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Everybody Wants to Be First…But Nobody Wants to Be First! Navigating the Paradox for B2B Sales

I’ve been toying with an intriguing paradox I’m seeing in the training rooms and boardrooms of the business we work with; the understanding that everyone wants to be pioneering in how the talk to their customers but then an absolute reluctance to actually be the first, leading more to added frustration of the business because now the business knows it should shift gear but chooses to do nothing about it!

Let me explain…

This curious paradox exists and is very real: everybody wants to be first, but nobody wants to be first. This sentiment, often observed in training rooms, events, and seminars, perfectly captures the reluctance many businesses feel toward adopting new sales strategies despite recognising the need for change and recognising that relying on traditional habits alone is making it hard for buyers to buy and making it increasingly more difficult for sales teams to actually sell.

As buying and selling evolves rapidly, understanding this paradox and the underlying factor at play is crucial for sales directors and leaders aiming to drive meaningful change within their organisations.

The Concept: The Reluctance to Lead

At its core, the paradox of wanting to be first yet not wanting to be first stems from a blend of ambition and hesitation. Businesses aspire to lead the market, be seen as innovators, and gain the competitive advantages that come with early adoption of new strategies. However, the reluctance to take the initial leap is equally strong, often rooted in deep-seated psychological and cultural biases.

Underlying Factors at Play

Several factors contribute to this inertia:

  1. Risk Aversion: The fear of failure is a significant barrier. The potential consequences of a misstep can seem daunting, leading to a preference for sticking with what is known and tested.
  2. Saving Face: In many corporate cultures, maintaining a reputation for reliability and success is paramount. Taking a bold step that may not succeed can threaten this reputation, leading to a preference for cautious, incremental change.
  3. Pride in Traditional Methods: Organisations that have built their success on traditional sales methods—cold calling, extensive travel, and door-to-door sales—often have a strong attachment to these strategies. This pride can create resistance to adopting new approaches that may seem to undermine past successes.
  4. Fear of the Unknown: Change brings uncertainty. The lack of familiarity with new technologies, digital engagement strategies, or data-driven sales tactics can lead to a preference for the comfort of known methods.
  5. Cultural Inertia: Organisational culture often values stability and predictability. This cultural inertia can be a powerful force against change, as established norms and practices are hard to shift.

The Case for Change

Despite these barriers, the need for change in B2B sales is more pressing than ever. Here are compelling reasons why adapting to new sales strategies is crucial:

  1. Changing Buyer Preferences: Modern buyers are more informed and prefer conducting their research online before engaging with sales representatives. This shift necessitates a move towards digital engagement and content marketing to meet buyers where they are. Read more on the changing habits of B2B buyers.
  2. Technological Advancements: Technologies such as CRM systems, AI, and data analytics provide new ways to understand and interact with customers, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of sales efforts. Watch! We explain the digitalisation of the sales process in this helpful video.
  3. Competitive Pressure: As competitors adopt modern sales tactics, relying solely on traditional methods can put an organisation at a disadvantage. Embracing innovation is essential to maintain a competitive edge and remain wholly relevant to your buyers.
  4. Efficiency and Scalability: Modern sales strategies supported by technology can streamline the sales process, allowing teams to reach more prospects in less time and with better results.


Read more on the concept of indecision and inertia from sales directors on the Plan Grow Do sales blog.

Read more on the changing shape of sales in 2024 and beyond.

Overcoming Inertia: Leadership's Role

To navigate this paradox and drive change, leadership at the top is crucial. Here are steps sales directors and leaders can take to overcome organisational inertia:

  1. Acknowledge Past Successes: Recognise and honour the value of traditional methods that have contributed to the organisation’s success. This acknowledgment can help ease the transition and reduce resistance.
  2. Communicate the Need for Change: Clearly articulate why change is necessary, using data and real-world examples to highlight the benefits of adopting new strategies and the risks of standing still.
  3. Foster a Culture of Innovation: Encourage experimentation and learning. Create an environment where trying new methods is safe and failures are seen as opportunities for growth.
  4. Invest in Training and Tools: Equip the sales team with the skills and technologies needed to succeed in a transformed landscape. Continuous learning and development are key to adapting to change.
  5. Measure and Share Success: Set clear metrics for success and celebrate achievements along the way. Sharing success stories can build momentum and encourage further adoption of new strategies.


We spoke with B2B sales expert Anthony Iannarino about the opportunities for B2B sales from the lens of the changing buyers. Some key takeaways are in this article and video between Anthony Iannarino and Rob Taylor of Plan Grow Do


The paradox of wanting to be first but not wanting to be first is a significant challenge in the B2B sales world. Overcoming this inertia requires a deep understanding of the underlying factors and a committed effort from leadership to drive change. By embracing new sales strategies and fostering a culture of innovation, businesses can not only adapt to the evolving landscape but also position themselves as leaders in their industry. What got you here may not get you there, but with the right mindset and approach, the journey forward can lead to even greater success.

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