Reading a single guide on the internet isn’t going to magically turn your B2B sales strategy around. Nor should it be the exclusive resource in your construction of a new B2B sales strategy from scratch.
This guide can serve as a fantastic start for anyone looking to create a B2B sales strategy, improve their existing strategy, or just get better as a B2B salesperson.
Let’s dig in.
Table of Contents
- What Is B2B Sales?
- The Key Differences Between B2B and B2C
- B2B Sales: Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales
- The B2B Sales Process in 7 Steps
- How to Improve Your B2B Sales Performance
- Connect with all decision makers.
- Build relationships.
- Focus on the pain points.
- Build momentum.
- Get quality leads.
- Follow up (but know when to quit).
- Delegate and coordinate effectively.
- Give salespeople the tools they need to succeed.
- Use a variety of strategies and approaches.
- Anticipate and overcome objections.
- Get referrals.
- Be adaptable.
- The Most Common Reasons B2B Sales Strategies Fail
- The 10 Best B2B Sales Tools
What Is B2B Sales?
B2B stands for “Business to Business.” It refers to sales made by one business to another business.
It’s best to understand why this matters by contrasting it with B2C – “Business to Consumer” sales.
Sometimes, a business sells directly to a consumer/customer. For example, an insurance company might sell life insurance policies to individual people.
Other times, a business sells to another business. For example, a printing equipment manufacturer might sell printing equipment to printing companies, or an insurance company might sell business insurance policies to other businesses.
B2B sales is a series of strategies used to secure sales from one business to another business.
The Key Differences Between B2B and B2C
How are B2B sales and B2C sales different?
There are a few characteristics that distinguish B2B sales from B2C sales, including:
Bigger decision-making groups.
Have you ever tried to make a decision as part of a large group?
Yeah, it’s not the best. It’s why the “design by committee” concept exists.
But in the context of a large business, which often needs to make decisions that can cost or gain millions of dollars, a group-based decision is practically necessary. Many people need to sign off on the purchase before it goes through.
By contrast, in a B2C environment, a salesperson must only convince one person that the product is worth buying. In a B2B environment, you may end up needing to persuade several.
There are more touchpoints in a B2B process than in a B2C process.
A B2C sale usually goes like this: you make the call, you make the pitch, and the customer either decides to buy or moves on.
A B2B sale is much more involved. You’ll have to send emails, make phone calls, meet other team members, go to meetings… and only then will you be able to move forward.
Though not always the case, B2B sales often have higher prices.
Why? Businesses have more cash to work with. And they need bigger things.
Whereas a B2C sale might be $100 or $1,000, a B2B sale might be $100,000 or $1,000,000 – or $5,000 per month.
Longer sales cycles.
It’s partly because of the higher sale price. It’s partly because of the committee-based decision-making.
Whatever combination of factors are responsible, B2B sales cycles are longer.
You can usually close out a B2C sale within a few days or a few weeks. But in the B2B world, it might take months to move someone from mere “prospect” to closed sale.
Though not universal, many B2B sales strategies focus more on relationships than on closing a sale. In many cases, it’s better to build a partnership from the beginning. Not only will it result in a longer relationship and more sales (see my post on relationship selling), it could also result in more referrals.
Plus, it’s nice to get to know your clients.
B2B Sales: Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales
If you want to master your B2B sales strategy, you should know the difference between inside sales and outside sales.
Inside salespeople stay put. They work in the office, or work from home, or make phone calls from the local library. They communicate via email, phone calls, and whatever other mediums allow them to cover distance.
Outside salespeople travel. They visit their B2B prospects and clients in person, often attending meetings with many people at once.
Approximately 45.5 percent of salespeople are inside salespeople and 52.8 percent are outside salespeople.
That tells you that both inside and outside sales are important. While some industries and some companies may benefit strongly from one type more than the other, the strongest overall sales team will be composed of both inside and outside salespeople.
Try to optimize for both and find the best possible people for each position.
The B2B Sales Process in 7 Steps
The B2B sales process follows a somewhat generic formula.
You’ll generate prospects, turn them into leads, then follow up with them… and eventually close.
Here’s what that process looks like.
Step 1. Research
B2B sales starts with the research phase. You’ll need to think carefully about the nature of your products and services and study the people to whom you’re about to pitch.
The goal here is to arm yourself with information, so you can use it to fine-tune your approach.
- Unique value proposition. What is your company’s unique value proposition? What do you offer that no other company can offer? What’s the shortest pitch that is going to explain what your products and services do?
- Key differentiators. There are probably a lot of companies like yours, offering products like yours. Study them. Learn from them. Keep your enemies closer, right? Better understanding your competitors will help you figure out your key differentiators. What is it that makes you different? How are you better?
- Your SWOT analysis. No, not the military-style police team. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Your research should help you understand what these are for your business.
- Key demographics. Of course, you also need to figure out who your key demographics are. What does your average customer look like? What type of business do they work for? How big is that company? What job title do they hold? Develop a full customer persona and use it to perfect your strategy.
Step 2. Prospecting
The next phase of the process is prospecting.
What does that mean?
It means collecting a bunch contact information belonging to people who fit your customer persona models.
There are dozens of prospecting strategies you can use as a B2B company. You can find people on LinkedIn who meet your customer persona requirements. You can visit tradeshows and industry expos.
You can professionally network. You can join groups and discussion threads relevant to your industry on Twitter. You can use a collection of tools to find new businesses and professionals’ contact information.
You can use all these strategies at once if you have the resources.
The point is, you need to end up with a solid list of prospects before you continue.
For help, see these in-depth guides:
- 10 Tools to Build a Targeted List of Prospects for Email Outreach
- 75 B2B Lead Generation Ideas and Tips
- 9 Best LinkedIn Email Finders and Scrapers
Step 3. Making initial contact
In the B2B sales world, you usually have to reach out to a prospect multiple times before they’re ready to finalize the sale.
And it all starts with one point of outreach.
Your first contact could be an introduction at a networking event, a cold call, a cold email (see our guide to cold calls vs cold emails), or a LinkedIn message. Whatever it is, it needs to make a great first impression – and give your sales team multiple routes for potential development.
See these guides for help making initial contact:
Step 4. Conversations and Objection Management
Even with a great product, there’s a good chance you’ll run into sales objections. Or at the very least, your lead won’t be ready to move forward at this time.
Cue the follow-up sequence!
Don’t lose hope. You may have to work to overcome objections. You might have to follow-up regularly. You might have to have harder conversations with more people in their company.
As long as there’s hope for an eventual sale, you can keep following up.
Just be prepared to abandon a lead if it doesn’t look like it’s going to pan out.
Step 5. The Pitch
It’s game time.
By this point, you’ve introduced your company. You’ve gotten to know the client. And you’re thinking you can close the sale.
This is the time to pitch.
Oftentimes, you’ll have to pitch to an entire team at once. If not, you’ll want to pitch to a decision maker.
This is the time to polish your persuasion skills, present all the right information and resources, and show off what your products and services can really do.
Step 6. Closing
The hardest part of the sale is the close… or is it?
If you’ve done everything right in your B2B strategy, closing should be the easy part.
You have the right type of customer. You know what their needs are. You know what their fears are. You’ve given them the right information. You’ve built a relationship with them.
So what else is there to do?
A handful of closing arguments should be all it takes to finalize the deal. Otherwise, you’ve probably made a mistake earlier in the process.
For help, see our guide to how to close the sale.
Step 7. Ongoing Relationship Building
The B2B sales process typically doesn’t end with a sale, weird as that may seem.
In fact, the sale is often just the beginning.
Remember, you want to build a relationship – not just close a deal. A better relationship will lead to more sales from the same customer in the future. It will mean a better reputation and more referrals.
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- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- The average professional spends 50% of their workday on email.
All good things.
So be prepared to follow up and ensure your customer is satisfied – and that they have everything they need to succeed.
How to Improve Your B2B Sales Performance
Improvement is the name of the game.
No matter how much research you do or how many rock stars you have on your team, your first B2B sales strategy is probably going to suck.
But that doesn’t matter.
Why? Because it’s entirely within your power to keep improving – possibly indefinitely.
Here are some of the most straightforward and most reliable ways to improve your B2B sales strategy:
Connect with all decision makers.
Who’s going to sign the contract? You can start warming up with almost anyone in the company. But as early as possible, you should be working to connect with all decision makers.
Figure out who’s responsible for making this decision. Figure out if there’s anyone who can override them. Try to get on a call or in a meeting with all the right people at once. It will cut your time to close in half – and potentially save you from heartbreak at the final hour when you realize you haven’t been talking to a decision maker at all.
I’ve said it a few times already, but here it is again. B2B sales isn’t just about closing a deal. It’s about building relationships.
You’ll land more sales initially if you establish trust. Treat your prospect like a partner. Work with them, rather than only trying to persuade them. If you do land the sale, you’ll be in a much better position long-term.
Focus on the pain points.
Good solutions solve problems. So to sell effectively in a B2B environment, you need to know what those problems are.
During the sales discovery process, it’s your job to figure out your prospect’s pain points. What bugs them? What do they hate? And more importantly, how can you fix that? Be sure to include this in your pitch.
Keep that snowball rolling downhill!
You have to start with a great first impression. Then follow up with something interesting. Before your prospect forgets about you, take them out to lunch. Then use that energy to lead into a pitch a few days later.
It takes time to find the right pacing and timing, but once you get it down, it will feel totally natural to you.
Get quality leads.
Forget quantity – lead quality is everything. Whatever it takes, your B2B sales process needs to leave you with high-quality leads.
For most B2B companies, that means aligning the marketing team with the sales team, relying on multiple prospecting strategies, and undergoing thorough discovery processes to determine the “fit” of each lead.
Follow up (but know when to quit).
Most B2B prospects say no – or “maybe later” – many times before eventually saying yes. Don’t give up just because you hit an obstacle!
Keep solid prospects in your system and continue to work with them, nurturing that relationship. Only give up when you’re sure this prospect isn’t a good fit – and when you figure that out, drop the prospect and move on so you don’t waste any more time.
See this list of sales email follow-up templates for help.
Delegate and coordinate effectively.
There’s a reason why collaboration is such an important sales skill – especially in the B2B world.
B2B sales is much easier and more consistent when you have a team that’s working together. People can share tips. They can swap leads. They can attend meetings together. They can brainstorm to overcome objections. They can redistribute workloads on the fly.
It’s marvelous to see an efficient engine running here. So learn to delegate and coordinate effectively.
Give salespeople the tools they need to succeed.
Even the Michael Jordan of B2B sales would struggle without the right tools for success.
We’ll cover some of the best digital tools to help your B2B strategy succeed down below. But you’ll also need to have good resources in place.
For example, you should have a thoroughly documented sales process that all your salespeople can consult whenever they need guidance (along with scripts, talking points, pitch decks, and templates).
Use a variety of strategies and approaches.
Is social selling your jam? Do you work better with cold email outreach?
You have to experiment to figure it out. So make sure you try a variety of strategies and approaches. The data will tell you which ones are best for your organization.
Anticipate and overcome objections.
Objections will come. Trust me. Even if you had a universally loved, hypothetically “perfect” product, someone would find something wrong with it. It’s human nature.
You need to be ready for any possible objection – and find a way to overcome those objections. That doesn’t mean debating your prospect or refuting their claims, necessarily. But it does mean preventing yourself from being caught off-guard.
Good relationships lead to strong referrals, remember? So take advantage of them! When you land a great sale and you know your client’s happy, don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. These are easy future sales you can land in the future. Here’s a guide on how to ask for referrals.
Don’t get stuck in a rut. Even if you stumble upon a great B2B sales process, a reliable sales methodology, and some downright cool salespeople to make your strategy work, it’s problematic to rest on your laurels.
You have to keep experimenting, keep adopting new tools, keep measuring your progress, and keep changing with the times. The most agile B2B companies tend to be the most successful long-term.
For more ideas, see our post on how to increase sales.
The Most Common Reasons B2B Sales Strategies Fail
We’ve seen the good. We’ve touched on the bad.
Now, the ugly: lots of B2B sales strategies fail.
Despite the best intentions and reasonably competent teams, some B2B strategies simply don’t work out.
Why is this the case?
Most failed strategies are guilty of one or more of the following:
- Bad leads. Quality over quantity. If you spend too much time on leads that were never going to buy from you, you won’t spend enough time on the leads that really matter.
- Ignoring opportunities. I bet there are thousands of people out there who would buy your product right now – but they don’t even know it exists.
- Selling to the wrong people. The CPA you’re talking to loves the idea of your product. Too bad he doesn’t have the authority to sign off on a purchase. Talk to the decision makers as soon as you can to avoid this dead-end.
- Focusing on features. I get the temptation to pitch the features of your product. After all, it’s a cool product. I’m with you. But if you want to land a B2B sale, this can’t be your exclusive focus. You need to build the relationship. You need to establish trust. You need to focus on pain points and how your product solves them. The features are secondary.
- Having one strategy. You might have a great prospecting strategy or a solid process for qualifying leads. But if it’s your only approach, you’re doing something wrong. Use a mix of different approaches to get the best of all of them.
- Giving up too early. Prospect not sure if this is the right product for them? Don’t abandon them. Stick with them. Only give up when you’re sure it’s not going anywhere.
If you can avoid these potentially fatal mistakes, you’ll instantly be primed for a better chance of success.
The 10 Best B2B Sales Tools
B2B sales is much easier when you have the right tools in your corner.
These are some of my personal favorites for finding and contacting leads:
LinkedIn Sales Navigator basically turns LinkedIn into a search engine for leads. You can create highly-targeted searches including things like industry, revenue, company size, and much more. Then you can browse the people who match your search results, and connect with them, message them, or use a LinkedIn prospecting tool to find their email address and send them an email.
MeetAlfred is a prospect-generating platform that automates the process of connecting with and messaging prospects on LinkedIn. It enables you set up multi-touch sequences across a variety of platforms, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and even email, helping you find and contact people who fit your target demographics.
Apollo is my favorite LinkedIn prospecting tool. It also has a proprietary database that you can pull lead info from – and it only costs $50/mo. Well worth it! Apollo works like a search engine for leads, so you can find the right prospects quickly and easily, then make initial contact with them.
Mailshake is fantastic for cold email outreach. With it, you can coordinate your prospecting efforts across not only email, but also social media and phone calls. You can use split testing to experiment with new approaches, automate phone dialing to save time, and catch and qualify your most important leads – automatically.
Lemlist is another fantastic option for cold B2B sales email outreach. It enables you to set up cold email sequences and run A/B tests. One feature I really like is its “Lemwarm” functionality, which automatically warms up a new email account. It helps you get started with cold emailing faster and with less risk of a Google-ban. You can also use Lemlist to integrate with a wide variety of other sales tools (like Salesforce or Pipedrive).
6. Voila Norbert.
Don’t you hate finding an interesting social media profile of a person who fits your target demographics, only to discover that their email address is unavailable? Not to worry. Voila Norbert can find it. This tool scours the web to help you find detailed information (including contact information) on prospects who fit your ideal mold. And if you already have a list of email addresses for email outreach, you can use Voila Norbert to scan and “clean” the list and remove any email addresses that could bounce.
Intercom bills itself as a “conversational relationship platform.” Already sounds perfect for B2B sales, doesn’t it? With Intercom, you can live chat with prospects, utilize bots to manage conversations, tour products with customers, and even manage your email – all to support better relationships with your prospects and (eventually) your customers. It also works a fantastic CRM.
Speaking of CRMs, every salesperson needs a CRM, whether that’s simply Gmail or a more specialized software. When it comes to sales CRMs, Salesforce is the industry standard, so I’ll list it here. However, there are plenty of other great CRMs, and even CRMs for Gmail, so pick one that works well for you and your team.
Email is at the heart of most B2B sales process, especially during the early phases of development. And there are few email tools as handy as Boomerang. With Boomerang, you can schedule emails, automate follow-ups, analyze your message activity, and even schedule meetings on your calendar.
Maybe I’m biased (okay, I am), but I tried to balance my bias by putting our own app here at #10 instead of #1. I hope that’s fair 😉 While the rest of the tools on this list give you ways to find, contact, and manage leads, EmailAnalytics lets you assess how you’re communicating with those leads. This enables you to optimize your actual sales performance – ie, your communication. It’s got everything you need to evaluate your email-based sales strategy, including metrics like average email response time (a critical KPI for sales teams), workload distribution analysis, and much more.
At this point, you should have everything you need to design and begin implementing a successful B2B sales strategy from scratch. For ongoing support, consider reading sales books or listening to one of these sales podcasts.
Do you have all the right tools in place?
We already made a pitch for EmailAnalytics in the section above, but it bears repeating. EmailAnalytics may be the most important tool in your B2B sales arsenal; it can tell you everything you need to know about your sales team’s email communications.
And guess what? You can try it for free.
Sign up for a free trial of EmailAnalytics today and see how it works!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.