The definition of business-to-business (B2B) sales is a sales model that involves one business selling products or services to other businesses. This is opposed to B2C sales, or business-to-consumer sales where a business sells products or services to consumers. B2B sales are complex, large, and require multiple people who serve in different roles across a longer sales cycle. B2B sales often occur over a course of weeks through various discussions, rather than a singular transaction.
Besides the significant difference between the target buyers, B2B sales differ from B2C sales in a variety of ways. Firstly, B2B offerings usually have a higher price point, since their solutions are often larger and more complex. They also have a much a longer sales cycle because of the large deals, complex solutions, and multiple stakeholders. Third, B2B sales require multiple touchpoints to close deals, meaning they are not typically done in a single transaction. Due to the price points, B2B deals often require buy-in from multiple decision makers within an organization. As such, B2B sales processes tend to be more strategic than B2C Sales. While B2C selling tactics tend to appeal to buyers’ emotions, B2B selling tactics often appeal to a buyer’s rationality. The B2B buyer’s journey tends to be far more complex than the typical B2C buyer’s journey. Let’s look at a typical B2C buyer’s journey. Rachel needs a new toothbrush. She goes online and does a Google search for “best toothbrush.” She finds an article about a high-end electric toothbrush. And then, after reading some favorable reviews on Amazon, she buys the toothbrush. If only B2B Sales were that simple. B2B deals are often high-risk and high reward. And as such, there are some key differences:
According to Gartner, the typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6-10 decision makers. So why does B2B sales require so many key decision makers? As an example, imagine a new Chief Marketing Officer needs an expensive marketing automation system. She may consult key members of her team before finding an offering. And then, after deciding on a potential solution, she’ll need to get the budget approved by the CFO. A CIO or Chief Data Officer might also need to be consulted to ensure that it will work with the company’s existing technology stack. At small-to-medium sized companies, a CEO might even be involved in key purchasing decisions.
Virtually every salesperson who has ever worked at a B2B company has felt frustrated at one point or another at the long sales cycles. So how long are B2B sales cycles? According to a report from CSO Insights, three-quarters (74.6%) of B2B sales take at least 4 months to close, while nearly half (46.4%) take 7 months or more to close.
So what do these long sales cycles mean for B2B salespeople? It means that they need to constantly have a pipeline of deals to be working. As such, B2B sales often requires intense collaboration. Though some B2B account executives (AEs) source their own deals, B2B AEs regularly depend on marketing teams and sales development reps (SDRs) to ensure that there is always a steady pipeline of new qualified leads to work.
A typical inbound B2B sales process might start with Marketing generating a portion of leads via forms, trade shows, email marketing, advertising and other channels. These inbound leads would then be qualified by an inbound-focused SDR. Often the lead will simply be disqualified based on a variety of factors. But when leads are qualified, the inbound-focused SDR would then turn the now sales-qualified lead over to the AE for a demo.
In many healthy B2B sales organizations there are also outbound focused reps. Using tactics like cold calling, cold emails, social media connections and more, these outbound SDRs (i.e. hunters) find potential prospects that fit ideal customer buying profiles. They often reach out in a cadence (that typically requires multiple touch points including calls, email, text and social) until they can initiate a conversation with a potential buyer. After qualifying this lead, the outbound SDR would then hand the buyer off to an AE for a demo.
During the B2B demo, the AE has to learn how to best help the prospective company. This involves asking questions, understanding prospect pain points and working with them to discover an ideal solution to those pain points (if one indeed exists). Great B2B AEs are masters at building rapport, overcoming objections, coming up with out-of-the-box solutions and above all, they are great listeners. Giving a great demo is part art form and part science. Here at ringDNA we offer AI-based tools that help sales coaches uncover best practices that drive powerful outcomes during demos. So coaches can discover which best practices can be scaled across the entire team.
If a demo goes well, then an AE will have an internal champion inside the customer company. The AEs job then is to empower that internal champion to do selling within the company to other key stakeholders. AEs will often collaborate with Marketing teams on decks, sales collateral, battlecards vs. key competitors (during competitive deals), ROI calculators and other collateral that helps move deals forward. One way to look at it is that buyers often have a series of buying jobs (e.g. calculating ROI). And B2B sellers should be enabling those buyers with tools to get their jobs done (e.g. an ROI calculator). Late in the sales cycle, during the contract phase, B2B deals typically go through Procurement and Legal prior to gaining approval.
When contracts are signed, this is hardly the end of a B2B sales cycle. Customer success reps (a hybrid between sales and support reps) often work with customers to ensure that they are successful with the product. This is key, because in B2B sales, customer retention and expansion are vital. In fact, many companies employ a business model entitled “Land and Expand.” The goal here is to sign a smaller deal upfront, ensure that the customer is successful and then grow the deal size steadily over time. Smart B2B companies realize that their most effective salespeople are often going to be their customers. A killer case study or testimonial can be absolute gold. After all, it’s one thing to hear how great a solution is from Joe Salesrep. But watching a video of a high-level executive at a Fortune 500 company sing the praises of a solution is going to be so much more powerful.
According to research from Gartner, B2B Sales is getting more and more complex. In fact, 77% of buyer’s described their last B2B purchase as complex. So what does this mean? Gartner identified that the B2B Buyer’s Journey has changed in response to growing complexities. They now identify the buyer’s journey as consisting of the following six phases: Gartner research identified six B2B buying “jobs” that customers must complete to their satisfaction in order to successfully finalize a purchase:
Gartner has also identified that the B2B sales cycle has become less linear. As prospects are doing more of their own research, it is common for them to loop across the buyer’s journey, revisiting previous stages. As an example, at ringDNA we offer a variety of sales enablement solutions for sales teams. It is very typical for our customers to start by exploring a solution to one perceived problem (e.g. “Our SDRs need to dial more prospects every day). But through the buying journey, they often unearth information about problems that they didn’t even know they had (e.g. “Sales coaches don’t have time to listen to every sales call and need a solution to surface the calls that are in most need of coaching).
Another major change to B2B sales (as well as marketing) has been a newfound emphasis on account-based selling (ABS). ABS targets specific accounts in advance, using a variety of datapoints to determine which companies would be an ideal fit. After deciding which accounts to target, there is often a coordinated effort between sales and marketing to generate demand and set up meetings with a key buying circle (i.e. specific prospects in key roles) at the target companies. In 2020, account based considerations have also had to shift in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Certain companies and even industries have to be avoided altogether. And while empathy is always crucial in sales, it is especially important during uncertain economic times.
Even as B2B sales processes grow increasingly complex, success in B2B sales is often more attainable than ever before. Thanks to powerful innovations, B2B companies are regularly simplifying sales processes, ramping new reps faster and coaching teams far more effectively. Here are some of the most powerful sales enablement tools that are available to sales teams.
A sales dialer is a solution that empowers reps to dial, connect with and convert more customers. While B2C telemarketers often use autodialers, B2B sales teams tend to favor dialers that offer more rep-focused features including:
Guided Selling solutions go a step beyond dialers by offering reps that reveals, in real time, which prospect or account to reach out to and how to reach out (whether by phone, email, text or social media). The ringDNA Guided Selling platform can even automatically prioritize leads in real time based on activities like email opens, form submissions, downloads and more.
Conversation intelligence solutions use artificial intelligence to automatically discover calls based on key criteria. As an example, a conversation intelligence solution like ConversationAI can automatically find calls where reps talk over prospects too much, calls where key competitors are mentioned and more. They can help coaches automatically discover opportunities to move the needle, without having to manually sift through every call.
Account based engagement platforms like 6Sense and DemandBase can help sales and marketing teams work together to convert target accounts. These platforms offer a variety of tools that help companies identify target accounts, score customer intent and more.
Real-time coaching is one of the latest technological innovations that is helping B2B sales teams convert more customers. Real-time solutions can help scale coaching by automatically recognizing key phrases during calls and dynamically providing reps with helpful advice and content that empowers them to be more successful.