What is B2B Sales? Strategies, Tips, & Guide to Success
B2B sales—selling products or services from one business to another—has always been tough. But today, it's a whole new ballgame.
Sure, we all love a simple sales process with a few steps that a customer flows through smoothly, without hiccups. But today's B2B buyers 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?
But of course, businesses can't interact without people. Sales teams working in the B2B world need to identify stakeholders and decision-makers, start conversations, learn about their pain points, build that customer relationship, and ultimately guide them toward a solution.
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
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software, & SaaS sales provides a service for businesses, often enabling them to focus on other priorities, automate outdated processes, or scale up their business quickly (or all three of those things!).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 close deals better. ** cough cough—like Close! **
B2B vs B2C Sales: What's the Difference?
In basic terms, B2B means you're selling your products or services to other businesses, while B2C (business-to-consumer sales) involves selling products or services to individual consumers.
Here are some basic differences between B2B and B2C sales:
- The sales model is very different for each: B2C companies focus more energy and budget-spend on marketing strategies, such as social media, paid ads, or content marketing. On the other hand, B2B businesses normally focus more on outbound selling, finding their ideal customers are reaching out to them directly.
- B2B products and services will usually have a much higher price point.
- B2C sales cycles may last all of a few days (or even a few hours), but a B2B sales cycle can last up to one year.
Elevate your content marketing strategies using AI – learn more in our article.
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 selling 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.
The Ideal 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 the marketing team hands this warm lead to the sales team. 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. Of course, nothing is really that simple! Below, you'll see an outline of the basic steps in the B2B sales funnel, but remember—every buying journey is unique, and it's the job of the B2B sales rep to determine where each new lead is in the funnel.
- 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, your customers, and their buying process.
The B2B Sales Process in 4 Steps
So, what does B2B sales actually look like in real life?
In this section, we'll give you a complete overview of the B2B sales process. By the end, you'll know exactly how successful business-to-business sales is conducted.
1. In-Depth Market Research
Want to succeed in B2B sales? Start with in-depth market research.
You need to be intimately aware of your ideal customer's desires and paint points, as well as the buyer's journey they'll go on to satisfy and/or solve these things. Without this knowledge, you won't be able to develop messaging strategies that connect with potential clients, earn their trust, and eventually, turn them into paying customers for your company.
The question is, how do you research your target audience? And how do you actually use the information you uncover once you have it? Don't worry, it's not as hard as it sounds.
There are tons of ways to research your ideal B2B customers:
- Google Search: Surf the internet for information on your target audience. This technique is simple and should help you dig up general data on your ideal buyers.
- Study Web Traffic: Who visits your company's website? And what do they do when they're there? Tools like Google Analytics will help you answer these questions. We suggest studying your social media profiles, too. Who follows your company? What kinds of content do these people like, share, and comment on the most?
- Use a B2B Data Provider: Tools like ZoomInfo, Crunchbase, and others allow you to research potential customers in your market and understand what’s happening at these companies as a whole.
- Analyze the Competition: Your competitors can be a wealth of information. Who do they target? Study their websites, social media profiles, and PPC ads to see who they're trying to reach and how they're trying to reach them.
- Talk to Current Customers: We've saved the best for last. To get reliable information on your ideal customers, talk to the folks who already love your brand. Then look for similarities between these people so that you can find common characteristics.
Once you've conducted in-depth market research, assemble your findings into a buyer persona, i.e. a fictional character that represents the real customers you hope to reach.
2. Prospecting and Outreach
Once you know who your ideal customers are, you can attempt to contact them, a process sales professionals usually refer to as sales prospecting.
Sales prospecting is "the process of searching for prospective customers or clients from your pool of leads, with the goal of identifying qualified potential buyers that can move through your sales process and convert into paying customers for your business."
Sales prospecting is essential to B2B sales. Unfortunately, it's one of the hardest tasks sales reps are asked to complete. In fact, 40% of reps say prospecting is the most challenging part of the sales process—even more challenging than closing deals.
Here's the good news: there are plenty of ways to sharpen your sales prospecting skills:
- Study: From free-to-read blog posts to paid courses, there are tons of resources out there that will teach you how to conduct effective outreach.
- Invest: Knowledge is power, but the tools you use to implement your knowledge matter. Look for the latest and greatest SaaS apps to supercharge your prospecting.
- Adjust: Take what you learn via sales resources and your own experiences and adjust your approach to sales prospecting. That way, your messaging is always on point.
To find success, B2B sales teams must embrace sales prospecting. Don't skip this step!
3. Ask Questions About Pain Points
You've got a prospect on the phone… Now what?
Inexperienced sales teams automatically talk about the products they sell, how much they sell them for, and why their prospect should make a purchase. Like, right now.
This is a mistake. Instead of blindly pushing products, sales reps should ask potential customers about their pain points. What do they struggle with? How do these challenges affect day-to-day operations? What benefits would they enjoy if these challenges didn't exist?
Once you know the answer to these questions, you can provide specific solutions that will actually help customers. Doing so will build trust and credibility with prospects.
You have to understand that the average B2B buyer is 57% - 70% of the way through their buying research before they even contact sales reps like you.
They don't want to hear about your product's features. They want you to listen to their problems; then tell them how your products will help them overcome their challenges. If you can do that, you'll develop a B2B sales strategy that explodes your company's bottom line.
4. Setting Up Appointments and Follow Ups
Remember what we said earlier? B2B sales cycles are typically long. Don't expect to close a prospect after your first call. Plan to follow up with prospects well into the future.
According to Brevet, 80% of sales require an average of five follow ups to close. It could be way more than this, though. After all, 6 to 10 people are involved in B2B buying decisions.
Translation: if you're in B2B sales, you're selling to a group of people, not a single person. This means that you have multiple decision-makers to woo before a sale is made.
Here are a few tips to help you set up appointments and follow up with prospects effectively:
- Do Your Research: Know the person you're contacting before you contact them. Research their company, peruse their LinkedIn profile, read their blog, etc. This shows professionalism and will make prospects more likely to book appointments with you.
- Screen Prospects: Your research will reveal details about each of your prospects. You may find that some of them aren't good fits for your products and/or services. Cut these people from your leads list so that you can focus on the best prospects.
- Be Flexible: Your prospects are busy. If possible, give them multiple opportunities to book appointments with you. Monday at 10am? Put it on the calendar. Thursday at 4pm? Not a problem. The more flexible you are, the more appointments you'll book.
- Use a Scheduling Tool: Remove as much friction from the scheduling process by using a tool like SavvyCal. You set your availability, and prospects can see your calendar with an overlay of their own schedule to pick the best time for both parties.
Follow Up With Prospects
- Do It: A lot of sales reps talk about following up. Be the person who actually does it.
- Get Your Number Right: How many times should you follow up with each prospect? If you don't have a relationship with the prospect, reach out a maximum of six times. If you do have a relationship with the prospect, follow up until you get a response.
- Get Your Timing Right: How often should you follow up with each prospect? We suggest sending your first follow up message two days after initial contact. Send another message 2 days later, a third message 4 days later, a fourth message 7 days later, a fifth message 14 days later, and 1 message per month after that.
- Use Multiple Channels: Finally, make sure you use different channels to follow up with prospects. Said channels should include the phone, email, social media, and even in-person visits, if you're able. Just remember to follow up with a purpose. When using email marketing for example, don't say, "Hey, Jim, just checking in…" Send them something valuable, such as a white paper that explains the benefits of your product.
Top Sales Tools for B2B Salespeople
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.
And by the way, if you want to know how AI is revolutionizing B2B sales, this article is a must-read.
A B2B-Focused CRM
Your CRM is the central hub where all sales communication and data lives. Here, you should be able to communicate with prospects and leads, automate repetitive aspects of the sales process, and analyze your funnel metrics and activity data.
Top CRMs for B2B Sales Teams:
- Close CRM: Made for high-velocity, outbound sales, especially catering to SMBs and startups. Discover the key features that make this outbound sales tool indispensable for modern sales teams.
- HubSpot: Good for companies who focus more on marketing and want their sales software to be integrated natively
- Salesforce: Best for larger, enterprise-size companies with a dedicated CRM engineer to keep everything running
If your business operates in the B2B realm and needs a dependable CRM solution, don't miss the chance to delve into our comprehensive article about the top B2B CRMs. This valuable resource will guide you toward the perfect CRM that suits your company's requirements, facilitating the nurturing of customer relationships and the achievement of more fruitful deals
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.
Top Dialer Tools for B2B Sales:
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, or see intent data that shows which prospects are closer to making a purchase decision.
Top Prospecting and Lead Generation Tools for B2B Companies:
- ZoomInfo: Ideal for discovering new leads and getting contact information for them
- LinkedIn Sales Navigator: Great tool for prospecting and nuturing leads on LinkedIn
Are you struggling to improve your conversion rate? These 14 intent data providers can help.
Email, SMS, and Live Chat 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.
Top Email and SMS Tools for B2B Sales Teams:
- Close: (it's us again, hi!) Our CRM comes with integrated email and SMS tools, and even allows you to created automated sequences with these channels
- Outreach: Great tool for sales engagement on different channels
- Drift: Top-notch chat software
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.
Best Video Chat Tools for Sales Teams:
- Loom: Best for async communication
- SendSpark: Great for personalized video messaging at scale
- Zoom: For live meetings and product demos (check out the Close + Zoom integration!)
Sales Enablement and Documentation 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. Plus, documentation tools allow you to easily create, share, and sign contracts and other legal documents you need for the B2B sales process.
Top Sales Enablement and Documentation Tools for B2B Sales:
- Showpad: Great for creating training content for sales teams and setting up goals and coaching
- PandaDoc: Fast document setup, send, and sign
- BetterProposals: Easy software to design beautiful documents for your customers
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?
That's always been our aim in building Close: we want to double the productivity of your sales team, and help you close better deals, faster.
But don't take my word for it. Check out our on-demand demo, or start a free trial to see what Close can do for your B2B sales process.