They say whether B2C or B2B, it’s always human-to-human first. And that is true to some extent.
However, selling a complex software product or professional services is a bit different from selling a burger or even a car. And it’s not just a matter of price.
Let’s explore the intricacies of the complex B2B sales process and help you draft the effective strategy to navigate them with ease.
What is it like to sell B2B in 2023?
Just as businesses started recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic, the looming recession brought even more uncertainty. As a result, even the industries that hadn’t been affected before faced some challenges, resulting in layoffs and budget cuts.
This made selling to businesses even more difficult in 2023. Here are some of the definitive traits of a typical B2B sales process:
- Longer sales cycles — up to 180 days for larger deals. This often leads to stalled deals and opportunities being lost to no decision.
- More stakeholders involved in the buying process with the average enterprise B2B buying group consisting of 5-11 people across 5 distinct business functions on average.
- Importance of post-sales relationships as 72% of revenue comes from existing customers — either through cross/upselling or referrals.
Add to that the “default” sales funnel activities like outreach, demos, or negotiations which sales professionals usually handle and you’ll get an idea of what it’s like to sell B2B in 2023. As a result, this requires a more thorough approach, from the first touch up to the close and beyond. And that’s where a clear strategy comes into play.
What is a B2B sales strategy?
Generally speaking, a strategy is a course of action designed to achieve a specific goal. When applied to B2B sales, it stands for a detailed action plan that outlines the process, tactics, and tools the organization will use to attract customers, close deals, and generate revenue.
However, there is certain confusion when it comes to specific B2B sales strategy examples. Most people would refer to one of the following strategic approaches or selling methodologies instead:
- Consultative selling where a sales rep is acting as a consultant, delving into the customer's situation, uncovering their pain points and needs through in-depth discussions.
- Value selling, which is somewhat similar but focuses on emphasizing the value that the product or solution brings to the customer.
- Strategic selling — a method that involves identifying key players in the customer's organization, understanding their pain points and priorities, and then strategically positioning your value proposition to meet those needs effectively.
- Solution selling with the emphasis is on offering a comprehensive solution that addresses the customer's unique problems, instead of just pitching a product or service.
- Account-based selling — a strategic approach that focuses on targeting and engaging specific high-value accounts, treating them as individual markets or segments, to address the unique needs and preferences of each targeted account.
These are undoubtedly important and effective when selling B2B products. But they are just a part of a sales strategy that defines the way you position your offer and approach your target customers.
In addition to that, here are some common elements of a successful B2B sales strategy:
- Target audience and ideal customer profile — who you’re selling to?
- Sales objectives and KPIs — what are you willing to achieve?
- Sales tactics and playbooks — how are you going to do that?
- Sales process, from prospecting to closing and beyond, — what activities/steps does it involve?
- Sales team structure and responsibilities — who do you need to have on board in order to achieve your goals?
- Sales enablement tools and resources — what does your team need to succeed?
In practice, it gets even more complicated with every B2B sales strategy being unique to each organization, depending on its size, first of all. For example, as an early-stage startup, your main priority should be defining your ideal customer profile and finding the tactics and techniques to get some traction.
Later on, after you secure your series A or B funding, you will need to shift your focus to efficiency when scaling your team, building your tool stack, or generating the sales pipeline. At this stage, most B2B companies tend to focus on getting ROI.
With larger, enterprise-level companies, compliance will be the foundation of the strategy. Such companies tend to qualify/disqualify prospects early on and rely greatly on playbooks to reduce the waste and keep things consistent across the organization.
Nailing down your B2B sales strategy, step by step
Regardless of the size of your company or approach you choose, there are certain things to keep an eye on when nailing down your B2B sales strategy. Let’s break them down, step by step.
1. Sales development
The initial stage of a sales cycle, sales development typically involves lead generation or prospecting as well as initial outreach. Establishing a connection with your leads is by far the most important and challenging part of the whole process. However, there’s one thing that is even more important — your targeting.
Understanding your target market and ideal customer profile is vital to B2B businesses of any size. This is the foundation of your sales strategy that will define your choice of choice of tactics, the process, and the tools you utilize down the road. Understanding your buyer’s problems and needs allows you to tailor your selling playbooks and messaging for maximum impact. It also allows you to speed up qualification and discovery.
Once you really get to know your B2B buyers, you should also prioritize personalization. Starting with the initial touchpoint and throughout the whole buying journey, it’s important to keep your interactions timely and relevant. Whether you’re sharing some useful content or offering a demo, it has to be tailored to the customer's needs and preferences. B2B selling cycles are long enough, so you don’t want to waste any more time on meaningless interactions.
2. Nurturing and engagement
Once you establish that connection, it’s time to start building a deeper relationship with your qualified leads through nurturing. Considering that B2B sales is a lengthy process and customer lifetime value can be pretty high, investing some time and effort into this will pay off well when the customer converts. At this stage, there are two things you should keep in mind: multithreading and enablement.
As mentioned above, B2B purchasing decisions aren’t usually made single-handedly. Even if there’s one key decision-maker, they might also have a whole buying committee with multiple stakeholders who can influence the final choice. So it’s important to engage them as well through multithreading. Specifically, you should be looking to identify and build long-term relationships with the champions who can advocate for your product internally.
Self-service isn’t really a case for B2B buying, especially if we’re talking about complex, high-ticket deals. However, the modern buyers still want and expect some autonomy and you should be ready to accommodate that need. Enabling B2B buyers with the tools and information to explore your product on their own is a great way to keep them invested and speed up your sales cycle.
Pro tip: Use Flowla to master buyer engagement and minimize friction in your B2B selling process.
Unlike B2C sales, where you can simply add the desired item to your cart, check out in a few clicks, and get your purchase delivered the next day, B2B sales funnel isn’t as straightforward. With complex products or services, it often takes multiple steps and legal agreements to finalize the deal.
One distinctive feature of a sales strategy for a B2B SaaS product is the proof of concept stage. In simple terms, this means allowing your potential customers to “try before they buy.” However, unlike the traditional SaaS trial, POC implies an extended period (30-45 days) when a potential buyer can test your product in the real-life setting to prove its practical value. Usually conducted by a pre-sales team along with the AE, POC is a perfect opportunity to differentiate your value proposition and deepen your understanding of the buyer’s needs.
Yet, regardless of whether you close the deal right after a sales pitch or have a POC stage, transparency is of utmost importance when closing a high-ticket B2B deal. Having a mutual action plan will help you get all stakeholders on the same page, along with all important documents. Flowla makes this really easy serving as a unified hub for a wide range of deal-related assets and discussion. So whenever a new member joins the buying committee, you don’t need to go over everything you’ve already discussed and agreed on again.
Moving forward: Onboarding and upselling
Congrats, you’ve sealed the deal! But before you move on to focus on the rest of the opportunities in your pipeline, there are two important things to add to your B2B sales strategy.
First, you should ensure a smooth transition to customer service and onboarding. Technically, the CS team will take it from here, but you should complete your part of the handoff process first, e.g., collect all the important information and documents and lay out the next steps for the customer. Again, mutual action plans can help streamline this process and make it more straightforward for all involved parties.
Once the onboarding is complete and the customer starts seeing the real value of your product, you can also keep an eye on how they use your product and make relevant upselling offers. For example, if you see one of your B2B customers growing their team, be proactive with suggesting an upgrade to include more seats or collaboration capabilities. You can also provide additional services or dedicated training/support options if you see fit. Lastly, you can always ask your current customers for referrals.
What is the future of B2B selling?
A successful B2B sales strategy isn’t something you can set-and-forget. To stay effective, it should be regularly revised and updated, considering the current market conditions and emerging trends.
As buying processes become more complex and playbooks — more sophisticated, B2B selling is already transforming at an unprecedented pace. The two major drivers for this are digitization of the buyer's journey (including the growing role of social media in it) as well as the recent increase in AI adoption.
Other than that, B2B selling is moving away from singular transactions to relationship building. This involves a shift towards ecosystem selling, where B2B businesses aim to create value for the customer by offering a suite of interconnected services or solutions.
This signifies a shift from sales enablement — equipping sales teams with tools, information, and resources to improve their effectiveness in selling — to buyer enablement. The latter prioritizes empowering and assisting the prospective customers throughout their buyer journey.