Are you hiring your first sales team as a small business owner? Navigating a new stream of income in your sales department? Getting into sales as a dedicated professional? If so, you need a clear answer to the question what is B2B sales all about and how does it differ from B2C selling.
B2B selling is distinct from B2C sales in a number of ways. For example, while B2B sales transactions are largely based on selling practical outcomes (think bottom-line results), B2C purchases are driven by personal needs and emotions (think lifestyle benefits).
In this guide, we drill down into the B2C vs B2B sales meaning by exploring the typical activities you can expect to encounter and the key differences between B2C and B2B sales jobs. We also lay out some sales techniques you can use to ramp up your selling in either area.
Table of contents
What is B2B sales?
The simplest definition of B2B sales (meaning business-to-business sales) is companies selling products and services to other companies.
In some cases, the companies doing the buying are looking to use those goods or services within their own organizations. Alternatively, they may be channel sales businesses: wholesalers reselling to other companies, or retailers selling to the public.
Examples of B2B businesses include:
- Office supply companies that sell printers, paper and toner cartridges
- Tire manufacturers that sell their goods to car manufacturers
- Legal, accounting or IT firms that provide commercial software or consulting services
Because B2B buyers make purchasing decisions on behalf of their organizations, they generally look for proof of a compelling return-on-investment (ROI). A lot of B2B marketing is driven by the cost opportunities a company’s product or service provides.
Given the high dollar value of many business purchases—and the fact that most involve multiple decision-makers—the B2B selling process tends to be both logic-driven and lengthy, often unfolding over weeks or even months.
What is B2C sales?
B2C, or business-to-consumer, businesses sell their products or services directly to the buying public for personal use. As opposed to groups of professional buyers, B2C transactions typically involve one or two related individuals.
Examples of B2C businesses include:
- Supermarkets, clothing and hardware stores
- Ecommerce retailers of household goods or personal electronic devices
- Hair salons, real estate agencies and music streaming services
Because B2C products appeal to the everyday needs of a broad range of people, B2C marketing often involves casting a wide net, through a variety of channels, to attract as many prospects as possible.
Buying decisions tend to be faster and more emotion-driven in B2C sales. So selling to B2C customers requires simple, easy-to-understand messaging and a greater focus on product or service benefits.
Examples of B2B sales activities
How do B2B sales professionals spend their time? While marketing focuses on attracting the most qualified leads (aka lead generation), sales activities are largely about nurturing and closing sales deals.
Sales statistics suggest, however, that 47% of total leads are self-generated by sales representatives and aren’t, for instance, generated by marketing, customer referrals or customer service. So getting familiar with both sales and sales-related marketing activities is important for selling success.
Examples of key B2B sales activities (although some of these are also relevant to B2C) include:
- Qualifying inbound leads through research
- Identifying key stakeholders at businesses
- Cold calling, emailing and outreach activity
- Warming up prospects and cultivating enduring relationships with them
- Setting appointments and scheduling follow up activities
- Monitoring your sales pipeline progress with the help of relevant data
With most day-to-day activities revolving around initiating and developing buyer relations, B2B deals can take a while to mature. Sales reps need to be patient and structure their time around long-term returns.
The B2B buyer’s journey
Before you can sell profitably in B2B, you need to understand who your target customer is and the buying route they typically take. Consider, for example, how each of these buyer’s journey stages might influence your sales and marketing activities.
- Stage 1: Becoming aware. At this stage in the buying process, your prospect is struggling with a problem or facing an opportunity and is doing research to better understand it.
- Stage 2: Considering options. Your prospect has now clarified their problem or opportunity and is exploring available options for solving or taking advantage of it.
- Stage 3: Making a decision. Your prospect has defined the solution that will work best for them and is short-listing potential vendors on their way to making a final buying decision.
As you search for potential clients in the consideration stage, you should keep your entire range of products or services top-of-mind. That way, you’ll be able to examine the various ways in which they might meet the different needs of different prospects. Once you shift into selling mode during the decision stage, however, you’ll want to limit your focus to the solution that provides the best fit.
Not every company will be a good match for your product or service. Doing some initial online research to weed out buyers who are less likely to want, need or be able to afford what you’re selling will let you focus your time around the most promising leads.
As we’ve discussed, B2B selling activities are largely concerned with building relationships and proving your solution’s ROI to business customers.
That means you’ll need to promote your product or service from a rational perspective by demonstrating how it translates directly into practical advantages like:
- Cost savings and profitability
- Increased efficiency
- More satisfied customers and a bigger competitive edge
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you sell accounting software. The best way to model cost savings, improved efficiency or better customer relations to prospective clients is by showing how your software:
- Decreases the time spent on manual data entry
- Integrates directly with popular payroll and receipt management apps
- Reduces human transaction errors that often lead to billing or reporting mistakes
For many buyers, your software product will represent a complex purchase, requiring new procedures, special training and ongoing support. You should expect the sales process to be exceptionally lengthy as a result, and to include detailed demonstrations in addition to a trial period.
B2B sales-related marketing
Because B2B sales are more about the solution your product provides than the actual product itself, promotion needs to be fairly in-depth. The most effective messaging will focus on what your client can expect to achieve by working with you.
To convey that message, sales reps can take advantage of company marketing activities in various ways.
For example, you can use:
- Digital marketing channels to generate, connect with and nurture new leads (85% of salespeople, for example, are active on LinkedIn according to The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020)
- Email marketing strategies to follow up on leads that have already been generated or to help with composing cold emails
- Sales technology like web visitor tracking to discover which companies are spending time on your website
- Marketing content to beef up your knowledge, inform prospects or support your sales meetings (pay special attention to product demo videos, ROI calculators, case studies, white papers or industry reports, client reviews and testimonials)
To make sure you reach out to the right people, sales lead analysis should include finding out who an organization’s buyers are, what’s important to them and how they fit into the larger context of the business they work for.
B2B audiences are in the market for expertise and efficiency. But since their buying decisions tend to revolve around large orders, complex services or capital equipment, high-level approval is usually required.
While it’s important to take stakeholders across all levels into account when engaging new contacts, you should reserve actual sales tactics for the business decision-makers.
Soft skill development
Since different types of buyers may need to be handled differently, a good sales rep will learn to adapt their sales pitch and strategy to the person they’re speaking with and the cues they receive.
As described in the Pipedrive State of Sales Report 2019-2020, 85% of people who count sales as part of their role regularly work on soft skills like communication, problem-solving and time management.
Working on your soft skills makes you more likely to hit your sales target. And that’s important given just how knowledgeable many business buyers are.
In B2B sales, you’ll need to be prepared to:
- Listen with intention
- Answer specific questions about how your product or service drives positive outcomes
- Determine your prospect’s urgency level so you can follow up in a timely way
Sales negotiations aren’t uncommon in B2B companies. So before you enter any new sales encounter, you should take time to understand where you and your company stand, price and terms-wise.
Examples of B2C sales activities
B2C sales activities revolve around meeting the personal needs of individual consumers. As with B2B selling, B2C sales and marketing are often heavily intertwined.
Depending on what you sell, there could be an enormous pool of prospects with the potential to become buyers. So you may be actively involved in boosting sales by bringing in lots of new customers and hanging onto existing ones as much as possible.
Examples of B2C sales activities (although many of these are also relevant to B2B) might include:
- Following up on inbound leads
- Cold calling to connect with a large or diverse market of potential prospects
- Setting and keeping sales appointments
- Scheduling and making follow-up calls
- Staying on top of your product’s latest features, versions or benefits
- Keeping up with similar products or services in the market and how yours compare
- Working on your communication skills to master the art of instant rapport over the phone or on the sales floor
If your B2C activities are driven by inside sales, you could be working with a wide range of customer types and selling through one of a variety of communication or distribution channels, including call or live chat centers, social media platforms and retail stores. If you’re working in outside sales, you’re more likely to be on the road, knocking on doors.
What do B2C customers want?
B2C focuses on offering quick solutions for people looking to meet their basic needs (think food, shelter, clothing, health and transportation) or get more out of life (think luxury items, entertainment and travel).
Consumers are more likely to be looking for deals than B2B buyers, and their purchase decisions are often emotional. They’ll want to know the cost of your product or service upfront, what it’s going to do for them personally and, in some cases, how it’s going to make them feel.
With that in mind, the B2C sales process:
- Typically unfolds quickly, either in the moment or over a few hours or days
- Is often driven by price or convenience
- Can benefit tremendously from brand loyalty
B2C companies frequently encourage a need for their products and services through brand development.
And since social media platforms play a large role in that (96% and 82% of B2C marketers worldwide use Facebook and Instagram respectively), keeping up with social trends and how customers interact with your products may help you sell more effectively.
Given the relatively short buying process, your B2C sales message must:
- Be clear and simple, while highlighting the benefits your product or service provides
- Focus on the specific problem, opportunity or pain point your solution addresses
- Explain in a way that’s easy to understand exactly how your product helps people
Let’s consider the same accounting software example from earlier, except this time, you’re selling a program specifically designed to help consumers complete their personal income tax returns.
Instead of concerns around return-on-investment, the main thing prospective buyers will want to know is will your product make their lives easier come tax time?
To that end, whether you’re selling in-store, manning a website chatbot or cold calling, your sales pitch or message should quickly summarize how your software:
- Walks users through the tax reporting process step-by-step
- Allows them to quickly and conveniently import digital tax slips
- Reviews and submits their completed tax returns with just the click of a button
It’s worth noting that, because many consumer products and offers are mass-produced or uniform by design, B2C sales transactions are often more straightforward than B2B dealings.
Your value proposition
No matter what you’re selling, a lot of your sales communications are going to revolve around your company’s value proposition.
- What does your company stand for?
- What promises are you making?
- Why do you deserve your customers’ business?
In any interaction, you should be prepared to clearly define the value your brand provides to prospective buyers. Working hand-in-hand with your marketing team can be especially helpful for accomplishing this.
On the front lines, for example, sellers can take advantage of brand value marketing content to deliver a compelling message to every new prospect.
Analyzing the sales that didn’t happen, meanwhile, lets you share valuable feedback with your marketing department to help fine-tune company messaging and reduce the number of lost opportunities.
Building rapport with your prospects
With the rise in eCommerce, the speed of most sales and the fact that, in some cases, a few targeted messages and a continuous presence are all that’s required, you might expect face-to-face B2C sales activities to be rather limited.
In reality, however, there are still many industries and situations where, virtually assisted or not, rapport-driven, “in-person” selling works best.
Here are a few examples:
- Real estate and auto sales
- In-home services like renovations or large repairs
- Brick-and-mortar retail
- Specialized or custom goods
Despite the internet making it easy for consumers to compare options, some products and services are too complex or too personal to buy without dedicated help.
While it’s true that you sometimes need less experience to be successful selling direct to consumers, you still require sales skills, dedication to customer service and sound strategies to succeed.
B2C sales can be unpredictable. And while you’ll usually be selling to a single decision-maker—simplifying the sales process tremendously—that individual may be pressed for time or easily distracted. Learning to build rapport quickly as you promote your product or service is essential.
The differences between B2C and B2B sales jobs
At the start of 2020, 61% of super start-ups worldwide offered B2B sales solutions, while the other 39% focused on B2C. Clearly sales job opportunities continue to exist in both types of selling environments.
Regardless of platform, sales professionals need to be able to generate trust and resolve customer issues while demonstrating:
- Great communication skills and a “people-person” demeanor
- Willingness to handle multiple tasks simultaneously
- An ability to keep going in the face of criticism or rejection
When it comes to choosing between B2B and B2C sales jobs, however, Associate Director of Robert Walters’ sales recruitment division Chris Newsham says, “The skills required to work in either industry are quite different and moving between the two can be difficult so it’s well worth doing some research up front to ensure you make the right choice.”
In this table, we summarize some of the key skills required for B2C and B2B sales jobs. In some cases, the bullets under one heading could apply to the other.
It’s worth noting that many companies deal in both B2B and B2C, and require knowledgeable sales teams in both areas. Imagine, for example, a sneaker manufacturer that predominantly sells to wholesalers, but that also operates physical or virtual retail outlets for overstock and outdated models.
Despite the many differences, the most important thing to keep in mind is that both B2B and B2C are about person-to-person selling, and the main, meaningful difference is in the context.
Top B2B sales techniques
B2B sales can be lucrative and deeply rewarding. But selling to other businesses can also be challenging. Whether you’re a pharmacist looking to break into pharmaceutical sales, or a B2C seller hoping to make the leap to B2B, you’ll need a thoughtful, methodical sales approach to succeed.
According to Gartner, only 17% of the entire B2B buying process is spent meeting with potential suppliers. As a result, sellers have little time to influence buyer decisions. How can you make the most of that time?
Here are some sales techniques and strategies that will help you sell to other businesses more effectively, with examples of how to put them to work.
1. Do your research before you start cold-calling
Investigating a new sales lead before you make contact will help you understand their business operations and priorities. That will give you valuable insight into how your product or service can best meet their needs.
How to do it: In addition to scouring their website, follow your prospect’s blog, newsletter or social media feed to see how they engage with new and existing customers.
2. Connect directly with decision-makers
Making contact with company buyers and purchasing agents can be a good way to get your foot in the door. But when you’re ready to sell, you should develop relationships with individuals who have the budget, authority and final say on investing in your product or service.
How to do it: To connect directly with business decision-makers, try finding key stakeholders on LinkedIn and contacting them with cold calls or emails.
3. Differentiate yourself from the competition
There may be lots of other companies who sell what you do. Some may even be on your prospect’s short-list. To set yourself apart, remember that businesses don’t buy products and services—they buy outcomes.
How to do it: Before any sales encounter, get up to speed on your offering’s unique value proposition. When you know and can demonstrate how your product or service has helped similar clients solve similar problems, you’ll be better positioned to sell tangible results to your prospect.
4. Pause and listen
Although The LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020 suggests that 42% of buyers highly value active listening, only 26% of sellers are effective listeners according to RAIN Group. Listening more than you speak will help you connect with your prospects and better meet their buying needs.
How to do it: To demonstrate your commitment to providing the right outcome, treat sales conversations more like real conversations. Steer your discussions by asking open-ended questions, then let your buyers fill in the gaps while you aim to talk for no more than a couple of minutes at a time.
5. Give your prospect options
When you limit your sales proposals to a single, best-fit option, human nature dictates that potential buyers are more likely to shop around for a lower price, different features or better value. Avoid that by putting more choices on the table.
How to do it: Whenever possible, try to offer each company you deal with three differently priced offerings that all meet their needs. When presented with a choice, buyers are able to make decisions faster and will sometimes discover the priciest option holds the best long-term potential.
For a deeper dive into how some of these selling techniques play out, watch sales strategist.
You should also bear in mind that an important part of every B2B sales process is being able to identify where your prospects are in their sales journey. When you know which stage they’re at, you’ll find it easier to put the right sales techniques and strategies to work.
For example, unless you need pricing to help qualify a particular lead, sales coach and author of Eat Their Lunch Anthony Iannarino says it’s far more effective to present a detailed price breakdown after you’ve had the opportunity to demonstrate what your offering can do for your client.
CRM (customer relationship management) is a highly effective tool for tracking your progress through the various sales stages.
Top B2C sales techniques
B2C used to mean mall shopping, eating at restaurants and infomercials. Today, eCommerce has added an entirely new way of selling products and services.
From a web presence perspective, it’s worth noting that 51% of US shoppers surveyed say they use Google to research a purchase they plan to make online, and as many as 83% have used online search before going into a store.
Online or face-to-face, the main thing to remember in B2C sales is that prospective buyers want to know how your product or service is going to make their lives better.
To take advantage of the strong connection between B2C selling and marketing, here are some sales techniques and strategies that will help you connect with and sell to more consumers, with examples of how to put them to work.
1. Connect with your customers on a human level
It can sometimes be challenging to narrow down your target customers in B2C selling. But you’ll find more qualified buyers if you focus on connecting with your audience on an emotional level.
How to do it: Take advantage of social media channels to create an approachable brand identity. Showcasing your company’s unique voice or personality through regular communications will help make you more human, while clarifying your values to prospects.
2. Find something in common
Rather than jumping right into impersonally pushing what your product can do for your customer, take a moment to establish a sense of rapport by looking for something you may have in common.
How to do it: When selling face-to-face, or over a video call, pose a question based on what you’ve noticed about your prospect (their jacket, their shoes or their smartphone, for example), then share something about yourself in return based on their answer.
3. Show, don’t just tell how your product or service solves problems
As highly visual learners and information processors, our brains have the capacity to identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds. So it’s not surprising that visual content plays a very important role in any sales strategy.
How to do it: Stock up on colorful print brochures and personally direct leads, prospects and in-store customers to the engaging, interactive visuals on your website. Product demos, service explainer videos, infographics and a clear set of product images will go a long way to showing how you can resolve your buyer’s pain points.
4. Pick the right price
Remember that price is important to the average person—especially if there’s a chance for a discount. When fees, rates or costs are negotiable at your end, make sure you pick the right price.
How to do it: One way to price goods or services is by their perceived value. Do market research on your competitors. If your product is, or even seems to be, superior, you can charge more. If you already have a high-priced product, you should be prepared to focus on quality (think quick delivery or post-purchase warranty, for example).
5. Don’t forget to foster customer loyalty
Following up with phone-based, online or in-store customers (80% of buyers say they prefer to be contacted by salespeople via email) will help them feel valued. Not only are happy customers more likely to buy again, they may send more sales your way through positive, personal reviews or recommendations.
How to do it: Try triggering more sales by collecting customer information and using email messaging to share company-approved loyalty discounts and rewards, or to keep previous buyers in the loop about upcoming sales and new products that they, or someone they know, might want to try.
While it won’t be possible in every B2C environment, finding ways to extend buyer relations beyond a single purchase can beef up your sales. If you work in real estate, for example, making a point to always share your business card with potential or satisfied customers can encourage them to ask for you again or recommend you to others.
Finally, remember to always smile, even over the phone, and project confidence when selling in person. Your attitude and posture say a lot about both your trustworthiness and your willingness to prioritize your customer’s wellbeing.
There are a lot of good reasons for business and sales professionals to develop a deeper understanding of the B2B sales meaning and what sets business-to-business and business-to-consumer selling apart.
As a business owner or sales manager, for example, increasing your knowledge around the key differences between B2C and B2B sales jobs can help you hire more effectively or expand into new target markets.
Many budding and seasoned sales reps, meanwhile, find that they:
- Love working with people but aren’t sure which sales route to focus on when they start their careers
- Love sales but wouldn’t mind switching to a faster-paced or more methodical selling environment
- Love their work environments but feel they could benefit from developing their quick rapport or relationship building skills
If you identify with any of these scenarios, do yourself a favor and take a deeper dive into the question of what is B2B sales and how it compares with B2C selling. After all, no matter whether your customers are other organizations or the neighbor next door, sales are at the heart of every business.