B2B spending fuels 48% of the U.S. economy, and B2B sales teams impact those decisions every day.
But B2B selling isn't easy. It involves high stakes, long-term relationships, and inventive research. Great salespeople need to be data analysts, social media stars, and project managers all at once. They need to educate, charm, and engage to hit their goals.
This guide will cover what B2B sales is and how to do it. It will cover sales examples, strategies, and tips. Once you finish reading you'll understand the power of B2B selling.
So, keep reading or click a topic below to jump to the section you're looking for.
What is B2B sales?
B2B sales is short for business-to-business sales. It describes the transaction of products and services from one business to another. B2B sales transactions can happen in person or online.
B2B sales deals happen with the work of more than one stakeholder. They often have high dollar values and long sales cycles. When done right, B2B sales have the potential to be both extremely lucrative and deeply rewarding.
B2B vs. B2C Sales: How They’re Different
It’s sometimes easier to define a concept by what it's not, so many definitions of B2B sales focus on how it's different from B2C, and vice versa.
The customer is always important. But there are a few things that make B2B selling unique:
- Purchase value is higher, so you want to build ongoing relationships.
- A smaller number of leads means more time spent with each lead.
- Fewer leads and higher product value drive a higher acquisition cost.
- Organizations will have many stakeholders to sell to for a single sale.
- The buying timeline is longer and there are usually more steps in the sales cycle.
- Customers are purchasing for a group of people and may not directly use the product you're selling.
- Discounts have less of an impact on buyers.
- You may need to become a subject matter expert (SME) in your industry to close sales.
If you want to learn more about the difference between B2B and B2C sales, check out this B2C sales post.
B2B Sales Examples
B2B sales is more about who you're selling to than how you approach sales. That said, the higher price point, long sales cycle, and emphasis on relationship-building can impact the B2B sales process.
B2B sales includes:
- Insurance sales reps in call centers contacting small businesses
- Software executives visiting and presenting to local businesses
- Pharmaceutical salespeople attending conferences
- Sales professionals in finance, security, manufacturing, and more
B2B sales is also strategic, and salespeople might be part of company projects to:
- Represent the business at trade shows
- Launch new products and services
- Test new software
- Strategize with marketing teams
- Develop outreach campaigns
Types of B2B Selling
While there is a wide range of industries for B2B sellers, there are four basic B2B sales categories:
These are companies that buy raw materials or services to create products. These businesses produce and sell their products to other businesses or directly to customers.
Examples of producers include Adidas, Pampers, Honda, and L'Oreal.
Resellers sell the goods and services that other smaller businesses make. They don't make any significant changes to these products. Resellers improve the visibility and reach of the products they carry.
Examples of resellers include Amazon, Alibaba, Walmart, and Target.
Governments around the world buy products and services to serve their communities. Businesses build partnerships with national, state, and local governments to support programs like:
- Highway repair
- Disaster relief
- Public health
Examples of governmental B2B sellers include Boeing, Pfizer, and UPS.
Nonprofits, charities, and hospitals need products and services too. Institutions are sometimes more budget-conscious than other B2B customers. That said, the scale of their services makes them an important source for sales.
Institutional examples of B2B sellers include:
- Pearson, a textbook manufacturer
- Johnson & Johnson's consumer health products
- National Food Group, a food distributor for K-12 schools
Trends in B2B Sales to Watch in 2023 [New Data]
Sales is changing fast. While many sales strategies are still effective, you may need to change your approach to meet evolving buyer expectations.
These are just a few of the trends you'll want to be aware of as you update your B2B sales strategies:
Customers want to engage with sales in digital channels.
Learn more about how to improve the online customer experience from HubSpot CEO Yamini Rangan at INBOUND 22:
B2B salespeople need to make the most of limited time with customers.
Omnichannel access, social media research, and data analysis are all helpful tools to maximize sales performance this year.
Gartner B2B sales research says buyers spend as little as 5-17% of their time with salespeople during the buying process.
More B2B customers are looking for seller-free buying choices.
Gartner research says that by 2025 80% of B2B sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will happen digitally.
B2B customers may spend more time with marketing content than with sales teams.
This shift means that marketing and sales teams need to align on strategies, sales enablement materials, and more.
According to 2022 HubSpot research, 45% of sales professionals say the importance of sales and marketing alignment increased from 2021 to 2022. Another 24% say alignment is a top 2022 goal. But less than a quarter of these professionals say that sales and marketing are "very" aligned.
Recent HubSpot research also shows that 25.9% of sales professionals see improvement in lead quality as a benefit of alignment.
B2B Sales Strategies
Sales strategies tell your team how to position your products to close sales. Some sales strategies are over a hundred years old and others are specific to a company or industry.
Each salesperson will use a combination of tested and original strategies. These approaches should align with their personality, industry, and the product they sell.
Tested sales strategies include scripting, solving pain points, and partnering. Original strategies might include personal branding, social media engagement, or planning and preparation.
There are hundreds of great sales books full of detailed strategies. But how do you know what will work best for you?
Most sales strategies fall under three broad categories:
Know your customers.
Whether you use buyer personas or leverage relationships, B2B sales is about people. Your business might already have extensive data on your top customers or you may have to do that research on your own.
Ideally, this research will follow your customers through their typical buying process. These habits vary, but a customer journey will usually look something like this:
- Your customer finds a problem.
- They look for the answer online.
- Your customer contacts colleagues, professional networks, or connects on social media for ideas.
- They do further research on solutions, reading reviews, looking at your company website, or signing up for a free trial.
- This might lead them to sign up for a product demo or a conversation with you.
So, your customer research needs to cover not only who your customer is, but what their network looks like and where they spend time online.
Knowing your customer can help you:
- Figure out your best leads
- Develop stories that interest and excite prospects
- Be where your customers are
- Decide when to contact leads
- Learn how to build long-term relationships
- Prepare for objections
Whether you lead with challenges or rewards, a B2B salesperson needs to create easy-to-understand value for customers.
For some, this means knowing what problems your product solves. In this scenario, you'll identify the top problem your customer is having, and offer a specific solution to solve it.
Creating value might also mean being a spokesperson for your brand. In this role, you want to share a consistent message about how your business can make life easier for your customers.
As a salesperson, your job is to motivate a person to take a specific action that benefits you and your company. But this doesn't have to be a self-centered act.
If you believe in your products, then sales is an opportunity to share something useful with your customer. It's a chance to show them some empathy and awareness. You have a chance to help make their day-to-day work simpler and more effective.
Creating value can make selling more fun. And selling someone the right thing at the right time can change their life. That knowledge is both exciting and empowering.
- Value-based selling
- Customer value guide
- Value-based stories
- B2B sales experience
- B2B customer experience
Close the sale.
B2B sales teams help their customers make big decisions. In the process, they'll offer useful resources, have long conversations, and share personal stories. Sales teams need to build lasting relationships to close sales.
Every industry will have its own unspoken rules and habits. As a salesperson, you'll need to decide how you want to navigate. While some sales professionals rely on a winning personality, others will use exacting attention to detail to close sales.
For example, in some industries, pricing is a big deal, and closing a sale will involve bartering. In other industries, service is more important. So, offering some hand-holding and extra personalized attention can help you close the sale.
In general, closing strategies usually involve:
- Building trust
- Getting organized
- Following a plan
- Staying focused
These three categories of sales strategies don't just apply to individual B2B sales leaders. They also apply to departmental goals and approaches. For example, aligning sales and marketing teams is a sales strategy that can create value throughout the buyer journey.
As a B2B sales professional, it’s important to develop a sales process that works for your business, prospects, and overall goals. Here are key steps you may want to include in your B2B sales process.
How to Create a B2B Sales Process
- Conduct market research.
- Determine your ideal buyer persona.
- Map out the buyer's journey.
- Qualify leads.
- Meet face-to-face.
- Close the deal.
- Track your results and improve.
Now let’s walk through what a successful B2B sales process could look like.
1. Conduct market research.
Begin the B2B sales process by performing high-level market research to understand the current state of demand for your offering. Get clear on who your competitors are in your segment, and familiarize yourself with their techniques and strategies to understand what messaging your prospects are hearing from other sources.
2. Determine your ideal buyer persona.
Take time to figure out what companies fit your ideal buyer persona. Besides considering what your prospects sell or offer, be on the lookout for contextual information about how business is progressing. For example:
- Have they recently launched a new product?
- If you are selling to startups, did they recently close a round of fundraising?
- Have they had any leadership changes in the past six months?
This information can help you find out if companies are ready to invest in your offerings, and is a helpful addition to your buyer persona information.
3. Map out the buyer’s journey.
Now that you are clear on who your audience is and how your offering will serve them, it's time to map out how the customer will purchase your offering. To do this, walk through the steps a potential customer could take to reach your product or service.
Typically, prospective customers go through the following stages when making a purchase:
- Awareness: The buyer realizes they have a problem or pain point.
- Consideration: The buyer figures out how to solve the problem, and is researching different products or offerings that could help.
- Decision: The buyer is comparing available options, and decides which course of action to take.
As part of your sales process, you should be able to identify and track where your prospects are in the sales journey. Doing so empowers you to strategize so you can put forth tactics that will meet them where they are in the process.
For example, say a company is in the awareness stage of a buying decision. Inundating them with pricing or product information wouldn’t be appropriate because they have not decided to make a purchase to solve the problem yet. They are simply acknowledging that the problem exists.
4. Qualify leads.
A sales-qualified lead is a lead that is ready for a direct sales pitch. Everyone who shows interest in your offering won’t turn into a qualified lead. When you’re figuring out if a B2B prospect is sales-qualified, ask them questions like this:
- What problem are you trying to fix? — This question will help you find what product or offer to recommend as the sales process progresses.
- Have you tried to solve this problem before? If yes, why didn’t the previous solutions work? — This question will give you important context about what will and won’t work to solve the customer’s problem. Additionally, you’ll know exactly what pain points to speak to if your product is the right fit.
- Who makes the final purchasing decisions? — In B2B you’re not selling directly to a consumer. So, you may have to work with several points of contact to close the deal. Understanding who you need to involve to make the final decision, what that process will look like, and the total budget can help shape your sales strategy.
5. Meet face-to-face.
If your customer’s needs and your products or services align, try to communicate face-to-face as much as possible. As we’ve discussed, B2B sales are higher-stakes in nature, and it may take more time to close a sale.
Meeting face-to-face (in person, or through video) to answer the customer’s questions, deliver your pitch, and address concerns can help you build trust with the customer. That relationship is harder to create over the phone or through email.
6. Close the deal.
As the sale comes to a close, the work isn’t done. If the result is a sale, now is the time to facilitate an agreement outlining the payment terms. You may also want to coordinate with your company’s service organization to make sure that onboarding and support are ready for your customer.
If the result isn’t a sale, thank the prospect for their time and offer to stay in touch to support any needs they have in the future. Sometimes a "no" is simply a "not right now" and you gained valuable insight that will support future sales.
7. Track results and improve.
High-performing sales teams are constantly measuring the results of their processes to improve. When you are regularly measuring and striving to improve the results of your organization’s B2B sales metrics, you and your team are able to improve productivity and overall performance. Key metrics B2B sales teams should be tracking include:
- Sales Productivity Metrics — Measuring sales rep productivity will help point out inefficiencies in your processes that may be costing you sales.
- Average Lead Response Time — In B2B sales, every minute matters. The sooner you can respond to a lead inquiry the more likely you are to land the sale, making average lead response time an essential metric to track.
- Marketing Qualified Leads to Sales Qualified Leads Conversion Rate — This measures how many leads brought in through marketing efforts become sales qualified. While it’s often tracked by marketing organizations, it’s helpful data for sales teams to be aware of to support pipeline creation.
- Closed won Opportunities — This metric signifies a successful end in the sales process. It’s when the lead becomes a customer by making a purchase. Tracking how many of your total closed deals result in sales (versus closed lost opportunities — how many closed deals did not result in sales) can help you understand the overall success rate of your sales process.
The following 9 selling strategies are real-world tips from insiders who routinely close huge B2B sales. Use these account-based selling tips and you’ll develop an approach that helps you close more B2B sales — right away.
B2B Sales Tips
1. Subscribe to your prospect’s content.
Does your prospect’s business have a blog, newsletter, or social media feed where they regularly share content? Give them a follow and check out their updates.
This will help you understand their business priorities and how they engage with their prospective customers. It will provide valuable insight that will aid the B2B sales process because you can speak to how your offering will help your prospect serve their customers.
2. Skip straight to the real decision-makers.
Most businesses put their buyers and purchasing managers at the front of buying situations — but they’re not actually qualified to make any buying decisions. That’s why the most successful B2B salespeople skip right over those folks, and straight to the real decision-makers.
Don’t waste your time developing relationships with buyers or purchasing managers, no matter how convenient or comfortable it may feel. They simply don’t have the budget — or the authority — to make an actual investment in your product or service. Instead, sell only to stakeholders who have the authority and budget to actually make buying decisions.
3. Sell actual business results and outcomes.
Businesses aren’t interested in your product or service. They’re interested in the results and outcomes you can help them achieve.
In the past, salespeople could close B2B sales by pitching the benefits and features of their products. Not anymore. Today, you need to focus on selling tangible, bottom-line business results if you want to dominate your competition in B2B sales.
To learn more, check out this video:
4. Be crystal-clear about your value proposition.
If you’re going to sell to a multi-million dollar business, you’d better be ready to quickly and clearly articulate your value proposition. Many B2B sales go down the gutter simply because salespeople fail to show what sets them apart from the competition — and what value they bring to the businesses who buy from them.
When engaging with prospective businesses, make sure you are clear on your offering’s unique value proposition. B2B sales deals tend to be higher dollar values and higher stakes by nature.
To win the sale, you have to be able to articulate the value your offering brings to the potential customer. Any prospect you engage with should be able to understand the problem your offering intends to solve. When put into words, this is called a value proposition.
A value proposition identifies what your prospect’s problems are, and how your offering can help you solve their problem. If you serve multiple customer segments that could be looking for solutions to different problems, you should have a value proposition in place for each segment.
The most successful B2B salespeople script and memorize their value propositions, so they can easily rattle them off at any given moment.
5. Get face-to-face with decision-makers.
We’ve already talked about selling directly to decision-makers and skipping over those buyers and purchasing managers. But now it’s time to talk about how to sell to decision-makers.
When you’re selling high-end products or services that need serious investment, you have to meet your prospects where it’s most convenient for them. Being available when and where your prospect is looking for you can make all the difference between closing your sale — or losing it.
6. Stand behind your premium pricing.
Successful, profitable businesses don’t care about your prices — in fact, they only care about the value you provide and the final results. If you lower your prices when selling to businesses, you’ll only attract prospects who can’t afford to invest in valuable solutions.
To dramatically improve your B2B sales, stand behind your premium pricing, and watch as you close bigger sales more often — with better prospects.
7. Dig deep to discover challenges.
Seek to truly understand what’s going on at the business you’re selling to. What key frustrations are they dealing with? How much do those challenges cost the business on a monthly basis? How about on a yearly basis?
The answers to these questions can propel your B2B selling strategy to be more lucrative than you can imagine. It’s as simple as that.
8. Keep your emotions in check.
Selling to successful businesses is tough. Dealing directly with powerful decision-makers at those businesses is even tougher.
That’s why one of the best tips for closing B2B sales is to keep your emotions in check. Don’t take things too personally. Stay calm, and don’t get intimidated when you’re inevitably working with a difficult customer. If they sense you’re scared or nervous, it could jeopardize your sale.
9. Give three options in your B2B proposals.
Don’t make the crushing mistake of only offering one option in your proposal to B2B prospects. If you do this, decision-makers are exponentially more likely to shop around looking for other options, better prices, and different services.
Instead, give each business three options that vary in price and value. Let them choose whichever one fits their budget and best address their needs. You’ll be surprised by how many go with the priciest option.
Use B2B Sales to Reach Your Business Customers
B2B sales doesn't look the way it used to. But there are more options than ever to increase your B2B sales. There are more channels for customer conversations. You have broader access to decision-makers. And your team has more data than ever to help you find the most important problems to solve for your customers.
B2B isn't what it used to be, and that's a great thing. These changes mean that sales can continue to build relationships and create profit in meaningful ways. Are you ready to be a part of what happens next?
Editor's note: This post was originally published in January 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.