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All About B2B Sales: Process, Strategy, Challenges and Future
September 21st 2021
Remote Sales
B2B Sales
Business-to-business sales, used in its abbreviated form B2B sales, is B2B in short for business-to-business. B2B sales, also called enterprise sales, involves transactions (selling a product/service) between two business entities. Unlike B2C (business-to-consumer), the B2B sales process is more complex. It has a lengthy decision-making cycle involving several stakeholders and a high deal-ticket size. B2B transactions may occur between giant manufacturers such as General Motors, Dell or resellers such as Target or Walmart. These mass producers and resellers need to buy raw materials or products wholesale to be able to carry out their B2C sales.

Blog Summary

  • The New Face of B2B Sales
  • The B2B Sales Process
  • What is a B2B Sales Funnel?
  • B2B sales strategies
  • Challenges of B2B sales
  • Future of B2B Sales: Vanguard or Laggard? The Choice is Yours.

The New Face of B2B Sales

The consumerization of technology in the 20th century has led to a boom in e-commerce ever since. Its effects were predominantly visible in B2C sales through personalized shopping experience. The shift to a customer-centric approach has rapidly percolated to B2B sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the traditional B2B sales cycle, many decision-makers and stakeholders need to be convinced before the sale is closed. Therefore, it has been a lengthy and relationship-based model, relying heavily on in-person interactions, trade events, and more.

The pandemic irrevocably changed the way business is conducted worldwide. B2B buyers also prefer to research before buying online. The control now lies with the buyer and this remote digital sales model is here to stay! In fact, according to a McKinsey study, 70%-80% of B2B decision-makers prefer remote interactions or digital self-service, due to its ease of scheduling, travel cost savings, and overall safety.

Businesses everywhere are adopting the self-service option and using technology to personalize consumer experiences at scale. Now let’s look at the distinct process of B2B sales. The number and stages of your sales cycle depend on the nature of your business, industry, buyer personas, etc. but the broader B2B sales process has 5-8 stages.

The B2B Sales Process

We’ve detailed 7 stages of the B2B sales process here:

  1. Lead Generation:
  2. Finding sales qualified leads - prospects who have expressed interest in your offering - and reaching out to them at the right time in the right manner is crucial. Outbound sales techniques enable you to prospect through social media, personalized emails, etc. Inbound marketing, via content, allows for the interested prospects to reach out to you. Once you have the list of your potential leads, moving them through the sales funnel is the next task.

  3. Research/Discovery:
  4. Knowing the product inside-out goes hand-in-hand with understanding the prospect’s business, and their pain points. If you’ve done this groundwork, consider yourself well-prepared to make the interaction successful. Some of the ways to research and qualify the lead are:

    1. Social media: LinkedIn is a great place to gain insights into your prospects. Checking their recent activity and their posts gives you valuable information to build a rapport and provide the right solution to the prospects.
    2. Website: Browsing through the company website to look at recent news and blogs prepares you for your call with them.
    3. Industry research: Read about the specific problems faced by the industry in which your prospect operates. It helps you create a pre-emptive strategy for handling their objections.

  5. Needs Assessment:
  6. Now, you’re ready to get on a call with the prospect to assess their suitability as a customer. Asking open-ended questions will let you zero in on their problems faster and gauge whether your product/solution fits their needs.

  7. Presentation:
  8. Your pitch is your hero (it introduces your actual hero - the product!). Hit on the key points of how the product solves your prospect’s problems. Keep it short, preferably under a minute. And go on to give them a live demo to cement what you’ve just told them!

  9. Objection Handling:
  10. Do not expect the demo to magically sell your product. Rarely will a prospect immediately agree to buy the product after the pitch. There will always be objections. You’ll need to handle the objections well and reposition your offer if needed. (link to our blog)

  11. Closing:
  12. If you’ve reached this stage, it’s almost time to celebrate! You have shown them the value of your offering, resolved their objections and convinced them of the fit of your product. Discuss the price, negotiate if necessary and offer added value if possible. Discuss the next steps and keep everything ready for the contract.

  13. Follow Up:
  14. Before you start celebrating, it’s vital to leave a great impression on your new customer. Be sure to send a follow up email; share any useful information for the next steps and keep it professional.

What is a B2B Sales Funnel?

The B2B sales funnel depicts the journey of prospective customers through the buying process in stages.

Stage 1: Awareness

Before buying a product, B2B customers seek answers to their problems. They prefer to research online and ask for recommendations from peers for possible solutions. At this stage, the value of the lead is low, because they may or may not purchase your product. But, this stage is crucial in developing their interest and forging trusting relationships. If you provide them high-quality information and content, they may become interested in your products and services. At the top of the funnel, a persona is vital to understanding how your buyers think, what their specific pain-points are, and the path they take to the solution.

Stage 2: Interest

As they move to the Interest stage, they are inclined to research your products to learn how they add value. This is the stage where you can form a trust with the prospect. That’s why nurturing the lead is so important to create a favorable opinion of your company in the buyer’s eyes.

Stage 3: Evaluation

Now that you’ve captured the prospect’s attention, it is time to solidify their understanding of your product’s relevance and value to their needs. To further cement the trust, this is the stage where you may let leads know if your solution isn’t in their best interest. Such transparency and integrity will pay off in future, when the prospect or someone they know might need what you offer.

Stage 4: Engagement

Once your prospect is in the engagement stage, they’ll be interacting with your sales reps. During this phase, you will give product demonstrations, sales pitches and clearly communicate that you understand the buyer’s pain points and want to help them with the best solution. Your capabilities to build a relationship in this stage is key to moving the prospect to the last stage.

Stage 5: Purchase

Traditionally, the purchase stage is the end. Here you negotiate and get the contract signed. However, the sales funnel stages are far from over. Post- sales follow up and engagement not only create great customer experiences, but also feed the funnel and build the B2B sales pipeline.

B2B sales strategies

Today, you can search and give an opinion about pretty much anything online. This gives modern buyers a power like never before, to use social media, forums and a variety of other channels to evaluate potential solutions and influence others’ decisions. It forces the seller to evolve and adapt to their new behaviour. Some of the strategies that have helped B2B sales teams achieve this are:

  • Insights selling:
  • Customers are no longer interested in a one-size-fits-all sale pitch. In fact, that might just be a recipe for disaster with customers now more aware and self-reliant in their pre-purchase research. A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are five times more likely to engage with a sales professional who offers new insights into their business.

    Insight selling has emerged as the most effective means of empowering buyers to succeed in gaining organizational buy-in. Providing insights that equip buyers with the tools to build a compelling business case is the basis of insights selling. Insights selling, coupled with emotional intelligence (EQ), creates a cutting-edge offering. Customers want sales reps to be consultants and trusted advisors.

    With the rise of AI and predictive intelligence technologies, companies are now armed with an arsenal of data about their customers and their buying behaviour. This enables sellers to fine-tune the buying journey with key insights that drive conversions.

  • Account-based selling:
  • A powerful sales strategy for B2B businesses, account-based sales enable B2B and enterprise salespeople to identify accounts first, and decision-makers second. In a time where personalization is necessary to cut through the crowded content landscape, an account-based selling strategy offers prospects tailor-made content.

  • Social Selling:
  • Gaining trust is important to build a relationship with your prospects. Social selling, a means to generate leads and feed the sales funnel through social media platforms, respects this need for multiple touch-points and cultivating relationships. And for that reason, it’s a tactic that stands the test of time.

Challenges of B2B sales

Businesses need to be resilient and flexible in the face of the changing sales landscape. Rapid shifts in purchasing power, consumers’ increasing demand for digital channels are some of the challenges facing the enterprise sales domain. Here are some of the challenges that are creating a new dynamic to spur growth in a new way:

The new customer:

Irrespective of the industry, there has been a marked shift in buyer behaviour post-pandemic. Digital meetings have replaced in-person interaction, and are likely to be the new order of the day for sales. Customers were already skewed towards the self-service purchase model before the COVID-19-induced changes. Now, this habit can be leveraged by B2B sales teams to gain an edge. Digital enabled sales interactions have become twice as important as the traditional ones. Data generated presents a huge opportunity for predictive analytics to improve customer targeting and offer better solutions.

Personalisation at scale:

It isn’t an easy feat to give enterprise customers individual attention or personalised experiences, given the complexity and the length of the B2B sales cycle. However, this is no longer an option - enterprise customers crave a B2C-like buying experience. So, using advanced tech to optimise multi-channel outreach and create personalised prospect experiences at scale is absolutely necessary. Advanced sales engagement platforms that incorporate these features can help you pivot your approach.

Leaky pipeline:

Consistent flow of qualified leads needs a strategic mix of inbound and outbound lead-generation efforts. Content marketing plays a significant role here. Sales engagement platforms that automate tasks, provide intelligent insights and updates on the dynamic sales landscape will help you stay on top of your pipeline.

Cut through the clutter:

Speaking to the customers’ specific pain points is a step that brings you closer to building a trusting relationship with your prospects. Inbound sales strategies that make your customers aware and better informed about the solution they need deepens their faith in you as a solutions provider. In this hyper-competitive market, nurturing these client relationships is vital.

Motivate and support sales teams:

New customer journeys warrant a re-haul of your sales strategies. Training and guiding the sales staff on the new playbook, therefore, is paramount. Not only do they need to be motivated, but also constantly up-skilled through coaching, to navigate the rigours of B2B sales. There is also the problem of resistance to tech adoption. Fortunately, the advantages of sales engagement tools can incentivise the staff to overcome this inertia, making continuous training and development an imperative part of the sales coaching agenda.

Future of B2B Sales: Vanguard or Laggard? The Choice is Yours.

It’s safe to say that everyone agrees unequivocally on the fundamental shift occurring in the sales space worldwide. A digital revolution has already begun - it will gain momentum in the years to come, changing the face of B2B sales forever. While the pandemic acted as the catalyst, automation and advanced tech are the single most important enablers of this shakeout.

B2B sales reps need to rethink and adapt to new ways of engaging customers. They must excel in using diversified digital channels of prospecting. In fact, each stage of the B2B sales cycle is being transformed by technology. Sellers need entirely new methods of sales enablement to get back in the game.

Another interesting and promising trend on the horizon is the emergence of women leaders in sales. As we emerge from Covid-19, the shift to remote selling will have become the norm. Salespeople now need to be experts at collaborating with customers to address their needs with empathy. These capabilities have become more important for sales success than influencing and persuading customers.

The pandemic will pass eventually, but the changes it has brought about in B2B sales are here to stay. It’s time to take a good hard look in the mirror and decide on what your organisation needs to change or bolster in order to ride this digital transformation wave.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Upscale Team
Upscale
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Upscale Team
Upscale
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