The B2B sales and marketing landscape has changed significantly in recent years. Buyers’ 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 B2B sales process, having a well-organized sales strategy in place is a non-negotiable. This article will provide guidance on 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.
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, 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, who in turn include them in cars that are 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 it's possible for the same organization to do both types of sales. For example, a computer vendor selling PCs or laptops to individual consumers while also building workstations and servers for businesses uses both sales models.
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 high-value deals. More than 80 percent of B2B deals involve purchases of $1,000 or more, and around 15 percent exceed $250,000. The B2B sales cycle is also 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.
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 be able 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 they make a purchasing decision.
The B2B Sales Process
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 calls or emails from salespeople are less influential in starting the process than they were in the past. In fact, these tactics can even be counterproductive. Fifty-nine percent of buyers report feeling turned off by outreach from a salesperson because they believe it constrains their ability to evaluate purchasing options in an objective way, without being biased by the salesperson's agenda.
This doesn't mean that salespeople have no role to play in the B2B sales process, however. After a B2B buyer has performed initial research and identified potential candidates for purchase, being able to talk to a salesperson who can answer questions about the product or respond to sales objections is the next step for many buyers. That said, buyers move through about two-thirds of the sales process themselves on average, without help from a salesperson.
When B2B buyers do come to sales reps, the reps should focus on cultivating a brand image as objective sources of information in order to maximize conversion rates. Fifty-seven percent of buyers prefer a salesperson who doesn't apply pressure or appear to have a strong agenda.
A variety of sales 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 take to evaluate their options and make a purchasing decision.
9 B2B Sales Strategies
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.
Align Sales and Marketing
Alignment between sales and marketing operations is important for all brands — 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 are seeking to cultivate — because many B2B buyers perform research on their own before entering the sales funnel, they qualify themselves before they ever contact the sales team. Sales and marketing may therefore often need to focus more on nurturing existing leads than on generating leads.
Define Your Target Audience
Defining the right type of buyer for your business is a key step for all sales and marketing operations, but 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, if you're an electronics wholesaler who sells 10,000 items per deal, 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 for 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. You should therefore target buyers whose internal purchasing processes are efficient enough to meet your needs. Smaller companies tend to fit this bill, along with small, independent business units within larger enterprises.
Craft Winning Content
B2B customers rely heavily on content to educate themselves about your offerings before they ever contact you. This makes it crucial to develop compelling content that communicates your value proposition clearly. 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 how it compares to competitors’ offerings can help you do this.
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 actually 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.
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 prior to talking to a salesperson. The types of marketing content that you offer and the marketing channels through which 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.
Use Marketing Analytics
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 you can update your strategy on a continuous basis. 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
Find the Real Decision-Makers
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 representative of a company won't lead to a deal if the real decision-maker remains unconvinced.
Focus on the Value of Your Product
The best way to succeed in B2B sales is to convert prospects based on the value of what you have to offer. Competing on the basis of 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 clearly communicating the value of your offering. Explain what makes your product or service different from that of competitors and make sure your marketing and sales teams demonstrate those differences clearly.
Rely on Your Sales Team’s Expertise
Even though many B2B buyers spend a great deal of time educating themselves before engaging with a sales team, your team should nonetheless be proactive in using expertise to help guide and engage customers, even if indirectly. Sales reps can help plan your marketing content based on their experiences selling your offerings, including feedback from customers on what they’ve found most persuasive.
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.