September 12th, 2017 | by

First, the bad news: Most B2B buyers don’t trust salespeople.

They don’t think salespeople do a good job of explaining how a product helps their business specifically. And they don’t think salespeople can converse with the senior executives who sign off on major purchases.

What's wrong with salespeople?The good news? These 30 findings from our extensive study tell salespeople exactly what to do to change this dynamic, and how to win back the respect and partnership the B2B sales-buyer relationship needs to be mutually successful.

From DiscoverOrg CEO Henry Schuck:

When DiscoverOrg partners with sales researcher Steve W. Martin, quality data meets quality research. And since good business decisions are data-based decisions, our goal is to transform this research into practical findings and best practices that help you improve as a salesperson—and drive more revenue for your business.

B2B buyers often take issue with salespeople for a host of reasons. From their dress to their appetite for risk to their communication style, buyers are looking for reasons to narrow down the number of demands on their resources and time. But there are a lot of ways salespeople can respond and influence the outcome in their favor. This objective study pulls from statistics as well as human psychology, as represented by 230 B2B buyers in a 76-part survey. The sample size is large enough that the results may be applied to the B2B buyer community at large.

What’s wrong with salespeople?

Many salespeople do not take the time to truly understand why they won a deal with a new customer. They assume it’s because of their sales prowess or their solution’s superior functionality … but this may not be the case. They really don’t know what was on the customer’s mind.

It’s also true that many salespeople don’t investigate why they lost a deal or long-time client. They don’t know why they weren’t selected or reflexively blame it on factors out of their control. And again, they don’t really know what was on the buyer’s mind.

The goal of this research was to understand what’s really on customers’ minds. What are their perceptions of the salespeople they meet, and how do they ultimately choose between them?

Over 230 business professionals who evaluate products and services participated in this research project.

Study participants completed an extensive 76-part survey on a variety of subjects to understand their personality tendencies and were asked to provide opinions on real-world sales scenarios. The questions were intended to discover what they like and dislike about different types of salespeople.

Download the entire study, “What’s Wrong with Salespeople?”

Steve Martin study b2b buyer persona industry and department

1: Buyers rate 2/3 of B2B salespeople as average or poor

Buyers don’t really don’t trust salespeople. Why?

sales people ratings by buyersBuyers rate two-thirds of B2B salespeople as being average or poor. Put yourself in the position of the experienced buyer who has met with hundreds of salespeople. What percentage of salespeople would you say are excellent, good, average or poor? The study participants were asked to categorize all of the salespeople they have met into four different categories.

Overall, they rated 12% excellent, 23% good, 38% average, and 27% poor, as shown below.

What category are you in? Are you excellent, good, average, or poor?

While buyer perceptions are everything when it comes to selling, these three statistics will help you find your true standing. The first is your win-loss ratio over the past 12 months: The higher your ratio is, the higher your rating. The second is your annual quota performance for the previous year. The third is your quota performance average over the course of your sales career.

This probably comes as no surprise; salespeople are keenly aware that their reputation precedes them. Mark Hunter of The Sales Hunter explains:

For professional buyers who see a wide variety of salespeople, the value they place on them is usually very minimal. Are you wondering why?

There’s one simple reason: Most salespeople bring to their buyers only information. Interestingly, information is something any buyer can gather from other sources.

That’s because, Hunter notes, technology has changed the role of the salesperson. Buyers can – and do – research on their own. What they need are solutions that are specific to their situation.

As you weigh your own perception, as indicated by wins per Martin’s rating system, consider what you bring to the table: solutions … or just more information?

Webinar: Author Steve W. Martin and DiscoverOrg CRO Katie Bullard discuss study findings

2: Only 18% of buyers trust and respect salespeople

B2B buyers don’t trust salespeople. Unbound Growth points to a buyer persona study that explains why. Buyers think salespeople:

  • B2B buyer persona don't trust salesDon’t listen
  • Don’t care about buyer needs
  • Use high-pressure tactics
  • Pester and manipulate buyers
  • Don’t know their own products
  • Only care about making the sale

Our own study confirms this unfortunate impression. Buyers know that salespeople profit personally when they’re successful, and may have had a past experience in which they were misled by an opportunistic salesperson.

Customers can think of a salesperson as someone who is trying to sell something, a supplier with whom they do business, a strategic partner who is of significant importance to their business, or a trusted advisor whose opinions on business and personal matters are sought out and listened to.

Obviously, a trusted advisor enjoys significant advantages over the competing salespeople. However, only 18% of the salespeople they met over the past year would be classified as trusted advisors whom they respect.

Of course most salespeople are hard-working professionals of integrity and empathy. Two quick ways to put yourself in that 18% (and perhaps be part of a rising tide and boost that dismal number):

  • Listen. Buyers have a real problem, or they wouldn’t be meeting with you. Put your datasheet away, and listen. What’s the problem? How does your solution speak to the buyer’s unique situation?
  • Be honest. No solution is right for everyone. If you talk a buyer into purchasing a solution that isn’t ultimately a good fit, they will tell their peers. It’s a small world. By contrast, letting a buyer know that your product isn’t a good fit – and maybe even referring them to a different product that is – is one of the biggest ways to build trust, rapport, and a real relationship.

Get the entire free study: 30 Ways to Get Inside the Mind of Your Target Buyer

3: Only 31% of salespeople converse effectively with senior executives

Buyers are accountable to their higher-ups, and many rely on salespeople to help make the case for a large purchase.

It’s likely that you frequently meet with lower-level and midlevel employees at companies whose business you’re trying to secure, but it’s the rare conversations you have with C-level decision makers that directly determine whether you win or lose the deal.

Therefore, it is critical to understand how C-level executives think and communicate— and that you adapt your use of language to match theirs. Unfortunately, buyers report that fewer than one in three salespeople can hold an effective conversation with senior executives.

This is because, in part, buyers prefer a salesperson who has familiar dress and mannerisms – and who don’t challenge them with wildly new ideas (See finding 23 and 25 of the study). If you come across as too casual, too formal, or too wildly different – whether you’re selling information security or medical marijuana – you have a problem.

B2B buyer persona sales can't talk to senior executives

An accurate data-based Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) goes a long way toward helping a salesperson match their sales presentation to buyers’ expectations.

Download the Persona Discovery Worksheet.

Other factors, such as respecting the time of a senior executive by being prepared (remember: talk benefits as well as features!), keeping things brief, and taking the high road when talking about competitors, are more likely to get you in front of the CXO.

This is Part 2 of the study “Why Didn’t They Buy?” Download Part 1.

As DiscoverOrg CEO Henry Shuck says: “This study speaks to the complexity of human buying behavior: our choices aren’t made in a vacuum. Even the most instinctive buyers are responding to past experiences during the purchase process, and are subject to the influence of others—which means perceptive sales and marketing professionals can affect the purchase process.

“Just as the buyer persona is a colorful spectrum resulting from a lifetime of experience, so, too, is the salesperson’s approach.”

That is to say, as human beings like the rest of us, B2B buyers may be quick to judge. And as human beings, they want the best outcome. A good salesperson tries to deliver just that.

For all 30 buyer insights, download the study now.

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Justin Withers
About the author

Justin Withers

Justin is the Vice President, Product Management and Product Marketing at DiscoverOrg and brings a decade of experience driving pipeline and revenue growth at B2B technology companies. Justin has authored several research reports including DiscoverOrg's 2017 Growth Drivers Report: Unlock the Sales and Marketing Secrets of the Fastest Growing Companies. Justin is passionate about the power of data and content to educate, influence, and enable sales and marketing team execution.