Running a business-to-business (B2B) operation is naturally different than selling directly to consumers. Many of the lessons learned in the consumer market simply don’t apply, but B2B entrepreneurs may not know exactly how to tailor their sales approach to a business customer.
Sales nurturing is a crucial part of B2B sales representatives’ responsibilities. While the buying process for companies and consumers shares some similarities, they truly require a different approach on the part of a sales force. If you want to ramp up your B2B operations, it’s important to consider your buyers and how they make a buying decision. Only by tailoring your sales pitch to their buying process can you find success. Here are some tips to help your B2B company thrive, including some common mistakes to avoid. [Read more about how software can help the research process and how the best CRM for small business can help leverage that research]
What is B2B?
A B2B company is simply a business that provides needed goods or services to other companies. These include digital marketing companies, an e-commerce platform, co-working spaces and team communication platforms. Basically, any business that caters to other businesses is a B2B company.
In some cases, a business might have both B2B and business-to-consumer (B2C) operations. It is not uncommon, especially for larger companies, to maintain multiple types of businesses under one brand. For example, Dropbox offers cloud-based document storage to both individuals and businesses. Just because a company has B2B offerings does not mean it is exclusively B2B.
One of the clearest examples of a B2B market is automobile manufacturing. While most people are familiar with leading vehicle brands as consumers, most manufacturers also supply businesses. A prime example is the evolution of Jeep, which was initially made for the U.S. military but ultimately became a popular make of vehicle in the consumer market. There are also automobiles made exclusively for commercial use, such as Mack trucks.
What are B2B customers?
Who are the customers of a B2B company? Simply put, they are other businesses that need the support a B2B company offers, whether in the form of products or services. Take, for example, the co-working space WeWork. WeWork’s spaces house a range of businesses small and large. In this case, the businesses renting space in a WeWork office building are the B2B company’s customers.
The interesting part of B2B companies is that a business can at once be customer and partner. In the example of WeWork, an office furniture company might rent a co-working space. However, WeWork might also purchase furniture from that company to furnish its space. In this hypothetical example, both B2B companies are buying from and selling to one another.
The buyer’s journey for a business is often much different than that of a consumer. A B2B sales strategy should be adapted accordingly to suit the potential customer’s decision-making process. Both marketing and sales to another business are often different, requiring a different approach to the sales pipeline and creativity from B2B company marketing teams.
How are B2B sales different from B2C sales?
The sales process for a B2B company’s products and services can be vastly different from marketing to individual consumers. Generally, a B2B sales rep deals with a higher-level individual within a company, someone who has influence or decision-making power over the purchasing decision. These decision-makers are generally well versed in negotiation and eager to make deals, looking to secure the best price for their company. They are trained on how to research markets and find the best product or service as well as secure the best price.
Typically, B2B sales require an additional level of professionalism when compared with the consumer market. In some cases, a B2B sales rep might be required to deliver a presentation to another company’s executives. It’s important that a B2B salesperson does their homework and has all the answers before the first meeting. After all, time is money, and it could be impossible to secure a second call or meeting opportunity.
In B2B sales, recurring business opportunities are the Holy Grail. While in the B2C market (depending on your business) recurring sales are nice, they are the lifeblood of any B2B operation. If you can secure several large accounts that repeatedly come back to your B2B company for goods and services, your revenue stream will often be stable and healthy. Your B2B sales force should be focused on cultivating relationships that will be longstanding and mutually beneficial.
However, unlike the B2C market, B2B sales tend to be more narrowly focused on a specific industry or type of business. That means sales can become even more competitive than when marketing to individuals. Still, landing a B2B sale can be far more lucrative than landing a single B2C sale.
Five ways to improve your B2B sales process
1. Rely on research instead of cold calls
Cold calling used to be a favorite lead generation tactic of B2B operations. It made sense when it was harder to gather information on clients. However, today it’s relatively easy to research whether a potential client can likely be converted to a sale, how profitable they could be and what the common needs are within their industry.
It’s wise to identify more than one real, tangible business reason for meeting with an account before doing so. Remember, your time is valuable, and prioritizing the clients you meet with could be the difference between booming business and flagging sales. A final sale can often be determined in the information-gathering stage, so don’t skimp on your background research.
2. Look for opportunities to qualify leads
Once you’ve done your research and decided to engage with a potential client, it’s important to continue to qualify your leads as you being to engage them. How can you help support this business, and do they have the means required to secure your services?
Doug Burdett, founder of Artillery Marketing, suggests taking the GPCT and BANT approaches to qualifying a lead. These involve ascertaining the goals of a business, understanding and helping them craft their plans, identifying the challenges they face, and working within their intended timing. Further, you should determine whether they have the budget necessary to solve their problem, identify the people within the company with the authority to make purchasing decisions, find out if there is a specific need that your business can address, and provide an actionable timeline for completing your solution.
3. Don’t reduce your interviews to “sales calls”
When trying to secure the business of a B2B customer, you’re not engaging in a “sales call.” This term suggests a more B2C type approach and can appear unprofessional or undignified when working with companies. Instead, present your meetings as interviews; you might prepare a questionnaire ahead of time to better understand your leads’ needs and goals. Your potential clients are seeking out your help because you offer expertise in whatever vertical you serve. Finding a way to demonstrate that expertise while learning more about the client is a great way to impress them and boost your chances of landing a deal at the end of the day.
4. Don’t be pushy or aggressive
The old sales mentality of constantly trying to close a deal is generally not the best approach in the modern B2B environment. According to Accenture research, 71% of buyers prefer to conduct their own research and then access a sales representative remotely. That means you’re not likely to schedule a face-to-face, and most buyers will come to you with information gathered.
While you can help educate them on the nuances of your services, you won’t often be teaching anybody the basics for the first time. Differentiating yourself in the marketplace is key, and then nailing that first point of contact – by qualifying your leads and making your value propositions apparent – is what will close your sales. Pushiness and aggressive salesmanship will not win the day; availability of information and a consultative approach are much more effective.
5. Remember that B2B customers, ultimately, are people
Just because you are selling products or services to a company doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with people. Beyond the very important aspects of a potential client’s challenges and how you will help the client solve them, it is also important to leave a positive personal impression on the individual charged with selecting a solution.
The best B2B salespeople will take the time to understand a decision-maker’s likes, dislikes and the other complex layers of their personality. Many business people live by the mantra, “first you know somebody, then you like them, and then you do business with them,” so remaining cordial and warm is as important as being strategic and factual. By combining a clear value proposition, a helpful and consultative approach and personal likeability, your B2B sales should virtually close themselves.