Isn’t business to business (B2B) sales just like any other type of sales? In the simplest sense, maybe this statement is true. But in the real world, business to business sales is very different from business to consumer (B2C) sales. In the battleground of B2B sales, salespeople face professional, demanding buyers, multiple decision-makers, lengthy closing times, and complex sales cycles.
Helping other businesses realise what they need to be successful, and fulfilling these needs with your offerings and solutions is business to business sales.
With the digital age, the traditional model of business to business sales has been disrupted by changes in the way people purchase goods and services. Internet penetration and the consequent explosion in easily accessible knowledge and networking have affected business to business sales as much as anything else. But in every change, there is opportunity.
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What is business to business (B2B) sales?
Business to business (B2B) sales involves selling goods or services by one business to another. B2B sales have higher deal sizes as well as sales volumes. B2B sales require understanding businesses, their needs, challenges, and the industry. B2B sales cycles are usually longer, with multiple stakeholders and their unique motivations to close deals.
What does a B2B sales process look like, and how does it work?
The business to business sales process is a series of steps that is meant to take a business buyer from the initial stage of discovery to a closed sale. It requires a well-thought-out strategy and the use of sales techniques suitable for each target persona.
Every organisation will need a slightly different B2B sales process involving anywhere from five to eight steps. A typical eight-step sales process consists of:
- Developing in-depth understanding of offerings: The best sales reps have great command over their offerings and where these fit into specific markets. They can easily justify their value proposition to the right customers. This requires them to do the background work and continuously hone their mastery of the products and services they sell.
- Prospecting: Prospecting involves finding new prospects that have a need or use for your offerings. Salespeople can use both online (LinkedIn, Quora, digital marketing campaigns) and offline (conferences, expos, referrals, cold calls) channels to find new prospects.
- Qualifying: Once new quality leads are identified, salespeople connect with them to know if they are potential buyers. Taking prospects through the sales process, especially for business to business sales, can be expensive and time-consuming, which is why it is important to qualify leads early in the process.
- Research: A salesperson should know about the prospect’s organisation, their needs, challenges, and industry trends. Research is vital in business to business sales due to its complex nature and the professional expertise buyers are likely to have. Also, With a single view of past interactions, sales reps can access all the relevant information about each prospect in one place for more contextualised conversations. Good research enables salespeople to tailor their pitch to each stakeholder’s needs.
- Pitching: Pitching can be in the form of a presentation, product demonstration, or a combination of multiple methods. Pitching is one of the most crucial steps in converting a B2B prospect into a customer.
- Handling objections: Savvy business buyers make decisions based on the value your company can add to theirs. Salespeople should use the qualification and research stages to anticipate questions prospects might ask. The better a salesperson can respond to questions and objections, the more confidence they can inspire in prospects.
- Closing: Depending on the situation, closing a deal can take the form of a quotation, price negotiation, or contract signing.
- Nurturing: Business to business sales are rarely one-off transactions. Most B2B sales are focused on getting repeat business. B2B salespeople need to maintain and nurture relationships with their clients even after deals are closed. This could involve following up with them on delivery of their purchased products and services, providing after-sales support, or simply checking in periodically for cross- and upsell opportunities.
The business to business sales process serves as a roadmap for B2B salespeople to maximise their efficiency by stringently following the steps crucial for closing deals and ensuring repeat business.
What is a B2B sales funnel?
A business to business sales funnel is the sales process from the customer’s perspective. Like the sales process, the sales funnel too can have multiple stages. But today, this customer journey is not linear. Customers spend a significant amount of time researching and discussing their options with friends and colleagues. By the time a salesperson is involved in this journey, customers may even be close to a decision.
A typical business to business sales funnel involves these stages:
- Awareness: The buyer finds out about your offerings either by themselves, a targeted ad, or from a cold-calling salesperson.
- Interest: A conversation with a salesperson piques the buyer’s interest in the product; they get an early idea of whether the product or service will serve their needs or not.
- Objection: After receiving a pitch from the salesperson, the buyer considers it and raises objections, if any. Objections allow the buyer to get more information about the product or service.
- Decision: After having their objections responded to, the buyer decides if they want to buy the product or service being offered.
- Purchase: This is when the deal is closed after the prospective buyer’s organisation arrives at a decision.
- Evaluation: After purchasing the product or service, the buyer uses it and evaluates whether it fulfils their needs and solves their problems.
- Repurchase decision: After evaluating it, the buyer may or may not decide to repurchase the product or service. If the evaluation is positive, the buyer might consider repurchasing; if it’s negative, they might look for other suppliers. Outreach from salespeople can often greatly help swing the repurchase decision in favour of the seller.
The business to business sales funnel helps a B2B salesperson better understand the buyer’s journey and align he sales process accordingly, thereby increasing the chances of closing the sale.
B2B vs. B2C sales: What’s the difference?
The most obvious difference between B2B and B2C sales is the nature of the customers. Selling clothes to a customer is a completely different process from selling industrial textile looms to a manufacturer.
For business to business sales, professional buyers or executives from various industries are customers; anyone can be a customer for business to consumer sales.
The differences in the customers’ nature also create differences in their decision-making and purchasing processes. Business buyers make purchases based on rational, strategic bases to generate further value. In contrast, consumer buyers can make decisions based on reasoning, emotions, desires, or personal values.
The difference in purchase decisions calls for B2B and B2C salespeople to adopt very different sales tactics and marketing strategies.
Here are some key characteristics of B2B sales:
- Larger average transaction values: Business to business sales typically involve larger order quantities and pricier products, both of which contribute to higher average transaction values. Businesses are usually willing to pay a good price for the goods or services they need, if they perceive value in them.
- Multiple stakeholders: Business to business sales often involve several stakeholders on the buyer side and are rarely dependent on one person’s approval. Some stakeholders might merely influence the sale, while others will have the authority to sign off on the final contract. More people involved means more of the salesperson’s time and effort needed to convince each stakeholder.
- Professional buyers: Businesses buy products and services that are likely to have a marked impact on their operations, justifying the due diligence needed to arrive at any decision. Some businesses even hire professionals to guide their purchasing decisions. B2B salespeople also need discipline and a high level of expertise to address purchasers’ objections and arguments satisfactorily.
- Fewer customers: Due to the specificity of most B2B products and services, the addressable market for a B2B salesperson is often quite narrow, especially when compared to B2C products and services. B2B customers return a higher lifetime value, compensating for their fewer numbers and high acquisition costs.
- Long sales cycles: The business to business sales cycle is usually lengthy owing to the involvement of multiple stakeholders and decision-makers, higher average transaction values, complex purchasing processes, and the material impact of the purchase and offerings on the buyer’s business. A typical business to business sales cycle can last several months, involving multiple meetings, emails, and phone calls.
In B2B sales, relationship building through constant nurturing is needed to ensure repeat business. Getting new customers costs 5-10 times more than keeping existing ones. And since B2B sales typically involve bigger deal sizes and complex processes, repeat business becomes crucial for your business’s predictable growth.
Not that repeat sales don’t matter in B2C sales. However, relationship building in B2C sales is done at a personal, emotional level, and involves smaller purchase values than B2B sales.
How do you make B2B sales?
Making business to business sales requires you to follow the same loose framework for making any sale: build a sales strategy that is well-suited to target your ideal customer, break it down into repeatable steps that your sales team can follow, measure performance, and make improvements as and when needed.
The difference is in the way you approach your prospects and customers and how you align your selling model with their purchasing process.
Try to make your sales process as convenient, fast, and transparent as possible. Salespeople also need to have a good understanding of what they sell. B2B customers do not appreciate their time wasted, and showing a lack of knowledge and experience will not inspire confidence.
Research well and get to know what they sell, to whom, which markets, etc. Understand the role of each stakeholder and their individual challenges and needs. This can help you hyperpersonalise your pitch to show how your offerings can address multiple pain points and goals. In addition, automating parts of your sales cycle is an effective way of making it faster.
What are some B2B sales techniques?
Within a basic sales process, sales teams can employ one or more of the following sales techniques to increase their chances of succeeding:
- Solution selling: This involves gaining a deep understanding of the buyer’s business, needs, and problems, and offering a tailored, holistic solution in response, rather than pushing one-size-fits-all products. Solution sellers almost never offer products off-the-shelf. Solution selling might incur higher sales costs, but the solution’s suitability usually results in a higher rate of closing.
- Account-based sales: This method focuses on premium customers, offering them end-to-end, highly tailored experiences. Each account, with all its shareholders, is treated as a complete market. A host of resources that would otherwise be put into full market segments is allocated to each account. This helps grow revenues from each key account through more targeted cross- and upselling.
- Challenger sale: In this method, salespeople educate and inform the customer about their needs in response to market trends, risks, and opportunities. The salesperson takes on a more active role here, helping customers realise a need in the first place.
- Sandler selling system: The system places greater emphasis on the buyer-seller relationship. Salespeople need to establish themselves as trusted advisors to clients, inspiring mutual confidence to work towards shared success. This system leverages human psychology and the buyer-seller dynamic to accelerate the sales cycle.
- Value selling: Value selling instructs salespeople to emphasise and establish the value addition their products or services can make to the buyer’s business. The value additions presented need to be concrete and measurable, such as cost savings, revenue increments, or productivity improvements.
What are some key B2B sales tips?
No matter the sales techniques used, all B2B salespeople can benefit from the following tips:
- Tailor customer communication on a case-to-case basis. This helps convey the value your offerings can add to the customer’s business faster.
- Continuously train your sales team. Professional B2B buyers appreciate salespeople who demonstrate expertise.
- Focus on solving problems rather than pushing your products, as B2B buyers are constantly looking for ways to improve efficiencies and reduce costs. Show active listening, empathy, and critical thinking by asking the right questions and providing relevant information.
- Adopt omnichannel outreach to stay in touch with B2B customers. With greater digitisation, B2B buyers too are warming up to newer channels to engage and buy on.
- Use social selling techniques to get B2B customers’ attention and approval. They care about their peers’ opinions, making referrals a great way to establish contact.
- Collect and display positive customer feedback, using these case studies for your sales playbook.
- Ensure all other customer-facing teams, such as marketing and customer service, are aligned to the sales goal.
- Beyond CRM solutions, employ sales engagement tools that use data and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to enable faster, smarter decision-making and action.
- Consider building a dedicated B2B sales team to increase revenue shares from your most valuable customers. This makes more sense if your organisation has different business units or departments that handle both B2B and B2C customers.
Click here for more ways you can help optimise your B2B sales team’s performance to win more, bigger deals.
Inside vs outside B2B sales
Inside business to business sales is made remotely by reps sitting in an office (or any location), whereas outside business to business sales is those made by reps in the field.
Outside sales tend to be more successful because of the personal touch salespeople can add by interacting with customers directly. Outside salespeople might close more sales and drive order values up. However, outside sales is more expensive and time-consuming.
With a wide variety of communication tools now available to salespeople, selling from anywhere is increasing in popularity, more so since the pandemic struck. Inside sales cost less and give managers more control and better oversight of the sales process.
How is B2B sales changing?
Business to business sales has undergone a dramatic change in recent years. Business buyers now have access to a lot of information about products, services, and suppliers. They also have a wide range of options to choose from. This makes the business to business sales space more competitive and requires B2B salespeople to engage customers more meaningfully.
Business buyers now expect a highly personalised purchase experience. To deliver this, salespeople must possess an intimate understanding of the needs and desires of buyers. Salespeople can also leverage Internet tools to conduct better research about a prospect and their organisation or industry.
Sellers also have access to a range of business to business sales tools that they can deploy, including data analysis tools, sales reporting and tracking, B2B marketing automation and targeting programs, and sales management and forecasting software. These tools improve the efficacy of sales teams, helping reps move clients along the sales funnel faster and more successfully.
Business to business sales has changed, but for the better. With more tools at the disposal of both buyers and sellers, salespeople can proactively reach out to prospective buyers at the right time. With business buyers expecting highly personalised purchase experiences, salespeople need to leverage data-driven tools and their social skills. Addressing the needs of business buyers and forging lasting relationships with them is the key to success in business to business sales.
Heard of Salesforce Sales Cloud?
Salesforce Sales Cloud is a complete suite of solutions that can elevate the way your B2B salespeople conduct business. It can automate sales activities, streamline complex processes, and make collaboration a breeze.It is easily customisable and scalable, making it perfect for businesses of any size and in any industry.
You can integrate Sales Cloud with other Salesforce solutions and even third-party systems. Bring every internal member, function, or partner on the same page with a single 360-degree view of all your B2B customers.
Click here to see Sales Cloud in action.