How bad is the economy right now? Well, it depends on who you ask.

stack of newspapers

Global Economy Set for Weakest Half-Decade Performance in 30 Years,” lamented the World Bank on January 9, 2024.

What Recession? Growth Ended Up Accelerating in 2023,” noted the Wall Street Journal just 20 days later.

Growth accelerated in 2023? Well, that’s news to anyone who works in sales, but good news for the economic outlook overall, at least until the next headline shows up.

But it begs the question: How are B2B sellers supposed to sell in a topsy-turvy, uncertain environment like this?

For one, they can’t keep pointing to the economy as a scapegoat.

Sales leaders need to focus instead on supporting sellers’ growth in fundamental skills and behaviors, with a particular emphasis on guiding buyers through a successful sales cycle.

LinkedIn’s latest report on the state of B2B selling notes that B2B buyers “focus less on any specific vendor and instead on fixing their business problem.” In their research, LinkedIn discovered that buyers prefer sellers who can demonstrate a clear understanding of their business needs (41%) and have a clear understanding of their industry and competitors (36%).1

The B2B Selling Chaos Spiral

You don’t need us to tell you that B2B selling has become more and more complex.

As buying groups scale and buyers increasingly project experiences as consumers onto their B2B purchasing process, selling may be harder than it’s ever been.

In its “Future of Sales 2025 Report,” Gartner noted that:

The Buying Chaos Spiral

On average, buyers make initial contact with a seller when they are 57% of the way through their purchase process. This means they spend more than half of their time researching information, setting requirements, and reviewing pricing options — and not talking to sellers.5

As buyer groups grow, their ability to come to a consensus drops precipitously. Research in “The Challenger Sale” showed that the likelihood of a purchase decreased as the size of the buying group expanded. Just 31% of buying groups with six or more stakeholders indicated they would make a purchase in six months — compared to 60% in buying groups of three or four.6

TL;DR: Sellers have less time to convince more people that they need to spend their limited budget on your company’s services and solutions. Those stakeholders also seek the convenience they experience in their lives as consumers. Plus, bringing them to consensus on next steps, much less a purchase decision, gets harder and harder. Those are much bigger problems than any economic fluctuation.

Seller Performance Declines

As the complexity of B2B buying groups and their expectations have shifted over the last five years, so too has quota attainment and forecast accuracy.

Quota attainment is tough to track across all industries and verticals in B2B sales, but RepVue’s Cloud Sales Index is a strong indicator of what many B2B sellers experience. RepVue tracks quota performance quarterly from a group of 207 companies in the technology space, including Amazon, Adobe, Gong, and Slack.

Since Q1 2022, seller quota attainment fell by more than 10%, dropping to 42.8% in Q3 2023. Meanwhile, deal sizes for key accounts and enterprise sales remained flat or lower, and the average sales cycle averaged between 127 and 237 days for deals over $50K.7 This means your sellers can spend more than half a year on a deal that ultimately goes nowhere.

Sales organizations need to move on from the “grow at all costs” era of cheap money that dominated the economic landscape in the late 2010s and early 2020s and transition to a focus on realistic, steady, and efficient growth.

As inflation dials down, consumer confidence grows, and interest rates creep down, the days of the 2% prime rate are behind us. Sales leaders who want to succeed need to employ selling strategies based on steady growth rather than hockey sticks made of hopes and dreams.

Success in sales isn’t built on escalating pipeline or bending over backwards to cater to a buyer’s every request. It’s built on using a methodical approach to commercial teaching and empowering sellers to guide buyers to making the best choice for their business — and it is the only approach that works in any economy, even one as baffling as this one.

“The Great Reset”

In an episode of the Winning The Challenger Sale podcast, Jed Blount, CEO of Sales Gravy, called for sellers to engage in a “great reset.”

“If we really were to look at 2023 objectively, if we took 2021 and 2020 out of the picture, it was a normal year. It wasn’t that crazy — it just felt that way because of the relativity we had from the pandemic,” he told host Andee Harris, CEO of Challenger. “You have to execute the sales process. You can’t take shortcuts, and … what a lot of sales organizations were dealing with is salespeople who had forgotten how to sell. It’s time to get back to the basics and fundamentals.”

Listen to episode #98 of Winning The Challenger Sale, where Jeb Blount unpacks how to close complex deals in a changing economic landscape

To understand fundamentals, it’s important we go back to the beginning: the groundbreaking research behind “The Challenger Sale.” In fact, we need to go a little further back, to a study that CEB, now Gartner, conducted on B2B purchasing, where they found 53% of customer loyalty comes from the sales experience, beating out company and brand profile, product and service delivery, and value-to-price ratio. (We revalidated this survey in 2016 and 2019, and the sales experience remains the top driver of loyalty.)8

In 2009, Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson decided to dive into what sets the most successful sellers apart from the rest. When Dixon and Adamson studied the top 20% of performers, they found that they fell into five distinct profiles: The Lone Wolf, the Problem Solver, the Hard Worker, the Relationship Builder, and the Challenger.9

Dixon and Adamson conducted this research at the height of the Great Recession. They found that Challengers outperformed their peers even in that uniquely difficult economic crisis.

seller profile performance

So sales leaders, take note: No matter the economy, there’s one approach to selling that routinely and overwhelmingly outperforms the others. It’s not a secret recipe or a magic wand. It’s a set of seller skills, aligned to a repeatable sales process and reinforced through coaching and technology, that is at the core of the Challenger methodology.

  • Challengers Teach for differentiation, educating their buyers with Commercial Insights, in a rational and emotionally compelling way
  • They Tailor the sales message to individual priorities and goals within the stakeholder group
  • They Take Control of the sale, guiding the buyer through the buying process and verifying movement through the sales cycle and
  • Most importantly, they Create Constructive Tension to shift behavior and compel the buyer to take action

We live in a world where 40–60% of deals where a buyer showed intent to purchase end in no decision (and anecdotally, we’ve heard that number may be higher.)10 That’s right: more than half of buyers choose to do nothing over something.

Sales leaders can’t keep pointing their finger at the economic climate or shrugging at the complex landscape they now work in. The problem is directly connected to sellers’ ability to drive urgency. Specifically, in the confusing economy of the 2020s, it’s critical that your sellers:

  • Deliver Commercial Insights that reframe their clients’ business
  • Create a sense of urgency with buyers
  • Mitigate buyers’ perceived risk

Let’s unpack what that means in practice.

The Power of Commercial Insight

Think for a moment about a purchase you personally put off. Let’s say it was a new refrigerator.

You might think, your old refrigerator from 2011 is perfectly fine. It keeps your food cold and your ice frozen. It might not match your other appliances, or maybe you broke the crisper drawer, but ultimately, it does its job. Do you really need to spend hundreds of dollars on a new one?

What if the appliance seller told you that your old refrigerator sucks up energy, and that in two years, you’ll have spent more on electric bills than a new fridge?11

Then they mention that older refrigerators harm the environment. In fact, your 13-year-old refrigerator currently emits the equivalent of the carbon dioxide emissions from more than 100,000 cell phones.12 And your crisper is still broken, which is why you can’t keep lettuce fresh.

This is much the same with Commercial Insight.

Commercial Insight teaches buyers to see their business problems in a new light, using empathy, storytelling, data, and business metrics to reframe their thinking toward making a change. It requires sellers to actively push against a buyer’s status quo and expose the flaws in their understanding of their business problems.

Sellers guide buyers through the Challenger Choreography to deliver a Commercial Insight. They walk through five steps, designed to use storytelling and data to show a buyer a new approach and uniquely position your company as the trusted advisor who can support them:

  • Warmer: The customer feels comfortable and open to the conversation since your sellers clearly know their business and industry.
  • Reframe: The customer experiences surprise and possibly alarm, thinking “I never thought it about it that way.”
  • Rational Drowning: The customer starts to worry as they hear a compelling case behind the problem.
  • New Way: The customer begins to feel relief as they realize they can overcome the problem or issue.
  • Solution: The customer decides to take action with you to solve the problem at hand.

In our 2019 B2B Buyer Survey, results indicated that learning something new about their business and hearing a compelling reason to take action are statistically significant drivers of changing a buyer’s direction.13 That’s the heart of how sellers need to educate their buyers on why they need to disrupt their status quo.

Building a Sense of Urgency for Change

The distance between a verbal yes and a signature has never been further apart. Raise your hand if your sellers heard any of the following reasons in the last year after a buyer showed not just interest, but intent:

  • “My budget got cut so I have to make some really difficult decisions on how to spend.”
  • “We’re focused on another initiative this year — so unfortunately this is not a priority.”
  • “I have a new executive, and I need to sell her on sponsoring this purchase.”
  • Or maybe sellers don’t hear anything at all.

One of these responses can be the result of economic uncertainty, but ultimately, each of these creates an opportunity for your sellers to re-engage buyers in a stalled deal and ignite their sense of urgency, without any influence from macroeconomic conditions.

Emphasize Commercial Teaching

Earlier, we outlined the power of Commercial Insight. What it means to do this effectively is to Teach buyers that they need to disrupt their status quo. It also means embracing Constructive Tension to make them concerned or undermine their current thinking. But it’s important that sellers emphasize that doing nothing is not an option.

Sellers do this by sharing the Reframe. The Reframe builds credibility for your sellers, showing that they can change perception of a buyer’s relevant business issues. But what happens if the Reframe doesn’t land? Or if your seller’s happy ears just thought it did? Or maybe, that excitement your seller heard from a buyer simply fizzled out after they moved on to the next stage of the deal.

That’s when sellers must show a buyer the impact that their business may face if they don’t make a change.

Dial Up the Impact

You’ve heard that actions have consequences. In commercial selling, it’s critical that sellers hone in on impact to show buyers that non-action also has consequences.

listen to buyers icon

Ground the impact by listening to buyers and understanding the reasons they need to act with urgency. A buyer will not care that your seller needs to meet an internal milestone. However, the buyer will care that they meet their own regulatory deadlines or implementation timeline. Use that.

business metrics icon

Your sellers already gathered data to support the business case through Rational Drowning. Dial into business metrics that matter to buyers: how will avoiding change decrease revenue? How will it increase expenses? What about risk to their business? Use their own data to show them.

time to value icon

Frame up the timeline to value and show it to them as an actual number. Take those business metrics and line them up against time. How many days will it take to finalize a deal and establish implementation? How long will training take? Take those outstanding days and multiply them by the cost per day and show what non-action will truly cost them.

Sales leaders then need to work with sellers to confirm a buyer’s intent to move forward toward purchase and prep sellers to watch for signs of buyer indecision.

Fighting the Fear of Messing Up

In “The JOLT Effect,” Dixon and McKenna noted that 44% of no-decision deals could be attributed to a preference for the status quo. But their research uncovered something more troubling — that fear of failing drove 56% of buyers in no-decision losses to choose nothing.14

Listen to episode #102 of Winning The Challenger Sale to hear Ted McKenna’s insight into navigating stalled deals

Let’s go back to that hypothetical refrigerator purchase.

After you realized the costs of keeping your current fridge, you researched online and found 875 models that fit your requirements. Your partner likes one that you don’t. You can’t decide which store to buy it from, since every single one you considered offers similar price points and service options.

You read reviews on Reddit and find an influencer lamenting their purchase of one of your finalists on TikTok. Now, you’re worried that you might buy the wrong fridge, and you’ll have to do this again in a few years. You may as well wait and spend the money then.

This is not that different from what B2B buyers experience in a sales cycle. Buyers sometimes choose to do nothing even though they know they need to change something because they fear making the wrong choice and failing.

As a sales leader, your job is to support your sellers in addressing the key factors that drive these fears. Empower them to show buyers how the pain of change is less than the pain of the same — and then how to ultimately mitigate the risk and fear that keeps buyers from committing to your sellers.

The Three Elements of Indecision and How to Mitigate Them

Research identified three key causes underlying buyer indecision, all of which tie directly to buyers feeling overwhelmed.


Some overwhelmed buyers can’t decide what to choose. They stress about which option of features to purchase, struggle to decide on deployment options, or worry about bringing something new in phases or all at once. Buyers begin to worry about the irreversible damage that could come from choosing the wrong one, and so they opt to do nothing.

The solution: Offer a recommendation. Sellers can step in and offer buyers their own reasoning behind each concern. This is also an opportunity to create credibility. Perhaps a buyer struggles between purchase tiers, especially if they’re price sensitive. You know what matters to them. If a lower tier fits their budget and has what they need, point them toward it. Show them that you care more about solving their problems than you do your own commission.


Buyers have access to more information than ever before, which is a double-edged sword when it comes to selling. They want as much evidence as they can that they’re making the right decision for their business. They may ask to do a little more research or request references and case studies. Again, they fear making the wrong decision and they want to make sure they haven’t missed a key data point that shows why they’ll fail.

The solution: Limit the exploration. Early in the sales process, coach sellers to provide buyers with recommended reading or podcasts, a relevant study, or thought leadership that originated outside your company. Offer supportive materials from neutral, trustworthy sources. This allows your sellers to give a buyer direction and space to explore on their own, while also controlling the flow of information.


Buyers want to know that your solution will work. They worry that they may be the exception to the success stories you’ve shown them, or they’ve been burned in the past by a different vendor. They don’t want to suffer the blame of investing in a solution that doesn’t work, and their anxiety is so profound that they would rather do nothing than underperform.

The solution: Take risk off the table. This is likely the trickiest challenge to overcome, yet there are strategies that sellers can successfully employ. First, set realistic expectations. Make sure your sellers know what’s important to your client. Emphasize milestones your companies can accomplish together that your buyer will see as a win. Second, add safety nets. Some businesses can offer a 30- or 60-day cancellation clause. Deals can be phased, with a pilot first and a global rollout later. Coach sellers to narrow in on the elements driving anxiety, and create a mutual action plan or contractual safety net to address it.

The Key to Selling in Uncertainty: Embrace the Fundamentals

Economies rise and fall, and the challenges that sales leaders must navigate in 2024 and beyond are very different from the ones that industries faced in 2001 and 2008.

Despite a slight blip at the start of the pandemic, the global economy experienced robust economic growth over the last decade, powered by low interest rates and easily accessible capital, for several years. After the upheaval of 2020, people became spendy in their personal and work lives.

That phase seems to be over, even as signs of economic growth persist. B2B sales organizations that were lax on fundamentals during the bullish years have found themselves struggling in what is clearly a bearish time (maybe a small bear, but a bear nonetheless).

Challengers aren’t born — they’re made through behavior and skill modification.

It’s never too late to bring discipline to your sales team, executing a sales process that works. By embracing commercial teaching, strategically deploying strategies that drive buyer urgency, and mitigating the risk buyers experience, sales organizations can thrive, even in an economy and world as unpredictable as the one we face in 2024.

1 LinkedIn Sales Solutions
2 Gartner
3 Gartner
4 Gartner
6 Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson, “The Challenger Sale”
7 RepVue, “RepVue Cloud Sales Index Q3 2023”
8 CEB.
9 Dixon and Adamson, “The Challenger Sale.”
10 Matt Dixon and Ted McKenna, “The JOLT Effect.”
11 Energy Star
12 Environmental Protection Agency
13 2019 B2B Buyer Study
14 Dixon and McKenna, “The JOLT Effect.”

Challenger, Inc.

Challenger is the global leader in training, technology, and consulting to win today’s complex sale. Our sales transformation and training programs are supported by ongoing research and backed by our best-selling books, The Challenger Sale, The Challenger Customer, and The Effortless Experience.