The B2B Sales Funnel and the Role of CRM Systems

 

B2B CRM stands for Business to Business Customer Relationship Management and refers to systems, technologies, strategies, and processes that help B2B companies manage their relationships with existing and potential customers.

B2B CRM can help B2B companies better understand their customers’ needs. Comprehension is essential in the B2B field, due to the complex nature of the customer relationship.
 

What exactly do we mean when we talk about a B2B CRM system?

When we talk about B2B CRM, we might be referring to CRM as a strategy, CRM as a process or CRM as a technological system.


“System” means the software application (or “solution”) used to collate information from each customer touchpoint (e.g. website, online chat, email, phone calls, social media, meetings, direct mail, etc.) and analyse these interactions. It can also include historical data about quotes, sales, inquiries or reported issues. The information is stored in a centralised database for use by all colleagues, often in the cloud.


In practice, when people use the term “B2B CRM”, it is usually as shorthand for the system itself. However, B2B CRM should primarily be thought of as a strategic way of understanding and delivering on business customers’ needs at each stage of the sales cycle. The system is what enables this.

What is the purpose of a B2B CRM system?

In both B2B and B2C sales cycles, the idea is to guide potential customers through a series of messages and (tailored) content that starts with generating brand awareness and leads – all being well – to a sale. If this sale is followed up with comprehensive customer care, it can also lead to repeat customers and brand advocacy.


The specific challenge of the B2B environment is that a business is much more complex and multifaceted than an individual customer (who already typically has a complex intersection of needs). Companies are likely to have multiple considerations and requirements at each touchpoint,which can make it difficult to figure out what they need and where. This is where the CRM system comes in.


By compiling the information mentioned above, the CRM system enables marketing and sales team to track individual leads in detail and figure out exactly how and when to influence them to move to the next stage of the funnel and also to automate specific tasks.

 

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What is the difference between a B2B CRM system and a B2C CRM system?

B2B and B2C environments operate differently, necessitating individual system designs. Some of the key differences between are listed below.

Number of leads

The B2C environment contains an overwhelming number of leads, which presents a challenge in terms of handling the scope of data and finding the right time to influence a sale.

Due to the nature and typically higher value of the product (e.g a manufacturer of infotainment systems for cars selling only to the relevant car manufacturers), the pool of potential leads for B2B companies is inherently narrower than in the B2C sector; however, it’s important to spend more time on each lead and monitor them closely from the time of lead generation.

As a result, B2C systems are designed for consistent sales over a long period, while B2B systems are designed for long-term management of individual leads.

Number of stages in the sales process

B2B transactions are typically higher-value and involve multiple decision-makers. This results in more stages in the sales process. Knowing where in the sales funnel a lead is located has a big influence on how you communicate with them, so it is important to maintain high visibility at each stage.

In the B2C realm, the typically lower complexity and higher number of consumers means it is usually not possible or necessary to track each stage in the same detail.

Emphasis

B2B CRM systems are designed to help sales reps handle the sales process efficiently while keeping track of large amounts of lead-specific data. This data - purchase history, bills, performance figures, etc. - is used to monitor and predict the behaviour and financial readiness of individual leads.

In contrast, B2C CRM systems focus on compiling all data for a particular target group in order to carry out “big picture” analyses.
 

What role does a B2B CRM system play in a sales and marketing plan?

The functions of a B2B CRM system have a role to play in every stage of the sales process.


In order for the information to be as meaningful as possible, it should be mapped to your company’s individual sales cycle (also called the “sales funnel” or “sales pipeline”). Mapping these stages within your CRM system divides the cycle up into a number of distinct phases that enable easier tracking and measurement.


This allows you to track every potential customer through every stage of the funnel, helping you improve the way you address their needs while also highlighting the areas where they are slipping out of the funnel.

A typical B2B funnel might look something like this:

Lead generation

During this stage, your marketing teams strive to attract worthwhile leads using smart targeted marketing campaigns: email marketing, ads, events and more. They also focus on getting the customer to share their information.

 

Lead scoring and qualification

Here, the focus is on assessing the compatibility of leads and prioritising the most promising ones. For example, a lead might indicate their interest and suitability for further interaction by downloading a brochure and opting in for further communication.

 

Lead has initial consultation with sales

This gives you a chance to scope out the customer, show that you understand their pain points and explain how your product or service can solve them.

 

Lead is nurtured to prompt a request for a quote

The aim of this stage of the process is to keep the conversation going. Have your sales reps available to answer questions and deliver targeted multi-channel marketing that shows why your products or services are indispensable.

 

A quote is sent

If you have managed to retain your lead in the funnel this far, the next step is for sales to prepare a quote. Remember that nowadays, it is more than likely that multiple people will be required to sign off on this. You need to transform your point of contact into an advocate and provide them with any necessary assistance to get you to the next stage.

 

Negotiation

Here, it’s about addressing the concerns of other decision makers and stakeholders. Prep your sales reps to handle objections and follow up regularly.

 

The sale is agreed

If all goes well, the process will end with a sale. However, it’s vital to follow this up with good customer service and ongoing support. Here, too, B2B CRM can help you manage the customer long-term and anticipate their needs at a given moment. Going above and beyond your promises will help cultivate future business, as customers become advocates for your brand.

 

Of course, the sales cycle will vary from business to business depending on the product and market. For example, a company selling management consulting services will have a more complex funnel than one selling PPE equipment. Other businesses might add an additional element at the lead generation stage, such as analysing a lead’s interaction with competitors. But the template above provides a broad representation.

Where does B2B CRM come into the sales process?

The role of CRM comes in right at the beginning, before the customer even has contact with sales reps. This is because CRM application data is one of the most effective tools for qualifying B2B leads, allowing promising ones to be prioritised for communication while preventing less-mature leads dropping out of the pipeline. This means fewer opportunities are lost.


If mapped accurately to the sales cycle, a B2B CRM system also allows sales teams to leverage customer analytics data for nurturing customer relationships. The detailed data helps sales and marketing teams anticipate customers’ needs, track conversations (ensuring a seamless customer experience) and build strong customer profiles for tailored content delivery.


Ultimately, the purpose of CRM is to help you nurture leads at each part of the sales funnel and gently ease their progression from one stage of the funnel to the next. It helps you work out where each of your prospects is located in the pipeline and whether this needs to be adapted for prospects with different characteristics. A well-integrated CRM system will also enable you to monitor the outcomes of B2B marketing efforts and determine where the best-qualified leads come from.

 

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What are the benefits of using a CRM system in the B2B sales cycle?

Below are a few of advantages you can expect to see when you introduce a B2B CRM system to track customers in the sales pipelines.

Better visibility

Before CRM technology, sales reps had to spend time painstakingly compiling data about different B2B customers to determine how and when to contact them. Even having invested this effort, attempts to influence a customer would often still be something of a stab in the dark.

A rep might spend hours nurturing a lead who - unbeknownst to them - never really represented a serious prospect, while other more promising leads were left to go cold. A CRM system gives all members of a team effortless visibility over where leads are in the pipeline at any one time (if at all), allowing them to better channel their efforts.

Efficiency

A key benefit of B2B CRM is that it reduces the sales team’s admin burden. Less time is wasted on pulling together data and nurturing low-prospect leads, leaving them room to patch up newly identified holes in the B2B sales funnel.

As such, all actions are more targeted and offer a greater return on investment, since the element of trial and error is removed. By allowing sales and marketing reps to see exactly when customers should be moved to the next stage of the funnel, B2B CRM also improves sales and marketing alignment.

Data driven decisions through (AI-powered) lead scoring

By allowing sales teams to determine which leads are best-qualified based on their previous behaviour and interaction, B2B CRM can also play an important role in predictive lead scoring. This is the practice of grading leads according to how likely they are to result in a sale.

By linking abstract customer analytics with the actual stages passed through by customers, CRM also offers opportunities for leveraging customer data in a profitable way. It can lift your “sales funnel” off the paper and turn it into an actionable, profit-driving tool.

The overarching goal of B2B CRM

The key objective of B2B CRM is to improve your business relationships. Instead of basing your sales and marketing activities on “best guesses”, as you might have done in the past, they will now be based on clearly defined phases subject to ongoing tracking and observation. This increases the ROI of sales and marketing activities and ultimately acts as a catalyst for growth.
 

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