themselves as consultants are A-Graders, and they will, therefore, be the most highly valued by both their employers and their clients. Consequently, while all other types of sales people are expected to fall in numbers, the number of consultants is expected to increase by ten per cent.[1]

So if you want to become an A-Grader and preserve your career, this is the space you want to be playing in. When it comes to analysing the gap between where you are today and where you want to be in three years, you are really analysing the gap between your current knowledge and skills and the knowledge and skills of an A-Grade consultant.

Educate yourself

Seth Godin recently published a short insight that caught my attention: ‘In medical school, an ongoing lesson is that there will be ongoing lessons. You’re never done. Surgeons and internists are expected to keep studying for their entire career—in fact, it’s required to keep a license valid.’[2]

Sales people are effectively knowledge workers – you gather market intelligence, you go to meetings, you market, and you seek to change things around you. However, knowledge workers often act as if they’re fully baked – that more training and learning is not just unnecessary but a distraction – with the average sales person reading less than one business book a year.

The importance of ongoing education cannot be overstated. A-Grade sales people are not only reading a lot of books, they are also trawling LinkedIn for relevant thought leadership posts and they have set up their news feeds to push personalised and relevant information to them. They are intellectually curious and always learning. It’s not just about keeping up to date in order to level up. Education is the critical element that will help you separate yourself from all of those sales people who don’t have either the time or desire to elevate their performance.

The key message here is simple: If you wish to extend your tenure as a professional B2B sales person, then you had better start taking control of your own self-development.

See also: How business-to-business salespeople can be ‘A-Graders’ in today’s shifting sales landscape


About the author

Graham Hawkins, co-founder of SalesTribe, has more than twenty-eight years of business experience in executive B2B sales and sales leadership roles. Graham is a highly experienced and versatile business executive with proven strengths in strategic business development, go-to-market planning, and sales and marketing. Graham has worked in the UK, Australia and across Asia Pacific as a representative of some of the world’s most innovative IT, telecommunications, finance and media organisations.

[1] Hoar, Death of a (B2B) Salesman, 9.

[2] Godin, Seth. “Fully baked.” Seth’s Blog. September 29, 2016.http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/09/fully-baked.html.