B2B sales have evolved dramatically over the years, especially since the dawn of the digital age.
The days of cold calling and direct mail aren’t forgotten, but the way in which we do business has changed a lot.
More companies are investing in B2B sales teams – inside and outside – across a range of industries.
The B2B sales environment is evolving, and now has more decision-makers and touchpoints involved than it did just a few years ago. This growing complexity is creating longer sales cycles, which pose a host of fresh challenges for all B2B sales stakeholders.
In this article, we’ll explore B2B selling in detail, covering a range of the most effective sales strategies and tools so you can learn how to sell B2B products and services.
What Is B2B (Business-to-Business) Sales?
B2B sales is the practice of one business selling products or services to another business. One sector built exclusively on the B2B sales model is software as a service (SaaS).
These are a few examples of B2B SaaS companies:
SPOTIO – This field sales acceleration platform helps outside sales teams build pipeline, increase sales, and boost productivity.
HubSpot – This all-in-one platform for sales and inbound marketing helps companies attract more visitors, convert more leads, and close more sales.
Salesforce – This customer relationship management (CRM) software helps businesses connect and communicate with prospective customers in a more efficient, effective way.
B2B sales is distinctly different from B2C sales, otherwise known as business-to-consumer sales, where companies sell directly to end users instead of to other businesses.
B2B Sales vs. B2C Sales
When we look at the B2B sales process in more detail, we can identify a few unique differences compared to B2C:
More stakeholders to convince – In B2B sales, you must demonstrate to multiple stakeholders in varying roles, each with different roles and priorities, the value of your product or service. By comparison, B2C sales is just about convincing one person.
Higher price points – Generally speaking, B2B sales have a much higher average order value than B2C sales.
More touchpoints – With B2B sales, prospects often need to review product information, and gather internal input or authorization before committing to a purchase. B2C buyers may also spend time reviewing product information, but they don’t need authorization for purchases.
Longer sales cycles – With multiple stakeholders, and higher purchase costs, the B2B sales funnel is longer than the usual B2C sales funnel. According to a CSO Insights report, almost a third of B2B sales cycles last longer than 10 months:
Inside vs. Outside B2B Selling
In B2B sales, your business can be viewed as two interconnected teams – inside sales and outside sales.
Quite often, inside sales representatives sell products and services remotely, and therefore, they’re usually based in an office. By comparison, outside sales reps are “out in the field”, negotiating face-to-face deals with prospects at their business premises, conferences and trade shows.
Studies from SPOTIO indicate that outside sales earn a 30% higher close rate than inside sales. Furthermore, outside sales teams also clinch deals that are over 130% larger.
Despite this, there has been a shift towards inside sales in recent years:
While outside sales reps can nurture business relationships in a more personal way, many organizations are attracted to inside sales because it offers a more cost-effective, automated approach to B2B selling.
Numbers Don’t Tell The Full Story…
This in-depth guide will highlight the key operational difference between inside and outside sales.
The B2B Buying Process Has Changed
Digital transformation has been shaking up global business in many ways, and the B2B sales process is certainly not immune.
Here are three reasons why B2B sales have changed so much in recent times:
Number of stakeholders
You already know B2B sales involve more people. The thing is, that number is growing. A report from the Harvard Business Review asserts that the number of people involved in the average B2B sales process – known as the decision-making unit (DMU) – rose from 5.4 to 6.8 between 2015 and 2017.
Buyers are more educated
Research from Forrester found almost 74% of B2B buyers conduct about half of their total research online before they make an offline purchase. The B2B customers of today have greater access to information online and offline – and they’re putting it to good use.
Alignment between sales with user intent
Understanding the customer journey is a critical aspect of B2B selling, especially in a highly competitive field. Ultimately, the companies who map their sales process to the customer journey will have more success targeting the right people, with the right offer, at the right time.
9-Step B2B Sales Process
Now that you’ve gotten to grips with the fundamentals, let’s see how to sell B2B.
This process starts from scratch, and if you do every step comprehensively and correctly, you should be able to close with a sale. Best of all, this B2B sales process works for both for inside sales and outside sales teams.
Let’s dive in.
Step #1: Create your personas
A HubSpot study found that about 50% of prospects won’t be a good fit. In order to execute an effective B2B sales strategy, you need to know your audience. The most effective way to do this is by creating customer personas.
Through research, you can gather insights from real customers to build an accurate picture of your ideal customer. Once you’ve created personas, it’ll be much easier to qualify leads.
Just remember that with B2B sales, your customer personas should be for decision-makers that have the authority and budget to negotiate and close deals with your company.
An example B2B customer persona may include the following details:
Demographics – Age, gender, income, living status, education, etc.
Company role – The current position at the company, and an overview of their authority. E.g. VP of Sales, controls $500K budget for the sales department.
Goals – Professional and personal ambitions. E.g. She wants to increase sales by 20% in the next year.
Challenges – The problems they need help with. E.g. Her sales reps aren’t clear on which areas and prospects they should focus on.
Interests – Favorite websites, magazines, news sources, software, apps, etc. These insights can inform how you connect with prospects.
Note that personas are not the same as ideal customer profiles (ICPs). An ICP is a fictional company that might be interested in your product, and a persona is a fictional employee of that company.
Step #2: Research
Research the market to gauge demand for your products or services, who your competitors are, and how they’re marketing to prospects.
Once you have that information, you’ll need to:
Map out the buyer journey
In the simplest terms, the buyer journey includes three stages: awareness, consideration, and decision. But in B2B sales, you may need to further break down each stage. For example, buyers in the decision stage might still be comparing pricing options, or they might be ready to start a free trial.
Establish lead qualification criteria
Almost 80% of leads never turn into sales.
It takes time to build trust, and for people to move through the B2B sales funnel to the point of purchase. But you can improve your B2B conversion rates with a structured approach to analyzing your leads.
Classify your prospects by how willing and ready they are to make a purchase by considering the following: need, interest, budget, timing, and role.
Every high-growth B2B company needs an effective sales process. Without it, all your best-laid plans and marketing funnels will count for little.
By devising a solid lead qualification framework, you can fill your sales pipeline with quality leads. This will optimize your use of resources, and ensure your sales team has a strong chance of closing valuable deals.
Step #3: Prospect with ICP data
Based on your persona information and market research, you can develop an ICP that helps you know which businesses to target.
A sales rep could use a sales intelligence tool like SPOTIO’s Lead Machine to map a target geographic location, filter by prospects in that area using different persona data points, and then export the finished list and import into their lead management tool.
This way, reps are only working leads in target areas that meet defined ICP criteria. This drastically improves sales efficiency and close rates.
Step #4: Make Initial Contact
After prospecting, you can approach potential buyers to introduce yourself, and start building a relationship. Traditionally, this may have been done with a cold call to follow-up after a brochure had been mailed.
Rapid advancements in automation technology have transformed sales and marketing processes in a big way. This is good news for B2B companies and also for customers.
You can use data analytics to check email open rates, video views, and website visits. Then, you can tailor your approach to get in touch with prospects that seem most interested.
This initial contact gives you a chance to learn a little more about each prospect, and it also puts your brand top-of-mind with potential B2B customers.
If you’re having trouble reaching prospects, check out this in-depth guide on how to get past the gatekeeper.
Step #5: Assess & Qualify Your Prospects
Studies show that while most B2B marketers send all their leads directly to the sales team, a mere 27% of those leads will actually be qualified.
While technology certainly improves the chances of success, it’s by no means guaranteed. Before you move forward with prospects, you must confirm they are a viable lead.
An effective way of doing this is by using the Sandler Pain Funnel.
This strategic series of questions helps you discover your prospect’s real needs. Better yet, it goes beyond the pain point to reveal whether they have the budget and the decision-making authority to do business with you.
The eight questions in the Sandler Pain Funnel, in order, are:
- “Tell me more about that…”
- “Can you be more specific? Give me an example.”
- “How long has that been a problem?”
- “What have you tried to do about that?”
- “How did that work?”
- “How much do you think this has cost you?”
- “How do you feel about that?”
- “Have you given up trying to deal with the problem?”
When you size up each prospect with these qualifying questions, you will develop a better understanding of how your products or services can assist them. This will be instrumental in the next step.
Step #6: Pitch
Today, you can make pitches through video content, such as a webinar, live video conference, or even in a private video meeting.
The latter is best for maximum personalization. Indeed, it’s best to tailor the pitch for every single prospect, and if possible, do it in person. If your product is quite technical, you can bring an engineer to the meeting to field any technical questions.
In any case, the pitch is sure to be a time-consuming process. It requires considerable effort and planning, as it’s such a crucial stage in the B2B sales process. On the upside, you’ll only be doing pitches for prospects that have already been qualified.
Want more inspiration? Check out these sales pitch examples.
Step #7: Respond
It’s easy to think the B2B sales process is all about selling. However, listening to your prospects is an important part of the process.
Act as a guide, simply steering the conversation and letting the prospect fill in the gaps. Ideally, you should only do around 30% of the talking. This makes people feel like they are being heard and understood.
Another technique is to teach rather than sell. By offering advice to help someone improve their business without any expectation of a sale, you’ll quickly earn people’s trust.
Learning to adapt your sales process in this way takes a little practice. However, when you get it right, you’ll forge stronger relationships with prospects.
Step #8: Follow Up
Research from Forrester found that 59% of B2B customers would rather not interact with salespeople.
For B2B sales professionals, that poses a dilemma:
Should you follow up?
The answer is yes. That being said, timing matters.
If you follow up too soon or too often, you may annoy your prospect and lose the sale. If you’re too nonchalant, you won’t close many sales.
The art of following up requires a delicate balance of personalization, persistence, and perception. You have to understand how your prospects like to be approached, and what they may be worried about.
By putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes, you can understand their mindset, their needs, and their concerns.
Step #9: Close
The final step in your B2B sales funnel is the close. Quite often, this is seen as the most difficult stage of B2B selling. However, if you have completed the rest of the B2B sales process correctly, your close should come easily.
When you get this far, your prospects should be ready to purchase. If you get the sense that they’re still hesitant, it may be best to discuss their concerns again to address any outstanding issues.
Ultimately, if you and the prospect are aligned, the sale is much more likely. Some prospects may need a little more time, so the sale isn’t always dead if you don’t get it the first time around.
11 Strategies to Improve B2B Sales Performance
Now that you’ve got the basic steps to the B2B sales process down, here are eleven B2B sales strategies that are sure to get the needle moving in the right direction.
Identify ALL the Decision Makers
The sooner you identify key players in your target companies, the better.
When you start researching prospect websites, check pages like “Meet the Team” or “About Us” for information about the big players.
You can find details about the key decision-makers and their roles by searching on LinkedIn. This approach ensures you start off on the right foot and give your search the laser-focus it needs to succeed.
Utilize PAIN-Based Selling
Almost 70% of B2B customers claim their business needs aren’t being addressed during the first contact. If you don’t meet your prospect’s needs, they aren’t likely to stick around.
By embracing solution-based selling, you can target a pain point of your prospect, then tailor your sales pitch to help people overcome their problem.
Here are some example questions that can help you drill down and discover the challenges your prospect is facing:
“What are your company’s goals for the short-term and long-term?”
“What do you believe is your greatest strength and greatest weakness?”
“What aspects do you like best about your current supplier? What things don’t you like?”
“Name one thing you would change about your business.”
“What deadlines are you facing now?”
“Which resources do you want to use more?”
“Would you rather cut costs, improve productivity, or increase profits?”
“Does your business struggle with [pain point]?”
This tactic is hugely successful now because it is all about the prospect and their problem, which is a more welcoming proposition than a pushy sales pitch.
Fill Gaps and Maintain Momentum
Remember that the B2B sales cycle is longer than B2C.
It will serve you well in the long-run if you develop closer relationships with prospects as they will be more inclined to become a loyal customer who continually makes purchases.
If that’s not motivation enough, consider this:
Over a period of five years, most B2B companies lose about 50% of their customers.
Even when you think you have it made, it’s crucial to keep the momentum going so that you continue building filling your pipeline with more B2B customers. That way, even when you lose a customer, the show goes on.
Strategically Assign Offline Sales Territories
Sales territory management is a popular system that B2B teams use to assign prospects and geographical areas to specific salespeople depending on the industry, location, or account size. This strategy ensures that there is no overlap between your sales reps.
Segmenting your target audience in this way is an effective use of your resources, and it gives each rep the chance to foster closer relationships with the leads in their territory. This is particularly beneficial to outside sales reps who meet the prospects in-person on a regular basis.
You can use a tool like SPOTIO’s Territory Manager to quickly map territories and assign them to different reps. Managers no longer have to spend hours reviewing physical maps and drawing out territories for assignment by hand.
Create Content to Enable the Sales Team
Online content creation is a powerful way of providing value for your audience, and by doing that, you can establish a strong online presence and a brand identity that resonates with people.
Research indicates a direct link between content marketing and successful closes. The least successful B2B companies spent just 22% of their budget on content marketing, while the most successful B2B companies allocated 39%.
Also, Gist reports that after they read custom content, 82% of B2B customers view a company in a more positive light, and 70% of customers claim they feel closer to companies after engaging with their content.
Over time, with great content, you can position your brand as a thought leader – one that B2B customers respect and trust.
It’s little surprise that over 90% of B2B marketers use content marketing.
It can be used to nurture relationships at every stage of the customer journey, to teach prospects, and build your authority in their minds.
There is a ton of ways to leverage content, including:
- Blog posts
- Educational articles
- Case Studies
Done right, this strategy can reduce the B2B sales cycle, and drive more people through your sales funnel, which will increase your leads, conversions, and ultimately, your profits.
Harness the Power of Social Selling
Social selling is all about using social media to identify key decision makers, and joining meaningful conversations with them at the right moment. That becomes the first step of your selling process, and from there you can guide prospects through your B2B sales funnel.
Research from LinkedIn shows that 78% of people who are engaged in social selling will sell more than those who are not using it.
Some great B2B sales examples of social selling in action include IBM, which drove a 400% increase in sales, and SAP, which increased revenue by 32%.
So, why is it so effective?
Nowadays, B2B customers do a lot more of their own research, so brands need to be agile to meet prospects on multiple different touchpoints.
Social selling helps you leverage omnichannel marketing in a way that establishes brand recognition quickly, so people automatically think of your brand when they are ready to buy. This means you can bypass the awkward situation of cold calling to generate warm leads.
Incorporate Video Throughout the Cycle
Studies from Google found that 70% of B2B customer watch videos when they are researching products before purchase.
Video content gets more engagement, and it’s highly shareable, which makes it great for creating brand awareness. Better yet, video content is a powerful way to convey emotion in your brand messaging, which is useful when you are trying to sell anything.
Ultimately, B2B customers don’t want a sales pitch – they want valuable information and engaging solutions that can help them with pain points. With video content and case studies like this one from Slack, companies can cut the salesperson out of the equation.
Implement a Lead Nurturing System
According to InsighThought, up to 97% of B2B leads are not ready to make a purchase.
The nature of B2B means that companies are typically considering an expensive commitment, and several decision-makers need to discuss it and agree.
This complex sales cycle creates an opportunity for B2B sales companies to build a relationship, where you can provide relevant information throughout the decision-making process.
Research from Marketo indicates that companies with a solid lead nurturing strategy generate 50% more ready-to-buy leads. Better yet, these hot prospects come cheap, at around 33% lower cost.
Assign Sales Activities
Sales managers should assign daily, weekly, and monthly activities to reps to ensure prospects and leads are moving through the pipeline. Defining goals also helps managers compare performance among reps, identify weak points in the sales process, and ensure that reps aren’t working on redundant or overlapping tasks.
Prepare for Common Objections
B2B selling is all about presenting the opportunity for positive change. You’re offering companies the chance to improve their business fortunes.
The problem is that not everyone likes change. Unless you have bottled the Elixir of Life and the sales patter of a Jedi barman, you’re going to encounter some tough customers that seemingly can’t be convinced.
The most common objections are related to:
- Budget – “I can’t afford it”
- Competitor – “I’m already using another product”
- Competitor at a lower price – “I see your competitor is cheaper”
- Timing – “Can you get back to us in Q4?”
In each of these scenarios, if you have well-prepared responses, you can turn objections around by focusing on the value your product offers.
Ideally, try to back this value up with social proof and case studies of similar B2B customers who had great results. Your prospects will see that what you’re offering is something truly unique, and they’ll realize it’s a long-term investment that delivers a great return on investment (ROI).
This guide dives deeper into some of the more common sales objections, and shows how to overcome them.
When you think about all the big-ticket products in B2B sales, it’s wonderful when something free comes your way. Whether you’re on a tight budget or you have deep pockets, referrals are not be turned away.
Not only is it a new business opportunity, but a referral is much more likely to result in a sale. Research indicates that referrals close 70% quicker, and they deliver almost 60% more lifetime value.
Word-of-mouth is the cheapest form of marketing, and sometimes, the type that delivers the best bang for your buck.
Costly B2B Selling Mistakes to Avoid
Now that you’ve learned how to sell B2B the right way, let’s look at some common pitfalls. Here are five mistakes that can quickly derail your best-laid B2B sales strategies.
Ignoring Opportunities in the Field
Many companies are drawn to inside sales because it can be more cost-effective than outside sales. In fact, it can be up to 90% cheaper than managing a field sales team. However, cheaper isn’t always a good thing.
By ignoring outside sales, companies pass up on a lot of leads, and risk creating a brand identity that doesn’t have much of a personal touch.
Outside sales teams win hands-down in this regard, as they have more human interaction with prospects, and are very effective at building strong customer relationships that can increase overall sales volumes, and also the customer lifetime value (CLV) of each buyer.
This is particularly important for companies that are selling complex products that need some explanation and discussion to alleviate concerns or confusion about how to use the product.
Sometimes, you have to speculate to accumulate. With savvy hiring, and smart territory management, you can strategically lower the cost of an outside sales team, which ensures it will deliver a higher overall ROI.
Selling to Low-Level Buyers
Getting in front of C-suite prospects can be a challenge. While you could take the easy route to negotiate with purchasing managers, they’ll rarely have the budget or the power to sanction huge deals.
This is a common problem, with 39% of professionals in B2B sales saying the inability to reach the right people is their biggest obstacle.
B2B sales strategies that focus on low-level buyers can’t deliver the high-growth and huge ROI you may be targeting. It’s much better to seek out the top-level decision makers who have the authority to agree to bigger deals. It may take more work, but it’ll be worth it.
Focusing on Features Over Value
Your product could be revolutionary.
However, when it comes to B2B sales, your prospects don’t care about the fancy features or the latest techno-jumbo buzzwords.
All they want to know is whether or not your products or services can solve their problem.
Instead of focusing on the product, focus on your potential customer. Identify their pain points, show them you care, and prove that your product or service offers the solution they need.
Implementing a Single-Track Content Strategy
For many years, content marketers have sung the praises of using the Pareto Principle.
Also known as the 80-20 Rule, marketing experts believe that it’s best to only spend 20% of your time creating content, and the other 80% of the time marketing it.
The evidence suggests this a solid barometer, especially when you are just getting started and need to promote your online presence to attract quality traffic to your website.
Unfortunately, many marketers put all their eggs in one basket, and simply throw everything behind a single channel. While SEO is a great one to back, even it alone may not yield the B2B customers you want.
Now, omnichannel marketing is seen as the future of e-commerce.
To succeed, you must have a presence across multiple mediums, from your company blog to Facebook videos to paid ads to influencer marketing partnerships. There is a lot to explore, and the most successful companies are those who work hard to create a seamless, unified experience from one touchpoint to the next.
Not Following Up
It’s very rare to close a deal with just one or two engagements, especially in B2B sales. SPOTIO research shows that there is an average of 7 decision-makers involved in the buying process, and that 80% of B2B sales require at least 5 follow-up calls.
Businesses that are considering your high-ticket product will need to be nurtured through the customer journey before they decide to get the checkbook out.
Therefore, it’s vital that you follow up with prospects.
It’s okay if they need some time to think, but you shouldn’t let leads go cold. If someone contacts your company on social media or email to ask some questions, make sure to respond.
A lot of B2B companies struggle with this, and miscommunications between prospects and different sales reps can cause friction in your B2B sales funnel.
By keeping track of your leads and following up regularly, you can build a relationship that helps close more deals.
B2B Sales Tools
In the age of innovation, B2B sales companies have a plethora of fantastic tools to help them enhance their marketing and sales efforts.
Here are five tools for B2B sales.
The SPOTIO platform is a go-to solution for outside sales teams, as it is equipped with many great functions such as:
Google Places Integration –This integration offers a map view and business information of every company within a territory. This feature helps reps sort and targeting leads, as quickly filter by aspects like name, email, and business type.
Route Optimization – Managers can view real-time data from outside sales reps. This feature allows reps to plan the most efficient routes using many different data points, such as distance, scheduling and meeting lengths.
Territory Management — This feature lets managers assign territories by geographic boundaries or draw custom boundaries for territories.
Task Automation — SPOTIO integrates with CRM platforms and automates the timing of steps in the sales process, such as follow-up calls. It also automatically backs up field notes to the CRM, so reps don’t have to manually enter notes when they return to the office.
Performance Analytics — Sales managers can analyze sales performance based on a number of metrics, such as visits, leads created, leads won, and leads lost. This data helps managers continuously improve processes and sales techniques, as well as identify opportunities for team development.
My Reports – SPOTIO recently rolled out a new feature called “My Reports” that lets users create custom reports based on the KPIs that are most important to them. Sales managers and sales reps can save their reports as templates, change the parameters, and share them anytime.
e-Contracts Web + Mobile – Reps can use the mobile CRM to manage their sales pipeline and close deals with B2B customers while they’re on-the-go.
LinkedIn Sales Navigator
This is a good option for companies on a smaller budget. Sales Navigator lets you tap into the immense database of LinkedIn, which is home to the personal accounts of over 562-million professionals and businesses.
By using Sales Navigator, you can discover new leads in your market that suit your target customer profile. This tool allows you to track growing companies, keep tabs on developing trends and opportunities in the market, and gather data that enhances your outreach efforts.
The Google Chrome add-on also helps you find correct email addresses for leads, making it easier to connect. Without a doubt, this is one of the best B2B sales tools to have in your locker.
There aren’t many lists of B2B sales apps that don’t mention Salesforce.
Setting the bar for CRM platforms, this robust system integrates with virtually every other service or app you could want in B2B sales.
Better yet, it has a vast array of cloud-based applications for marketing, sales, and customer service. These are easy to get started with, which makes Salesforce suitable for teams of all sizes.
Whether you are creating a B2B sales funnel, managing leads or analyzing reports, this one-stop solution is perfect for inside sales teams.
Inside and outside sales teams have very different needs when it comes to CRM functionality. Sales teams already using Salesforce for their inside sales efforts can use SPOTIO to quickly bolt-on the functionality needed by field sales reps.
Ready. Set. Sell.
So, there you have the ultimate guide to B2B sales.
Now you know how to sell B2B, and between the steps, strategies, and tools, you have everything you need to get started with B2B selling.
The time for talking is done.
Let’s take some action.
Which strategy will you try first?
SPOTIO is the #1 field sales engagement platform to increase your revenue, maximize your profitability, and increase your team’s productivity.
Want to see a product demonstration? Click here to see how SPOTIO can take your sales game to the next level.