What Is B2B Sales? Understand and Master the B2B Sales Cycle

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At its core, B2B (business-to-business) sales is a sales model that involves marketing products or services to other businesses instead of consumers.

As B2B sales typically involve higher price points, longer sales cycles, and multiple decision-makers, B2B marketing often requires specific strategies to support the sales cycle.

Whether you are new to B2B selling or an experienced salesperson, use the following guide to understand and master the B2B sales cycle.

Quick Overview of B2B Sales

What is B2B sales? It refers to business-to-business sales.

When you sell products or services to other businesses rather than to consumers, you engage in B2B sales. Many B2B companies sell products or services that support the daily operations of various businesses.

For example, a company that sells employee time tracking software engages in B2B sales. They offer a product that helps businesses track employee hours. A company that offers enterprise networking solutions also operates in the B2B sector.

B2B sales may also involve the sale of components or equipment used to manufacture other products. Car manufacturing is a great example.

Many automobile factories outsource specific parts and then compile them on the assembly line. While the car manufacturer sells the vehicles to consumers, the companies supplying the individual parts mostly focus on B2B transactions.

B2B vs. B2C Sales: What’s the Difference?

The first difference between B2B and B2C sales is the size of the markets. According to a study on the future of B2B e-commerce sales, the B2B e-commerce market is expected to double the size of the B2C online market. The B2B market is estimated to be 20% bigger than the B2C.

Besides market size, some of the key differences between typical B2B and B2C sales include:

  • The duration and complexity of the sales cycle
  • The average value of products or services
  • The number of decision-makers

B2B transactions typically take longer to complete. Businesses rely on products or services from other businesses for the production or delivery of their own products or services. Close to 75% of B2B sales take four months to close while nearly half take seven months or longer.

Basically, if you purchase inferior B2B products, you may produce inferior products or deliver inferior services. Businesses need to consider the impact of the purchase on their customers and operating costs.

As businesses have more at stake compared to consumers, it takes them longer to evaluate their options and how their choices affect their future sales.

High Ticket Sales

B2B products or services also tend to come with higher price tags. While some transactions remain small, they can add up.

For example, an office may spend a few thousand dollars on office supplies from a B2B company. While a few thousand dollars is not a major transaction, the office may continue to make the same purchase each month.

Consumers depend on repeat purchases less frequently. If you find a shirt that you like, you are not likely to purchase the same shirt each month.

Another key difference is the number of people involved in the decision-making process. A consumer may need to consult with his or her spouse but mostly makes decisions on his or her own.

Before completing a B2B transaction, businesses often need multiple people to sign off on the deal. In 2014, the average number of decision-makers for a B2B sale was just 5.4. In 2018, the average number of B2B decision-makers is 10.2.

Due to these differences, business-to-business transactions require a different sales process.

Stages of the B2B Sales Cycle

As mentioned, the B2B sales cycle tends to take longer compared to the average B2C sales cycle. The reasons for the longer sales cycle involve the differences discussed — higher costs and more people to convince.

If you are not familiar with the term, the “sales cycle” is the journey that the buyer takes from the moment he or she becomes aware of the product to the moment he or she completes the purchase.

B2C and B2B marketing strategies often involve the use of sales funnels. A sales funnel provides a way to help visualize the buyer’s journey. The most basic sales funnel includes three main stages:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision

Of course, every business has its own sales model. Additionally, the point where the sales team joins the process often varies. However, most funnels follow the same basic path.

Awareness

The awareness stage involves lead generation and qualification. B2B marketers rely on various strategies and tools to help make potential customers aware of their products or services.

To attract leads, you may use pay-per-click advertisements or search engine optimization (SEO). These efforts often bring leads to a landing page where they can join a mailing list to receive more information or a free trial of the product.

Consideration

During the consideration stage, leads explore their options and try to determine how the product or service can solve their problems. For a B2B company, the consideration stage is often when the sales team gets involved.

Salespeople help nurture qualified leads, providing answers to their questions and helping potential customers understand the value of the B2B product or service.

Decision

Eventually, potential customers make a choice. They either purchase the product or they do not. However, if you do not get the customer right away, it does not mean that the sales process is done.

Maintain an active relationship with the lead even when he or she turns down your products or services. The decision may help provide insight into the reasons why he or she hesitated to complete the purchase. Use these details to improve the sales funnel or evaluate your offering to better align with the needs of your potential customers.

Loyalty

An effective B2B sales strategy should include an extra stage at the end — loyalty. B2B companies tend to rely more on customer retention compared to the average B2C company.

After a business completes their transaction, the B2B company should continue to reward their loyalty. Maintaining a positive relationship is often necessary for repeat business and helps drive referrals.

Prospects that learn about a product or service through referral are four times as likely to convert.

The loyalty stage includes many of the same steps used throughout the sales cycle. Maintaining the relationship relies on ongoing communication.

Check-in with your customers. Use emails or surveys to gain more insight into the pros and cons of your products or services.

Top B2B Sales Strategies

B2B sales strategies need to evolve to keep up with changes in the B2B market. The sales process now relies more on the Internet instead of direct phone calls or meetings with sales reps.

With the following three strategies, you have solutions for making the most out of your sales cycle and converting more online traffic into paying customers.

Build a Content Library or Resources Section on Your Website

A successful B2B sales strategy requires marketers to deliver unique content for each stage of the sales cycle. You may need content aimed at raising awareness to help bring in leads. However, you also need detailed product sheets, case studies, and white papers to educate your leads.

In the past, lead nurturing often involved multiple calls from the sales team. Salespeople interacted directly with potential customers to deliver information.

The average age of decision-makers has decreased and includes more millennials. The younger generations are more comfortable researching products or services online. In fact, 68% of these buyers prefer to perform their own research and 50% of buyers complete initial research online.

To deal with the changing B2B landscape, consider adding a detailed content library to your website. Having a central place to store this content makes it easier for prospects to discover the information they need on their own.

Adding a content library gives researchers a simple source for completing their research. Instead of needing to navigate through a series of pages, they find everything needed on a single page or directory.

A great example of this practice is found on the website for SuperOffice CRM. The site includes a “resources” section containing helpful guides, videos, and product sheets. If you want to learn more about CRM solutions, you do not need to spend hours digging around the Internet.

Maintaining a content library also helps you get more life out of the content you produce. Instead of creating a white paper that you only send out to qualified leads, you publish it on your site and allow search engines to index the content.

As your content library grows, your search engine optimization (SEO) improves, helping to bring in more organic traffic and potential leads.

Qualify Your Leads Before Trying to Close the Sale

Traditionally, the B2B marketing and sales departments work independently. The marketers bring in the leads that the salespeople attempt to nurture.

Unfortunately, many marketers fail to qualify their leads and provide salespeople with contacts that they cannot close.

According to one study, 67% of lost sales are the result of not qualifying leads. However, this is not the fault of the marketing department. Most B2B companies have misaligned sales and marketing teams.

Instead of focusing on different agendas, the marketing and sales teams should align their goals. When these departments work together, they achieve greater results.

To help align these departments, set a clear definition for qualified leads. Provide the marketing department with a list of indicators for determining if a prospect is sales-ready.

While the definition of a qualified lead varies depending on the goals of the B2B company, most strategies should focus on the following four areas:

  • Understand the needs of the prospect
  • Confirm that your solution meets those needs
  • Determine the prospect’s available budget
  • Analyze the prospect’s level of influence

Lead qualification starts during the lead generation process. For example, the homepage for Databox speaks directly to those with the influence to make decisions, asking if you know how your business performed today. The site then presents a simple one-field contact form to download and install a trial of the software.

After signing up for the trial, Databox has an email address for the prospect. The marketing team can then use follow-up emails to qualify the lead before the sales team takes over. This sometimes involves a simple questionnaire to gain insight into the areas listed above.

Embrace Social Selling to Connect with Prospects

In the past year, a lot of B2B companies have adopted account-based marketing. Social selling involves many of the same features.

Social selling refers to the B2B sales strategy of sharing relevant content with potential customers through popular social networks. As with ABM, social selling involves one-on-one interactions.

With social marketing, you publish on social media to help bring more awareness to your brand. With social selling, you use social networks as an additional platform for building individual relationships with leads.

The most common example of this practice is the sharing of content via LinkedIn. As most decision-makers have LinkedIn profiles, the social site has become a popular platform for B2B sales.

Why is social selling so important? It provides an alternative to cold calls.

According to LinkedIn, 90% of salespeople now consider social media an integral part of their sales strategies. Surprisingly, 90% of decision-makers never respond to cold calls.

Prospects are more willing to interact with sales reps via social media compared to direct conversations. Social selling also allows sales reps to quickly deliver content to leads.

The bottom line is that social selling helps embrace the changing B2B market. People spend more time online than ever before and social networks provide an additional point of contact.

Last Thoughts on Mastering the B2B Sales Process

B2B sales and B2C sales have a lot in common. However, B2B companies often need to go the extra mile to acquire new customers. The sales process is longer and potential customers have more at stake when choosing B2B products or services.

A successful B2B sales strategy should rely heavily on online resources and tools. Using a content library to help educate leads and emails to qualify them should result in higher conversions. Utilizing social selling gives your sales team a more efficient platform for nurturing prospects.

After implementing these suggestions, continue to track your metrics to uncover the weakest points in your sales cycle. Treat your B2B sales strategy as a fluid project that is constantly evolving and improving.

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Austin Cline is the founder and CEO of ASUN Digital. He frequently writes about brand strategy and digital marketing with expertise in B2B marketing. He has served as a senior director of marketing and director of digital and web for previous marketing agencies and has over 10 years of marketing experience. You can follow him on Twitter at @_austincline or connect with him on LinkedIn by visiting his profile.