B2B e-commerce sales are expected to reach $1.8 trillion by 2023.
For reference, that’s three times the $600 billion that B2C e-commerce sales are expected to hit by 2024.
One of my earliest experiences in B2B sales was back in 2012 when I sold law services to small and medium-sized businesses (it was as exciting as it sounds).
I’ve witnessed significant changes in the B2B sales process since being on my first sales team.
Research-driven buyers, an array of vendors, and multiple paths to purchase are just a few of the main evolutions I’ve seen in the past decade.
Has this made the B2B leads harder to reach in terms of sales strategy and marketing efforts?
To an extent, yes.
But this is actually good news (more on this at the end).
For now, if you want to not only meet but also exceed sales quotas, understanding the dynamics of the modern B2B sales process and honoring sales tactics that work is a must.
Below I'll go into a few B2B sales examples.
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Examples of B2B sales
B2B sales is short for business-to-business sales. It refers to companies or salespeople who sell products and services directly to other businesses or B2B customers.
This is parallel to business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, where products and services are sold directly to the consumer.
Depending on the sales model, B2B sales come in three different types:
Type 1: Supply sales
The business owner, or supplier, sells consumables that support another business. This includes office supplies, employee workwear, and equipment.
They have a similar process to B2C businesses. The difference, however, lies in quantity and purchase authorization.
Instead of one person buying a single ink cartridge, an employee will buy 50 ink cartridges and need approval from a manager or decision-maker for the purchase.
Lyreco, a large retailer of office and equipment supplies, is an example of a company specializing in B2B transactions of this type.
Type 2: Wholesale/distribution sales
The wholesaler sells key manufacturing or retail components to other businesses — think raw materials.
JJ Foods is an example of a wholesale food distributor. They sell essential food products to restaurants and fast food outlets that then serve products at a marked-up price to customers.
Type 3: Service/Software sales
The service provider sells a service instead of a product, commonly Saassales tools.
Using tax accounting as an example, this could be an accountant who consults with a small business, or an accountancy firm working with a larger business.
It could also be a service provided via software — like tax accounting software, Quickbooks.
B2B sales vs. B2C sales: What’s the difference?
B2C sales are made directly from a business or salesperson to the consumer. Unlike B2B sales, they are usually smaller in scale and involve only the consumer’s decision.
Common business-to-consumer sales examples include:
A sales rep at a car dealership.
An online eCommerce store that sells clothes.
A supermarket selling a variety of consumables.
In 2018, Forrester valued the total size of the US B2B e-commerce sales market at $9 trillion. At the same time,US B2C e-commerce sales stood at $601.75 billion in 2019.
Compared to B2C, the B2B businesses have a bigger pool with bigger fish, larger targeted marketing opportunities, and of course, bigger budgets.
So, why is there such a drastic difference between B2B and B2C sales?
Higher average transaction value
While the B2B sales pipeline can be small, like an SMB making an order of office supplies, it can often stretch to thousands or millions of dollars and a massive supply chain.
Outside of a few specific B2C industries — such as real estate, automotive, and luxury goods — this isn’t the case.
Longer sales cycles
Excluding the three B2C industries mentioned above, B2C consumers base purchasing decisions on emotions and quick, fleeting needs: A phone case, charger, or laptop.
B2B buyers, however, are often looking for a concrete ROI, a measurable edge, or a logical solution to a vital problem. The B2B industry uses CRM software just to keep the sales funnel in order.
They must also win the approval of numerous decision-makers.
In B2B sales, each decision influences the business’s bottom line, and purchase decisions climb a ladder of approval.
This means a mutual “yes” from all decision-makers precedes a successful sale. The
higher the value of the deal, the higher the number of “yeses” needed.
B2B buyers exercise extreme selectivity. Not only are they picky about who they do business with, but they’re also developing their own purchase criteria without the aid of salespeople.
This is why content, like case studies, for example, has become such an important part of the B2B sales process.
The anatomy of the modern B2B sales process
The B2B sales process(and buying journey) was simpler in the past—cold outreach was the main strategy even for Saas companies.
Searching for a solution, a buyer would identify a vendor, talk with a salesperson about their needs, and then consult the decision-maker—the sales manager. If they were happy, they’d shake hands on a deal.
For vendors, marketing would bring in the leads, and sales would reach out directly and close the potential customers with a cold call.
It was a linear buyer journey.
But, like most industries, the internet has imploded the complexity of theB2B sales process.
Marketing and sales are becoming increasingly entwined. Now, both play a synchronized role in lead generation and closing deals. And the buyer’s path to purchase looks like this:
They map out all potential solutions and optimize options.
If they need a vendor, buyers ask their network for professional peer recommendations. They will also check out review sites, forums, and social media.
Based on all the information gathered beforehand, they’ll make a buying decision.
If they haven’t been approached, they might reach out to a vendor or follow up with one that has been recommended to or interacted with them.
The modern B2B sales process gives buyers unprecedented levels of control — a totally different customer relationship than sales teams have dealt with in the past.
Ideal customers can enter and drop in and out of the funnel, backtrack from the brink of purchase, and shift between stages at will.
The B2B sales process has gone from a linear funnel to a wide, multi-platform process that includes a number of zig-zagging touchpoints with buyers.
So, what can B2B companies do about it?
The essential B2B sales techniques (or Tactics) that work
The problem with the B2B sales cycle isn’t a shortage of strategies and tactics; it’s that there are too many sales enablement options.
Should you create videos?
Create extensive research whitepapers?
Run PPC ads?
Do more email marketing?
The best B2B sales strategies are buyer-centric. They’re designed with the modern B2B sales process and savvy buyers in mind. Here are my top 3:
B2B sales tactic #1: Align sales and marketing through account-based sales
The days of siloed b2b sales teams and marketing teams are gone.
The line that marks the difference between bringing users into the funnel, and keeping them in the funnel is no longer a line.
It’s more of a Venn diagram — roles and responsibilities remain interconnected and often cross paths.
But, marketing and sales don’t always agree, and this misalignment damages the productivity of B2B salespeople.
By focusing on target accounts, account-based sales (ABS) flips the typical funnel on its head and encourages sales and marketing to collaborate.
Just like the beginning of the B2B buyer journey, an ABS approach starts with a solution that the buyer is searching for, and one that the company knows it can solve.
This means sales and marketing must agree on who the decision-makers are, and how to present a personalized solution to the problem buyers are looking to solve.
With bounce rates rising and pageviews plummeting, leads were dropping out of the funnel.
They implemented ABS campaigns to fix the issue. After launching six digital account-based campaigns, marketing refined its messaging and sent higher-quality leads to sales.
This grew DocuSign's sales pipeline by 22 percent, tripled click-throughs on critical calls-to-action, and more than halved their bounce rate.
B2B sales tactic #2: Capture hearts and mind’s with compelling content
69% of successful B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.
And when you consider that B2B buyers consume an average of 13 content pieces before buying, it’s easy to see why.
Content bridges the gap between buyer and seller. It tilts the purchase decision in favor of the vendor.
But, effective content isn’t just about sharing news about your company’s office pet. It’s about solving problems to build a connection, establish trust, and bolster brand credibility.
Powered by content marketing, Hubspot, our integration partner, has grown rapidly from a start-up to a $513 million company.
Their results are far from anomalous. For Mailshake, investing in content has resulted in mid-six-figures in revenue to date.
B2B sales tactics #3: Convert cold leads into brand enthusiasts with social selling
Social selling is the modern way for B2B sales reps to build not only relationships but also close deals before competitors have a clue what’s going on.
Relying on conference lists to find new leads, New Horizons found that ROI was starting to dwindle.
Sales were dropping because leads were close to a buying decision by the time reps reached them.
To rescue declining sales, they needed to get on buyers’ radars at an earlier stage.
Social selling on LinkedIn became their winning solution. In the end, sales reps gained 1.7M worth of opportunities in 6 months, a 57% close rate, and $1M in revenue.
Social selling was so effective at generating leads that the COO created a “social hour,” reps now spend an hour of their day researching and connecting with leads on LinkedIn.
Will you keep up with the B2B sales process?
The B2B sales process isn’t a linear line anymore...
It’s an overlapping Venn diagram populated with multiple touchpoints, pain points, and value-oriented buyers.
Should this change inspire despair in B2B organizations and sales reps? As a wise woman once said:
“Oh, hell no!”.
On the contrary, it’s a reason to be excited.
A complicated process equals a higher barrier to entry. This is a good thing...
It will reward buyer-centric B2B companies with more sales, and keep outdated dinosaur companies that fail to adapt, out.
It’s a new age, and I say bring on the new B2B selling challenge: I’m hungry.
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