Business-to-business (B2B) selling involves the activities of selling a product or service to another business. Compared to business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, B2B sales are usually for higher cost and higher profit margin products and services, involve a heavier emphasis on relationship building with potential customers, and require a higher level of sales expertise about the products and services being offered.
Types of Business-to-Business Sellers
Since other businesses are the target of B2B sales, any solutions that help them generate revenue, mitigate risk, manage finances, or improve operational productivity are valuable to a business customer. B2B businesses can do this by selling products or offering services to other businesses.
Here are some examples of types of businesses that engage in business-to-business sales:
- Accountants and tax preparers: Professionals that help manage a business’ finances through bookkeeping and tax filing services
- Lawyers: Professionals that help businesses with litigation and contract review services
- IT management or consulting firms: Businesses that manage other businesses’ IT infrastructure, technology assets, and cybersecurity programs
- Marketing agencies: Firms that help businesses generate leads through telemarketing, media content development, or digital marketing services (website design, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), email marketing, and social media management)
- Management consultants: Professionals that advise or manage another businesses’ strategy, operational functions, or human resource departments
- Supply chain businesses: Manufacturers, suppliers and vendors, transportation, logistics, and distribution companies
- Insurance agencies: Firms that sell insurance to other businesses for property, liability, and workers’ compensation coverage
- Hiring services: Recruiting, staffing, and temporary employment agencies
- Commercial property services: Commercial property managers, vending, food services and catering, commercial cleaning and janitorial, pest control, security, and similar services
- Software and business service platforms: Companies that provide business management tools such as customer relationship management (CRMs), virtual and voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phone systems, lead generation directories, human resources and benefits management platforms, email marketing providers, web hosting providers, social media management platforms, and more
Tools for Business-to-Business Selling
Because of the longer sales process and high competition in the B2B marketplace, companies that engage in B2B selling benefit more from specific types of business technology tools than a B2C business like a grocery store or a restaurant would. For example, a grocery store isn’t going to use a lead generation platform to get customers, but a marketing agency would get a lot of use from a lead generation platform to acquire B2B leads.
Below are some common business-to-business selling tools:
Customer Relationship Management Software
Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a tool your business can use to store contact information about leads, prospects, and accounts. CRMs also have features for communicating with your contacts through email, telephone, live chat, and social media platforms.
You can manage your sales pipeline through a CRM system to visualize which opportunities are closest to finalizing and which ones need more nurturing. Popular CRMs such as Pipedrive allow users to do this in a Kanban-style, which is a visual layout that puts opportunities in a draggable box under different stages of the sales cycle.
The main benefits of using a CRM for B2B selling are that you can visualize the journey for a business lead becoming a customer, pinpoint the best opportunities to pursue, nurture leads through the CRM’s communication tools, and automate various workflows such as automatically adding contact information into the CRM database when a lead submits an online interest form.
B2B sales generally require more telephone activity, such as cold calling, responding to lead inquiries, and conference call meetings. Business phone systems allow sales reps to place and take incoming calls, automate call routing, manage calls more efficiently, and track call history.
Today, most business phone systems are voice-over-internet-protocol (VoIP) phone systems, which also integrate with CRMs. RingCentral is a VoIP system that integrates with many popular CRM systems, such as Zoho CRM.
Sophisticated business phone solutions offer additional tools important for B2B sellers, such as prompts to help your agents with upselling and cross-selling, and pop-up notifications with customer account information (when integrated with your CRM). They also have features like call whisper, which enables a manager to coach sales reps during a call without the customer hearing, and barge, which allows a manager to take over a call.
Learn more about the sales tools and integration capabilities that Zoho can offer your business with our Zoho CRM product review.
Email Marketing Tools
Businesses often send mass email campaigns to other businesses to advertise their services or promote a sale. Email marketing tools like Mailchimp allow businesses to design and deploy emails to other businesses, and can do so on an automated basis through drip campaigns. Drip campaigns automatically send emails to prospects based on their actions, such as downloading something or continuously visiting a web page.
Just like business phone systems, email tools integrate seamlessly with other CRM platforms. This allows businesses to have access to workflow automation for email activities, contact updates, and informative metrics that show potential buying signals like how many times a prospect opened an email.
The top benefit of using email marketing to communicate with B2B leads is that it’s the most cost-efficient form of communication, with an average return of $42 for every $1 spent. It’s also the most preferred method of communication by customers, with 72% preferring it compared to other channels.
To learn more about how email marketing tools can integrate with CRMs, as well as some of the best CRMs for email marketing, check out our article on the six best CRM software for email marketing.
Appointment Scheduling Tools
Appointment scheduling tools allow users to easily schedule appointments that sync to their calendar. Businesses selling to other businesses often need to schedule appointments to demo a product, present an offer, or consult a potential customer on solutions for their business. Calendly is a popular scheduling tool that is easy to use and integrates with Gmail, Outlook, and popular CRMs like HubSpot and Salesforce.
B2B selling businesses that benefit most from an appointment scheduling tool would be any business that needs to demo a product or process, as well as offer an initial consultation for their service. These are commonly seen in staffing companies, software businesses, and consultants.
Also, any salesperson who constantly has meetings with potential clients can get value from these tools. An appointment scheduling tool allows reps to send scheduling portal links to their leads through various channels, including LinkedIn messaging and emails, as well as post the links on websites, social media profiles, and online advertisements. This prevents the back-and-forth communication when trying to find a time that works for both parties.
Lead Generation Platforms
Developing a list of potential business customers is the first step to starting the B2B sales process. Lead generation platforms help compile contact data for leads in the form of contact lists. For example, UpLead is a platform that identifies and compiles B2B lead lists, as well as offers data enrichment for lead data.
UpLead can integrate with CRM software products to automatically export the contact information into the CRM database. Some popular CRM platforms that integrate with UpLead include Pipedrive, Salesforce, and Zoho.
Pro tip: Generating leads in order to keep the sales pipeline full is an essential stepping stone in B2B sales. For more information on lead generation strategies, check out our article on the 17 ways to generate B2B leads for your business.
Another lead generation platform businesses can use is LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows businesses to create various ads that can be posted on another user’s home page or sent to them through LinkedIn chat. The ad can guide a user to a web form they fill out and submit to the business, generating a lead.
In addition to advertisements, sales representatives can also directly message prospects on LinkedIn by search tools and filtering based on industry, job title, and company size. They can connect with the prospects and download their connections list for email marketing purposes, where they can market their product or service, try to schedule an appointment, or engage them to learn more about their business.
Business-to-Business Sales Components
Aside from the types of businesses that commonly engage in B2B selling and the tools they use to generate sales, there are several other components that differentiate sales management for the B2B sales arena as compared to B2C. These components include how selling takes place, what happens after a sale, and the extended sales process.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every business. B2B selling requires sales agents to take a personalized approach throughout the selling process—even after the sale.
Through conversations with a prospect, sales reps need to identify what each customer’s unique problems are and convey how your product or service can help. To do this, your reps need thorough sales training on your products or services, excellent listening skills, and the ability to communicate how your business can meet the prospect’s needs—especially how they can meet them better than your competitors.
Below are examples of businesses fitting solutions to specific customers:
- Insurance agency: Each business carries varying risks that require different coverages. Insurance producers (sales reps) need to comprehend their clients’ risks to recommend coverage options, then understand their risk tolerance and budget to determine which insurance plans to offer.
- Tax preparers: Individual businesses have different tax filing requirements and may be working with another firm for particular tax filings. For example, payroll services generally handle payroll tax filings. A tax preparer needs to understand the specific requirements of the business and the gaps in filing requirements that they can help with.
- IT management firms: Businesses range in size and scope, and many businesses may have on-staff IT personnel or work with consultants for specific technology aspects like cybersecurity. These factors alter their IT support needs, so IT management firms need to develop a service package that fits their customers’ needs.
Account Management Activities
Customers of a clothing or grocery store generally don’t require much account management; they typically buy what they need and leave the store. A major element of B2B sales is what takes place after a new customer is brought on. It requires more onboarding activities, customer support, and client management through invoicing and billing.
Some accounts need ongoing training to use a platform. This is common in the software as a service (SaaS) industry. Businesses may also need to manage their accounts by continuously offering new or upgraded products and services to their existing customers.
A CRM can be used for businesses to both acquire and help manage customer accounts. Through various built-in tools and integrations, businesses can manage customer support activities, continuously sell new products to current customers, and handle recurring billing—all from their CRM system.
The B2B sales process is often significantly longer than a B2C sales process due to the high time and money investment required, the negotiation process (if applicable), and the need for decision-makers to collaborate when considering B2B products and services. A B2B sales process can take months or even years to turn a new lead into a paying customer.
B2B Sales Process
The sales process is a series of stages that lead up to finalizing a sale. Every business’ process is different depending on their product or service, sales operation, company culture, and tools they use. A typical B2B sales process consists of anywhere from four to 10 stages. Moving from stage to stage can range in time, taking as long as a few years or as short as just a few seconds.
Here are some examples of stages in the B2B sales process:
- Researching prospects: This is the beginning stage where research is conducted to identify potential businesses that could benefit from your products or services. Identifying prospects in this stage can be done manually. However, some businesses may choose to use paid lead generation services for this stage.
- Initial products and service introduction: This stage is designed to build awareness of your unique selling proposition and can be completed through a number of techniques such as cold calling or introduction emails.
- Lead qualification: This stage involves identifying and organizing leads to ensure your sales team is focused on the ones most likely to close, such as decision-makers with buying power and having sufficient budget to make a purchase.
- Lead nurturing: Once you’ve qualified leads, your sales and marketing teams must nurture them with things like email campaigns, follow-up calls, and educational content.
- Deliver sales presentations: Once prospects are interested enough to agree to a sales pitch, sales reps conduct engaging sales presentations to convince prospects their products and services are a good fit for their small business needs.
- Sending proposals: After the presentation has been delivered and the prospect is still interested, sales reps send a detailed business proposal covering pricing, terms, and conditions.
- Negotiating terms: Once the prospect has reviewed the business proposal, they may have terms to negotiate, such as pricing or an onboarding timeline. Salespeople often need assistance or approval from a sales manager to help negotiate terms.
- Closing the deal: When everyone is satisfied with the terms and conditions, the deal is closed by signing the sales agreement. The deal is then typically moved to the onboarding phase and assigned to an onboarding or customer service agent.
- Retaining customers: Keeping happy customers is just as important as getting them to sign the first sales contract. Loyal customers are an integral part of boosting sales revenue and an excellent source of referrals to new customers. Learn how you can use your CRM to retain customers.
You can read more about the sales process and tips for how to move a lead through each step more efficiently in our article on sales pipeline stages.
Business-to-Business Selling Costs
Although business-to-business selling provides higher profit margins for its products and services, there are additional selling costs not always seen in the B2C marketplace. Below are some of the examples of B2B selling costs to consider:
- Sales compensation: B2B sales representatives are often paid on commission or through sales bonuses in order to incentivize generating more sales.
- Sales training: B2B selling requires in-depth knowledge of the product or service that sales reps are selling, which necessitates extensive training.
- Sales media content: B2B sales reps use different types of media, such as company brochures, product brochures, email campaign templates, and videos, to provide potential customers with visuals to assist in the buying decision. Each of these comes with additional costs to produce and deploy.
- Sales technology: Sales technology like CRMs, business phone systems, scheduling applications, and lead generation tools are needed for an organized, collaborative, and efficient sales operation. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us companies aren’t afraid to make big purchases online, so sales teams must continue to invest in tools that streamline online selling.
B2B sales are more complex than B2C sales—they require an in-depth sales process, additional selling costs, unique sales tools, and interpersonal relationships with customers. There’s also an element specialization that comes with B2B sales since sales reps need to have a baseline of technical knowledge for what they are selling. Equip your sales teams with the resources they need to succeed, including sales training, robust sales technology, and a consistent system for filling the pipeline with leads.