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The 7 strategies of SA’s strongest B2B sales performers for 2021


South Africa’s strongest performing businesses are still reaching their revenue goals despite a pandemic and tough operating conditions. Here’s why.

By Andrew Honey, ThinkSales Global Chairman

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

We polled more than 100 top decision-makers from organisations ranging from R50 million to R1 billion plus in revenue to find out, and discovered that top performers have not only strategized how they are responding to current market conditions, but they are actively executing on any key decisions they’ve made. In other words, they aren’t just talking the talk; they’re walking the walk.

Here are the seven trends that we identified in our State of B2B Sales in South Africa survey, 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


It’s simple, value wins. The first key theme that separates the top performers in our sample from the weakest is value, specifically how value is viewed inside companies, embedded into offerings and built into client messaging.


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.


In other words, 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.


  1. The ‘Winning Edge’ principle


Perhaps the most noticeable outcome of our survey’s results is that a chasm does not exist between the results of the strongest market performers versus the weakest.  


However, while in some instances the edge is small, it’s clear that businesses who are meeting their revenue target are consistent across all leading indicators – they aren’t good at one or two things, they are slightly better at everything. And that’s what makes all the difference.


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 businesses? 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. These small gains can translate into big wins.


  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 businesses, yet the results don’t reflect this.


In fact, only 56% of strong performers have conducted a comprehensive assessment of their business 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.


  1. 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. 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.


  1. 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. 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.

  1. 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. The agility to respond so swiftly to market changes is also a critical element in sales success.


  1. 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. 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.


Pulling it all together


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

Our survey highlights the key areas where these top performers are exceling in the market. 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 all should be aiming for.



Andrew Honey is chairman of ThinkSales Global, a management consultancy that blends strategy with execution to help companies reach Sales Organisation Maturity and achieve market-leading results.

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.

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