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 was conducted in Q4 2020 and 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.


Negative Impacts On Sales Revenue

Given South Africa’s constrained economy leading up to Covid-19 and the ongoing pandemic, the majority of respondents unsurprisingly reported negative financial impacts stemming from the current global crisis:

  • Decreases in sales revenue: Two thirds of respondents (66%) reported decreases and substantial decreases in sales revenue relative to the same period in the previous year.
  • Drop-off in the average number of new deals: 72,81% reported a drop-off (ranging from low to extreme) in the average number of new deals closed since the onset of Covid-19 compared to the same period in the previous year.
  • Doubts over hitting annual sales target: 52,4% expressed doubts regarding achieving or surpassing their sales targets for their current financial year.

Strongest & Weakest Performers

To identify patterns in the Strongest and Weakest Performers, we used two markers to identify sub-sets within the group of respondents.

  • The Strongest Performers include 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. Leaders 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. Those indicating ‘extreme 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.

Top 10 Moves By Strongest Performers

Respondents were asked to select the strategic and tactical decisions they have implemented in response to the current operating environment. They were presented with a list of 23 options.  These are the top 10 selected by the Strongest Performers:

  1. Focused on retaining customers (64%)
  2. Added value instead of discounting (60%)
  3. Added value to make existing product/service offering more attractive (60%)
  4. Focused on improving customer satisfaction (56%)
  5. Streamlined our sales process (52%)
  6. Increased marketing (48%)
  7. Introduced new product/service offering unplanned prior to Covid-19 (44%)
  8. Enhanced our website (44%)
  9. Greater hands-on involvement by senior managers in selling to customers and managing accounts (44%)
  10. Focused on eCommerce functionality (40%)

Two Dominant Themes Emerged From The Data

Theme 1: The Value of Value

The first key theme that separates the Strongest Performers from the Weakest is Value, and how Value is reviewed inside these companies, embedded into offerings and built into client messaging.

With an ongoing pandemic and a recession acting as backdrops to business uncertainty, non-essential spending remains in lockdown and so demonstrating value (and by inference, relevance) has never been more important.

“It’s simple, value wins. 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.”

– Andrew Honey, Chairman, ThinkSales Global

Here’s how the Strongest Performers faired in the stakes for building and articulating value:

  • In response to the statement, Since the onset of Covid-19 the need to articulate value to buyers has increased substantially, 75% of Weakest Performers selected Strongly Agree and Agree, versus only 64% of their Stronger counterparts demonstrating that the Weakest Performers saw this as a more urgent issue.
  • However, 84% of the Strongest Performers actually took action and refined their Value Proposition since Covid-19 to ensure that it connected effectively with prospects and customers on WHY to select them, versus 68% of Weakest Performers.
  • In answer to the statement, “Our sales reps are equipped with effective sales enablement collateral to help them build credibility, establish a business case and overcome scepticism in the current environment to close deals,” 76% of the Strongest Performers indicated they Strongly Agreed and Agreed, versus only 52% of the Weakest Performers.
  • 29% of the Weakest Performers cited discounted pricing as a top action taken in response to Covid-19, versus only 8% of the Strongest Performers.
  • By contrast, 60% of Strongest Performers added value instead of discounting, versus 40% of the Weakest.
  • In addition, 60% of the Strongest Performersadded value to make existing product/service offerings more attractive, versus 45% of the Weakest. 
  • The Strongest Performers also out-performed the Weakest in increasing Thought Leadership content by 60% versus 37,5%.

Theme 2: The ‘Winning Edge’ principle

The second key take-away is the ‘Winning Edge’ principle.

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?

It means that if your sales processes, implementation and tactics are just a little bit better than your competitors in certain critical areas of selling, these small gains can translate into large wins.

As Tracy explains: “If a horse comes in first by a nose, it wins ten times the prize money of the horse that comes in second, even though the difference is only a nose, or perhaps a couple of inches, in a photo finish.”

“Does this mean that the horse that wins by a nose is ten times faster than the horse that comes in second, by a nose? Is the horse that wins by a nose twice as fast, or fifty percent faster, or ten percent faster? The answer is ‘no’ to all of these. The horse that wins is only a nose faster, but it translates into ten times the prize money.”

In support of this principle, perhaps the most noticeable outcome of the 2021 ThinkSales State of B2B Sales Survey results is that a chasm does not exist between the results of the Strongest versus Weakest Performers.

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.

Additional Trends Worth Noting

1. 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:

  • In response to the statement: We have conducted a comprehensive assessment of our Sales Organisation to address its weaknesses and leverage its strengths since the onset of Covid-19, only 56% of the Strongest Performers Strongly Agreed or Agreed, and only 48% of the Weakest.
  • However, 68% of the Strongest and 50% of Weakest Performers Strongly Agreed or Agreed with the statement: We have deployed an effective Sales Strategy to differentiate our Company to win in a Covid-19 environment.

2. Strategic Market Moves

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

  Strongest Performers Weakest Performers
Market Protection 60% 52%
Market Share Gain 68% 64%
New Market Entry 76% 59%
Market Expansion 76% 59%

3. 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%

4. eCommerce Lag in Weakest Performers

Interestingly, while the Weakest Performers reported a similar 2021 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, versus only 25% of Weakest Performers doing the same.

5. Referrals

Another area that the Strongest Performers out-paced their Weaker counterparts on was referrals. 36% of the Strongest Performers focused on obtaining referrals versus only 18% of Weakest Performers.

Download the full report here: