Article | 11 min read

What is B2B sales? Business-to-business meaning and strategy

Understanding B2B sales is essential to your company’s sales funnel creation and your future business expansion.

By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer

Last updated March 16, 2022

Even though most of us hear “sales” and jump to the image of an individual buyer in a store, it turns out that the majority of sales money doesn’t come from customers but from other businesses. In fact, B2B sales are projected to bring in approximately three times the revenue of B2C sales by 2023.

When looking to the future, therefore, it’s important for companies to understand what B2B sales are, what the best B2B strategies are, and how the B2B sales process and cycle differ from B2C sales.

B2B sales are projected to bring in approximately 3 times the revenue of B2C sales by 2023.

Here, we’ll explore the ins and outs of B2B sales and discuss the resources you’ll need in order to make the most of your B2B sales plan.

What are B2B sales?

B2B sales stands for “business-to-business” sales. These sales include any transaction in which one company sells products or services to another company rather than directly to a customer (B2C, or business-to-consumer sales). They are sometimes also referred to as inside sales.

Even though many of the sales strategies between B2B and B2C sales are similar, there are several ways in which B2B sales are much more difficult and more impactful than B2C sales. B2B sales are often larger in value and size, making them more important to the selling business. A single, $20 B2C sale kill is a loss but is easily recoverable. A $200,000 B2B sale kill can directly impact the trajectory of a company.

Additionally, while a B2C sale normally relies on convincing a single customer to buy, a B2B sale often involves persuading an entire team or management office. Dealing with multiple decision-makers can make the B2B sales process longer and more delicate than the average B2C sale.

Because of these complications, it’s important to be well informed in B2B sales types, processes, and strategies.

Types of B2B sales

B2B sales occur in three ways and between four main types of purchasers: producers, resellers, government, and institutions. Let’s take a look at the three types of B2B sales between these parties:

  1. Supply sales

    Supply sales occur between a purchasing business and a supplier. The supplier sells resources that support the purchasing business. These resources can range from office supplies to specialized equipment. Most supply sales are done in bulk at a discount to the buyer, and many businesses maintain consistent suppliers with regular restocking.

  2. Distribution sales

    Distribution sales (also known as Wholesales) work similarly to supply sales. But instead of being an exchange of supplies, distribution sales deal with retail products. These products include everything from bulk produce, to pharmaceuticals, to clothing.

  3. Service or software sales

    Service or software sales (also known as SaaS sales) work nearly exactly like supply sales, except that they involve selling a service (or software that provides a service) rather than a product. Zendesk Sell is a great example of a service/software sell. Companies purchase products from Zendesk in order to run their own business more efficiently through improved CRM software.

B2B sales process

Your B2B sales process may have additional steps depending on your company and the types of sales your company pursues, but generally, the B2B sales process features five steps.

The five sales steps

1. Drive traffic
Get potential customers onto your website or into your store, and in front of your products. For many companies, this is both the hardest step and the marketing department’s biggest hurdle. It’s important not to overcomplicate this step or try to push the customer too far. They don’t need to buy anything right away, they just need to be intrigued.

2. Convert visitors
Turn your interested visitors into contacts. Again, keep it simple. You don’t have to pitch just yet. Get your interested parties on your mailing list, and set up a conversation.

3. Nurture contacts
Now is the time to really get to know your prospective buyers. Research is key in this step. What are their needs? What are they looking for? How can a partnership with your company benefit both parties?

4. Generate opportunities
Once you’ve keyed in on which potential buyers might be the best targets, it’s time to pass them over to the lead sales team for a full product pitch. Pitches can be complicated, and depending on the product, can take a great deal of time. Make sure you’re only pitching to contacts who are likely to buy. The first three steps should set you up for success in this stage.

5. Close sales
Sign the paperwork, make the transaction, and start again. Make sure that you have parts of your team dedicated to checking in with your customers—the nurturing doesn’t stop after the money changes hands. A business with a reputation for strong customer relationships will go further in its future sales.

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Best practices

B2B sales best practices share a lot of overlap with B2C sales as we move into a more informed, faster-paced buyers’ market. The two most important practices to consider are establishing the ideal buyer and focusing on solving your customer’s problems rather than pushing your product.

When you’re establishing who the ideal buyer is, you don’t just want someone who fits your buyer persona. You also need someone who fits your sales goals. A business that needs your product but doesn’t have the revenue targets, employee count, or model range to meet your sales goals isn’t going to be a profitable customer in the long run. Some potential customers aren’t worth pursuing because they take up resources without adding to the bottom line, and it’s important to keep that in mind when targeting your ideal buyers. With B2B sales moving so quickly, it’s crucial to know when you’re wasting time and resources on a sale that won’t close, or draining your company’s resources if it’s won.

As far as solving your customer’s problems, try to look at the sale from the perspective of a guide. If your prospective buyer is well informed, they don’t need a lecture—they simply need to be led through the process and have their questions answered by an expert.

Both of these practices are especially relevant in B2B sales because they address the issue of selling to a group rather than an individual. If you can focus your sales tactics on how you can benefit the company as a whole, it’s easier to convince multiple personalities all working in that company’s best interests.

B2B sales strategy

While B2B sales differs from B2C sales in many ways, both sales strategies show a great deal of overlap. There is an overwhelming number of sales strategies available, but there are three key ones that are revitalizing the modern market and changing the ways successful companies plan.

All three of these strategies take into account the most important aspect of B2B sales: the fact that you are selling to multiple decision-makers at the same time.

Let’s take a deeper look at:

  • Aligning sales and marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Social selling

Three key B2B sales strategies

  1. Aligning sales and marketing

    Sales and marketing alignment, or “marketing,” is the new normal for a successful business model.

    According to Jill Rowley, Advisor at LoopVOC, “The new reality is that sales and marketing are continually and increasingly integrated. Marketing needs to know more about sales, sales needs to know more about marketing, and we all need to know more about our customers.”

    In the process of creating your sales funnel (see next section), it’s important to focus on common goals and targets for the company as a whole to encourage cooperation and communication.

  2. Using content marketing

    Per the 2020 B2B content marketing evaluation, 69 percent of the top B2B sales companies use a documented content marketing strategy, and 84 percent use that strategy primarily to build loyalty with customers.

    When you consider that B2B buyers consume an average of 13 content marketing images before making a purchase, it’s clear that a strong content marketing plan is crucial for your B2B sales team.

    Good content marketing works for your company by not only giving the customer product information but also by showing them solutions and creating brand trust.

  3. Converting through social selling

    Social selling is another essential tool of the modern salesperson. Research over the past few years suggests that social media has a 100-percent higher lead-to-close rate than outbound marketing.

    Social selling is a shift in tactics for many companies, but a strong presence on social media is a sure way to create relationships with prospective buyers, build brand credibility, and solidify customer loyalty.

How to create a B2B sales funnel

1. Determine clear sales and revenue goals

Setting realistic goals is never easy, but taking the time to do so at the beginning of your sales plan makes everything easier down the line. Look at your sales process for reference, and prepare for the conversion points between each stage. Evaluate your company’s current resources and make sure your ideal growth isn’t outside your capabilities.

Finally, set more than one goal on different metrics. You might not meet your revenue goal by the end of your set time frame, but that doesn’t mean you should lose sight of the success of your consumer market growth.

2. Write down your mission and sales plan objectives

In the creation of any sales plan, it’s necessary to have the company mission at hand. How does the company mission factor into your sales plan? How does the history of the company figure in?

Your goal might be increased revenue, but odds are, your company mission is not about money. Even with something as simple as appliances, your mission is not to increase revenue—your mission is to bring luxury and ease to home cooking with the latest kitchen appliances. Revenue is a by-product of that mission, not the goal.

3. Map out milestones, deadlines, and review periods

Take stock of your goals and set realistic timelines for each step. This is the time to make your one-day sheets as well as your 30-60-90 day goals. Take the time to schedule set review dates for each project. Having deadlines holds team members accountable to the plan and gives you a reference point if you get lost along the way.

4. Create the ideal customer profile

Know who you want to target. An ICP (ideal customer profile) allows you to cater your marketing, your sales plan, and your tactics to a small selection of leads. With the length of the B2B sales process, you don’t have time to target as many leads as your B2C team.

Make a list of your top targets and/or existing customers and cross-reference their characteristics. If you discover targets that closely align with your existing customers, that’s a certain sign to shift your focus to those specific B2B sales.

5. Make a list of your current tools and budget

Don’t start your journey without checking your supply bag. Your sales plan needs to be backed up by your existing resources, or you need the budget to purchase new ones. Make a list of needed expenses and tools, and then ensure you have everything on the list before activating your plan.

This list should include budget allocation, software needs, estimated staff costs, and any necessary training.

6. Decide roles and responsibilities on your team

If you have your steps laid out, the next step is assigning each task to your team members. Play to your team’s strengths and make sure you’re not only assigning tasks, but also KPIs.

7. Create your action plan

The final step. Lay it all out piece by piece and work from larger to smaller. Break each part of the plan down into as many steps as possible to keep everyone on the same page and maintain consistency across the board.

Link each action point to your resources, deadlines, and team members, and make sure this document is easily accessible to the entire team.

How to use Zendesk to increase your B2B sales

A strong, efficient CRM software solution is one of the most effective tools for qualifying your B2B leads. With the right software, you can map customer analytics to your sales cycle and keep promising leads at the forefront without losing less-relevant leads in the process.

A CRM helps you follow your leads through the sales process and ensure they have what they need to move through to the next stage.

Zendesk products work with your existing software to do just that. With easy-to-use platforms that integrate with hundreds of other apps, Zendesk allows your entire team to track customers, stay on pace, and stay in the loop.

Request your Zendesk demo today.

Sales leadership secrets

Learn how five top sales leaders navigate changes, optimize their teams, and overcome new challenges.

Sales leadership secrets

Learn how five top sales leaders navigate changes, optimize their teams, and overcome new challenges.

Read now