According to Forrester, total B2B sales in the US will reach $10.5 trillion by 2023, with $1.8 trillion (or 17%) being represented by e-commerce. For comparison, that’s more than three times as much as B2C ecommerce sales ($530 billion) are predicted to be by the same year.
These statistics alone should show how valuable it is to cover all the bases with your B2B sales strategy today. While business to business sales have been quite straightforward for decades — identify a vendor, talk to a sales representative, consult with stakeholders, agree on a deal — the B2B process and sales tactics now are much more complex.
In this article, we’ll uncover the three types of B2B sales, how exactly do they differ from B2C, and suggest four effective business to business sales strategies to implement in your company.
What Are 3 Types of B2B Sales?
When most people think of sales, whether at physical retail locations or online, they tend to think B2C, or selling to consumers. Business to business sales (B2B), on the other hand, is only about selling products or services directly to other companies.
There are three main types of B2B sales: supply, distribution and service.
- Supply sales relate to the purchase of something essential to business operations, often in great quantities. For example, buying 20 office chairs or building an in-house server out of components.
- Distribution sales simply means buying something at wholesale price either to resell to consumers at a markup or use as inputs for new products.
- Service sales is about providing a specific service instead of a product. Legal services would be one of the examples used by all companies. More recently, software known as SaaS (software as a service) has also entered this B2B category, where rather than the software product itself, companies sell access to that product on a monthly or annual basis.
How Are B2B Sales Strategies Different from B2C?
Now that we’ve defined three types of B2B sales, we should explore how their sales process differs from B2C, and how this difference can help us identify the best B2B sales strategies to use.
- First, as we’ve seen, B2B is a huge market, so sales tend to have much larger transaction value, often stretching into millions of dollars.
- Second, large transactions naturally have longer sales cycles. While a consumer might buy something on a whim, businesses need to see clear benefits and ROI potential for every solution they plan to adopt.
- Third, long sales cycles become even more complicated due to the involvement of multiple decision-makers within the company, each of whom needs to grant their approval.
- Fourth, B2B buyers today are much more research-driven. According to Gartner, only 17% of the sales process is spent actually meeting with vendors. The rest of the time, potential buyers leverage the power of the internet to find the perfect solution they need before they even contact a potential vendor.
We can use all these points as indicators and, together with other observations on how B2B sales have shifted over the past few years, outline what the B2B decision-making process looks like today. Then you can identify at which stage(s) your company can provide tangible value to tip the scales in your favor.
4 Steps in the B2B Decision-Making Process
Understanding the stages of the business to business sales process from buyer’s side is essential to creating your own sales tactics. As mentioned before, B2B sales used to be simple — just sell as much as you can, without diving into the buyer’s needs or pain points.
Today, thanks in large part to the dominance of the internet, the buyer journey is far from linear (with steps 1 to 3 below often being recursive):
- Identifying or redefining a problem
- Researching potential solutions online
- Comparing various solutions with the help of the peer network, social media, and review sites
- Contacting top vendors
So, in this buyer-centric reality, what B2B sales strategies should you use to make sure that you meet your sales quotas without relinquishing control and leaving everything to chance? Here are our top four suggestions.
1. Align Sales and Marketing with ABS
Rather than each of your departments working on their targets separately, you should bring sales, marketing, and even customer service together to focus on reaching high-value accounts through a multi-channel approach.
Using your ICP (ideal customer profile), you can proactively reach out to potential customers and help them define their problem (step 1 in the decision-making process) and suggest the perfect solution before they had the chance to research any competitive offerings.
For the ABS (account based sales) approach to work, all the latest information about your ideal customers should be recorded in your CRM and easily accessed throughout your organization.
Additionally, sales and marketing need to work closely to produce personalized materials for specific companies such as intro videos, presentations, case studies, ebooks, targeted ads, etc.
The goal is to foster trust by investing in long-term relationships and helping your B2B customers achieve their goals.
2. Implement Social Selling
A large aspect of developing long-term B2B relationships today is leveraging the power of social media outreach. In the B2B context, LinkedIn and, to some extent, Twitter should serve as your primary networking tools, helping you turn cold leads into brand-aware prospects.
Social selling helps you proactively reach potential buyers before they embark on their research journey. But, unlike ABS, social selling can be done on a much larger scale and doesn’t require the same level of customization.
Since social selling is not yet a mainstream B2B practice, it presents lots of opportunities for experimentation. This is especially true as the B2B space has started to see more ‘consumer-type’ branding and marketing being implemented as a tactic to break through the more conservative corporate marketing strategies.
3. Create Informative and Engaging Content
Since the key step in any B2B buyer journey today is research, you have to make sure that your company inevitably gets discovered in the process.
The best way to do that is create long-form content targeted at solving every potential problem your customers might have. If you provide high-quality articles, white papers, infographics, guides, ebooks, and demos to your potential audience, you’ll have a significant opportunity to turn the purchasing decision in your favor (especially if each of those assets are highly optimized for SEO).
To create your own content database, ask your existing customers what they find valuable in your offering, research the trends in the industry, track the queries on search engines, and describe each feature and benefit of your B2B solution.
4. Meet Customers on Your Website
Pre-pandemic, conferences and industry events were often the customer meeting place. But, in the new reality, you have to leverage your website more than ever.
While most websites have always had contact forms, demo registrations, and other tricks to capture emails, such strategies only engage a small fraction of the potential opportunities on the website.
The good news is that now you can connect with more leads at the research stage (step 2) due to the proliferation of chat platforms. Your BDRs can always be a click away, regardless of the page a website visitor is looking at.
The problem is that most website visitors don’t have high buyer intent, so chasing them around is a waste of your sales team’s time. What you should strive to do instead is identify the buying intent of your website visitors and gauge their interest in your product or service. But how do you do that when 98% of website visitors remain completely anonymous?
A simple but powerful solution is to install Lift AI alongside the chat platform you already use (e.g. Drift or LivePerson). Lift AI would then leverage its unique machine-scoring model (trained on over one billion sales interactions) to not only identify anonymous website visitors but also determine how likely they are to buy what you offer (known as buyer intent).
Lift AI will on average identify 9% of your website visitors that have high conversion intent and as a result, you can match these visitors with your BDRs, dramatically increasing your conversion rates. Lower-scoring visitors could either be delegated to a nurturing bot or a self-help guide, which would still be able to provide value by answering simple questions.