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What is B2B Sales? How to sell to businesses

B2B Sales
What is B2B sales?
What’s the difference between B2B sales and B2C sales?
The B2B sales funnel
B2B sales techniques
The future of B2B sales
B2B sales FAQs
Final thoughts

The B2B model has changed dramatically in recent years. Today’s top sales professionals need to be prepared to deal with non-linear B2B sales funnels and advanced sales models.

In this article, we’ll start with a B2B sales definition, share examples of popular models and explain the differences between B2B and B2C sales. We’ll then discuss the B2B sales funnel and share top sales techniques.

What is B2B sales?

The term B2B (business-to-business) sales refers to companies that sell products and services to other businesses.

B2B sales typically come in three main types:

  • Wholesale/distribution sales. Selling raw materials or retail stock to other businesses. For example, a convenience store may sell stock purchased at wholesale.

  • Supply sales. Selling consumables, such as office supplies and equipment, to another business.

  • Service/Software sales: Providing software to businesses to aid with their daily jobs to be done. For example, a small startup may pay a monthly fee to subscribe to a cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

What’s the difference between B2B sales and B2C sales?

Business-to-consumer sales, or B2C, are another common sales model. The main difference between B2B and B2C sales is the target customer.

While B2B companies sell products and services to other businesses, in B2C sales, businesses sell products and services directly to the consumer.

For example, an e-commerce store selling clothing, a convenience store selling to residents or a food stall selling to passersby.

Here are a few other ways B2B sales are different from B2C sales:

  • Higher average transaction value. B2B sales typically have a larger average transaction value with a higher price point than B2C sales.

  • Longer sales cycles. B2B sales cycles are longer and more complex than B2C sales cycles. Lead generation, lead nurturing and more complex negotiations all add time to the buying journey.

  • Higher sales volume. B2B sales are typically larger in volume than individual consumer purchases.

  • More decision-makers to convince. B2C sales typically only involve one decision-maker. In B2B, there are more stakeholders involved in the purchasing decision and this number rises on average to between 6 and 10, according to Gartner.

  • More consideration by buyers. B2B buyers consume an average of 13 content pieces before deciding on a vendor. B2C customers may purchase items on impulse or with less consideration.

  • Heavier focus on customer service. B2B companies spend more resources on customer service to increase the lifetime customer value. Even though it’s business-to-business, salespeople are still talking to customers in the form of decision-makers in B2B sales, meaning the customer relationship is vital for B2B sales teams.

Other business models

B2B and B2C sales tend to get a lot of attention as the most common sales models. But there are other important approaches:

  • B2G (Business-to-government). Businesses selling to a government body (also known as business-to-public-sector or business-to-public-administration)

  • B2B2B (Business-to-business-to-business). Businesses selling to companies that, in turn sell the product/service to a final company.

  • B2B2C (Business-to-business-to-consumer). Businesses partnering with other companies to reach new customers.

  • B2C2B (Business-to-consumer-to-business). Businesses selling to consumers who will then take the product to their business where it is adopted across the board. Examples of this model include LinkedIn or Slack, where individuals start using the platform. The companies they work for then begin to adopt the platform as well, often paying for premium usage.

The B2B sales funnel

A B2B sales funnel is a framework for the steps required to sell your product or service. It starts with the customer learning about the company, product or service and typically ends with the buying or evaluation process.

The primary purpose of the sales funnel is to give sales teams a clear roadmap for how to take potential leads from awareness to satisfied customers.

Understanding the stages your B2B customers go through will help salespeople visualize the customer journey. This allows them to see where there are pain points and identify bottlenecks in the sales processes.

The number of steps in a B2B sales funnel can vary by company and industry. Generally, though, they include the following:

  1. Awareness. Potential customers learn of your product or service.

  2. Interest. Potential customers become curious that the product or service may be relevant to their business.

  3. Decision. Potential customers conduct research to fuel the decision-making process.

  4. Action. Potential customers take action in purchasing or opting out of the sale.

  5. Evaluation. Customers are either satisfied or dissatisfied with the service, leading to future business decisions.

A tool like Pipedrive’s CRM software can give you insights into how prospects navigate your sales funnel and where they may be hitting road bumps.

It allows you to track deals all along the funnel. It can help you refine your B2B sales strategy by generating automatic reports on data like average deal value, average deal close rate and average time to win deals.

Coupling this data with visibility into the number of open deals and which stage of the funnel they’re in will help you know which leads to focus on.

Why and how have B2B sales changed?

The “old school” B2B sales process was much simpler. It involved a predictable, linear sales funnel.

Businesses traditionally relied on cold outreach (cold calling, email marketing, etc.) from the marketing team for B2B sales lead generation. The team would collect quality leads, passing them on to the salespeople to close.

Alternatively, decision-makers looking to solve their pain points would contact a vendor (often in person) to discuss solutions. Sales managers would then work to close deals with potential customers.

This process has changed for several reasons:

  • Consumers have greater access to information

  • Brands have more opportunities to engage directly with customers, from websites to social media channels, all along the journey.

Traditional in-person sales have given way to online and remote sales interactions. The buyer’s journey has also shifted away from a strictly linear structure. Consumers have access to more data and more ways of engaging with the brand. They also spend more time researching potential solutions.

Sales teams need to be prepared to engage at any point along the journey to nurture customers through to conversion. To offer the best support, B2B selling requires a hybrid approach between sales and marketing. The two teams require effective communication and a synchronized strategy to cater to these new buying behaviors.

Note: 85% of sales and marketing leaders today believe that aligning sales and marketing is the largest opportunity to improve business performance.

B2B sales techniques

To meet the new demands, B2B salespeople now access a new range of sales techniques designed to streamline the selling process. Use these to boost sales performance and zero in on the perfect marketing strategy.

Here are some of the top techniques, including strategies and sales methodologies, to help you navigate today’s B2B sales.

1. Smarketing (sales and marketing alignment)

As mentioned, sales and marketing are now inseparably entwined. To better nurture B2B sales leads through the process, these two teams need to be aligned in their messaging and their target audience.

The marketing and sales team must be clear on who the decision-makers are. They must also agree on how to sell the solution to the buyer’s pain points.

Use the following five-step process to ensure that the two teams are pulling towards the same goals:

  1. Assess your current level of alignment and look for opportunities to cooperate

  2. Promote smarketing to get everyone on both teams on board with your efforts

  3. Encourage consistent and open communication

  4. Create a service-level agreement (SLA) that clearly defines the services and responsibilities of each team

  5. Integrate your software to make collaboration and data sharing easier

By improving communication quality, the sales and marketing team can be transformed into a highly effective team. Businesses will find higher quality leads and close efficiently with a highly capable, synchronized sales team.

2. Social selling

Social selling is a modern B2B sales technique designed to craft high-level relationships and close deals with confidence.

It involves using social media platforms to create brand awareness. Find out where your target audience spends time online and make sure you have a presence.

Depending on the industry and your focus, you may maintain accounts on LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok or Facebook.

Post not only ads and product-related content but also educational, entertaining and people-first content meant to build relationships with potential buyers and get responses.

3. Solution selling

Solution selling is a sales methodology implemented and managed by sales training company SPI. It involves a salesperson considering a prospect’s pain points before recommending products or services as a solution.

It requires representatives to have a good picture of the ideal customer persona. The better the understanding, the more effective the technique becomes.

Solution Selling is finding ways you can make your customers’ lives better with your product.

Tim SullivanDirector of Business Development, SPI

Solution selling is regularly used in industries that rely on customized solutions to meet specific needs. Here are the steps for solution selling:

  • Prospect – Search for a buyer with pain points that your product/service solves

  • Qualify Learn how decisions are made in the company

  • Discover – Understand the needs of the buyer and recommend your company products/services as a solution

  • Add value Access key decision-makers and create a positive impact

  • Present Create a customized solution, demonstrating the ROI of the suggested product/service

  • Close – Make a deal and close with custom deliverables

4. The Challenger Sale

In The Challenger Sale, a book written by Dixon and Adamson, the model focuses on teaching, tailoring and leading the sales experience.

The Challenger Sale model focuses on sales reps taking control of the sales experience by teaching, tailoring and leading it.

According to Dixon and Adamson, sales reps can be categorized into one of five distinct profiles:

  • The Hard Worker

  • The Relationship Builder

  • The Lone Wolf

  • The Problem Solver

  • The Challenger

To take control of the deal, a sales rep should adopt the Challenger profile. The Challenger is someone who understands the prospect’s business, pushes the prospect to get out of their comfort zone and loves to debate.

Similar to solution selling, Challengers tailor sales to specific pain points. They understand the customer’s needs and offer specific insights into how they could benefit from the product or service on offer.

Here’s a more in-depth look at the Challenger Sales model:

5. Value-based selling

Value-based selling is a consultative approach to sales focused on communicating the potential value of a product or service. It involves emphasizing the positive impact a product or service will have on prospects.

This emphasis in the sales pitch helps people look beyond cost to consider the impact the purchase will have on their work and outcomes.

By providing more value than the competition, you can stand out and create loyal, long-term customers.

The future of B2B sales

Transformations in recent years are only the beginning for B2B sales, meaning they will continue to evolve with buyer behaviors. Here’s what the future of B2B sales holds:

  • Sales and marketing alignment will continue to be important. As consumers continue to research and engage with brands all along the buyer’s journey, sales and marketing will need to work together to ensure consistent messaging and coordinated efforts.

  • Remote or hybrid sales will increasingly be the norm. In a 2020 McKinsey survey of B2B buyers, 20% reported they would prefer a return to a traditional sales model, with the remainder preferring a remote/hybrid style. This means consumers will continue to do business online and move more and more away from traditional, in-person sales.

  • Digital communication will become more important. A Gartner study suggests that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will occur in digital channels. B2B brands who want to excel will need to strengthen their digital presence and adopt an omnichannel approach to meet consumers at multiple touchpoints.

B2B sales FAQs

Final thoughts

Business-to-business sales are constantly evolving and the separation between sales and marketing roles is becoming smaller.

Solutions like Pipedrive’s CRM sales software and other sales tools can help you stay on top of deals and keep up to speed with customer communications. These will ensure you’re ready to meet the coming opportunities, remain competitive and offer better customer experiences.

Driving business growth