Articles

B2B Sales: Everything You Need to Know

B2B sales and marketing landscape has changed significantly in recent years.

Buyer journeys have become more self-guided, with purchasing agents relying heavily on the internet and vendor websites to inform their purchasing decisions and waiting until late in the process to contact brands directly. Social media also now plays a much greater role in engaging buyers than it did in the past.

Given this shift, along with the overall complexity of the business-to-business sales process, having a well-organized sales strategy in place is non-negotiableFind out how to approach B2B sales in today’s market, including what a modern B2B sales process looks like, and which B2B sales strategies are most effective for closing deals.

In this B2B sales guide:

 

What is B2B sales?

B2B, or business-to-business, refers to a company that sells products or services to other businesses. It’s an alternative to business-to-consumer sales, or B2C, a business model where brands sell to individual consumers.

Any company whose business model is built primarily around selling to other organizations is a B2B business. A brand that manufactures automobile parts and sells them to automobile manufacturers, which in turn include them in cars sold to consumers, is a B2B company. An IT support firm that offers services to help businesses manage their IT resources is a B2B company as well.

Most companies are either B2B or B2C, although the same organization can do both types of sales. For example, a computer vendor selling PCs or laptops to individual consumers while building workstations and servers for businesses uses both sales models.

 

A brief history of B2B sales.

Businesses have sold goods and services to each other for centuries — at least since the Industrial Revolution when businesses in the modern sense came into being.

However, B2B sales and marketing processes didn’t become formalized until the late nineteenth century, when the rise of new types of media, like telephone directories, provided novel opportunities for businesses to present their services to other businesses. Direct-mail campaigns and sales personnel who made in-person visits to companies they hoped would buy were also part of the process.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century, and the internet has revolutionized B2B sales. Company employees can now easily conduct their own research when shopping for a particular product or service.

The internet has also increased expectations regarding how much information B2B buyers expect to find about a business they are interested in purchasing from.

No longer does a small yellow pages ad with your business phone number suffice to generate many leads. Today, 82 percent of buyers engage with at least five pieces of content regarding a brand’s offerings before making a purchasing decision.

 

B2B vs. B2C sales.

Compared to B2C sales, B2B sales tend to be driven more by careful research and analysis.

B2C buyers can be influenced heavily by an emotional connection with a brand, but B2B buyers are more interested in specific data about the functionality and value of what they are buying. That’s why 72 percent of B2B buyers say that they appreciate seeing a negative online product review, as it gives them deeper insight into the pros and cons of a business solution.

B2B sales also tend to be a lengthy process. You can expect a deal to take at least a few months to close, and the larger the deal, the longer the sales process usually lasts.

In contrast, most B2C purchases — like a pair of shoes or a piece of furniture — are relatively low value, so a buyer may spend only a few hours or days at most deciding what to purchase.

 

The B2B sales process.

We’ve established that the B2B sales process is typically a longer and more complex one than the average buyer experiences when purchasing from a business-to-consumer company.

But what are the specifics of the B2B buying process?

The business-to-business sales process is now buyer-led.

The B2B sales process often starts with buyers taking the initiative to research companies that offer a product or service their business needs by searching the web or social media.

Cold calling isn’t as important as it used to be.

Cold calls or emails from salespeople are less influential in starting the process than in the past.

In fact, these tactics can even be counterproductive. Eighty-seven per cent of prospects think salespeople don’t understand their needs, while 60% of all cold calls go straight to voicemail.

The role of the salesperson has evolved.

However, the evolution of the ‘cold call’ doesn’t mean that salespeople have no role to play in the B2B sales process. The role has just evolved.

After a B2B buyer has performed initial research and identified potential candidates for purchase, talking to a salesperson who can answer questions about the product or respond to sales objections is the next step for many buyers. 

When B2B buyers come to sales reps, the reps should focus on cultivating a brand image as objective sources of information to maximize conversion rates. 

So, the modern salesperson is more like a friendly consultant that helps answer questions and overcome objections, rather than the pushy stereotype we sometimes imagine.

Social media is important for marketing and demand generation.

Various marketing and demand generation channels can provide the runway for the B2B sales process, but social media has become especially important for B2B sales in recent years. Thirty-one percent of B2B sellers report building stronger relationships with prospects via social media. That’s especially true if the salesperson uses social media to demonstrate thought leadership in the customer’s domain.

The B2B sales process can also vary depending on buyers’ profiles. Not surprisingly, social media is more important for younger buyers, who are more likely to be active and engaged on social platforms. Your average deal size will make a difference, too. The larger the value of a B2B sale, the longer you can expect customers to evaluate their options and make a purchasing decision.

 

B2B sales strategy and techniques.

There are a variety of strategies that can help you get the most out of the B2B sales process, both before and after you make direct contact with a B2B lead.

1. Align Sales and Marketing.

Alignment between sales and marketing operations is important for all brands. One interesting statistic suggests that sales and marketing alignment increases year-over-year growth by 32 percent.

However, because B2B buyers spend so much time researching options on their own and are less influenced by an emotional connection to your brand than B2C buyers are, carefully aligning sales and marketing is especially important in the context of B2B selling.

Alignment means making sure that sales and marketing teams use consistent messaging when discussing the value of your brand’s offerings and that they communicate clearly with each other about leads.

They must also align around the types of leads they seek to cultivate. Many B2B buyers perform research on their own before entering the sales funnel; they qualify themselves before they ever contact the sales team. Therefore, sales and marketing may often need to focus more on nurturing existing leads than on generating leads.

2. Define Your Target Audience.

Defining the right type of buyer for your business is a key step for all sales and marketing operations. Still, it is especially important for B2B sales because of the large deal sizes and the complexity of the sales cycle.

When defining a B2B target audience, you want to focus on prospects whose budget aligns with your price point and sales volume. For example, suppose you’re an electronics wholesaler who sells 10,000 items per deal. In that case, you want to avoid targeting smaller companies that don’t operate on a large enough scale for your sales volume.

Likewise, evaluate how long you can afford the sales cycle to last. If you sell items with a fixed shelf life, you need to be able to close deals before your items expire. Therefore, you should target buyers whose internal purchasing processes are efficient enough to meet your needs. Smaller companies tend to fit this bill, as well as small, independent business units within larger enterprises.

3. Craft Winning Content.

B2B customers rely heavily on content to educate themselves about your offering before they ever contact you. This makes it crucial to develop compelling content that clearly communicates your value proposition. You should avoid inserting heavy-handed sales pitches into content because those will turn off B2B buyers just as much as overly aggressive salespeople. 

Instead, focus on developing content that offers genuine value and insight to the buyer. Educational content that explains how your product works or compares to competitors’ offerings can help you do this.

4. Qualify Leads.

Lead qualification — which entails determining whether a prospect is a good fit for what you’re selling — is especially important in the context of B2B sales, in which prospects may enter the sales funnel on their own, rather than as a result of outreach from your sales and marketing team. Not every lead who has researched your solution and is interested will have the budget for it, the decision-making authority to purchase it, or the ability to buy it at the scale you offer. Be sure to assess leads based on factors like these before moving them further down the funnel.

5. Map the Customer Journey.

Different B2B customers will approach the sales process in different ways. As noted above, factors such as a buyer’s age group and the size of the company he or she represents can influence how much research buyers perform on their own before talking to a salesperson. The types of marketing content you offer and the marketing channels you engage customers will also vary.

Developing a customer journey map will help you identify the best ways of reaching your target audience. Your customer journey map should reflect the personas you’re selling to and the touchpoints where you engage with those customers most effectively.

 

B2B sales challenges and solutions.

In order to succeed in B2B sales, it’s important to be aware of the common challenges faced by those in the market.

By addressing these common challenges, sales and marketing teams can improve their chances of success in B2B sales.

1. People dropping out of the journey.

B2B sales have a high drop-out rate.

Leads often lose interest before they reach a sales representative, and many may stop visiting your website if it no longer meets their needs.

But it’s important to understand where your leads are dropping out to address it.

No matter how much time you invest in mapping the customer journey, qualifying leads, and so on, you’ll be scrambling for sales if you don’t use marketing analytics to assess what’s working and what’s not. Analytics provide ongoing data so that you can update your strategy continuously. Data that can be analyzed includes:

  • Information about which marketing content customers prefer to engage with
  • Which marketing channels are most effective for reaching your target audience
  • How long the typical customer spends in the sales funnel before closing a deal

2. Not talking to the right decision-maker.

Not everyone who approaches your business is necessarily qualified to make the final decision on a purchase.

A mid-level employee might be tasked with researching a product, but they’ll need approval from an executive before the purchase is authorized.

You need to identify who the ultimate decision-makers are and learn how to get buy-in from them, as well as anyone else you engage with along the way. Converting one company representative won’t lead to a deal if the real decision-maker remains unconvinced.

3. Being beaten on price.

Competing based on price is a race to the bottom.

However, it’s a strategy many B2B sellers continue to employ.

Price may be the initial selling point for some customers, but if you can get them to see your solution as a long-term investment rather than a one-time purchase, you’re more likely to secure a deal in the end.

The best way to succeed in B2B sales is to convert prospects based on the value of what you have to offer. Competing based on price is a race to the bottom, and as mentioned before, relying on heavy-handed sales tactics can be a turnoff for your leads. Focus instead on identifying and communicating the value of your offering. Explain what makes your product or service different from competitors and make sure your marketing and sales teams demonstrate those differences clearly.

 

B2B sales metrics.

For any B2B sales team, there are some important metrics and KPIs that should be tracked and analyzed, and the sales approach potentially adjusted if necessary.

1. Sales By Product.

Tracking sales by product can help you identify high and low-performance areas. This enables you to respond accordingly, whether that means increasing or decreasing investments in certain products or services. You could also tweak your sales pitch to align more closely with what’s proving successful within the company.

2. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) to Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) Conversion Rate.

The main goal of inbound marketing is to successfully connect with the right leads at the right time.

But when you’re generating new MQLs, it can be difficult to determine which of them will actually turn into qualified sales leads (SQLs).  For this reason, the very first step is to determine which leads are most relevant to your sales team.

It can help to track the percentage of MQLs that become SQLs, to better understand what content and offers resonate with your audience.  You might also look at the source of these leads since different sources might vary in terms of their likelihood to buy.

3. Reason for cancelation.

In order to provide better customer service, you have to know when a deal falls through.

By tracking the reason for cancellation, you can assess which steps of the sales process need improvement and identify areas where reps may be struggling to connect with leads at each stage.

4. Sales by region.

Tracking sales by region, especially if you have multiple offices, can help you determine where you are generating the most revenue.  This information may also prove useful down the line when considering expansion opportunities or new locations for your business.

 

Frequently asked questions about B2B sales.

Where can I get more advice on B2B sales? 

You can speak to us by signing up for a Marketo Engage demo and we can discuss how our B2B sales solution can help your business get more qualified leads and sales.

What’s an example of a B2B sale?

B2B sales are simply one company selling to another – such as a paint supplier selling to a decoration business, or a farm selling to a supermarket chain.

How is B2B sales different from B2C sales?

B2B sales is directed at businesses – so their efforts are focused around professionals who have the buying power at their businesses. On the other hand, B2C sales are aimed directly at consumers.

Accelerating B2B Sales with marketing automation.

B2B sales represents a complex landscape with many moving parts. The best B2B sales strategy for your business depends on the specific characteristics of your target audience, what you are selling, how large your average deal size is, and more.

To navigate the B2B sales process efficiently, look no further than marketing automation solutions like Marketo Engage. By helping to manage leads, track buyers across multiple marketing channels, collect and analyze marketing data, and much more, Marketo empowers your team to build a precise, data-driven B2B sales and marketing process.

Learn more about how Marketo Engage can enable success for B2B sales by requesting a free interactive tour.

 

See Marketo Engage in Action!

Schedule a demo