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5 Reasons B2B Companies are Failing to Sell Digital

Digital disruption is all around. Every product, software, and services company has jumped onto the bandwagon, promising digital nirvana, whether they understand it or not. But telling isn't selling. There are serious gaps in the sales organizations when it comes to "selling digital," especially in tech companies that are supposed to be at the leading edge of this change. There's a separate problem with how sales itself is being disrupted by digital, a class of problems we should call "digital selling," which will be the topic for another discussion.

When the old guano no longer sells

Increasing world population in the 1800s led to the demand for natural fertilizer. Peruvian seabird droppings (or “guano”) were found to be especially effective and the price of this commodity climbed up to nearly a quarter of the gold prices per ounce. At the peak of guano-mania, countries went to war over possession, and the US lay claim to 70 remote islands for its' own guano mining. Peru made tons of money from tons of this stuff, and guano-entrepreneurs were scouring the planet for their next pile. But just as suddenly as it began, the mania was over. Depletion in supply dried up the market, as the old mountains of guano were consumed, and the newly discovered Haber process created synthetic fertilizers in the early 1900s. Large scale industrial manufacturing took over 99% of the market supply. Peru lost its moment in the sun and sank back into relative obscurity. Guano entrepreneurs had to move on. The old guano didn't sell anymore-- all that business disrupted by new science.

Something similar is happening all around the business world now. The old guano isn't selling. The new digital stuff is very very different.

Here are the 5 reasons companies are failing to sell digital


Sales teams have to keep pace with recurrent waves of new technology. Blockchain wasn't even a word a few years ago, and neither was IoT or Deep Learning. The changes in technology are coming at a faster pace, and from unpredictable directions. Sales teams can barely learn about the technology at this pace, and clients often tend to read the same articles that they do. This means that the sales teams have a harder job keeping ahead of the technology as well as their own clients. "So...what do you think about the impact of 'augmented reality' in our business"? 


Each industry has a "hyphen-tech" double in this new Bizarro-world. And this hyphenated-part of the industry is the one that's growing faster. Finance is shaken by Fin-Tech. Hotels are being threatened by Hotel-Tech. GE, Goldman, and Walmart have each declared that they are really technology companies in their businesses. 

Sales teams have to keep pace with their customer industries' hyphenated counterparts. In fact, they would be better off selling into these -tech companies first, because that's where the maximum change is. There is a lot of unlearning and relearning at this end of the business. Better get used to forgetting and experimenting.


There are changes in your client’s relationship with their own customers. You have to be aware of the imported ideas that might come in from other industries into your client industries. If your client is a bank, you now have to stay on top of who is stealing that bank's customers - Is it a new fin-tech company that has an easy mortgage or a simple online banking account or checking account, a retailer, another bill payment system,  peer to peer payment system, or a mobile phone messenger company? It's not enough to follow your client industry— you have to keep your peripheral vision very sharp too. You now must keep pace with changes coming in the relationship between your client and their customers. 


If you're a technology vendor, you used to be just a technology vendor. But now you also have to think about customer experience as well as about what the client is doing with the data that might sit on your technology. So now you have to think about all three things - design, digital, and data in the context of your client industry. I'll write separately on this theme because it deserves a deeper look.


The turmoil in client industries and companies is creating completely new job titles. Sales teams have to learn to talk with these new stakeholders and maybe even educate and hand-hold these new execs. If you’re a technology salesperson, you may have been used to selling to the CIO.  Now you’re dealing with a variety of positions like Chief Digital Office, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Customer Experience Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, Chief Risk Officer, and so many other roles that have been created. You’ll have to engage these new roles even if you’re not selling directly to them because they may be involved in committee decision-making. They’re involved in the sales process, so you need to know how to address them.         --- The guano boom lasted two decades, and when the steaming, stinky mountains of manure were all extracted, the business moved on and the guano dons struggled. Peru, it's said

[Having had] unlimited access to London credit … [but now] saddled with Latin America's largest foreign debt, Peru was unprepared for the crash. It was riches to rags, with nothing to show in persisting economic advance

This is the stark new reality of selling digital.

If the team cannot handle these five changes that selling digital is bringing in, they have to think carefully about the fate that awaited the old guano traders when the trade ran dry.  Continuous learning should be on top of sales leaders' agenda.

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