Introduction to B2B Sales

The world of sales is insanely complex; whether you are selling to a single individual or a Fortune 500 organization. For those brave enough to wear the badge of “salesperson”, the rewards can be plenty, but so too can the challenges you’ll face. This guide dives into a look at business-to-business (B2B) sales and what it looks like at a high level.

What is B2B Sales?

First off a definition; B2B sales refers to a transaction that occurs between two businesses (as opposed to B2C sales where one party is a consumer and not a business). A simplistic example, would be one business hiring another to provide account services. Although the purchase could be any product or service, the key distinction here is that you are selling to a business (not a consumer) which creates a specific dynamic to the sales motion (more on this later).

Due to the complexity of B2B sales, there is usually a group of individuals that each play a specific role in the B2B sales process. Some of the common roles you might encounter include Sales Development Representatives (SDR), Account Executives (AE), Sales Engineers (SE), and Customer Success Managers (CSM). While your mileage may vary, the point is you aren’t selling alone. The team coordination and the specific role that each person plays is important to getting, executing, and closing a B2B sales opportunity.

Note: Many people use the term “B2B Sales” and “Enterprise Sales” interchangeably. They are NOT interchangeable. Enterprise sales is a subset of B2B sales, but there are millions of small businesses and mid-market businesses as well that also fall within the realm of B2B sales too.

How is B2B Different from B2C?

B2C, or business-to-consumer, is a model that you probably experience every single day without realizing it. Every time you buy groceries, shop on Amazon, or visit your local Starbucks…you are part of a B2C transaction. You (the consumer) are buying a product or service from a business; hence B2C. But when it comes to B2B, there are some noticeable differences that you should be aware of, including:

  • The size of B2B deals are usually significantly larger than B2C
  • There are significantly more decision makers (which can lead to long approval processes)
  • There is a complex and rigid process for budgeting which makes “needs” higher priority than “wants”
  • The sales cycles, or velocity, is much longer (cybersecurity for example is commonly 9 - 12 months if not longer)
  • Payment terms, conditions, and agreements are significantly more complex
  • Cybersecurity of your organization plays an important factor in the deal process

While there are many differences between B2B and B2C, sales teams often forget that B2B sales still involves selling and engaging with human beings. If you want to be successful in any sales role, never forget that the person on the other side of the table, or Zoom call, is a human just like you.

How to Get Started in B2B Sales

If you have never worked in a sales role before, many people assume that sales is all about hitting the phones all day long trying to sell something. While talking to people is a big part of sales, this perception is actually false. Before you even think about doing any form of outreach to businesses, and the individuals that work there, you need to deeply understand both the problem they are experiencing and how your solution helps solve that issue. Here is what B2B sales looks like at the highest level:

  • Identify Your Target Audience - as stated earlier there are many people involved in B2B transactions. Understanding which individuals are involved, the roles that they play, and who has buying authority in the sale is part of mapping out your target audience.
  • Research - once you have identified your target audience, it’s time to perform some research on both them and their organization. Understanding what makes them tick is a critical part in building a connection with them.
  • Connecting With Others - imagine you got a phone call from a random person offering to sell you a new car. You’d probably be like, “what the hell” and hang up the phone. Sales isn’t just about offering up a product until someone says “yes”…it’s about forming a connection with others around a common problem.
  • Help Where You Can - instead of selling someone a car, what if you wrote a guide on how to buy a car. Some video reviews of the best places to buy a car. These helpful pieces of content can be shared with those who ARE looking to buy a car and help you build trust as a knowledgeable person on car buying.
  • Practice Your Pitch - At some point (hopefully) someone will be ready to buy a car. When they raise their hand and come to you, you better have your sales pitch down cold so you can differentiate yourself from your competition and deliver value as clearly as possible.

Phew, that was a mouthful. Did I mention that B2B sales is complex?

Common B2B Sales Challenges

Like any sales role, B2B sales isn’t without its challenges. Sadly many of the challenges within the B2B sales world are self-inflicted. Buyers today are armed with more information, more data points, and social media for quick validation points. So here are some of the most common mistakes I see in B2B (let’s try to avoid these ok?):

  • Sales and Marketing Misalignment - there is nothing worse than reading something on a company’s website or ad copy, only to find out (when talking to sales) that the product doesn’t actually do what you thought it would
  • Outdated Sales Methods - hiring an outbound sales team to make cold phone calls and emails all day is dead. Outbounding can be effective, but you need clear messaging and personalization to make it work
  • Lack of Empathy - people buy with emotion and justify it with logic…make sure that you are enabling them to do just that
  • The “Funnel” - aside from no one wanting to be sold to, putting someone in a funnel and forcing them into a sales process they want no part of is the quickest way to turn off a potential customer
  • Feature Overload - many B2B products are complex and come with a ton of features. Don’t just feature dump on people, but focus on value instead
  • Lack of Message Clarity - one of the egregious mistakes a sales person can make is to ramble on in a meeting with slides. Clarity of message always wins

Those that overcome these common challenges will find themselves incredibly successful in the world of B2B sales. However, ignoring the continuously changing landscape of sales because leadership says “we’ve always done it this way” will often add more difficulty, and burnout, to an already competitive market.

What is the Future of B2B Sales?

As you read this, B2B sales is going through a rapid transformation. The lines between (sales) roles are starting to fade. No longer is the status quo of doing a “single function” in sales acceptable. In fact, the best sales people are actually part sales person and part marketer. Knowing how to write clearly, communicate effectively, and use different channels to capture the attention of individuals is where you will not only find success, but have the opportunity to grow and learn as well.

Much of being successful in sales is about experimentation. Whether it’s doing research on a new industry, talking to customers about new challenges they are experiencing, or just continuing to build on existing relationships; never stop iterating. Finally, if you are going to take the leap into B2B sales and you recognize that it isn’t for you…that’s ok. Long sales cycles, complex relationships, and big risks aren’t for everyone. It’s important to recognize your strengths and where you can make the biggest impact.

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