In B2B sales, closing a deal feels especially amazing.

When you convert a prospect company from lead to customer, they can become one of your most profitable, meaningful and long-lasting customer relationships, and a huge vehicle for growth.

Aka. you and your business will be very happy indeed.

But getting there is a long, complex and down right difficult process.

The world of B2B sales is evolving, and sales teams need to be equipped with the right tools to go into battle if they want to keep closing deals.

In this page, we’ll go into detail about the evolution of B2B sales and everything you need to master it today, including:

Table of contents:

  1. A short history of B2B sales
  2. Concepts and frameworks
  3. Lead generation and sales enablement
  4. Structuring the operation
  5. Measuring B2B sales

Let’s dive in.

1. A short history of B2B sales

B2B sales has been around for a long time. Back in the 1920s it was called “industrial marketing” – a catch-all term that covered a huge range of activities that every team in the business shared, such as:

  • Lead & demand generation
  • Product marketing & competitive analysis
  • Sales enablement
  • Branding & content marketing

B2B sales were much harder back then in some ways. Prospecting for information about leads took more than a few search terms and casual cold calls. It was about connections, relationships, real conversations and a significant degree of right-place-right-time luck.

The internet explosion revolutionised B2B sales – not just in the sudden ubiquity of prospect information, but in the way that data could be operationalized at a systems level across organisations. Database directories were built that gave instant access to millions of companies’ information at once.

So how has digital transformation changed B2B sales since then? Today businesses leverage data, automation, intelligence and cloud solutions to level up their B2B sales on all sides. Leading B2B sales teams target prospects through multiple channels based on technographics, sales triggers, buying intent, web properties, news coverage, social media presence and much, much more (we must stress, the list goes on).

B2B sales techniques and methodologies are still catching up to this new potential. And as the industry grows, the process of B2B sales gets more and more complex for your sales team.

With this, a barrage of fancy new terms, techniques, methodologies and frameworks emerged that are constantly used interchangeably between different companies and thought leaders.

Complex as it is, the first step to overcoming the challenges is understanding modern B2B sales models.

In the following chapters, we will cover the majority of the concepts and frameworks, lead generation techniques, operational structures and key measurements that are used by sales teams on a daily basis.

2. What concepts and frameworks should you know?

Let’s start with some fundamentals. What are some common B2B sales models? What are B2B sales strategies? Here, we’ll cover some of the key things to consider when approaching B2B sales.

What is the B2B sales funnel?

A B2B sales funnel maps the steps your customers take from first contact to final purchase. It focuses on the buyer’s perspective throughout the B2B sales process.

The B2B sales funnel is most commonly represented as an inverted pyramid. A large number of potential prospects enter at the top and filter down to a small number of engaged prospects who decide to become customers.

This model is commonly known as AIDA, an acronym for the 4 stages of the funnel that it depicts:

  1. Awareness – a prospect is aware of your offering through targeted or organic advertising or research based on their business issues they need to solve.
  2. Interest – a prospect recognises your offering may help their business, and wants to dig deeper to determine whether your brand is a good fit.
  3. Decisioning – a prospect is now aware of how your offering fits their needs, but is still weighing up the pros and cons (they might ask for a demo at this stage).
  4. Action – a prospect either makes a purchase decision and becomes a customer or decides to postpone or opt-out of the sale.

Not all B2B sales models use this precise model however. Some use a simpler 3-step framework. Some use a more elaborate funnel with 7-steps. Some add a 5th stage in ‘Loyalty’ after ‘Action’. And some change the language of the stages depending on their process and outlook (companies try to be lighter and refer to it as: Attract, Convert, Close, Delight).

B2B sales funnels are important for your business to map the effectiveness of your buyer journey. Sales teams can use them to interrogate and improve on different aspects of their process, which helps boost conversion rates , fine-tune messaging, and ultimately generate more revenue.

To find out more about B2B sales funnels in more detail, including some examples and best practices, read our deep-dive article.

What’s the difference between B2B sales pipelines and B2B sales funnels?

You might be forgiven to think that B2B sales funnels and B2B sales pipelines are similar, if not the same thing. In fact, they are regularly and mistakenly interchanged.

Like a funnel, a sales pipeline tracks how a prospect moves down through your buying journey, with a large number of prospect companies entering the top and a few becoming customers at the bottom.

The key difference between a B2B sales funnel and a pipeline is that a pipeline focuses on the seller’s perspective. This means things like revenue opportunities, targets, distribution and sales activities.

The stages in the B2B sales pipeline visualise the sales process, like prospecting, needs analysis, proposal, negotiation and closing.

  1. Prospecting – sellers use outbound emails, social media messaging or cold calling to contact potential buyers who fall into their ideal profile.
  2. Qualification – sellers determine the suitability of prospects to distinguish between “hot” or “cold” leads
  3. Contact – sellers reach out to engage with prospects once they’re qualified
  4. Relationship building – sellers use content, personalisation, feedback and other forms of communication to build trust and connections with prospects
  5. Sales call – sellers introduce and demo their offering to prospects to prove its value
  6. Negotiation and closing – sellers propose their offering, negotiate terms and oversee the purchase if successful

An effective B2B sales pipeline will give you a full view of everything from potential opportunities, to customer conversion.

See what type of B2B sales suits you

Depending on your business model/product/service, B2B sales typically come in three different types: supply sales, distribution sales and service sales.

Type 1: Supply sales

This is when a business sells business consumables to other companies such as equipment (like office supplies), employee workwear, batteries etc.

The process of B2B supply sales looks a lot like a B2C supply sales process, except when it comes to the quantity of goods ordered (printer papers for a whole office rather than for an individual’s use) and purchase approval needed from one or multiple decision-makers in the company.

Type 2: Distribution sales

These B2B sales are carried out by wholesalers who sell manufacturing or retail components to other businesses like manufacturers, retailers or assemblers.

Companies that do this often specialise in a specific industry, and don’t tend to deviate from it, so they build strong relationships with their customer base.

Examples of this might be supplying fabrics to clothes retailers, essential food products to restaurants, or parts for the automotive, healthcare, telecom and tech industries.

The business will then sell the end products at a marked-up price to customers.

Type 3: Service sales

Here, instead of selling products, B2B service providers will sell services like tax accounting, supply chain management, cloud storage or SaaS tools like a CRM to other businesses.

More than the previous two types of B2B sales, service sales require a business to build stronger, more trusting relationships with prospects, and make them more personalised along the buying journey as the lifecycle of a service is typically longer than that of a product.

Service sales typically run at a lower cost of delivery versus traditional product-based offerings, which frees up capital to invest in customer experience (although this can vary depending on the nature of the offering).

Services also tend to be sold on a subscription basis to customers rather than as one single sale. Sometimes these subscriptions won’t include any time engagement, which means the customer can decide to stop using your service at any point. Because of this, sales teams using service sales should take advantage of any extra room to improve customer service.

Are you using the right B2B sales strategy?

One of the crucial things you need to nail down in B2B sales is adopting the right strategy for your business goals.

Trying to navigate such a complex buyer journey without a clear approach optimised for your needs often means prospects fail to progress down the funnel fast enough – so opportunities flounder and your revenue dries up.

Here are four practical examples of B2B sales strategies that keep your funnel moving and your conversions regular. Your team can use these strategies depending on what kind of accounts you’re targeting, most teams combine them to get the best results:

1. Social selling

B2B sales teams can use social selling to nurture and build engagement with potential prospects by building community relationships on social media.

To succeed, B2B sales teams must cover these fundamentals:

  • Social listening and sentiment analysis – What is being said about the company on social media?
  • Content creation – Research industry trends, activity and evolution to create relevant, meaningful content.
  • Sharing and interaction – Informed by social listening, data and research, have genuine and personalised conversations
  • Act on data – Find out which content is getting the best results on which social channels

Social selling in B2B focuses on promoting content that is relevant to prospect companies across the channels that they are most active on. Putting the salesperson and the customer in a position to have deeper conversations about things they actually care about.

2. Account-based selling

Account-based selling (also known as account-based sales) is a B2B sales strategy that establishes multiple stakeholder connections within a target organisation across multiple channels and touchpoints.

There are typically 3 types of account-based selling sales teams use in B2B:

  • Strategic – Targets prospects one-to-one over a single or a few key accounts, personalising all interactions for each
  • Lite – Targets a wider group of strategic accounts and uses personalised messaging based on several groups of accounts
  • Programmatic – Targets many identified accounts and uses personalisation at scale

Account-based selling can be a highly rewarding strategy, 85% of marketers who measure ROI describe account-based marketing as delivering higher returns than any other marketing approach.

3. Strategic selling

Strategic selling in B2B sales uses a persona-based approach to identify contacts within a prospect organisation that have influence over the buying decisions. B2B sales teams using a strategic selling approach use a combination of desk-research (through social media sites and org-chart mapping) to understand which job roles and individuals can provide buying support to the ultimate decision-maker further down the sales funnel.

Often these roles cross areas like:

  1. Economic buyers – an individual or group responsible for the budget and transaction
  2. User buyers – an individual or group who’ll actually use the solution or service
  3. Technical buyers – an individual or group who’ll support the delivery of the offering
  4. Gatekeepers – often compliance or legal stakeholders with regulatory obligations

Strategic selling helps you win more complex deals through an insights-driven approach that understands the cross-departmental complexity of most B2B sales.

4. Solution selling

Solution selling is a B2B sales strategy that puts prospect above product to help build an even closer relationship.

A salesperson will start by interacting with the prospect company in order to diagnose their needs and the challenges they face with open-ended questions. If the prospect qualifies (is a right fit for your company and has the right budget) and is interested, a salesperson will educate them on the offerings their company has to solve their pain points. Finally, using this to recommend personalised products or services to combat these challenges.

How B2B is different from B2C sales

B2B sales is not, and never has been, as simple as its B2C cousin. B2C sales teams sell goods and services to suit individual consumer needs. B2B sales teams sell products and services to aid the success of other businesses operations, and because of this, there are extra considerations, like:

Fewer potential customers

Because of the more complex and specialised nature of B2B products and services, the total addressable market of buyers that fit your company’s profile will be narrower.

Multiple decision maker

In B2B sales, you don’t need to convince one person to act – you’re operating across multiple different touchpoints and contacts within the prospect company, most of whom are sceptical, time-poor and saturated by other B2B sales interactions.

According to Gartner, the average number of decision-makers in a B2B sale can be between 6 and 10.

Longer sales cycles

Due to the complexity of the B2B sales process, the multi-stakeholder buy-in and the costly price tags, a prospect company will naturally want to take more time to move down the sales funnel to make sure your offering suits them.

Conversely, B2B sales teams will want to take the time to prospect potential customers to make sure they are likely to be interested in the product or service, so they are more likely to end up making a purchase.

More sophisticated selling techniques

B2B sales teams operate in a more punishing sales environment; a lost sale is worth far more than for a B2C sales team.

Because of this, they usually follow well-calibrated, advanced and structured sales processes to succeed.

More focus on customer experience

Not only do B2B sales teams interact with multiple contacts in a prospect company but they also interact with them far longer than the B2B sales cycle.

B2B sales place a higher emphasis on customer experience, satisfaction and service to help keep the prospect moving forward.

A B2B service offering such as software will also require frequent servicing and communication, so making sure your customer experience is excellent can be crucial for keeping a client happy and using your service.

Enterprise vs. startups sales: What’s the difference?

Let’s be real, a B2B sales team in a multinational company sitting in a snazzy city office surrounded by spider plants isn’t going to be chasing the same leads as a small startup operating out of their parents’ garage. So, what does the sales process look like for each?

Enterprises

  • Can use the weight behind their company to look at selling to bigger businesses with bigger budgets. Larger prospect companies will want to ensure the product or service they purchase will be effective and reliable, and have a proven track record of success.
  • Will have a more structured B2B sales process, including a customer support department, greater resources and tried and tested sales methodologies and techniques.
  • Salespeople can focus solely on selling with few additional obligations.

Startups

  • Can sell to smaller, (sometimes) more interesting prospect companies who are more comfortable trying lesser-known products or services to help differentiate them.
  • It’s often on the sales reps themselves to craft sales processes and techniques as they go. This isn’t always a bad thing, as they can mould the sales process around what works best for them and have more flexibility to grow as a result.
  • Due to the smaller size of these companies, salespeople will often have to wear “many hats”, and take on other responsibilities within the company.

Once you’ve identified what B2B sales frameworks work best for your business, it’s time to apply the correct techniques to make them run successfully.

3. Master lead generation and sales enablement

Here, we’ll take a closer look at the tactical activities and techniques used by B2B sales teams.

How do you prospect?

This is the very first stage in the B2B sales process. Get this right, and the rest of your B2B sales funnel will start to look a lot healthier.

Prospecting for B2B sales is the process of identifying potential customers, with the end goal of converting them to customers.

You can separate these potential customers into suspects (companies who may not be aware of your business but you suspect may be in need of your offerings) and prospects (companies who are aware of your business and have confirmed their interest in buying from you at some point).

Tactics

To qualify companies as prospects, there are a number of tactics B2B sales teams can use to establish contact, including:

  • Phone calls – Really effective to initiate a discussion with stakeholders in a potential business.
  • Email – A catchy way to share information about your offering and entice potential prospects to take action.
  • Social selling – Social platforms like LinkedIn are fantastic ways to follow, communicate with and engage potential businesses through direct messages.
  • Sales demos – A live demonstration of a product or service intended to give potential prospects an insight into how the offering can solve their pain points.

Lead generation techniques

Lead gen for B2B sales is the process of turning identified prospects into genuine leads that will be attracted to buy your product or service. It is an essential part of the B2B sales process.

Generating high-quality leads isn’t an easy feat, but there are many well-established techniques that can make significant breakthroughs, which we explore here, but they can be defined by 4 key stages:

  1. Awareness – The techniques used to make prospect companies aware of how your offering can solve their pain points.
  2. Education – The techniques used to build trust in a customer relationship, usually done by demonstrating expertise, knowledge, resources and experience.
  3. Sampling – The ‘show-and-tell’ stage. You can give the prospect live demos, audits, samples, etc., of your product and service to lead them towards conversion.
  4. Conversion – The final stage of lead gen, which involves showing the prospect the results they can achieve with your offering before making the sale and converting them into a customer.

How to succeed with sales enablement

According to Gartner, B2B sales enablement “is the activities, systems, processes and information that support and promote knowledge-based sales interactions with clients and prospects”.

The foundation of sales enablement is to provide the B2B sales team with what they need to engage the potential buyer throughout the buying process – it’s the “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” of B2B sales.

A successful sales enablement process ensures that the sales journey aligns with the buyer journey for better and more consistent engagement. It allows more personalised content and communication to specific buyer personas and gives specific buyers a way to provide feedback and improve customer experience.

Effective B2B sales channels

These are the platforms sales teams can use to attract interest from and communicate with potential buyers.

We’ll go into which of these channels are currently the most effective for B2B sales and how you can get the most out of them here.

Knowing the right frameworks and techniques your team can use to maximise B2B sales opportunities is dependent on a well structured team who use the best software and tools. Here, we’ll take a look at the different ways you can structure your sales process to suit your business.

4. How should you structure your B2B sales operation?

Here we’ll take you through some of the ways you can start to build up and structure your B2B sales process for success.

What tools and software do you need?

To navigate the complex world of B2B sales, a strong sales team will use many tools to reach their prospects and boost their chances at moving them down the funnel.

It’s especially important today, when hybrid working is changing how sales teams interact and do business. You need the right B2B sales solutions and software to keep the competitive edge. Here’s a brief overview of the kind of tools you should be looking at using to keep your B2B sales funnel flowing:

An effective CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solution

It’s impossible to run an effective B2B sales operation without a robust CRM. This is a centralised store of all your customer data, presented to the sales team in an indexed, searchable and intuitive interface.

Sales teams can log everything here, from basic demographic information, to specific sales insights based on desk research and prospect conversations. CRMs should help teams to track interactions and progression down the sales funnel, often scoring different prospect opportunities by different factors to assess their fit, appetite and readiness to buy.

A marketing automation platform

Your CRM should be integrated with a marketing automation platform. Marketing automation platforms automatically distribute and track digital communications and marketing communications to your prospect database.

They also feed any resultant interactions or engagement into the CRM platform to provide a single joined-up view of every customer for the sales team.

A powerful data analytics software

These provide your sales team with bespoke analytical models that improve your prospect targeting, personalise the buyer journey more effectively and increase the lifelong value of your customers once a purchase has been made.

Structure the right team for your business

B2B sales team structures are normally divided into roles within the sales process:

  • Profilers define your target market and inform the business of their audience specifications.
  • SDRs (Sales Development Reps) lead the prospecting and lead gen stages and generate meetings for the AEs.
  • AEs (Account Executives) tend to lead the sales process and carry businesses from lead to customer.

The balance of your team will depend on your size and the products or services you offer.

A successful B2B sales team structure will be a huge factor in navigating the fast-paced, hairy forest of B2B sales.

However, any old ideas of individual sales reps chasing acquisitions for commission or sales quotas should be ditched at this point. Too often B2B teams are seen focussing on competitive tactics with individual goals. Despite the traditionally defined roles, the future of sales team success in B2B is collaboration.

Modern teams that collate the skilled resources that exist in their team together to create a more seamless, and satisfying buying experience will be the ones that succeed in an era where customers have such high service expectations.

Should you outsource B2B sales?

As we’ve mentioned many times, B2B sales is a complex beast to master.

Traditionally, businesses have relied on in-house B2B sales teams. While this can work in some areas, in the modern era of sales there are some disadvantages to this way of doing things:

  • Different organisations often use different tools and B2B sales solutions to control and track communication activity with multiple prospective buyers at once, so it can be hard to integrate third party data with your own.
  • Leadership often has to oversee sales activities including training, implementation of software and other forms of active management. This is no part-time job, and requires a specialist with experience in the area.
  • With the digitisation of B2B sales, companies need skilled specialists to transform the last mile of the buying journey into success.

So, what are the benefits of outsourcing?

  • Immediate access to an infrastructure of salespeople who already have the modern sales experience to know what works and what doesn’t. So, you can spend less time and money on the trial and error process of B2B sales solutions and focus on growing your business.
  • Greater control over the B2B sales process through a team of experts collaborating to improve the buyer and seller journeys. Including recruiting the right people, delivering expert sales training, monitoring sales metrics and KPIs, continuous refinement of the sales process.
  • Saved costs on additional office space, in-house recruitment drives, competency gaps and sales rep attrition.
  • A more knowledgeable, agile and flexible sales team are able to target markets that an in-house team would not have the capacity to scope.

Once you have a working B2B sales process and start to convert steady customers, you need a way to keep your success consistent. The best way to achieve this? Analyse and learn from your sales performance.

5. How can you measure your B2B sales performance?

Here you can find out the best ways to measure your B2B sales team KPIs and look at B2B sales data analysis.

B2B sales KPIs you should measure

Tracking your sales process performance can help your sales team identify weak spots, strong points (what’s working and what’s not) and learn where you can improve in the future for greater success.

As a baseline, these are the most useful KPIs your B2B sales team should watch and track:

  • Sales productivity metrics – how much are you getting done?
  • Revenue – how much money are you bringing in?
  • Number of new leads by source
  • Lead-to-potential ratio
  • Average lead response times
  • Average follow-up attempt
  • Closed monthly deals
  • Cost of customer acquisition
  • Win-loss ratio

Why metrics aren’t the same as KPIs

Tread carefully when using these two words interchangeably, as they are not the same thing.

While metrics are certainly important, they refer to how businesses measure aspects of their sales process that can be quantified over time for business processes, like controlling and tracking spending. Metrics are tracked primarily to identify areas where the business can increase revenue and progress short- and long-term goals.

KPIs are more important. They measure performance we can quantify over time for specific objectives. B2B sales KPIs are what’s going to have the greatest impact on your business, and teams can use them to achieve their goals better, measure progress and make more intelligent decisions.

Sales data analysis types you should know

You may have had great success taking a prospective business from the lead stage to conversion. But the most important part of the B2B sales process is yet to come: Sales data analysis.

A detailed and rigorous sales data analysis system can provide sales leaders with a vital tool to reveal what approaches work, or don’t work in their market. It can also illuminate which stages of your processes perform well, and which need patching up.

The types of data analysis tools B2B sales teams can use to help achieve a number of objectives. Some of the kinds of data analysis companies use include:

Customer research analytics

This uses data from market research to determine how to best keep your customers and grow revenue.

Diagnostic analytics

This targets sales metrics data and uses it to create a potential new strategy for any improvements.

Pattern analytics

This identifies trends within your sales data so you can more easily forecast product demand and set more accurate quotas.

Pipeline analytics

This analyses the opportunities in your pipeline, including the quality of your leads and your close ratio.

Predictive sales analytics

This uses customer behaviour to dissect data and predict upcoming revenue.

Using these tools in the right way can help your B2B sales team forecast more effectively, track products or services sold more accurately, improve general sales team performance, find more successful sales approaches and engage customers in a more personal and meaningful way.

Transform your B2B sales

There you have it. A whistle-stop tour of the concepts, frameworks, lead gen and sales techniques, basic structures, and measurement methods that are important in B2B sales today.

Find out more about the accelerating transformation in B2B sales in our eBook here.