A well-structured and efficient business-to-business (B2B) sales process is crucial for success in today’s competitive business landscape. By understanding the critical differences between business-to-business and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales processes and leveraging scientific research, credible statistics, and modern sales strategy, you can enhance your B2B sales processes and drive growth.
This blog post will explore the stages of a great B2B sales process and provide practical tips on improving it.
Understanding B2B Sales Process
B2B sales are when a business sells its products or services to other businesses. So, business-to-business sales are sales that one company make to another company as a customer.
To do this well, you must have an excellent process. This process is called the B2B sales process. It covers who they will sell to, how they will reach them, and what techniques they will use.
Generally, depending on how the company generates leads, there can be two types of B2B sales cycles: inbound and outbound. Let’s look at both processes and the difference between them.
Inbound B2B Sales Process
In the inbound B2B sales cycle, people contact the company first and ask for what they need. Usually, in this process, everything starts with potential customers:
- Customer is searching for a possible solution to the problem that your products and services will solve them. Let’s say they start with exploring possible solutions by searching on Google and social media or asking some other companies that already have experienced similar problems.
- In the next step, they will start to build requirements for what they need and expect from the possible solutions. They will compare different companies and solutions and decide which can best satisfy their needs. After deciding, they’ll validate it by reviewing reviews or case studies using similar products and services.
- Next, they will contact the selected company’s sales department and ask for additional information to validate or reject their hypothesis according to the previous steps.
- Then they will need to decide on purchasing from selected companies or repeating the process to find other companies if the selected ones will not fulfill their requirements.
- And the last step is negotiation and agreement so that the B2B sales will be finalized if everything is OK with the previous step.
Outbound B2B Sales Process
On the other side, in the outbound B2B sales process, salespeople from the company reach out to find customers who might want their products or services instead of waiting for customers to contact them like in the inbound process. In this process, everything starts with the company and its B2B sales teams:
- The first step in this process is prospecting, where the sales professionals will search for potential leads and try to decide whether they are a fit. So, they will use specific lead-generation strategies like advertising, email marketing, PPC, SEO, SMM, etc., to target companies with the right purchase intent for their products and services.
- In the second step, it is time for sales reps to prepare before they contact specific leads generated through the previous step. They are researching prospects to understand their needs and problems. Also, the critical part here is to find the decision-makers, learn more about them, and develop a B2B sales strategy to establish trust. It is essential to have a well-structured sales script that should include some of the most important topics from the prospect’s perspective.
- Next, they will contact the selected prospects via cold calls, emails, social media, or other communication. They will try to engage potential customers by offering them value and convincing them that the company can solve their problems.
- The fourth step is to understand customer requirements. The sales rep will need to answer all their’s questions and address possible objections to find an agreement between the parties.
- And the final step is to close the sale. After all talks and negotiations, your B2B sales team will try to make a deal with them if they find common ground.
B2C vs. B2B Sales Process
Unlike B2C sales, which focus on selling directly to individual consumers, B2B sales often involve more complex negotiations, larger deal sizes, and longer sales cycles.
Some key differences between B2C and B2B sales include:
- Decision-makers: In B2B sales, multiple decision-makers are usually involved, while B2C sales typically target individual consumers. So, prospecting and qualifying potential customers will be much more complex in B2B sales.
- Sales cycle length: B2B sales cycles tend to be longer due to the need for approval from various stakeholders and the complexity of the products or services sold. According to Hubspot, for example, SaaS B2B sales cycles span an average of 84 days, roughly two and a half months. The longer duration of B2B sales cycles can be attributed to several factors, such as the involvement of multiple decision-makers, the complexity of products or services offered, and the need for extensive negotiations on pricing and terms. These elements contribute to a more intricate and time-consuming process than B2C sales.
- Pricing: B2B pricing is often more flexible and negotiable than B2C pricing, which is usually fixed. This is because a B2B sale, as we already mentioned, involves multiple decision-makers and complex negotiations on pricing, terms, and services.
- Post-sale activities: In most cases, the B2B sales process will not finish with the agreement and delivery. It will require post-sale activities like help installing equipment or software and maintenance in a guaranteed period.
8 Stages of the B2B Sales Cycle
According to a study by Harvard Business Review, top-performing B2B sales organizations focus on providing value throughout the entire selling process.
So, you must ensure that you have all the necessary data to research, track the progress through your sales funnel, and give value through each stage.
Here are eight stages of the B2B product sales process.
1. Identify potential customers through research, marketing efforts, and referrals.
Your sales and marketing teams must start with the target market and identify customers with the highest possible purchase intent. It means identifying customers who are the closest to purchase decisions about your solutions.
The first step is researching the target market, understanding their needs and wants, and learning about the competition. You can use various tools and platforms such as Google Trends, Google Dataset Search, social media, and industry publications.
The second step will require creating content that resonates with your target audience, using social media platforms to reach potential leads, and utilizing email campaigns to stay in mind with prospects.
Finally, it is important to establish a referral system for identifying high-quality b2b product sales leads. This could include incentivizing existing customers to refer new ones or partnering with other businesses in the same industry with similar customer bases.
Once you have identified potential leads, the next step is to qualify them. You need to ensure they fit your ideal customer profile before investing too much time or resources into them. This could include verifying that their company fits the size and industry expectations and determining if their budget aligns with your offering.
3. Develop an Outreach Plan.
Now you will need to develop an outreach plan that outlines how you will reach out to them. This could include email campaigns, direct mailings, or even attending industry events where potential leads may be present.
The next step is to reach out to your qualified prospects. This could be done via email, cold calls, direct mail, or social media outreach. Your sales teams must ask questions or determine if they want and can buy your solution. Also, they must approve or reject the previous hypothesis related to the prospect’s needs, pain points, and decision-making process.
It’s essential to remember that this is where you will have the opportunity to make an excellent first impression and build a strong customer relationship.
5. Proposal and presentation.
This stage is a crucial step in closing deals.
First, you need to prepare a well-crafted proposal that outlines your product or service offering, pricing structure, and timeline for delivery. Ensure you present a tailored solution to address the prospect’s needs and demonstrate its value.
Remember that all your research will help you to prepare for this stage.
After your prospect knows about your solution, you must discuss pricing, terms, and conditions to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
7. Closing the Sale.
Closing the sale can be considered one of the most important steps in the whole process. It involves transitioning from the prospecting stage to the final stage to have a new customer that will pay for your solution.
8. Post-sale follow-up.
When you reach the sale, the process is still not done. You want to build strong relationships with your customers and ensure they are satisfied with their purchases. But not only that, you want your customers to bring new leads inside your sales funnel through a referral program.
For example, you can send the customer a thank you note or email after the sale is complete. This will show them that you appreciate their business and help you build a strong relationship between you and your customer.
Check in with your customer periodically to make sure they are happy with their purchase and that they don’t have any questions or concerns. Keep the lines of communication open by providing helpful resources such as blog posts, how-to articles, videos, or other content that can help them succeed in solving their problems. This will show them that you care about their success and will also help them stay informed about new products or services that may be relevant to them.
But, in the end, don’t forget to track all actual contact attempts by keeping detailed notes on each interaction with a customer so that you can refer back to them if needed in the future.
Steps for Continuous Improvement of Your B2B Sales Process
1. Visualise your sales funnel.
This is a critical step if you want to implement the process of continuous improvement of your sales process. Your B2B sales funnel defines all stages and steps potential leads will need to pass to make a purchase decision. Only with clear visual elements you can track the performance of all your steps to come to the purchase stage.
Here is an example I made with one company many years ago related to the visualization of the sales funnel. In this case, we use a process map to visualize how the company will reach potential leads and make them buyers. Using this process map, we can easily put numbers through each step of the process and then analyze the success of the campaigns (in this case, Facebook ads) and what the company is doing to transform these leads into regular customers.
You can also use visualization with a B2B sales funnel, like in the image below. The important thing is to put numbers of prospects that are moving from stage to stage.
2. Establish clear goals and KPIs
If you want to ensure that your process will be part of a continuous improvement process, you need measurable objectives and key performance indicators to track progress and success.
- First, identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that are relevant to your business objectives. This could include metrics such as lead conversion rate, customer acquisition cost, average order value, and customer lifetime value. Here you can find the four most important sales funnel metrics you will need to track.
- Next, you will need to set realistic goals based on these KPIs. For example, you might aim to increase your lead conversion rate by 10% or reduce your customer acquisition cost by 20%. Also, you will need the goals for each stage of your B2B sales process. In such a way, you can easily compare your achievements with the goals based on your KPIs. Remember, your goals will need to be SMART sales goals. As I already have mentioned, you can use your visualization from the first step and write each goal and KPI close to each stage.
- Now, you need to monitor progress towards these goals on a regular basis and adjust your strategies accordingly if needed. You can easily track progress toward achieving these goals because you already have all your goals and KPIs on your visual B2B sales process. When you collect data on a regular basis, you can analyze them to identify areas for improvement and adjust your future strategies.
3. Train and support your sales team
As you can see, when it comes to the B2B sales process, your sales professionals play a crucial role in the success of the whole process. So, providing ongoing training and resources to help your sales team stay up-to-date on industry trends, product knowledge, and sales techniques is a great sales strategy.
You can simply have some e-learning solutions for a continuous learning process.
Also, you can organize monthly or quarterly events where the most successful B2B sales reps will share their experience from achieving such results.
Remember that the most significant improvements will come from practice and experience. Because of that, it is really important to create a system for shared knowledge between your sales professionals.
Remember that your sales reps are not competitors between themselves. I have seen some companies use monetary awards for the best-performing reps, but this was counterproductive because of the competitive view between colleagues in the same department.
4. Use Modern Sales Techniques to Improve B2B Sales Cycle
Today, it is crucial to take advantage of different modern sales tools to enhance your processes. Some practical tips include:
- CRM software. You need customer relationship management (CRM) software to store and organize customer data, track interactions, and manage all sales activities. Without such a tool, you can not track and compare all KPIs with the goals. If you don’t have the resources for such a commercial solution, you can start by using Gmail as a CRM tool, or you can simply use Google Sheets. The important thing is to start building a database that will help you make important decisions.
- Implement artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. We are witnesses to the rising AI technology. So, why not use AI-powered tools to analyze customer data, identify trends, and automate some repetitive tasks? In such a way, you will have more time for sales teams to focus on building relationships and closing deals.
- Social selling. Social selling is a powerful tool for B2B companies to generate leads and feed their sales funnel. For example, a B2B company can use social selling to increase brand awareness among current and future customers, connect with prospects, customers, and influencers, share interesting content that is valuable and shareable, and help other people.
- Invest in digital marketing. Today, it doesn’t matter if you sell physical or digital products or services. You must be available through the web. So, it is important to implement targeted digital marketing strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and email campaigns to attract and nurture leads.
Now, you know what a B2B sales process is and how it differs from a B2C process. Also, you know the stages of the process and the essential steps to implement if you want to improve them.
It is up to you to start building systems to help you achieve your goals. Good luck!