Small and mid-sized businesses are the lifeblood of South Africa’s economy. They’re significant employers and government is looking to them as key drivers of economic growth in the years to come.

They also make up the most vulnerable sector and were taking strain prior to the pandemic due to a contracting local economy, the onset of Covid-19 and extended lockdowns have exponentially heightened the challenges they’re facing.

ThinkSales Global, a management consultancy that blends strategy with execution to help companies reach Sales Organisation Maturity and achieve market-leading results, launched its inaugural State of B2B Sales in South Africa Survey in 2021.


The survey results reveal multiple negative financial impacts stemming from the pandemic, but the three most prevalent are decreases in sales revenue, a drop off in the average number of new deals, and doubts over hitting annual sales targets.

The drop in sales revenue is exacerbated by smaller client bases, limited cash reserves, and less capacity to manage commercial pressures compared to their larger counterparts. The result is that SMEs are being forced to cut back on business spending to survive.

However, as the survey reveals, there are businesses that are bucking the trend. Not only are they maintaining their sales results, but they believe they will weather this storm.

Because of the critical role that SMEs play in job creation and growth, the ability to meet revenue targets in 2021, build up cash reserves and maintain business spending (which in turn supports the economy, fellow SMEs and employees) is paramount.

5 Strategic focus areas for SMEs

Out of a list of 23 strategic and tactical options, the top five moves that the Strongest Performers of the State of Sales 2021 survey are employing to maintain their sales results are:

  1. Focusing on retaining customers (64%)
  2. Added value instead of discounting (60%)
  3. Added value to make existing product/service offering more attractive (60%)
  4. Focusing on improving customer satisfaction (56%)
  5. Streamlining the sales process (52%)


1. A focus on retaining customers & improving customer satisfaction

The pandemic has highlighted how competitive the landscape is and how important it is to maintain strong relationships with customers.

Buyers have become more discerning. Budgets have tightened and every purchase is reviewed – is it critical to the business’s successful operations? If the answer is no, the deal is unlikely to be signed off. Similarly, if a better offer is on the table, customer loyalty is far from assured.

Within this environment, business owners are cognisant of the fact that it’s not only easier but more cost-effective to upsell and cross sell to existing customers than it is to attract new buyers.

Strategies are therefore focusing on customer retention. Businesses are asking: who are our customers? Are we delivering outstanding service? Is there a better offer available to them?

In the current business landscape, it’s not enough to say that customer service is important – the entire business must live and breathe to ensure that every customer is delighted with their interactions with your brand. Personalised service that is shaped to each customer’s needs is becoming increasingly important, and every touchpoint that they have with the business should be reviewed.

Top insight: Now is the time to keep in touch with your customers, not to sell them a product or service, but to check in, find out if you can help them in any way, and just to let them know you’re there to assist them. When they do have a need, the businesses that have maintained the best and most authentic relationships will be top of mind.

2. Adding value to make existing offerings more attractive & avoid discounting

Businesses that are not able to articulate their differentiators (even if they’re strong) tend to rely on discounting to close deals. Unfortunately, this is a race to the bottom. If a customer doesn’t see the value in an offering, they end up choosing on price, which means the cheapest offer wins – no other factors are even taken into consideration.

Offering added value doesn’t necessarily require a big monetary investment, however. You could offer your expertise or bundle solutions in such a way that it doesn’t impact your bottom line but does add huge value to the client.

At the heart of adding value is putting the client first: what do they need? How you can you improve their lives?

Top insight: Customers aren’t always choosing the low-cost option because they don’t want to spend money. Instead, they choose the low-cost option when they can’t see the difference between the available solutions and the businesses offering them.

3. Streamlining the sales process

Each customer’s experience with your brand begins during the sale. The Strongest Performers in our survey understand that a streamlined sales process achieves three things:

  1. The customer’s needs are properly mapped, a cost of the problem is determined, and a solution is co-created that will solve their challenges.
  2. These details are accurately shared with the rest of the organisation and the solution is implemented to the customer’s satisfaction.
  3. Each touchpoint, from the first sales interaction to the full delivery of the solution, is consistent.

All of this is only achieved with a streamlined sales process, which ensures that every sales executive operates in the same way, delivers the same value, and aligns with the rest of the organisation.

Top insight: To streamline your sales process, first map out all the steps in the customer journey, then document and share the process, and implement continuous training and coaching to ensure that the process is maintained.


The good news is that despite challenging operating conditions, South African SMEs are both resilient and agile. The ability to adapt to shifting customers trends has been a major influence in the success of businesses across different markets and industries. With the right insights, we believe South African SMEs will survive the current storm and emerge into a post-pandemic world stronger than they were in early 2020.

About the ThinkSales State of B2B Sales in South Africa survey

The inaugural ThinkSales State of B2B Sales in South Africa survey comprised a sample of over 100 respondents drawn predominantly from leadership teams that have upwards of six sales staff and are highly dependent on their salesforce to make their annual budget.

Download the full report here: