What is B2B sales?

07 May 2017 by

Whether you’re new to the topic or a seasoned practitioner looking to refresh your knowledge, sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. In this blog post we’re going to answer some of the fundamental questions about B2B sales.

  1. What is B2B sales?
  2. B2B vs B2C sales
  3. The sales process
  4. Strategies and tactics
  5. Sales statistics

B2B sales meaning

B2B sales is short for business-to-business sales. It refers to an activity where a business is selling its products or services (=creating value) to another business. It is distinct from B2C—or business-to-consumer sales—which means sales to individuals rather than businesses.

B2B vs B2C sales

Forrester estimated that the total size of the US B2B sales market was $9 trillion in 2018 with B2B ecommerce accounting for $1.1 trillion. While statistics that provide a direct comparison are hard to come by, for some context, US B2C ecommerce sales stood at $512 billion in 2018—less than half the value of the B2B market.

Statistics: B2B sales market size vs B2C

So why is the B2B market so large in comparison to B2C and how does the sales process differ between the two?

  • Large average transaction value. While business-to-business transactions can be small—such as an SMB buying office supplies—they can often stretch to thousands, millions or billions of dollars. Outside of a few specific B2C industries—such as real-estate, automotive and luxury goods—this doesn’t tend to be the case. In retail and ecommerce in particular, B2C transaction values tend to be lower, which presents a different sales cycle.
  • Long sales cycle. The business-to-business sales cycle often takes longer to close than the business-to-consumer sales cycle. Whereas B2C sales tactics often appeal to buyers emotions, B2B tends to focus on the benefits and features of a product or service. This focus on providing a logical solution to a problem is vital, as there is often more than one person to convince in the B2B sales process.
  • Multiple stakeholders. In most cases—and particularly with bigger deals—a business-to-business sales person has to convince multiple stakeholders to make a purchase. These stakeholders can come from different departments, with separate priorities, and multiple sign off processes to complete. Charming one person is not enough to close your deal.
  • Educated buyers. Today’s buyers are educated—47% consume between 3 and 5 pieces of content before ever speaking to a sales rep. B2B sales people need to be experienced with the product or service they’re selling and confident in understanding their prospects problem and how they can provide the solution.

The B2B sales process

The sales process can be loosely defined as the set of steps, or journey, that a buyer navigates before making a purchase. A sales person’s job is to help get as many buyers as possible to the end of the process to complete a purchase.

So what does the B2B sales process look like?

The B2B sales funnel

The typical sales funnel describes the journey from awareness—when a buyer first becomes aware of your product or service—to purchase. In B2B it’s often the marketing team’s job to get prospects to the beginning of the funnel, from here the sales team will join the process when the buyer shows intent and help convince them to purchase. The exact point at which sales teams take over will of course depend on individual business models.

B2B sales funnel stages

Although the sales funnel depicts the buying process as a distinct linear journey, it’s far from it. Buyers can enter and leave the funnel at different stages, complete purchases without ever speaking to a sales rep, and move between stages at will. The funnel is still a great way to visualize the steps a buyer takes to purchase, but it’s not as rigid as it was a couple of decades ago. So why is this and what can sales people do about it?

How the B2B sales process has changed

Buyers are taking more control over the sales process than ever before. 50% of buyers carrying out initial research are millenials and more digital natives than ever are now involved in the decision-making process at their companies. The impact is self-evident—68% of B2B buyers prefer to research independently online, using social media and review sites as their primary source of information.

After buyers conduct their own research, they’ll identify the companies they wish to reach out to, visit those websites and control the process. So how can business-to-business sales reps still have an impact in this changing buyer journey?

B2B sales strategies and tactics

The notion that cold calling is dead may be a little premature, but it’s not as effective as it used to be. As buyers become savvier, business-to-business strategies have to follow. For sales reps looking to find new, more subtle ways to connect with prospects, try the following tactics.

Social Selling

Social selling refers to the use of social media platforms—particularly LinkedIn for B2B—to identify and engage with prospects. The goal of social selling is not to jump into a prospect’s inbox and pitch them online, but build a relationship, have meaningful conversations and understand their needs. Once you’ve done this, you have a greater chance to influence the decision making process.

It’s not easy to get right, but warming up a cold prospect before pitching them is worth the effort. In fact, we wrote a whole book on how to do it properly. Download your copy of our social selling guide to get started.

B2B social selling ebook

Sales Tools

As more buyers complete research independently, sales reps need to become more proactive at identifying those anonymous buyers. Pretty hard when they don’t fill out an enquiry form though, right? Actually, it doesn’t have to be.

Tools now exist that can help B2B sales teams get around this problem, by generating sales leads from anonymous website visitors. How does it work? Using website visitor identification software, sales reps can see the companies that are visiting their website, identify key decision makers and proactively make contact. To find out how it works download our complete guide to website visitor identification to get started.

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Leadfeeder

The people visiting your website are much more likely to buy than someone who has never heard of you. Don’t let those ready-to-buy leads escape. Leadfeeder shows you the companies visiting your website and enriches this information with contact data. Use Leadfeeder to reach out to key decision makers when they are researching your company and beat competitors to the sale.

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B2B sales stats

  • 75% of buyers use social media to find information about vendors. (IDC)
  • 47% of buyers view 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep. (Demand Gen Report 2016)
  • 40% of B2B salespeople say getting a response from prospects is becoming harder. (Hubspot)
  • B2B sales reps can spend up to 40% of their time looking for somebody to call. (InsideSales)
  • B2B buyers complete 57% of the buying decision before they are willing to talk to a sales rep. (CEB)
  • 59% of buyers prefer to do research online rather than talk to a sales rep because the sales rep may push a sales agenda rather than help solve a problem. (Forrester)
  • 84% of B2B decision-makers begin their buying process with a referral. (Sales Benchmark Index)
  • 6.8 people are now involved in the average B2B buying decision. (HBR)
  • 70% of exec-level buyers say that sales people are not prepared for the questions they ask. (Forrester)
  • The average call back rate for cold calls is 1-2%. (Hubspot)
  • 90% of buyers won’t respond to a cold call. (HBR)
  • Only 28% of those who are cold called engage in conversations. (Keller Center)

Further reading

As experts in business-to-business sales we’ve written plenty of articles on the subject. To continue learning, read the below:

Summary

B2B sales is undergoing an exciting transformation. Technology is disrupting the sales process, giving more power to buyers than ever before. But this shouldn’t be cause for despair. Sales reps who utilize the tools and technology at their disposal to provide a truly valuable experience to their prospects will be more important than ever. And buyers will recognise and reward it.

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