How are South Africa’s top performing businesses meeting their revenue targets during one of the toughest operating environments of the past decade?

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 surveyin 2021.

The survey polled more than 100 top decision-makers from organisations ranging from R50 million to R1 billion plus in revenue.

The purpose? To determine the strategies and tactics that South Africa’s strongest business performers are deploying to combat some of the most prevalent sales challenges that businesses are currently facing – including decreases in sales revenue, the drop-off in average numbers of new deals, and doubts over hitting annual sales targets.

Here are the seven trends that we identified, as well as the insights that local businesses can implement in their own sales strategies to boost sales revenue in 2021.

1. The Value of Value

The first key theme that separates the Strongest Performers* from the Weakest in the ThinkSales 2021 State of B2B Sales in South Africa Survey is value, specifically how value is reviewed inside companies, embedded into offerings and built into client messaging.

“It’s simple, value wins,” says Andrew Honey, chairman of ThinkSales Global.

“The top performers in this economy will be sellers who can reach decision-makers through value-messaging, and who can then build compelling business cases that match real client needs and challenges to co-create effective solutions.”

“The ability to demonstrate how you are best-positioned to enable your clients to optimise their operations, leverage a competitive opportunity or mitigate risk, will separate those who out-perform the market from those who don’t. Out-performing the market is a critical factor in protecting margins and withstanding the pressure to discount prices.”

2. The ‘Winning Edge’ principle

Perhaps the most noticeable outcome of the survey’s results is that a chasm does not exist between the results of the Strongest versus Weakest Performers.

However, while in some instances the edge is small, the Strongest Performers lead the Weakest in nearly every positive strategic and tactical indicator across this survey, and their results demonstrate the ‘Winning Edge’ principle in practice.

First popularised in the personal improvement genre by author Brian Tracy, the ‘Winning Edge’ principle states that, ‘small differences in ability can translate into enormous differences in results.

What does this mean for Sales Organisations? “Top performers are ensuring that their sales processes, implementation and tactics are just a little bit better than their competitors in certain critical areas of selling,” says Honey. “These small gains can translate into large wins.”

3. Strategic Planning

“Given the scale of the pandemic’s impact, we expected more companies to conduct a thorough SWOT or gap analysis of their Sales Organisations, yet the results don’t reflect this,” says Honey.

In fact, only 56% of strong performers have conducted a comprehensive assessment of their Sales Organisation to address its weaknesses and leverage its strengths since the onset of Covid-19,followed by 48% of the Weakest Performers.

However, 68% of the Strongest and 50% of the Weakest Performers respectively believe they have deployed an effective sales strategy to differentiate their companies to win in a Covid-19 environment.

4. Strategic Market Moves

The Strongest Performers were more aggressive in focusing on all four Market Protection and Market Growth Initiative responses to Covid-19:

  • Market Protection
  • Market Share Gain
  • New Market Entry
  • Market Expansion

“It’s interesting to us that top performers are as concerned with protecting their markets as they are with growing them,” says Honey. “This speaks to the Winning Edge principle as well, demonstrating that it requires a 360-degree view of the business to succeed under the current operating conditions.”

5. Shifts in Sales Channel Focus

Our sample of the Strongest Performers indicated that they will be increasing their efforts in 2021 to focus on the following sales channels:

  • Field Sales Team: 56%
  • Online (eCommerce): 56%
  • Indirect Sales Channels (Agents, Dealers, Resellers, etc): 56%
  • Inside Sales (Outbound): 40%
  • Inside Sales (Inbound): 32%
  • Retail: 24%

“Outbound sales and online sales are the clear focus areas,” says Honey. “This is indicative of the important role that sales forces continue to play in spite of the pandemic and the restrictions that sales teams are facing.

“As the shift to digital continues, we expect top performers will continue to explore new and innovative ways of researching customers online as well.”

6. eCommerce Lag in Weakest Performers

Interestingly, while the Weakest Performers reported a similar focus on Online eCommerce for 2021 (51,79%), the Strongest Performers acted faster in this regard, with 40% taking action in 2020 to improve their eCommerce functionality for 2021, versus only 25% of Weakest Performers doing the same.

“The result is that these organisations are able to leverage their eCommerce positions on top of their existing sales processes and channels,” says Honey. “The agility to respond so swiftly to market changes is also a critical element in sales success.”

7. Referrals

Another area that the Strongest Performers outpaced their weaker counterparts on was referrals, with 36% of the Strongest Performers focusing on obtaining referrals versus only 18% of Weakest Performers.

“Referrals are important trust signals for potential buyers,” explains Honey. “Sharing case studies not only aligns with value creation, which is the top trend that has emerged for sales success in 2021 but creating them is an excellent way to connect with existing customers and sense-check relationships. Customer retention is always important, but in 2021 it’s non-negotiable.”


While the devastating impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt across industries and sectors, there is no doubt that many South African Sales Organisations are proving themselves resilient, innovative, and agile.

“Our survey highlights the key areas where these top performers are exceling in the market,” says Honey. “The Winning Edge principle shows us that in many cases there are only marginal gaps between Strongest and Weakest Performers, which means that with only small but important shifts, thousands of businesses can improve their sales results and hit their revenue targets this year, which is what we’re aiming for.”

About the ThinkSales 2021 State of B2B Sales in South Africa Survey

The inaugural ThinkSales 2021 State of B2B Sales in South Africa Survey comprised a sample of over 100 respondents – the majority of whom occupy Executive and Senior Management roles in companies that:

  • Have 50+ employees
  • Have upwards of 6 sales staff
  • Have a domestic annual turnover ranging from R50 million to R1 billion plus
  • Have been in operation for 10+ years
  • Operate nationally (48,5%) and internationally (45,6%)
  • Are highly dependent on their salesforce to make their annual budget.

Download the full report here.

* The Strongest and Weakest Performers are sub-set samples of all respondents. The Strongest Performers comprise those who stated they are confident they will achieve their annual target but excludes those who have ‘no concern’ about the effect of the pandemic on their sector. Those indicating ‘no concern’ have been excluded from the sub-set because any actions they take are unlikely to positively or negatively influence the business against the backdrop of major sector-specific impacts that are outside of their control.

The Weakest Performers comprise those who expressed doubt they will achieve their annual target but excludes those who expressed ‘extreme concern’ about the effect of the pandemic on their sector. Their actions are also unlikely to positively or negatively influence the business against the backdrop of major sector-specific impacts that are outside of their control.