B2B selling presents unique challenges. Deal cycles are longer, there are more stakeholders involved in the decision making process, and sellers are expected to have expert level knowledge about their products and services. Today, more business operate in a remote or hybrid capacity, which means that digital communication is a crucial skill for any rep. Read on to learn the basics of the B2B sales process.
Business-to-business (B2B) describes a relationship, situation, or marketplace between one business entity and another. A B2B company is one that sells to other businesses.
Common examples of B2B sales include:
Organizations that provide professional services (e.g. market research) to companies
Businesses that provide digital/software services (e.g. CRM) to companies
Companies that produce/distribute raw materials to manufacturing companies
B2B sales refers to a sales model or a category of selling wherein a business sells its products or services to another business. Because B2B sales usually involves higher price points, more complex processes, and several touchpoints over multiple channels, B2B companies need to maintain a team of highly-trained B2B sales professionals in order to drive revenue.
As their names imply, business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales primarily differ in their target customers. While B2B companies sell products and services to other businesses, B2C companies consider the general public (or certain segments of it) as their primary market and end consumers.
This main differences between B2B and B2C are as follows:
Price point. B2B products and services generally have higher prices compared to many consumer goods.
Size of addressable market. B2C companies target thousands to millions of consumers while B2B companies may just have a few to several hundred potential customers.
Sales process complexity. B2C customers may easily decide to purchase on the spot while it takes patient lead nurturing before B2B buyers make a positive purchasing decision.
Number of decision makers. Only one individual is needed for a B2C purchase while multiple stakeholders are required to sign off a B2B deal.
Sales velocity. B2B sales tend to have longer sales cycles compared to B2C due to the complexity of the selling process.
Sales methodology. B2B salespeople use sophisticated selling techniques and follow well-calibrated sales processes to succeed. B2C sellers also need to hone selling skills but operate in a less punishing environment.
Customer service. To prolong and increase customers’ lifetime value, B2B companies place a high premium on customer service, satisfaction, and success.
Read more about B2B Sales vs. B2C Sales.
A B2B sales representative is a professional who uses strategic sequences and specialized selling methods to engage corporate buyers. Because corporate buyers tend to research products and services online before contacting a salesperson, these buyers are often well-informed and likely comparing competing products at the same time.
B2B sales representatives are responsible for various tasks to ensure an optimal B2B sales experience, including:
making and answering sales calls
managing sales emails
conducting product demos/presentations
identifying pain points, and customer solving customer problems
In cases where teams do not have account executives, B2B sales reps own virtually the entire sales cycle, engaging customers throughout the buyer journey — from prospecting and lead nurturing to closing deals.
Learn more about B2B sales reps: what they do and why they are important.
In B2B sales, outside sales professionals often operate outside of an office because they are meeting with prospects and clients or presenting at an event. On the other hand, inside sales professionals engage clients remotely through cold calling, emailing, and video conferencing.
Inside sales professionals can close deals without ever personally meeting their customers. In contrast, outside sales reps almost always make a sale during or shortly after a personal meeting with clients.
This difference in engagement approach requires different skill sets and selling techniques required for either practice. For example, outside sales professionals leverage in-depth product knowledge and in-person communication skills while inside sales professionals become adept in the use of CRMs, a shared sales process, email, and social media.
Recently, however, the line between inside and outside sales has started to blur as outside sales reps begin using the same communication technologies as well as engagement strategies favored by inside sales professionals.
Read more about B2B Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales.
B2B selling is a complex process that requires a well-designed and executed B2B sales strategy in order to succeed. It follows a distinct process and uses a wide range of sales techniques for various buyer personas and selling situations.
The exact number and names of stages in your sales process will depend on your industry, company, and sales organization, but the B2B sales process is typically a 5- to 8-stage sales cycle.
Here is an example of 7-stage B2B sales cycle:
Learn more about the B2B Sales Process (plus some tips and tricks for the modern sales pro).
In contrast to the B2B sales process which focuses on the seller’s perspective, the B2B sales funnel corresponds to the buyer’s journey. The sales funnel often serves as a visualization of a prospect’s proximity to or likelihood of making a purchase by identifying the cognitive or emotional phases the prospect undergoes in the buying process.
Most B2B sales funnels consist of 4 to 7 steps. Here is an example of a 7-step B2B sales funnel:
Learn more about the B2B Sales Funnel (plus best practices).
The B2B sales approach involves several factors, including seller competency, sales process effectiveness, product fit, available alternatives, and the buyer’s purchasing capability and willingness to adopt.
To make all these moving parts work together, businesses need to:
Build a responsive B2B sales strategy
Determine the best B2B sales techniques for their teams and ideal customers
Create well-calibrated playbooks and sequences for their sales reps to follow
Measure and improve performance
There is an overwhelming number of B2B sales methodologies and frameworks to choose from. While they all claim to be effective, not all will fit your business, your sales organization, or your target customers. Some methods might work well for a specific industry but not others, while other methods succeed only if they fit the type of customer accounts in your portfolio.
Some of the more popular B2B sales techniques and methodologies include:
The Challenger Sale
The Sandler Selling system
Learn more about these 5 popular sales techniques (plus the pros and cons).
To determine whether a B2B sales technique or a specific sales sequence positively impacts a business, sales organizations identify and measure key performance indicators (KPIs). KPIs are agreed-upon metrics used in assessing a sales organization’s performance in different areas such as profitability, sustainability, efficiency. They are also used to discover trends and to evaluate the productivity and performance of individual sellers.
Common B2B sales KPIs include:
Quota attainment rate
Average deal size
New leads generated per month
B2B companies tend to confront several common challenges. The most pressing issues in B2B sales include:
Sales and marketing misalignment
Competition for limited number of potential customers
Resistance to technology adoption
Entrenched but outdated sales mindset/culture
Seller skills/training deficiencies
In 2022, in the aftermath of the pandemic and on the heels of economic uncertainty, the greatest challenge to B2B sales is efficiency. Here are some of the resources we have for adjusting your B2B sales strategy in an unpredictable market:
Here are some tips for improving B2B sales performance:
Personalize customer communications. Use technology to help you personalize at scale.
Never skimp on continuous seller training. B2B buyers are smart — they prefer to engage professionals who demonstrate expertise and empathy.
Build genuine rapport through active listening, critical thinking, and asking the right questions. Go for omni-channel outreach (mobile, social media, email, events, sales calls, etc.,)
Consider establishing a dedicated sales ops and a sales enablement team.
Go beyond CRM and marketing automation. Embrace new technologies such as sales engagement platforms. Use data to help you make smarter decisions and playbooks.
Encourage, monitor, and display positive customer feedback. Showcase customer success stories and incorporate case studies into your sales playbook.
Establish full strategic and tactical alignment among all customer-facing units from marketing and sales to customer success.
B2B sales is in a state of rapid transformation. The line between inside sales and outside sales is fading while best practices for consumer sales — especially when it comes to personalization — are becoming mainstream in B2B.
Sales tools introduced just a few years earlier (such as revenue intelligence platforms) have already become necessary for survival. Technology and buyer-centricity are shaking the ecosystem as AI and machine learning empower teams to scale both customer engagement and revenue.