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Modern B2B Sales: What to Know About the Evolution of Business-to-Business Commerce

The key components and strategies to drive revenue and build lasting client relationships.   

By Miva | April 26, 2022 | 7 minute read
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What is B2B selling? B2B sales can be highly profitable but also highly complex—and the B2B sales landscape has shifted considerably within the past decade alone. B2B selling models are increasingly digital, while many of today’s B2B buyers are more independent, preferring to conduct their own research and make their decisions with minimal input from sales representatives. With a solid understanding of the concepts and strategies behind successful online B2B sales, you can attract new business and close deals that lead to lasting relationships.  

What Does B2B Sales Mean? 

B2B (business-to-business) sales describe the process of companies selling products or services to other businesses, rather than to individual consumers. B2B sales services include supply, wholesale, services, and software. B2B sales can be more complex than B2C or DTC sales, often involving multiple people across various roles and frequently taking place over the course of several days, weeks, or months.  

When selling B2B, it’s important to keep in mind that many B2B buyers are primarily concerned with logic, expertise, and ROI. This means that B2B sales processes often focus on forming and solidifying long-term client relationships built on trust and expertise.

What are the 4 Types of B2B Selling? 

The 4 most common types of B2B sales services include: 

Supply 

B2B supply companies provide materials that support the daily operations of other businesses. These may include office supplies, employee uniforms, specialized equipment, and basic items such as lightbulbs or toilet paper. Although some of these B2B supplier products are also sold in B2C or DTC models, B2B supply sales typically involve higher quantities per purchase than B2C supply sales, since businesses often require larger quantities of product. For example, while a B2C customer might purchase a single ream of printer paper at an office supply store, a B2B buyer might purchase multiple cartons that each contain 10 reams of printer paper.  

Wholesale 

B2B wholesale companies buy items or materials in bulk and at a low cost from a manufacturer. They then sell those items to other businesses that in turn sell them to customers at a marked-up price. For instance, a wholesale food company might sell produce and other basic ingredients to grocery stores and restaurants.  

Services 

B2B sales encompass both product and service-based industries. Examples of B2B services include industrial cleaning companies that service office buildings, companies that run safety and compliance trainings, and outsourced corporate services like human resources, accounting, or marketing. 

Software 

As the name suggests, software-as-a-service (SaaS) models are product-service hybrids, in which companies provide buyers with software that helps to run some aspect of their business as well as the technical support to keep that software running smoothly. Examples of B2B SaaS companies include accounting software like Quickbooks, communication software like Slack, and ecommerce software like Miva 

B2B vs. B2C and DTC Sales 

Besides encompassing the above unique industries, B2B sales differ from B2C and DTC sales in several important ways. Most of these differences stem from the unique nature of selling to a business rather than an individual consumer.  

Although a B2B sales representative may have one person from a prospective client company as their main point of contact, that person is acting based on the interests of their company, rather than solely on their interests as an individual. Likewise, there will often be multiple employees and stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. So, just as B2B marketing requires different angles and strategies than B2C and DTC marketing, B2B sales requires different tactics than B2C and DTC sales. 

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Characteristics of B2B Sales 

Let’s explore a few specific components of B2B sales and how they’re different from B2C and DTC sales.  

Higher Transaction Value 

The average order for B2B sales tends to be higher than the average order value for B2C sales. Many B2B products, such as software or highly specialized equipment, are complex and have a higher price point than commonly purchased consumer goods. Likewise, many businesses need B2B products and services on a regular basis and set up recurring transactions, contributing to high-value cash flow for B2B sellers.

Longer Sales Cycle 

A typical B2C sales cycle doesn’t take much time: a consumer decides they need a product, they might spend some time comparing their options either online or in a store, they choose an option, and they pay for it. B2B sales cycles, on the other hand, are often more complex and take longer. This is partly due to having multiple representatives from a business involved in the buying decision, as well as the higher transaction values of B2B sales—the more money is involved, the longer it will take to come to a decision.  

B2B sales cycles have lengthened even more in recent years as a result of trends that favor independent research over reliance on traditional sales representatives. One study found that 60% of buyers want to talk to a sales representative only after researching their options themselves. And since multiple people from each business are conducting this independent research, the sales cycle can take even longer.  

All in all, the average B2B sales cycle can last anywhere from 1-6 months, with new customers more likely to fall under the 4-6 month range.  

Ongoing Client Relationships  

Because selling B2B typically involve a higher level of interaction between buyer and seller than selling B2C, much of the success of B2B sales is bolstered by the formation of strong, ongoing client relationships. Long sales cycles give B2B sellers the opportunity to nurture and solidify these relationships, identifying specific challenges their company is experiencing and offering personalized solutions to overcoming those challenges. B2B sales representatives can get to know buyers on a personal level, establishing a sense of trust between both parties that makes the client feel like a valued partner rather than just another customer.  

Typical B2B Sales Process 

Although B2B sales services have undergone major changes over the past few years, there are some basic roadmaps followed for inbound, outbound, and account-based B2B sales processes.  

Inbound 

A typical inbound B2B sales process involves lead generation from various forms of marketing, such as content marketing, email marketing, paid ads, and trade shows.   

Outbound 

Outbound B2B sales representatives typically find leads using tactics like cold calls, cold emails, direct messages on social media, and more.  

ABM/ABS 

In account-based marketing (ABM) or account-based sales (ABS), a company’s marketing and sales teams collaborate to identify specific clients, or accounts, that closely align with buyer personas. Members of both teams then work together to research the account, identify its main decision-makers, and set up meetings with them. This account-based approach has become increasingly popular in B2B sales—in one survey, 87% of B2B marketers reported that account-based marketing and sales outperformed all their other marketing investments in terms of ROI. 

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B2B Sales Strategies 

Below are a few effective and modern strategies for selling B2B. 

Demos 

Sales demonstrations, or demos, are commonly used in modern B2B sales. Demos are crucial to B2B sales services because they give the sales representative or account executive an opportunity to connect with the buyer on a person-to-person level, while allowing the buyer to see the inner workings and clear benefits of the product or service. Strong B2B sales demos will: 

  • Gain a deep understanding of the prospective client’s problem or pain point. 
  • Present specific ways in which the product or service will solve the prospective client’s problem.  
  • Build trust and rapport between the sales representative and prospective client—a foundation for the strong client relationships at the heart of B2B selling.   

Peer Reviews  

Today’s B2B buyers place a much higher value on peer reviews than on traditional rankings when it comes to making their purchasing decisions. One powerful B2B sales strategy is to garner plenty of positive reviews from your clients and to share them often. To encourage your buyers to complete purchases, display reviews for specific products alongside their image and description in your digital catalog. You might consider offering your current clients an incentive, such as a discounted price, in exchange for a positive peer review.   

Case Studies 

Content marketing is critical for selling B2B because B2B buyers value education and self-propelled research. Combine this with the power of peer review on B2B buyers’ purchasing decisions, and it makes sense that the distribution of case studies can be a highly effective B2B sales strategy. If you can demonstrate a proven track record of successful client relationships, you’ll be more likely to position yourself as an expert and earn your prospective buyers’ trust. 

Product Comparisons 

As we’ve discussed above, modern B2B buyers are diligent in researching a variety of options for purchase. You can work this to your advantage by including direct comparisons of your product or service with those of your competitors during your B2B sales demos.  

Selling B2B Online 

Moving your B2B business online is no longer just an option—it’s a necessity. A study from McKinsey found that B2B sellers are now more likely to offer ecommerce channels than in-person selling, and that ecommerce has surpassed in-person selling as the most effective B2B selling channel. Shifting your B2B business online can be hugely beneficial to sales teams. When buyers are able to browse products and place orders themselves, it frees up valuable time and resources for your B2B sales representatives to focus on acquiring new customers and nurturing existing accounts. 

Overcoming Modern Challenges in B2B Sales 

B2B sales look different than they did even just a few years ago due to changing buyer demographics and an increasingly digital world. But by adapting to these new challenges with new methods, you can create a thriving B2B sales strategy.  

To learn even more about how to optimize your strategy and take your online business to the next level, check out our free whitepaper: Growing Your B2B and DTC Ecommerce Business in 2022 CTA offering a free whitepaper, "Growing Your B2B and DTC Ecommerce Business in 2022."

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Author's Bio

Miva

Miva offers a flexible and adaptable ecommerce platform that evolves with businesses and allows them to drive sales, maximize average order value, cut overhead costs, and increase revenue. Miva has been helping businesses realize their ecommerce potential for over 20 years and empowering retail, wholesale, and direct-to-consumer sellers across all industries to transform their business through ecommerce.

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