What is Business-to-Business Sales: Definition, Strategy and Trends
It’s just selling, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ve heard this question a few times after you’ve mentioned you work in business-to-business sales. Such an assumption makes your eyes roll because business-to-business sales, more commonly known as B2B sales, is a tough field in which salespeople face demanding professional buyers and overzealous decision‑makers.
Yes, business-to-business sales is just that, sales from one business entity to another, and therefore, requires persuasive communication and strong negotiation skills. However, mastering business-to-business sales is much more than just selling. Due to the complex scope and scale of the business-to-business model, salespeople must achieve a thorough understanding of a prospect’s needs, so they can adopt a consultative role.
Because the way people buy has changed, this is the right moment to review what makes business-to-business selling different, and how technology is changing this way of doing sales.
What is business-to-business sales?
Business-to-business sales refers to a sales model where a business is selling its products or services to another business. It’s distinct from business‑to‑consumer sales.
Key features of B2B sales
Business-to-business sales frequently involve products and services that cost far more than business-to-consumer sales and is generally completed following a long and complex sales cycle. Whether a company sells accounting software or heavy construction equipment, business-to-business selling has a very defined set of characteristics.
- Larger average transactions - Typically, business-to-business sales can reach thousands of dollars, even millions. Larger quantities and more expensive products increase the bill, plus companies are willing to pay the price for the resources they need.
- Professional decision‑making - The products and services a company acquires have a critical impact on its operations, and therefore, procurement will be careful. Large companies employ professional procurers who become responsible for the whole sales cycle. Business-to-business buyers are experts, and as a result, business-to-business sales professionals have to become experts, too, to be able to respond to arguments and objections.
- More stakeholders involved - Business-to-business sales is rarely the responsibility of only one person. Instead, several stakeholders are part of the process in one or other capacity. Some of them will influence, whereas others will have the final word and sign off the contract. For sales reps, this means they need to use various arguments to charm people in different positions.
- Longer sales cycles - Completing business-to-business sales is usually a long process. With more stakeholders involved and careful business rules in place, a typical cycle can last several months, including many rounds of phone calls and meetings.
- Fewer customers - With long and complicated sales cycles, the cost of acquiring a business-to-business customer is higher than in business‑to‑consumer sales. The total addressable market is much narrower in business-to-business sales, with fewer potential customers interested in buying a specific product compared to in the business-to-consumer segment. On the bright side, business-to-business customers usually have much higher lifetime value.
B2B vs. B2C
Business-to-business and business‑to‑consumer sales are perceived as opposites. It’s one job to sell caffè latte to sleepy commuters, and a completely different one to sell espresso machines to trendy coffee houses. Different targets, different goals, different ways of selling.
Both transaction models differ in scope, complexity, scale and cost. Business-to-business involves high price and volume and includes companies in every industry, including wholesalers, construction companies, real estate, and transportation. Some might say business-to-business is the backbone of the economy. On the other hand, business-to-consumer is far more visible and involves everyone.
The B2B purchase process is different as well. Business-to-business customers make buying decisions based on rational and strategic considerations with the aim of generating value, whereas business‑to‑consumer buyers tend to make purchases driven by personal desires and value systems. This distinction alone makes messaging, marketing, and sales cycles very different.
However, the line separating business-to-business and business‑to‑consumer selling is getting blurred by the minute. In the internet era, the way customers buy has dramatically changed, also in the business-to-business space. As a business-to-business sales expert, you want to build relationships with prospective companies and their many stakeholders. With buyers researching their purchase online, you need to take a consultative approach to business-to-business selling.
The state of business-to-business sales
It’s safe to say that business-to-business sales lives a challenging moment. And yet, there has never been a more exciting time to work as a B2B sales professional than right now.
Consumers expect highly personalized services from the brands they interact with, including those with business-to-business sales teams. As a result, business-to-business marketing is catching up with business‑to‑consumer marketing, which is reflected in the way companies offer and sell their products and services to other companies.
There has never been a more exciting time to work a B2B sales professional than right now: technology arms you with the tools to stay relevant throughout the whole sales process and focus on companies that are genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
The business-to-business sales process continues to follow the same predictable steps, but to be successful in modern sales, you need to tap into advanced sales technology that allows you to engage with the right contacts faster. Technology, or more precisely, the prospect information you can gather, arms you with the tools to stay relevant throughout the whole sales process, and hence foster the human connection and trust business-to-business sales still require.
Technology gives sales professionals a competitive edge
Sales technology is on the rise, and businesses are increasingly investing in it to give their teams the resources and competitive edge they need. Salespeople who rely on sales tech outperform their peers. This way, salespeople and their managers are becoming sophisticated data users, making informed data-driven decisions instead of blindly trusting their gut.
Thanks to the good use of technology, you can connect with companies that are genuinely interested in what you have to offer, and only reach out when there’s a data-backed reason, a true buying signal, for you to be in touch. More than ever, business-to-business sales is science rather than art.
Personal connection matters more than ever
In today’s world of informed buyers, salespeople cannot expect to close a deal by reading from a generic sales script. The highly personalized services of business‑to‑consumer brands are driving buyers to expect the same personalized content and interactions when it comes to business-to-business sales.
Decision-makers are more likely to engage in a sales conversation when the experience is personalized. As a result, business-to-business sales professionals must show a clear understanding of decision-maker's needs, wants, and desires, so they can share tailor-made content, and provide personalized communication.
B2B sales is science rather than art. Sales professionals must show a clear understanding of decision‑makers needs, wants, and desires, so they can share tailor-made content, and provide personalized communication.
The very same technology that gives salespeople a competitive edge will be ineffective without a human touch. If you want to add a human touch to your business-to-business selling, you should rehearse a winning sales script like this one.
Building consensus among a larger group of stakeholders
Different studies estimate that these days the buyer’s circle includes five to seven people. Each of them with different degrees of experience, knowledge, influence, and decision‑making power. During the modern business-to-business sales cycle, you must be able to identify and build meaningful relationships with each of the stakeholders, so you overcome their obstacles and address their specific pain points.
The implementation of an account-based model, like account-based marketing (ABM), is a suitable strategy for identifying the different stakeholders within a company. ABM tactics allow you to target key stakeholders with highly personalized content, and, therefore, be much more relevant.
Read more - what is account-based selling, and is it for you?
Adopting sales intelligence technology
Today’s business-to-business sales cycle follows similar predictable steps, but technology is changing the approach to such a cycle. Sales intelligence tools help salespeople find, monitor and understand data that provides insights into prospects’ and existing clients’ daily business. This technology allows salespeople to respond to the demands of consumers who are far more informed and stay relevant in every step of the sales process.
We’ve listed one hundred business-to-business sales tools that we think stand out from the crowd. We think this list will help you choose the right tech stack for your company.