About $3 trillion — that’s Forrester’s estimate for B2B sales by 2027, almost double what it was in 2021. And B2B salespeople are a big reason why it’s growing.
But before you start dreaming of the commission that comes with big-ticket business sales, there’s a lot you need to know about connecting with buyers and influencing their decision to purchase products or services for their companies.
If you want to be successful in B2B sales, you need to understand the difference between B2B and B2C sales strategies. You must also understand the B2B sales process and how companies think about these big decisions.
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What is B2B sales?
In B2B (business-to-business) sales, one business sells goods or services to another. Because businesses typically require chains of approval, closing a B2B sales deal usually involves detailed touchpoints, presentations, product demos, and negotiations with decision-makers, leading to a long sales cycle.
Common traits of B2B sales
- High-cost and/or recurring contract pricing. B2B sales transactions can run into the millions of dollars. Businesses also tend to invest in products/services for longer periods, owing to the cost/time investment involved in changing to a different solution.
- Multiple stakeholders. Decision makers will have different agendas, requirements, and needs for the transaction. They stretch from mid-level managers all the way up to the C-suite.
- Longer close time. Given the above, B2B sales are more involved and take longer to close.
B2B sales vs. B2C sales: What’s the difference?
B2B sales is when a business sells a product or service to another business. B2C sales is when a business sells a product or service directly to a consumer. Because the buyer in these situations has different intent, needs, and requirements, the sales process and deal timeframe are also different:
- B2B sales focuses on long-term relationships. These sales are often complex, with large deal sizes and multiple stakeholders to navigate. B2B buyers need to understand the potential return on investment (ROI) and how a product or service will ultimately benefit their business before they move forward with a purchase. For example, a B2B deal might involve purchasing and onboarding new AI software for hundreds of employees. This likely costs thousands of dollars and touches multiple teams, so they’re are many stakeholders who need to review and approve the deal.
- B2C sales target short-term transactions. These are typically simpler and lower-cost products or services, so individual customers can make quicker decisions. Because of this, the path to purchase is also shorter. For example, you might impulse-buy a sweatshirt from an Instagram ad or a candy bar while you wait in line at the grocery store.
What is the B2B sales process and who leads it?
Companies that sell B2B have dedicated sales teams that reach out to prospects — sales associates, account executives, and sales representatives. These salespeople find and follow up with prospects and work through the complex and layered B2B sales process:
Because B2B sales requires so many stakeholders to get involved, however, every company will have a different process. That said, there are some core elements that every salesperson will likely experience. Let’s look at what these are in more detail.
- Lead generation or prospecting. Sales and marketing teams identify potential customers, either via ads that attract interested prospects or via outreach based on research (more on that below).
- Lead qualification. Sales teams assess the product fit of potential customers.
- Needs assessment. Sales teams uncover the detailed needs of potential customers they’ve qualified.
- Proposal and quote. Sales teams present a tailored solution to the potential client.
- Negotiation. Sales teams work out the terms of the deal.
- Close. Sales teams finalize and process the details of the sale.
As a sales rep, it’s important to use technology to your advantage to streamline the process. AI sales tools are great for organizing information, like keeping track of leads and where you are in a deal’s process.
What are the essential B2B sales activities during the sales process?
B2B sales activities are designed to identify and attract prospective customers and then engage and close deals with customers in need of your products or services. Sales activities can vary based on your industry and what your organization offers, but some are essential to every sales process. Here are a few examples:
- Customer research is the first step in B2B sales. Start by creating an ideal buyer profile for your product and explore their motivations for purchasing by talking to customers of similar businesses, and by reviewing online reports and information. This profile should also include characteristics such as demographics, psychographics (prospect behaviors), and communication preferences. All of this will inform whom you look for in your prospecting
- Outreach is how you stay in contact with prospective clients. You can reach out in many ways: phone calls, texts, emails, in-person conferences and events, and online networking platforms like LinkedIn. Your approach will vary based on the client and their needs.
- Customer relationship management helps you build long-term relationships with your customers that lead to loyalty and retention. Because B2B sales can take a long time to close, managing and nurturing these relationships is a key skill for you to develop. That’s why you should set up a cadence of communication to make sure prospects’ needs are being met.
- Sales reporting is an overview of key sales metrics. Some of these metrics focus on prospect behavior, like email open and click-through rates, while some focus on your behavior, like how many calls you schedule per week and how many deals you close. Over time, you can use the data you collect to inform and refine your approach to B2B sales.
What are the most important B2B sales metrics?
Tracking sales metrics is essential because they give you an unbiased look at how reps perform individually and as a team. It also gives you a sense of how close you are to hitting your targets, and if you need to adjust strategy to increase sales.
Here are some key metrics to keep in mind for B2B sales:
New leads in pipeline: The number of new leads added to each rep’s pipeline during a single quarter.
Conversion rate: The number of new leads added to each rep’s pipeline during a single quarter.
Annual contract value (ACV): This is the average sales amount of a customer contract over the course of a year.
Customer lifetime value (CLV): The value of all purchases, including upsells, cross-sells, and renewals, that a customer makes over the course of their relationship with your company.
Read our article on sales key performance indicators (KPIs) for a more in-depth look at what you can (and should) be tracking.
How do you use metrics and data to improve your B2B sales process?
The depth of data available about market trends, customer behavior, and the effectiveness of various sales tactics can be helpful in tweaking your sales process approach. Here’s a look at how you can use data to improve your performance:
- Targeting the right prospects. Data about your prospects, especially from your sales tools, can help you target the best leads for the products and services you sell.
- Personalizing messages and sales pitches. With more data about your target customers, you can better personalize and customize the pitches you send. Personalization will help you connect more with your prospects and increase your likelihood of success.
- Lead prioritization. With up-to-date sales data, you can create lead-scoring rubrics to identify which leads are most likely to convert. From there, you can prioritize leads and, ideally, increase win rates.
- Forecasting sales for company planning. Sales data can help you predict outcomes and make highly accurate forecasts about future sales and revenue. This is key to planning budgets, pay, and targets for the company.
How do you measure B2B sales performance?
Knowing the right B2B sales metrics to track is all well and good, but how do you track it? Via a comprehensive sales dashboard. A dashboard lets you see all the most relevant information about past, current, and pending sales so that you can make better decisions that drive better win rates. It also aggregates completed sales data so that you can measure sales performance over periods of time, such as year-over-year or over a specific quarter. All of this can be used to inform sales strategies, hiring decisions, and tactics.
B2B sales best practices
You can get better at B2B sales through study, practice, and reflection. Here are some B2B sales quick tips to keep in mind:
- Understand your prospect’s pain points and goals. Focus on getting to know your future customer and empathizing with their challenges. Then, make a strong case that shows how your goods or services will give them a meaningful return on their investment. One way to do this is by talking with them directly, but you can also subscribe to their content — social media, email newsletters, blogs — to get an idea of their business priorities, who their audience is, and how to speak their language when offering your solution.
- Build relationships with the top decision-makers. Rather than spend valuable time making connections with people who can’t actually make any purchase decisions, whenever possible, go straight to the top. Research a company’s real decision-makers and reach out to them directly. Don’t waste time with middle managers who don’t have the authority to make choices or close deals.
- Sell solutions and results, not products. To reach people and make a lasting impact, it’s important to sell them not on your product, but on how your product will change their lives for the better. The proof is in the results, so show prospects — through data, success stories, and first-hand knowledge — how your product can solve their problems and increase their bottom line.
- Focus on simplicity. Businesses want to know how your product or service will make their lives easier, not more complicated. Make sure to emphasize how easy it is to integrate your software into their existing processes, for example. And, make sure they know you’ll provide training and ongoing support. The simpler your solution is, the sooner they can start using it and see results.
- Respect your prospect’s time. Yes, you want to make a sale, but you must be cognizant and respectful of your prospect’s busy schedules. Never show up unannounced at their offices or call out of the blue and expect them to have the time (or desire) to talk to you. Make it a rule to set and keep appointments — both phone calls and face-to-face meetings — but also be flexible enough to accommodate your prospect’s schedule when necessary.
Examples of B2B sales
B2B sales can happen differently based on the type of company and industry involved. Here are four examples of B2B sales you are likely to see:
Manufacturing B2B sales involves a company that either sells supplies or raw materials to another company that manufactures their own product, or produces a simple product that other companies buy and use in more complex products.
Example: A lumber company sells wood to a cabinet manufacturing company, which then creates kitchen cabinets to sell to its own customers.
Retail B2B sales involves businesses that sell retail products like clothing or electronics to other businesses. These businesses then repackage the products to sell to consumers.
Example: A clothing manufacturer sells sweaters to a boutique, which then resells the sweaters to its customers.
Government agencies of all kinds — from local to federal — need to buy products and services to support their own programs and services. These transactions are called business-to-government (B2G) sales.
Example: A global aerospace company builds helicopters, missile defense systems, fighter jets, and surveillance aircraft, among many other products, for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).
SaaS companies provide technology solutions to businesses to improve their operations, customer service/experience, and other business needs. SaaS B2B sales involve companies purchasing solutions or products for business purposes.
Example: A nonprofit education organization might buy a CRM tool to keep track of the employees in the school districts it serves.
Without sales tools, it’s impossible not to get bogged down in manual B2B activities and complex processes. But the right tools can help you sell faster, smarter, and more efficiently. Here’s a look at a few essential sales tools and how they can support you:
- Customer relationship management (CRM) tools, like Sales Cloud, put all your communication data into one place, so it’s easier to keep track of where you are in the sales process.
- Sales analytics can help you predict business outcomes with confidence by tracking B2B sales performance in real time and forecasting future results. By integrating with your CRM, analytics can track any activities associated with a sale. You can then use insights from your analytics to understand the health of your pipeline and close deals faster.
- Sales AI can integrate with your CRM to automate the sales process, identify areas for improvement, and build strong relationships with prospective clients — all without manual input.
Grow your B2B sales knowledge and skills
The key to selling B2B products and services is to think of the process holistically and work to improve your approach over time. Because B2B selling is complex, there are many opportunities to improve, from understanding your company’s products and services to testing new sales tools to improve your processes. In the end, though, it’s all about building trust with decision-makers, so don’t forget to build strong relationships.
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