ATD Blog

Buyer Research Reveals Behavioral Shifts That Make Sellers More Effective

Monday, March 9, 2020

Modern buyers are empowered. They’re less loyal. They don’t see the value of meeting with sellers until it’s time to negotiate price. As a result, products are unfairly commoditized and sellers struggle.

What do sellers need to do differently so buyers will want to meet with them?

We set out to answer this question in our research study with 530 business-to-business buyers and more than 500 sellers. We learned about the extraordinary things that happen when sellers guide buyers by transforming values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards.

More than thirty years ago, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner embarked on a similar research project to identify the behaviors of effective leaders. They discovered 30 behaviors that made a difference and grouped them into the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Their work has been validated in more than 600 research studies with data collected in more than five million assessments in 72 countries.

In our research, we asked buyers what would happen if sellers exhibited these same leadership behaviors.

B2B buyers favorably rated all 30 behaviors. The ideal frequency of each behavior is higher, they said, than the current frequency demonstrated by the sellers they do business with currently. Buyers told us they’d be significantly more likely to meet with and buy from sellers who demonstrated leadership behaviors.

Sellers who want to get more meetings and make more sales simply need to adopt the behaviors of exemplary leadership that buyers desire.

Adopting leadership behaviors requires no special tools, no process change, and no permission. This is a simple choice—one that individual sellers can make for themselves. Here’s what they can do:


Model the Way: Leaders clarify their values and set the example by aligning actions with values.

Buyers provided more input about this practice than any other. The importance of follow-through, honesty, and integrity came through loudly and clearly. Buyer loyalty is the reward for these consistent behaviors.

Inspire a Shared Vision: Leaders envision the future by imagining exciting and ennobling possibilities. They enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.

Buyers want to connect with and be inspired by sellers who see the larger purpose of their work together, in service of a mission or vision. Buyers don’t want sellers to over-promise or tell stories without backing them up with follow-through.

Challenge the Process: Leaders search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and by looking outward for innovative ways to improve. They experiment and take risks, learning from experience.


Buyers want sellers to stretch themselves instead of being complacent in the status quo or in different to buyers. Buyers also want to be challenged but only after sellers have established credibility and trustworthiness.

Enable Others to Act: Leaders foster collaboration by building trust and facilitating relationships. They strengthen others by increasing self-determination and developing competence.

Buyers want to be involved in brainstorming and co-creating insights. Acknowledging and affirming buyer ideas and engaging in two-way dialogue has become increasingly important.

Encourage the Heart: Leaders recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence, and they celebrate victories by creating a spirit of community.

Buyers want to be praised and recognized for their contributions to a solution—not just thanked for their business. Buyers also want to be encouraged as they navigate inside their own organizations to get approvals and changes needed to introduce new products or vendors.

These Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership gives sellers a behavioral blueprint for increasing sales. The more frequently sellers lead, the more buyers respond, and the more extraordinary sales happen.

For a deeper dive into the research and advice, join Deb Calvert at the ATD 2020 International Conference & EXPO for the session, Sales Ennoblement: The New Imperative for Sales Enablement.

About the Author

Deb Calvert is the author of DISCOVER Questions® and Stop Selling & Start Leading, founder of The Sales Experts Channel, President of People First Productivity Solutions, and a certified sales and executive coach. She has been named one of the "65 Most Influential Women in Business" and a Top 30 Global Sales Guru.

About the Author

Barry Posner is the Accolti Endowed Professor of Leadership at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, where he also served as dean of the school for 12 years. He has been a distinguished visiting professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Sabanci University (Istanbul), University of Western Australia,and the University of Auckland. At Santa Clara, he has received the President’s Distinguished Faculty Award, the School’s Extraordinary Faculty Award, and several other teaching and academic honors. ABarry received ATD's highest award for Distinguished Contribution to Workplace Learning and Performance. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 research and practitioner-focused articles, and more than a dozen books on leadership. He currently serves on the editorial advisory board for the Leadership & Organizational Development Journal and the International Journal of Servant-Leadership, and received the Outstanding Scholar Award for Career Achievement from the Journal of Management Inquiry. Barry received a BA with honors in political science from the University of California, Santa Barbara; an MA in public administration from The Ohio State University; and a PhD in organizational behavior and administrative theory from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Having consulted with a wide variety of public and private sector organizations worldwide, Barry also works at a strategic level with a number of community-based and professional organizations. He has served on the board of directors of Uplift Family Services, Global Women’s Leadership Network, American Institute of Architects, SV Creates, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Santa Clara County, Center for Excellence in Nonprofits, Junior Achievement of Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay, Public Allies, San Jose Repertory Theater, Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, and several publicly traded and startup companies. Barry can be reached at [email protected].

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