What is B2B Sales? Strategy, Tips, & Guide to Success
The four-step AIDA model used to fit B2B sales like a glove—awareness, interest, desire, and action were all the stages a customer would go through.
Now, though, customers are coming into the sales process with more information than ever. They’re educating themselves and looking to your sales team as someone to help them finish the process they’ve already started on their own.
Today’s B2B sales strategy is now about meeting customers where they are and being ready to guide them the rest of the way to a close.
Want to learn how to navigate this new sales climate, which tools will make your job easier, and how to optimize the most important steps in your sales process? Keep reading.
What is B2B Sales?
Types of B2B Sales
There are three types of B2B sales: wholesales & distribution sales, supply sales, and service & software sales.
- Wholesale & distribution sales involves selling products in large quantities at discounted rates to other companies, who then offer them to consumers at a higher price. An example would be a grocery store like Publix or Kroger.
- Supply sales supports other businesses by providing the essentials they need to produce their own goods. For example, a fabric manufacturer that sells bolts of fabric to a clothing label, who then uses it to produce this season’s hottest socks.
- Service & software sales provides a service for businesses, often enabling them to focus on other priorities, automate outdated processes, or scale up their business quickly (or all three of those things!). An example could be an outsourcing company that handles cold calling for you, or a CRM that enables you to better close deals. ** cough cough—like Close! **
B2B Sales Team
In a B2B sales team, you’ll typically find these roles:
- Sales or Business Development Reps (SDRs or BDRs): These are supportive roles for the early B2B sales process. SDRs work to discover new potential leads through cold outreach and go through early qualification before handing them over to the reps who will handle later stages.
- Sales Reps and Account Executives: These reps take on new inbound leads and SQLs handed over from SDRs on the team. They perform discovery, host product demos, handle negotiations, and bring these prospects to close.
- Sales Managers: Managers are in charge of the wellness of their sales team, and their role includes setting reasonable sales goals, forecasting results, and onboarding and training new reps.
- Sales Operations: The sales operations specialist works closely with the sales manager to manage sales collateral, set up and optimize the tech stack, and do a deeper analysis of sales data.
There are a few common sales team structures that many B2B sales orgs use when forming their teams:
- The Island: Every sales rep manages the entire sales process entirely by themselves, from lead generation to customer support post-sale.
- The Assembly Line: In this structure, each stage of the sales funnel is handled by a different member of the sales team.
- The Pod: This style groups 1-2 members of each sales role into a number of “pods,” where these small teams rely on each other to bring a prospect from a new lead to a happy customer.
B2B Sales Funnel
Those who are even mildly interested in your company go into the B2B sales funnel at the top, or wide end, of the funnel. They show interest, maybe engage a little, and land in your warm-leads follow-up list. You reach out, you talk, you both learn, and BAM! Suddenly you have a hot lead on your hands that’s ready to pull the trigger.
Well, that’s the optimal scenario, anyway. The B2B sales funnel is, essentially, pretty simple.
- Awareness: A potential lead comes across your targeted ad, is reached via cold sales outreach, or finds you organically.
- Interest: They watch your video ad in full instead of skipping, or take a moment to read your sales flyer in full. They may even sign up for a free quote or instant informative download.
- Consideration: Your potential lead considers your product or service, often signing up for a demo or free trial, and compares you against your competitors. Your ‘potential lead’ becomes a real ‘prospect.’
- Intent: Serious conversations begin happening between you and your prospect. You’ll both investigate how well your product or service will meet the business’ needs.
- Purchase: Once your prospect identifies you as the best fit for their needs, the decision is made and the agreement is signed.
- Retention: Great sales professionals establish relationships with their clients, checking in, providing tips to make the most of the product, and reaching out with news of related product lines when it makes sense.
Nearly 80% of the leads that enter your sales funnel will not convert (related: every salesperson should review How to Fix a Leaky Sales Funnel from time to time). According to some estimates, the sales funnel conversion rate in the B2B industry ranges between 4% and 8%, but will vary greatly depending on your industry and customers.
B2B Sales Activities
Sales activities either attract people to your sales funnel (as leads) or are intended to keep them inside of the funnel for as long as possible. Ideally, these activities are informed by your sales strategies. All of them play an important role in your inbound marketing strategies.
Common sales activities would include:
- Sending sales emails
- Following up with prospects
- Engaging with potential customers on social media
- Providing software demos
- Booking and hosting sales meetings, in-person or via videoconferencing
- Asking for referrals
- Upselling or cross-selling
And while doing all of these things will help your overall sales process, actually tracking your sales activities will immediately make them even more effective.
B2B vs B2C Sales
Where B2B sales focuses on working with other businesses to solve organizational or process-related problems, Business-to-consumer (B2C) sales concerns itself with selling goods and services to individuals for their personal use. Clothing purchases are a good example of this.
There are several types of B2C business models: direct sales, online marketplaces, the service industry, and subscription services.
B2B Sales Process from Start to (Never) Finished
Technically, the B2B sales process follows the buyer’s journey–and in our opinion, your outreach shouldn’t end with the sale.
Let’s start at the beginning and understand the B2B selling process in depth.
Defining Your Audience
Defining your ideal customer forms the foundation for your sales success. Knowing exactly which market segment you’re going after–along with the specifics of who you’re selling to–is the first ingredient in your recipe for success.
To start defining your audience, research and brainstorm what an ideal customer would look like for your industry and your specific product. Consider this person’s pain points and the goals they’re trying to achieve, and develop an ideal customer profile based on the types of clients who need your company’s services.
Prospecting & Qualifying Leads
The purpose of your sales funnel is to move qualified leads from barely aware or slightly interested in your product, to loyal customers. The best way to do that is to make sure your funnel is full of the right people.
Whether you fill your funnel with great inbound marketing tactics or by doing the hard work of sales prospecting and manually scouring LinkedIn for the right prospects, the result is the same: You have a bunch of potential customer names that may or may not actually know who you are, what you can do for them, and why they should care.
Before you dive into your sales calls, spend time qualifying your leads. Having the right people, in the right position, on the phone will save you a ton of wasted time chasing down the wrong person.
Take a look at our tips for questions to ask when qualifying your leads–you’ll find questions to help you pre-qualify leads and identify their needs and goals.
Delivering the Sales Pitch
You’ve qualified your prospect. You’ve done some research on them, and have a decent idea of who you’re going to speak to. Oh, and look, they’ve answered the phone: It’s show time!
Your first conversation with your prospect should never be a hard sell. It’s an opportunity to introduce yourself and your product, learn more about them and their needs, and deliver a quick sales pitch that explains how your product could solve their problems. Don’t expect to have all the answers yet (you hardly know their specific issues, after all). But do be sure to be confident, informed, and persuasive if you want to a discovery meeting.
Identifying Prospects’ Needs & Pain Points
As your conversations continue, it’s your task to ask investigative questions and find out what your customer is looking for, the different problems that they deal with on a daily basis, and what the larger issue is–confirming once again that your product is the right solution for this business. Your customer may know their pain point right away–or they may only recognize symptoms of a larger underlying problem.
Once you’ve gumshoed your way to the biggest problem(s) they experience, switch gears and start selling your product as a solution to their problems.
Explain the ways in which your product could help. Provide specific examples and demo how your product could solve their specific problems. These conversations are an opportunity for both you and your prospect to see how great of a fit you would be for each other.
Despite your hard work to qualify your prospects and the obvious fact that they clearly need your product, prospects will continue to offer up a number of objections. Some will be descriptive (We really like what you offer, but it’s missing this one key element), while others will leave significant room for interpretation (We’re just not really sure.)
At this juncture, you need to decide where this objection comes from. Here are some possibilities:
- Your prospect doesn’t have the final say in the purchase. He needs approval from higher up.
- He doesn’t trust you because he doesn’t know your company very well.
- He’s not convinced that your solution can solve his problem.
All of this can be useful information (and a great start for managing sales objections with success).
Negotiating & Closing the Deal
If your prospect starts asking more detailed questions about pricing and inclusions, you’re doing well. This is a sign that they’re interested and are looking to see how pricing will fit into their budget.
At this stage in the funnel, you can expect to do some sales negotiating. It’s helpful to have a pre-approved range of low rates that you can offer based on specific client scenarios, as well as a “lowest low” that you can offer if the client really pushes.
After agreeing on the cost of the contract and sending the paperwork through, congratulations are in order! All of the hard work is finally done, and it’s time to send your new customers off to the customer success team for implementation.
Following Up & Checking In
You sold the client! But the work is far from done.
Providing amazing customer service is one of the easiest ways to develop a strong customer relationship and build brand loyalty. Don’t allow them to have a bad experience that goes unchecked and causes them to look elsewhere when it comes time to renew their contract.
Instead, follow up frequently and see how they’re doing. Help them use your product to its full extent. Ask for feedback on what can be improved—then do something about it.
Aside from being good B2B customer service, you set the stage for long-term customers and potential referrals in the future.
Challenges of B2B Sales
Most of the difficulties in business-to-business sales originate in your foundational work–whether at your B2B company level or at the beginning of the sales process. Consider some of these most common challenges in B2B sales and be aware of these issues, so you’ll know better how to spot them in advance and avoid them in your own business.
- Building an effective sales team. One of the hardest tasks of a B2B sales manager is hiring your first sales team. Remember: You’re looking for charisma and drive, not book smarts.
- Deciding who to sell to. You need to have a clear idea of the industry, niche, and company size you’re targeting. The B2B sales cycle and overall deal sizes can look quite different for small businesses, which make snappy decisions but have small contracts, and large companies, which have huge deals but longer sales cycles that can affect your profitability.
- Overselling during the sales pitch. Remember, modern buyers do a lot of research before they buy. By the time a formal pitch rolls around, most of the customer’s objections should already have been answered.
- Prospects that don’t convert. You’re going to experience lost sales–that’s just the nature of the beast. More time spent pre-qualifying can help reduce wasted time on bad-fit leads.
B2B Sales Techniques That Work
You know the sales process–and its challenges. Here’s where we dive into the most actionable strategies and tips that will make new B2B salespeople look like sales prodigies (but if you’re looking for even more great advice, dig into 25 Best Sales Strategies–and Templates–for Startups and SMBs).
Create a Sense of Urgency
This tactic surely isn’t new to you–you get junk mail from your favorite retail stores all the time featuring some sort of seasonal sense of urgency.
Hurry! Only 5 more days remain for free shipping!
213 people have this item in their cart… limited quantities available.
I’m positive you’re familiar. But do you ever create a sense of urgency with your own prospects?
This could be something as simple as creating a discount program that every new lead qualifies for. Once they enter the funnel, they can save 10% on an annual subscription; but for every month that passes, the discount drops a bit more. Having a program like this is just one way of many to create a sense of urgency in B2B sales and encourage your prospects to finalize the deal.
Speak with the Decision Maker
The person who will use your product, and who may even be tasked with finding the new product that will be used throughout the company, may not actually be the decision maker. Many times, an executive or CEO will ask a department manager to identify the top three products to solve an internal problem. You get in touch, you sell the department manager on your product, and you create an internal champion who’s willing to fight for your brand all the way to the top.
But when it comes down to it, this person you’ve “sold” doesn’t actually have the final say in this purchasing decision–and if the CEO wants to avoid speaking to sales reps themselves and will only speak to their internal team member, they’re not going to actually hear all the details and capabilities of your product.
Need ideas for how to get out of the sticky situation described here? Read more on selling to decision-makers.
Use the Right Sales Tools
No effective B2B sales rep works with tools from the stone age. You need modern equipment that can handle the (sometimes innumerable) moving pieces of your role. Here’s a look at some of the tools your salesforce can use to attract B2B leads:
- Power dialers and predictive dialers: These calling tools make cold calling more efficient by allowing salespeople to spend less time manually punching digits into their phone, and more time on the phone with live prospects.
- Email and SMS messaging tools: These targeted messages can include a targeted sales pitch, information about an upcoming podcast, an offer for a white paper that covers solutions for the customer’s specific pain points, and more.
- Integrated video chat tools: Think of this as an easier way to get in front of your prospects, without having to navigate through different platforms or–gasp–travel to attend an in-person meeting. That’s so 2015.
- B2B data providers and prospecting tools: A B2B data provider is essential when doing outbound sales since it will tell you which companies are the right fit, who to contact at those companies, and how to get in touch with them. The right prospecting tools can help you reach out to qualified prospects who you’d otherwise have a hard time contacting.
- Sales enablement tools: These tools act as a place to keep your minimum viable sales documentation in one place. Whether it’s scripts, templates, objection management documents, or talk tracks, the right sales enablement tools give your B2B sales team easy access to everything they need to close more deals.
And most important of all is having a CRM that’s capable of handling all of these tasks, and more. CRM tools like Close allow sales reps to keep track of all of their leads and nurture them throughout their journey.
Increase Your Outreach
Phone. Email. Social media. Blogs? Digital ads?? More???
Well, yes. “Always be closing,” they say, right?
And while all of those outreach tools are effective and suggested, I don’t want you to just use them. I want you to use them well.
Don’t just personalize the name field in an email–personalize the entire templated message. Before you go into the details of that message, follow up on something non-work-related that you’d spoken about on your last call. And before you end that message, leave a little joke or reference to a previous chat at the end. Show your personality, and let them know that this email went only to them–not to the other 400 prospects in your contact list. It’s sales outreach ideas like these that increase your success rates. Every time.
Optimize Your B2B Sales Process For The Future
The B2B sales process is big. Really big. And there’s a lot that goes into every stage of the funnel, from gaining leads to educating them, handling objections, navigating negotiations, and finally closing deals.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of that was made easier?
The future of B2B sales is—in my opinion—as digitized and automated as possible without losing the human connection. It’s the human element that builds relationships and sells deals, so I don’t believe there will ever be a day that people make million-dollar deals without speaking to someone. But much of that sales process can be automated for easier flow.
And the automation for this optimized process? Well, that would involve a strong sales CRM like Close. Already, our CRM combines tools that sales reps have to dig around their desktop or the internet for; and we update our software at least monthly to enhance functionality so your sales processes are always as efficient as possible.
While you should take my word for it, you don’t have to. Here are no fewer than 12 successful CRM implementation case studies, showing how companies who implemented or optimized their CRM are able to do better, faster.