What is B2B Sales

Sports coaches often stress that their players must understand the “fundamentals” of the game before they can reach their full potential. 

This philosophy also holds true in the business world, especially for B2B salespeople.

If you want to improve your B2B sales skills, you must first understand the fundamentals of the game you are playing. 

So, in this post, you will learn all you need to know about B2B sales: how it differs from B2C sales, the B2B sales process, and the distinct techniques and strategies involved. 

What is B2B Sales?

B2B stands for the interactions and relationships between multiple businesses

B2B sales (business-to-business sales) is the sales model for when a business sells products or services to another business.

The deal sizes can be as small as a company selling office supplies to a new tech startup, and as large as an investment bank selling financial services to a multinational corporation. 

And since B2B salespeople are selling to groups of people, rather than single consumers, the sales cycles tend to be longer, more complex, and more demanding of product knowledge than in B2C (business-to-consumer) sales. These criteria make it a more difficult type of sales. 

B2B sales can take a couple of different forms:

  • Selling Supplies – When a business sells supplies to another company to help them operate. Example: A paper manufacturer selling paper to an insurance company. 
  • Selling Product Components – When a business sells a component that is used to produce another company’s product. Example: An engine manufacturer selling engines to a tractor company. 
  • Selling Wholesale – When a business sells its products to a retailer, who then sells those products to the consumers. Example: A farm selling its products to a grocery store.
  • Selling Services – When a company sells its services to another company to help them in some way, usually by increasing profits. Example: A human resources consultant selling its consulting services to a tech startup. Note: A service can also come in the form of software (SaaS). 

As you can see, B2B sales is all about businesses providing value to other businesses. And since it requires completely different techniques and strategies than in B2C, it is important to know the differences between the two. 

B2B vs B2C Sales

Selling software to a company with three decision-makers, 50 end-users, and plans to double their size by next year is very different from selling a t-shirt to a man with a high school reunion next week. 

The software sale will take more convincing and demonstrations of value to get the opt-in from those three decision-makers. 

Meanwhile, the t-shirt sale will happen almost instantly. The man will probably google the t-shirt he desires, read some reviews, then click purchase. 

In B2B sales, the buyer devotes much more thought to the purchase, especially when it is a hefty investment. That means salespeople must do a better job of demonstrating how their product or service can deliver a high ROI, a solution to a problem, or an increase in efficiency. 

That is why you will not find anyone in B2B selling like Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Those psychological tactics might help you get a meeting, but they definitely will not get you the sale. 

To demonstrate why that’s true, here are some differences between B2B and B2C sales:

Rational Response over Emotional Response

In B2B sales, the products are usually more expensive, so buyers take longer to consider whether they will purchase your solution. To do so, they will engage with blog content, product demos, and case studies. 

They will also hopefully consult with you, the salesperson, for answers to their many questions and reassurance that the solution will work for their business. And before making the purchase, they will talk with their peers and other decision-makers. 

As you can see, there are a whole lot of steps involved in the decision-making process. 

On the other hand, in B2C sales, buyers usually act on emotion or impulse when deciding to buy. For example, think about a time you were in the grocery store deciding between pasta brands. 

Besides maybe a quick label check, you are not going to do too much research before throwing one into your cart. Like most people, you are going to buy what looks tasty or familiar. 

Size of Target Audience 

The target audiences in B2C tend to be larger than those in B2B. 

To highlight this size difference, let’s consider a clothing company like Macy’s or J. Crew. Both companies have enormous audiences. They can sell to anyone who wears clothes. Even though J. Crew narrows the audience slightly, the target audience is still massive. 

Meanwhile, in B2B sales, companies solve more specific problems for certain types of businesses. For example, a software company may provide an online payment solution that helps only residential property management companies in the USA. 

Also, there are far fewer businesses than people to sell to in general, since not everyone is an entrepreneur

That said, a blanket sales approach will not work in B2B sales. You have to be more strategic in deciding which companies you will target.

To do so, develop your Ideal Customer Profile

Price Differences 

While there are a couple of industries in the B2C space with high price transactions (real estate, cars, and luxury goods), most products in B2C sales have lower price points. 

And, as a rule of thumb, the more expensive something is, the more complex the sale. When someone at a company is looking to buy something costly, they usually have to bring in more decision-makers to make sure they are making the right investment.

This means salespeople in B2B must spend more time consulting the buyers, making sure all of their objections are accommodated with understanding and rational rebuttals. 

Pro Tip: In B2B, when a prospect objects to the price, you have not done a good job of showing them the potential ROI. If you get that objection, try showing them case studies or success stories.

Required Knowledge of Salespeople

It is a lot harder to train a salesperson in the B2B space than in B2C because the buyers in B2B are going to have a lot more questions. A lot of the time, seasoned pros in B2B will still hear new questions about their solution in almost every demo or presentation they give. 

That is because each prospect’s business operates differently, with its own unique set of needs and problems.

While both jobs are difficult and require product knowledge, a salesperson at a retail store like Macy’s can be trained on the basic questions of shoppers like “Where’s the dressing room” and “Does this color fade in the wash?”. 

There are only so many questions and answers in B2C that will influence the buyer. But in B2B, you have to be able to spin your sales messaging differently in each sales conversation.

Speed of Sale

Fewer decision-makers and lower price points lead to shorter and less complex sales in B2C. Sales can happen in minutes. 

But in B2B, the opposite is true. Sales cycles can take months, or even years, stretching from the moment a prospect expresses interest in the solution to the signed contract. 

And before that close can happen, a lot of work needs to be done on both sides of the sale. Prospects have to do their due diligence and research the solution extensively. They have to make sure it fits their company’s guidelines, budget, payment methods, and internal processes.

The seller has to consistently demonstrate value through presentations, demos, and phone calls. They also have to handle price negotiations and get the approval of any discussed discounts. 

All of this work requires the help of multiple employees from both sides of the sale. So, as a new B2B salesperson, do not worry too much about the long sales cycles.

Make sure to push it along, but never be too pushy. B2B customers want to make their own decisions, or at least feel like they did. 

Length of Business Relationship

Typically, in B2C, relationships only flourish around the point of purchase. Before and after, the seller usually does not make much contact with the buyer except through ads, emails, and discount offers. 

That means loyalties are more likely to change. A consumer might buy a sandwich from a different shop one day because for no other reason than they “just felt like it.” 

This is completely different in B2B sales, where relationships are king and the main focus of the sales team. Clients do not switch service providers because they woke up and just felt like it. 

And to ensure that clients stick around, companies will give a buyer a customer success rep or account manager—someone who will be their point of contact whenever they have a question or problem.

In B2B sales, it is advantageous to build up trust with your clients over the long run, even after their first purchase. That ongoing trust will open doors to other boosts in your sales, like upsells and referrals.

Additional Differences

Another difference is the branding methodology

In B2B sales, companies use websites, white papers, blog content, and industry forums to promote their brand, while in B2C sales, they use television commercials, google ads, and celebrity endorsements.

And once customers are aware of the service, the methods to close them also differ. In B2B sales, salespeople will often give extensive demos of the product, while in B2C, the salesperson, if necessary, will answer questions and put the customer at ease to buy. 

Similarities Between B2B and B2C Sales

Both sales models put the customer first and focus on making them feel important and appreciated through excellent customer service and authenticity. 

The overarching goal of companies in both B2B and B2C sales is the same: customer loyalty. 

So, the best salespeople in both spaces will be the ones who can better their customers’ lives, time and time again. 

When you understand the elements of a sales process, you will be able to perfect each one.

B2B Sales Process 

If you want to sell your product or service to another business, you have to follow certain steps. Well-defined phases cause a positive chain effect, making your efforts worthwhile. 

Prospecting and Initial Contact

To make a sale, you must first make contact with a potential buyer. Sometimes that contact is easy—a lead comes in through lead generation software or a google ad campaign. 

But quite often, the first step in the B2B sales process is also the most difficult. It requires tactics like cold calling, emailing, and social networking to get in front of prospects and convince them to take a meeting. 

That’s hard when prospects in the B2B space are such busy people, with multiple sales reps battling for their attention. To stand out, it is critical to come across as a problem solver, not a spammer. 

You can do this by first developing a list of target accounts that fit your Ideal Customer Profile. Then, based on your solution, find the right decision-makers in that company to call and email. For example, if you are selling cybersecurity software, you probably want to contact the director of IT. 

Once you have identified the right people, you must start reaching out through multiple channels, including phone calls, emails, and social media touches until you get a response. 

Pro Tip: It can be tough to interest a cold prospect. Mike Weinburg, the author of “New Sales Simplified,” says that mentioning pain points early in your cold conversation will make you come across as a value provider. 

You could say something like this: 

“The reason for my call today {First Name} is because a lot of {Type of Company} are struggling with {pain point A} and are sick of {Pain Point B}.”

Qualifying

So a prospect filled out a contact form on your company’s website, inquiring about your services. That’s great news! 

But before you go into an extensive demo, you need to make sure that prospect and the product/service are a good fit, or else you will waste valuable time trying to sell them something that will never work for them. 

This is called qualifying—the process of figuring out whether a prospect is a good fit for your solution. 

To do it effectively, you should form a systematic approach with standard qualifying questions to ask your prospects every time before moving forward with a demo. The questions will help you figure out a couple of things:

  • Is this person someone who can influence a buying decision at their company?
  • Do their needs align with what we offer?
  • Are their company’s attributes close to our ideal customers’? 
  • Will they ever purchase our solution?

To figure those things out, ask questions like these: 

  • What are your day to day responsibilities?
  • What is your role in the company?
  • How did you find out about our service?
  • Tell me a little bit about what you need help with.

Pro Tip: Never over qualify. Many prospects are not going to be perfect fits and if you have a perfectionist attitude, you might lose prospects you could have closed.

Needs Assessment

If your prospect seems like a good fit, it’s time to dig into their internal processes and uncover their pain points, motivations, and desires. This information will help you find the best way to personalize and position your solution.

Another term for this step is exploration, which is usually done over a phone call with the prospect. Make sure to ask them questions about how they currently do things and take note of the answers that you can use in your pitch. The answers can also inform you of objections to come. 

Also, a lot of experienced salespeople state that it is important to have a holistic view of the company. If it makes sense, set up some calls with other key players in the company who will use your solution. 

Your primary focus on these calls should be to learn about the prospect.

So, ask the right questions, acknowledge their responses, and keep digging until pain points pop up for you to latch onto in the next step of the process. 

Presentation or Demo

Now that you have actionable intel about the prospect and their company, it is time to set up a formal demonstration of your product or service. 

In this step, you will pitch your prospects and explain why and how your solution is a perfect fit for their business needs. 

For maximum impact, try to make these “presentations” more of conversations. The last thing you want to do is talk for 30 minutes straight while the prospect “listens,” doodling on their paper or checking their phone. 

So, make sure to keep the prospect engaged in this step by continuing to ask questions. This is especially important on web-demos or phone calls where their reactions are hidden. 

At the bare minimum ask things like, 

“Can you see your team using this feature?” OR “This feature solves {Problem}, how does your team currently handle this?” 

Objection Handling

Even if the demo or presentation went perfectly, B2B sales reps will almost always get a couple of objections before they can close the sale. It could be about the product, the price, or the timeline. 

To consistently overcome those objections, it is best practice to create a sales playbook with rebuttals.

Each prospect is different, and to overcome any objection, try the LAER framework: Listen, acknowledge, explore, and respond.

LAER framework

This strategy will help you get to the root cause of their objections by simply listening and asking more questions, instead of trying to bulldoze past their objections. 

An added benefit of this framework is it will help you form relationships with your customers by making them feel heard and understood. 

The Close

The close refers to the late stages of the sales process when the prospect has agreed that there is value in the solution for their business, and is ready to move forward. 

The closing stage includes pricing and contract negotiations and getting the buy-in from other decision-makers at the company. Unlike in B2C sales, the close can be a long process. 

The prospect will take some time to think over the offer, read some materials, and talk with their team before reaching a final decision. 

In this stage, it is your job in this phase to be accessible, answer their questions, and continue to follow up and remind them of your solution’s value until they have signed the contract. 

For example, many salespeople will call and say, 

“Hi {Name}, I wanted to check in and see how internal conversations are going. Are there any questions I can answer or other people I should speak with?”

Finally, when the contract is signed, you will have closed the sale and received a commission check, usually a percentage of the sale. 

B2B Sales Tips 

As we said, B2B prospects are bombarded with multiple sales messages every day. Fortunately, there are actions you can take to stand out and from the crowd. 

Here are some of the most important B2B sales tips. 

Create Your ICP

An ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) is a categorical description of the customer that will gain the most value from your solution. 

The list of attributes that describe your best-fit customer can include demographics, budget, pain points, and goals.

Here’s an example of an ICP:

An ICP ensures that you spend your time going after the best-fit prospects that you have the greatest chance of helping and closing. 

You will target accounts that NEED your product, and therefore, you will find incredibly happy customers who will give you referrals, long-term relationships, and upsells.

To create an ICP, make a list of your happiest customers and figure out what they have in common. Are they similar in size? Were they suffering the same pain points? Are they in a certain industry?

Then, take that data and define your ICP. 

To avoid those time-wasting situations, make sure you focus on the decision-makers, the person at the company with the purchasing power. Sometimes, if the deal is large enough, there can be multiple decision-makers. They are the ones you have to convince. 

Focus on Decision-Makers

It is a terrible feeling to have spent months selling a prospect, only to discover that the deal will not go through because the prospect’s boss does not see the value

Pro Tip: It is best not to rely on an “influencer” to convince the decision-makers of your solution’s value. Sometimes, prospects will ask for product information, a sales deck, and pricing to show their higher-ups. The problem is that they are not sales professionals trained on your product. You are. 

So, engage with them early in the sales process, preferably during the prospecting phase. 

Usually, you can find the decision-maker through LinkedIn, by searching for the title that matches that of your target buyer persona. You can also simply ask the receptionist, 

“Who is in charge of {the function your company helps}?” 

So if they ask for this, try to arrange a meeting with the prospect and the decision-makers instead. You can say something like this:

“Would it make sense for us to set up another meeting and bring in your boss? That way, I can personally show them the value of the product and answer all of their questions that will come up.” 

Personalize Your Outreach

In 2020, nobody responds to blanket email templates. Marketing emails fill their inboxes, and only the ones relevant and useful to them will inspire a response. 

That said, here are some tips for raising your email reply rate through personalization. 

Check their company website

A lot of the time, decision-makers will have bios on their company website. This is an excellent opportunity for you to learn about their day to day responsibilities, which you can bring up in the first sentence of your cold email, 

“I was looking over {company name}’s website and saw that you are in charge of {relevant responsibilities}.” 

People respect those who did their homework. 

Find their blog posts or articles

More than ever, executives (your decision-makers) are putting on their wordsmithing hats and drafting their own blog posts or articles. They are usually posted on the company blog or the prospect’s LinkedIn. 

So, find their words and learn about what is important to them. Bring it up in your cold email, mentioning an interesting idea you saw in their article. That is a great way to build a relationship. 

As Dale Carnegie once said, 

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Find their social media accounts

Nowadays, brands need to have a social media presence. That means that many of your prospects will share tips and ideas through Twitter, Instagram, and even Youtube. 

When you bring up a tweet or post, make sure it is one that your prospect recently made. It will show that you follow their Twitter feed, keep a pulse on the industry, and want to form a real connection with them. 

Disclaimer on Personalization: It is not a good idea to over personalize. Dedicating 5 minutes per email is enough. If you overdo it, you will see diminishing returns. 

Hubspot ran a study and found that after you have personalized 50% or more of a sales email template, the impact on the reply rate is negligible.

Use Tools

On average, sales reps spend only 37% of their time on revenue-generating activities, which is no good.

According to sales expert, Mike Weinburg, salespeople should spend most of their days doing what they are best at—selling.

To up that number, automate and streamline some of the processes and administrative tasks like lead gen, pipeline management, or emailing with sales tools.

Here is what Jeb Blount, CEO at Sales Gravy and author of “Fanatical Prospecting,” automates:

“We focus on automation solutions that help give reps more time for selling. Tools for prospecting and building outreach lists have vastly improved over the last few years, enabling account-based selling and decreasing the amount of time spent prospecting.”

Here are some useful sales tools to use in your sales process: 

  • Soleadify: Receive lists of best-fit prospects for your outreach. 
  • Salesloft: Send out more emails to those prospects.
  • Salesforce: Manage info about your prospects and current clients. 

With the right tools, you can increase your productivity and win more sales. 

Use Social Media

Social selling has been getting a lot of attention lately, and rightfully so. B2B sales reps who use social selling are 72% more likely to exceed quota than those who do not. 

Why’s that?

Well, it enables salespeople to connect with their prospects and spark meaningful conversations before they go into pitch mode.  

And one of the best tools for forming connections is LinkedIn, where you can connect with your prospects, comment on the articles they share, and in return, share articles that might interest them. 

You can also message your prospects and mention that you read an article they shared. This will make you come across as an industry expert and someone that might be worth talking to. 

Also, make sure to join other social media platforms like Twitter, where you can find your prospects and their companies. Pay attention to what they are posting and reply when the moment is right. 

Don’t pitch here, though – just get on their radar.

It will help you get a meeting down the line when you ask for the meeting. 

Use SPIN or Consultative Selling

People buy a product or service when they feel like the salesperson understands their problems and pains, not because the solution is shiny and “cutting-edge.” 

So, a salesperson’s job is to instill that feeling by asking questions and listening until they truly understand the needs of the prospect. A great way to accomplish that is through SPIN Selling

  • Situation: What should you know about the prospect?
  • Problem: What challenges are the prospect facing?
  • Implication: How are the challenges affecting the prospect?
  • Need-Payoff: What will the prospect gain if the challenges are solved?

SPIN selling is useful because it tells you when to ask certain types of questions to your prospects. So, during your call, you will discover the right pain points, goals, and desires.  

This way, the prospect will see you as a trusted advisor. 

The method is similar to “consultative selling,” where the goal of the salesperson is to fully understand the situation and needs of the customer before pitching. 

Consultative selling is the most relationship-focused sales methodology, and therefore, it can help you close your largest deals. Plus, it will help you form long-lasting relationships with those high-value clients. 

Following Up 

Following up is essential in every part of the sales process. 

After you send your first prospecting email, you are most likely going to have to follow up a couple of times before you get a response. And even when you have closed the deal, following up is necessary. 

sales follow up statistics

You will want to check in with new clients and see how they are doing with your service or if they are interested in seeing other solutions you offer. 

And don’t worry about seeming pushy or needy. Following up shows your prospect that you believe you can help them and care about forming a connection. 

How often should you follow up? 

It depends on the relationship with the prospect. 

If you have never connected with a prospect before, it is best practice to stop your cold emails after number six. 

On the other hand, Steli Efti, CEO of Close.io, says you should never stop following up with a prospect that you have made contact with before. In practice, he follows up until he gets a response, no matter how many emails it takes:

“Once I followed up with an investor 48 times until I got a meeting.”

Steli Efti

How should you follow up?

You can follow up through email, phone, or hand-written notes. Through email, it is best to follow up with a short, upbeat email that provides value.

Follow Up Email Example: 

Hi {First Name},

I wanted to follow up on my email quickly. Would you be open to a call to learn about how {company name} can help you {short value prop}?

Also, I thought you might be interested in this {article, blog post, case study}. 

For more B2B sales tips and tactics, check out 12 B2B Sales Best Practices

Conclusion

Understanding the fundamentals of B2B sales is key to unlocking your full potential as a sales rep. 

In summary, B2B sales is the sales model for businesses selling products or services to other companies. 

And when compared to B2C sales, B2B sales has longer, more complex sales cycles that include more decision-makers. 

So, sales reps need a whole different set of skills, centered around forming strong relationships with customers. This emphasis on human connection makes B2B sales an extraordinarily exciting and rewarding career to pursue. 

Join the discussion on connect.samcx.com
Daniel

Daniel

Contributor @samcx.com. Passionate about everything Sales, Marketing and Account Management.

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