What is B2B sales? - strategies, processes and trends
Like marketing, sales in B2B companies face completely different challenges than in the B2C area. Here you can find out what these are, how B2B sales differ from B2C sales, which B2B sales strategies exist, how sales processes are set up in B2B and which trends are moving B2B sales.
The term sales describes in a general sense the entire sales process for a product or service. But depending on the product, target group, business model or market positioning of a company, sales strategies often differ very significantly.
The B2B sales (business-to-business sales) it refers to the initiation of business and sales processes that take place between two or more companies, while it is in B2C sales (business-to-consumer sales) to classical consumer distribution, that is, the relationship between a company and private individuals or consumers. The sale of a machine tool to an industrial company, but also the sale of a software solution, can be mentioned as an example of B2B sales processes.
2. B2B sales vs. B2C sales
In B2B sales, several decision-makers are generally involved in the purchase process, while B2C sales are designed for individual buyers.
The number of actual buyers in the B2B area is lower , but the products sold are significantly more expensive than in the B2C business.
The target group in B2B are business customers who need a specific solution, while standardized products are sold to private customers.
Private customers usually make a purchase decision on the basis of price; for decision-makers in B2B sales, costs are secondary, provided the product brings the optimal benefit .
Long-term customer relationships and recommendations determine B2B sales, so maintaining contacts with customers is a high priority.
B2B sales are faced with completely different challenges than are the case in end customer business, which means that the processes are different from those in consumer goods sales. These different processes are explained below.
2.1. The B2B sales cycle is a marathon, not a sprint
The sales cycle in business-to-business sales differs from that in consumer goods sales. Because the sales cycle in the B2B environment is basically a significantly longer process than in the B2C area and, depending on the industry, can extend over several months. The reasons for this are varied, the products that are sold in the B2B environment are usually products that require a certain amount of explanation and instruction and also move in significantly higher price margins. In addition, in contrast to consumer goods sales, there is a so-called buying center in B2B sales, a cross-departmental group of all relevant people who are involved in a certain purchase process, the final decision on the purchase of a product is incumbent on. Thus, more people are involved in the decision, which means that the purchase decision process can be comparatively lengthy.
In addition, the actors and decision-makers in the Buying Center do not invest their own money in the buying process, because acquisitions at company level are of course also financed by the company. The financial resources that a company makes available for this, however, want to be used as sensibly and efficiently as possible. This in turn presupposes that purchase decisions are made carefully and taking into account all relevant factors, such as competitive analyzes, which ultimately takes time.
2.2. In B2B sales, the focus is on customer needs
Another point why B2B sales favors a longer sales cycle is that industrial and capital goods are in many cases still individually adapted to customer requirements. Such “customized” solutions are often required at company level, but are the exception in consumer goods sales. Since the products and services are tailored to individual customer needs on the one hand and are rather complex to use on the other, direct sales are considered as indispensable in B2B.
As a result, business-to-business sales are much more personal than business-to-consumer sales. B2B sales are therefore also characterized by a pronounced service orientation, as services and products that are individually tailored to customer requirements require close contact and constant coordination with the customer.
2.3. Why the involvement of B2B customers is higher
A new dynamic can also be seen on the customer side, because when it comes to customer engagement, there are clear differences between B2B and B2C sales. Decision-makers in B2B want to acquire a service in order to achieve their ultimate goal, namely to contribute to the company's success. You are therefore in a certain way dependent on the product and consequently act with more involvement in the purchasing process than is the case with consumer goods.
While private customers tend to make purchase decisions spontaneously despite research and follow their emotions in the process, decision-makers in the B2B environment also have to include the needs and wishes of several stakeholders in the purchase decision. The purchase object must meet the various requirements in terms of economy, effectiveness and efficiency. This ultimately requires the company on the sales side to design the sales strategy in such a way that the expectations of the various stakeholders are met.
2.4. The customer journey in B2B is determined by the hunt for information
Business customers rely on information accumulation before a purchase decision is made. In the age of the Internet, customers no longer have to rely on sales to inform them about a product. The contact is often only made after 60 percent of the customer journey has already been made and only after internet research has been conducted. Decision-makers and interested parties are usually up to date with regard to technical developments, the market and the competitive situation. Business customers therefore have all the relevant information about the product to be purchased at the time of first contact. This reorganization of the decision-making process on the customer side naturally also has an impact on the sales process in B2B sales.
The business customer is already well informed about the product, which means that preprinted information brochures and classic sales discussions are not very useful and are becoming increasingly obsolete in this business area. Such standardized strategies are out of place in B2B sales, as they are hardly required to to convince the customer and to make a lasting impression. Instead, what customers want are offers tailored to their individual needs. B2B salespeople can move on value selling .
In B2B sales talks, the focus should not be on the product, but on the customer: the customer should not only be convinced of the benefits of the product, but rather should be made understandable why his company benefits from the purchase of the corresponding product. For the customer, the product offered should be the optimal solution for his individual situation or problem.
2.5. Buyer personas make it easier to understand the customer journey
In order to ensure that your marketing activities are as targeted as possible, it pays to look at things from the customer's point of view and to understand the buyer's journey, i.e. the "journey" a customer embarks on, from research to the conclusion of the purchase. It helps to ask the question, "What would my ideal buyer do next?" Buyer Personas help you to visualize your own customers, to anticipate their wishes, challenges and fictitious next steps. Buyer personas are, however, synonymous with the target group; they are rather to be understood as representatives of a certain target group. In principle, these are archetypes that are supposed to represent the typical customers of a company.
The creation of these fictitious ideal customers pays on the content marketing strategy of a company, because: if you can anticipate the steps of a potential customer in advance, then content can be planned in advance that will guide the potential customer through the buyer's journey.
Buyer Personas enable the creation of customer-specific content, which increases conversion .
The use of Buyer Personas reduces wastage and therefore also the costs for marketing.
With a better understanding of the ideal buyer, it becomes easier to tailor products and services to customer needs.
To start with, it is sufficient to work out two to three buyer personas, further personas can be added gradually. It is important not to overshoot the mark, because the goal is to create specific content for each buyer persona . Accordingly, resources flow into each of these personas, which is why the principle here also applies: quality over quantity. A few, precisely tailored buyer personas are preferable to a large number of roughly outlined fictional profiles. When designing buyer personas, it makes sense to use data on existing customers or from market research. The best way to create the profiles of the personas is by answering target group-specific questions in cooperation with representatives from the Marketing, Sales and Customer Care departments. Additional interviews help to define the profiles even more precisely.
The following aspects are usually taken into account when creating a buyer persona:
Demographic background, such as age, gender and place of residence.
Professional aspects, for example career or job.
Information behavior, for example which media, channels or events the persona frequented.
Goals, i.e. primary goal as well as other goals that can be achieved through your products / services
Challenges and pain points of the customer.
Objections that may prevent the buyer persona from buying.
How a company can help customers master challenges and achieve their goals .
How to explain your product or service, for example through an elevator pitch.
3. Digitization is a must in B2B sales
E-commerce, which has long been one of the most important sales pillars in the end customer business, is also becoming more and more important in the B2B area. Because meanwhile a large part of the B2B decision-makers belong to the digital natives. Almost half of all purchase decisions in B2B are now made by "millennials" who also rely on online shopping in their private lives and use the web for product research. B2B sales are thus shifting more and more to a digital level. Sales strategies and processes must accordingly also be adapted to this development.
At the same time, it is essential that the powers of the various departments also shift. In order to operate target-oriented B2B sales, it is no longer sufficient to regard marketing and sales as independent units. Instead, the two areas must be dovetailed and synergies between the departments must be used sensibly. B2B sales in the age of digitization are nourished by the measures that B2B marketing takes, which blurs the boundaries between the two areas. The Promoting marketing-sales alignment is therefore a fundamental requirement of modern B2B companies, because successful strategies involve a combination of both areas.
3.1. Inbound marketing as a strategy for successful customer acquisition in B2B sales
Modern B2B sales no longer operate according to the classic sales schemes of outbound marketing, which are based on direct customer contact. Customers can no longer be impressed by aggressive advertising measures. Instead, the opposite strategy, inbound marketing, is proving to be an increasingly effective strategy. Inbound marketing is a passive method that aims to attract customers with relevant information. This means that, ideally, the customer finds the company on their own and does not have to be introduced to the company beforehand through targeted approaches or cold calls.
The advantages of this method are obvious:
Inbound marketing is up-to-date , as it takes into account the changed customer behavior to obtain all relevant information in advance.
The costs are lower than with outbound marketing. Expensive measures such as advertisements or telemarketing are no longer necessary, because inbound marketing activities mainly require manpower or, if necessary, external partners for video production or the like. Social media channels, which are usually free to operate, play a major role and do not cause high costs.
Inbound marketing offers the perfect opportunity to recycle content. Content or presentations that the sales department already has can be reused here.
Scattering losses are minimized because the content that is published is of high quality and addressed to interested parties who are actively looking for a targeted solution. Customer acquisition can thus be operated in a much more targeted manner.
The varying information needs of the decision-makers in the buying center are satisfied by relevant information that shows different perspectives on the prevailing topics .
Inbound marketing thus has an authentic effect, because all perspectives of a topic are illuminated. Thus, the company takes on a supportive position in the decision-making of the customer.
Content seeding happens automatically as customers share quality content with their private or business contacts via social media or other channels. Content often no longer has to be distributed in a targeted manner, because this happens organically.
The marketing success becomes measurable because many measures, such as newsletter registrations, website visits or e-mail opening rates, can be tracked.
Inbound marketing favors qualitative lead generation, because inbound leads are customers who are actively interested in a company's offers and want to gain access to more relevant information by registering, for example.
Inbound marketing measures direct customers to a company using useful information. In order for this strategy to bear fruit, however, it is advisable to pursue some supplementary B2B sales strategies in parallel. In retrospect, we will present these sales strategies to you.
3.2. Content marketing
A digital sales strategy that proves extremely helpful in the context of inbound marketing is content marketing. Providing the customer with targeted relevant information about their area of interest and the product offered is an ideal measure for the B2B sales process and to support inbound marketing. The services and products of a company are secondary in this strategy, the provision of informative, useful or even amusing content is clearly in the foreground. Through information that offers the customer significant added value, the customer associates the respective product or company with this added value. This creates the ideal conditions for providers to cement themselves as experts in their field in the minds of their customers and thereby strengthen brand loyalty. In the B2B area in particular, there is a high investment risk, which is why relevant information is essential for the customer in the decision-making process.
Content marketing is ideally suited to highlight the benefits for the business partner and to emphasize one's own expertise in a subtle way. In content marketing, however, it should be noted that this is a strategy that has to be followed over a longer period of time and the monetary effects of which only become noticeable after a certain period of time. It is therefore a medium to long-term profitable strategy, which is why it should not be used as the sole sales strategy in B2B, but rather as a supporting measure.
3.3. Lead management
A process that is closely linked to content marketing and, so to speak, builds on it is lead management . This describes a method for attracting interested parties who first become contacts in the following process and, ideally, ultimately advance to buyers. Effective lead management requires close cooperation between marketing and sales.
The marketing department ensures that an unknown contact is qualified to a prospective customer who is ready for sales, who is then transformed into a customer by sales. In addition, it makes sense in this context to use marketing automation tools. This makes it possible to keep track of leads and to maintain the leads according to their level of development.
Step 1: Lead generation:
In the first step, customer acquisition takes place through so-called lead generation . This includes all marketing-related processes that cause website visitors to enter their contact details in a contact form in exchange for high-quality content, such as newsletters, practice cases, studies or the like. The content offered is made available to interested parties free of charge, but they can only access the content by providing their contact details in advance. However, it is also a prerequisite in the area of lead generation to define key performance indicators (KPIs) in advance.
These are usually made up of the following key indicators:
Visits is the term used to describe all website visitors. The goal is to get as many visits as possible, because the more visitors a website can book, the higher the number of prospects that can be converted into leads.
As leads site visitors are referred to the relevant already in exchange for their contact information content have received.
Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL) are those among the contacts who correspond to the intended target group and can thus develop into potential buyers.
Sales Qualified Leads (SQL) are contacts who have sufficient financial resources and the necessary motivation to implement a specific project quickly.
Step 2: Lead Nurturing:
In order for leads to make the leap from mere prospects to customers, they must first be prepared for this using a qualification process. This is where Marketing Qualified Leads come into play, those from marketing using lead nurturing to be further developed into Sales Qualified Leads. The status as MQL already implies that the lead is interested in the performance of a company. A prospect is not to be equated with a customer. Rather, at this point it is the task of the marketing department to convert the MQL into a sales qualified lead. In concrete terms, lead nurturing means that the lead is supplied with high-quality content that is tailored to its areas of interest.
On the one hand, this creates a relationship with the lead and the customer interest is kept at a constant level. At the same time, this offers the opportunity to collect relevant information about the prospect for sales. The number of leads generated in this way is less important than the quality of the leads.
Step 3: Lead Scoring:
In order to determine whether a Marketing Qualified Lead is ready to be handed over to sales, it is necessary to evaluate the lead's degree of maturity in advance. Ideally, the sales department only receives those leads that can be assumed to be open and ready to ultimately be confronted with a purchase offer. However, in order to be able to determine the customers with the greatest potential with regard to a future purchase decision, lead scoring has to be used as a valuation method. In addition, many marketing automation systems can simplify lead scoring, as many of these systems support the establishment of a points system. The point system is determined individually in advance.
The maturity level of a lead can be classified by using lead scoring models. The following models can be used complementarity:
Behavior-based scoring models evaluate all activities of a lead that are carried out in connection with the content that is fed to a prospect via lead nurturing, using a point scale. Activities that are included in the evaluation are, for example, the rate of e-mails opened, the number of website visits and the number of downloaded content.
Profile-based scoring models relate to the general conditions of the respective lead. Facts such as the industry and the function of the contact person in the company are examined carefully. The background of a lead provides information about the extent to which it fits into the sales target group. Leads in higher positions, for example, are to be assessed as more qualitative, as they basically have a certain decision-making power and thus a better connection point for a sale can be created.
3.4. Social selling
One method that serves as a further support for lead generation is social selling. The customer journey is now largely digital, and customers and interested parties use the possibilities of the Internet to obtain the information they need. At the same time, a majority of B2B buyers frequent social networks such as LinkedIn on a professional level and platforms such as Facebook or Instagram in a private context. During Internet research, potential customers will sooner or later come across the social channels that a company operates on their own. Although not every social network is fully suitable for this, it is still worthwhile to use social media to target customers and thereby engage in so-called social selling. But clumsy sales pitches are out of place on social media, because first and foremost one should focus on gaining the trust of customers and building a long-term relationship with them. Specifically, it is about positioning yourself as an expert through interaction with the customer, conveying authenticity and thus building a basis of trust.
The focus is not on wanting to sell the customer a product directly via social media, but rather on showing genuine interest in the customer, strengthening the customer relationship and, for example, supporting him in solving problems. In addition, business customers have a lot of know-how and background knowledge and consequently have higher expectations than is the case, for example, in the B2C area. That is why B2B buyers also require that expert contact on social media that can understand the technical and economic challenges of their company. This presents B2B salespeople with the challenge of distancing themselves from the classic sales perspective and instead taking on an advisory position. In this role, B2B salespeople, hand in hand with social selling, are now following the method of consultative selling.
By moving away from the product itself and instead focusing on the added value for the customer and solving urgent problems that can be generated or solved with the help of their service, they prove to be trustworthy advisors. However, if you want to implement a successful social selling process, you should create a goal-oriented strategy in advance and take certain measures:
Carrying out an analysis of the relevant target groups that are to be reached via social selling.
Conception of a complementary content marketing strategy that supports social selling with useful content.
Generating reach via social media marketing.
Establishing social media profiles that distinguish your own sales staff who operate social selling as experts in their field.
Expansion of a brand ecosystem through the social media community so that content is discussed, shared and disseminated.
Efficient use of marketing automation tools to strengthen the brand via SEO optimization and to support lead generation.
4. The sales cycle for the B2B sales process
Digital strategies for customer acquisition have already created the basic framework for successful B2B sales. However, sales doesn't stop at customer acquisition. The next building block is the implementation of a B2B sales process. Clearly defining the sales process in advance has some advantages: the fact that the processes are designed uniformly enables more homogeneous teamwork and also increases the efficiency of individual employees. Above all, it is important to run the sales process parallel to customer acquisition so that customer satisfaction can be overlooked and lead conversion can be structured. A CRM can be used here to be able to document the various phases of the process and development stages of a lead.
With a fixed sales process, sales are given guidelines on how to proceed step by step:
1st step: Establish contact
This first step in the sales cycle is initiated by the lead generation. The focus is on establishing the initial contact with the interested party or lead and creating a certain basis of trust.
Step 2: Find out about lead qualification
Targeted questions are used to analyze whether the lead can potentially develop into a future buyer.
Step 3: Determine customer needs
The next step is a needs analysis that determines which challenges the lead is facing and how your own product can help solve the problem. However, the lead is not yet offered a service or a product; the focus is on comprehensively understanding the potential customer's challenge.
4th step: Present the product or service
After the pain points of the interested party have been tapped in the previous step, this knowledge can be used to create a presentation tailored to the customer's needs. Care should be taken to make it clear why one's own product or service is the optimal answer to the prospect's challenge. This also includes preparing arguments for questions or concerns on the part of the lead.
5th step: Cost estimate
The cost estimate can then be created. This should once again shed light on how your own product helps the customer to solve problems. Key data such as the dates and a clear price list should not be missing.
Step 6: Negotiating the offer with the customer
In this phase of the process, the cost estimate is readjusted with regard to any wishes or objections of the interested party. Only after all objections have been cleared out of the way and questions have been clarified should one move on to the negotiation phase. Price reductions can be considered, for example, but at the same time induce the customer to accept the offer. However, the customer benefit should always be the focus.
7th step: Conclusion of the contract
Finally, the contract is concluded with which the interested party becomes a customer.
4.1. After sales closes the loop
A contract heralds the end of a sales process, but this does not mean that the customer should be left alone afterwards. On the contrary, service-oriented after-sales management is of central importance in order to round off the customer experience.
Strategic relationship management is ideal to initiate customer loyalty and to consolidate it in the long term. Ultimately, the buyer should become a satisfied existing customer who is ready to purchase products and services from the same company in the future thanks to excellent service in previous transactions as well as intuitive support.
4.2. Further optimization potential in B2B sales
The acquisition of new customers is, without a doubt, an important part of B2B sales. However, it should not be forgotten that also or above all the existing customers contribute a not insignificant part to the business success. This is due, for example, to the fact that the sales cycle for existing customers is significantly shorter and fewer costs are incurred. because existing customers often decide more quickly to buy a product from a provider with whom they have already had good experience.
Furthermore, they have already been able to get an idea of the product quality by purchasing previous products and are therefore more willing to accept higher prices. In addition, the investment costs are lower, since the previous acquisition process is of course no longer necessary for existing customers.
One method that has proven to be particularly effective in connection with existing customers is cross-selling. Here, the customer is presented with offers for complementary goods or complementary services for products that have already been purchased. The method is popular in the B2C area, but can also be used in B2B sales. Cross-selling, however, requires careful customer care, because the probability that a customer will react to an offer increases if a good customer relationship has been established in advance. In addition, it is necessary to know exactly what the customer needs. Ultimately, customers should only be offered products that are actually of benefit to them.
Although cross-sales are traditionally used with existing customers, the method can also be used with new customers. However, a sure instinct is required here, so as not to overwhelm the customer - or in the worst case - to drive them away. If you proceed skillfully, however, there is nothing to be said against including additional products in the sales pitch.
Existing customers also play with upselling a major role. Compared to cross selling, in which the customer is encouraged to invest more through related or complementary products, upselling is characterized by the fact that the customer is actually offered a more expensive, but also higher quality product. The prospect of receiving an upgrade to the previously selected product encourages the customer to spend more money. While in cross selling you can send the customer a separate offer for a suitable product after a contract has already been concluded, for example, the opportunity window for upselling is in the ongoing sales process. This means that there is a clear purchase intention on the customer side on which one can build in upselling. However, a prerequisite for successful upselling is a comprehensive understanding of the competitive situation and customer needs; a strong customer relationship is just as essential.
Ultimately, the customer should be convinced to spend more money than originally intended. The sales department is now obliged to make it clear why the higher-priced product alleviates the customer's pain point better than the cheaper variant. Here, too, you are well advised to exercise caution so as not to deter the customer. In the worst case, the customer may even deviate from the original purchase intention. A salesperson should therefore come up with a coherent argumentation in order to make clear to the customer the significant added value that an investment in a more expensive product brings. a strong customer relationship is also essential.
Modern technologies offer further possibilities to optimize sales processes in a targeted manner. Although these do not definitely lead to a purchase, they can be considered as supporting measures:
Artificial intelligence in the form of software additions to the CRM system. These tools filter out patterns from the existing data sets and automatically collect further data on companies based on these patterns using various Internet sources.
Virtual reality pays off especially when it comes to product presentation. Complex products, which up to now could not be presented to the customer in advance or only with great effort, can be presented in a clear and entertaining way with the help of VR glasses. This allows the customer a realistic and detailed view of a - for example future - product. It can be a worthwhile investment because the prospect is offered a unique customer experience, which can have a positive effect on willingness to buy.
Augmented Reality uses a similar strategy as Virtual Reality. While a product in the latter is visualized using VR glasses, in AR the product presentation takes place using a portable device. This terminal device, for example a tablet PC, generates a digital recording of the surroundings and places the product to be presented virtually and true to scale in this recording. This makes it possible, for example, to demonstrate to potential buyers what a product could look like in their own office space. The positive effects on the customer's willingness to buy that apply to virtual reality also apply here.
All in all, B2C sales and B2B sales have some things in common, but there are clear differences at the product and customer level, which should be taken into account when defining the sales strategy and processes. Customers find out about products and services on the Internet in advance, so strategies that guide the customer specifically to their own company using useful information are worthwhile.
In order to guide the customer journey according to this principle, it is necessary to closely interlink marketing and sales so that those who obtain information on the Internet become interested parties through appropriate inbound marketing measures and then develop into leads by the sales department. B2B sales must also be adapted to customer needs in this area, which means that cold calling is a thing of the past; instead, methods such as value selling or social selling are available. Digitization is also finding its way into the B2B sector, if you want to stay up to date, it is worthwhile to rely on modern technologies, be it investing in a CRM for efficient lead management, social selling tools or purchasing VR and AR technologies in order to generate optimal customer experiences and thus higher sales opportunities.