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B2B (business to business) sales are complex.
It's pretty far removed from the typical retail sales environment, where in many cases, you can get away with the influence of your brand and product to get a deal across the line.
In the B2B world, you've gotta know your stuff.
You need to understand your product, the challenges your prospects face, and how your company helps solve them.
And more than that, you also need a proven process for handling leads, to ensure consistency across the board, improve sales effectiveness, and convert more customers.
In this article, we're going to look at just that. We'll explore:
- What a B2B sales process even is
- How B2B sales differs from B2C sales
- Why a sales process is so critical in the B2B environment
- The seven B2B sales cycles stage
- Eight steps for refining your sales process for B2B
- Four SaaS B2B sales strategies
Let's dive in.
What Is a B2B Sales Process?
A sales process is the collection of steps your sales team takes to move a customer from "Hmm, this seems like a good idea" to "Okay, sign me up and take my money!" It encompasses a variety of activities, such as:
- Phone qualification calls
- Email follow-ups
- Video conferencing sales presentations
- Negotiation conversations
- Contract signing
Most companies use a CRM pipeline to visualize the sales process and break the process itself down into eight stages:
- Lead generation
- Discover prospects
- Objection handling
- Closing the sale
- Following up
- Revenue expansion
We'll get to what those eight B2B sales process stages are shortly.
B2B Sales vs B2C: What Are the Differences?
In B2B sales, you're selling a product to another business. We (Ringy) are a B2B company, for example. We sell our CRM to other businesses, who use it to manage sales processes, communicate effectively and consistently, and drive revenue. B2C (business to consumer), on the other hand, is a form of sales where you sell directly to consumers.
Apple is a great example of a B2C customer, and any rep who works at an Apple store is a B2C salesperson.
Okay, so what does that mean in practice?
There are a ton of differences between B2B and B2C sales. Here are just a few of them:
Lower volume, higher price
Higher volume, lower price
More commonly subscription-based
More commonly transactional
Longer buying cycles
Shorter buying cycles
Generally involves multiple stakeholders
Typically just one or two stakeholders involved
More logic and ROI-based buying decisions
More emotional and value-based decisions
Okay, so that answers the "B2B vs B2C sales" question. Let's look now at the importance of a sales process in B2B.
The Importance of a Sales Process in B2B
A sales process in B2B selling offers three crucial benefits:
- Consistency - All reps are following the same process and holding the same conversations. This makes the customer experience consistent and helps sales leaders identify opportunities for coaching conversations.
- Adherence - A predefined sales process ensures reps don't skip stages and qualify leads before they get to the demonstration stage. This helps improve conversion rates and makes your sales team more efficient on the whole.
- Follow-ups - Most sales reps forget to make follow-up calls. In fact, 44% of sales reps only make one, despite the average sale requiring five follow-up calls. A documented and enforced B2B sales process ensures your reps make their darned follow-up calls.
The 7 B2B Sales Cycle Stages
A great sales process represents the seven B2B sales cycle stages that the typical customer moves through on their way to making a purchase decision:
Let's explore these stages:
The awareness stage is where customers initially discover your product.
They've recently become aware of a given challenge and stumbled across your product as a potential solution. Maybe they did a quick Google search for their problem and came across one of your blog posts, for instance.
Let me give you an example.
Say an insurance agent struggles to manage all of their sales leads effectively. They're missing follow-ups, forgetting appointments, and losing sales opportunities.
They wonder if there's a solution for them, so they Google "insurance software" and come across our blog post on the subject.
That's awareness. They're now aware of who we are.
The interest stage comes quickly after awareness, where the customer goes, "Hmmm, this could be an option."
That's it - it's just interest at this stage. Maybe that insurance broker read through our article and got to the part where we do a little not-so-shameless self-promotion.
They think, "Hey, Ringy could be a pretty good way to help solve my insurance lead management challenges."
And they'd be right 😉
As customers move into the consideration phase, they start assessing whether a given product (or, more specifically, product type) is the right solution.
We say product type because they're not considering our product specifically but because, in this example, the insurance agent is considering whether an insurance CRM is a right fit for them.
They'll be learning about things like:
- Mobile CRM apps
- Lead nurturing automation
- Drip campaigns
- VoIP calling
And they'll also be discovering how a powerful insurance software platform provides some key benefits to sales agents:
- Improved access to customer data
- Shorter sales cycle
- Increased sales volume
- More reps hit their sales quota
- Improved customer retention rates
- Reduced labor costs
- Strong ROI
They use this information to weigh whether this seems like a reasonable solution or not.
The intent stage basically comes when the customer says, "Yes. This is the kind of solution I need."
Now, they have the intent to buy.
They've eliminated all other options, and it's time to start shopping.
In our insurance example, the agent has decided that a CRM is the right move. Now, they just need to decide which CRM, which is what occurs in the fifth B2B sales cycle stage.
In the evaluation phase, customers are tossing up different options.
They might look at a few "vs." Google searches, for instance:
If your marketing does a great job, they'll find another piece of content written by you (check the above screenshot).
Through this B2B sales cycle stage, the customer narrows down the choices in their consideration set and ultimately settles on a product that they feel works best for them.
Having decided on a given product (maybe they've seen a few demonstrations with sales reps at each company), they decide to hand over their credit card.
Our insurance agent decides to sign up for Ringy (the obvious choice for insurance agencies), which kicks off a series of steps involving:
- Signing contracts
- Migrating data
- Onboarding and training
- Setting up integrations
- Building out custom sales pipelines
Although the purchase is made and the customer is now using our product, the B2B sales cycle isn't over yet. There's still one more stage.
In the B2B world (particularly as it relates to SaaS B2B sales), retention is critical.
It's what keeps the revenue flowing in, keeps customers happy, and even provides an opportunity for referrals.
In this stage, your customer success team is focused on building relationships and looking for opportunities to help buyers get the most out of your product (and potentially to grow revenue from the account).
8 Steps for Refining Your Sales Process for B2B
Ready to kick your sales process for B2B into action?
Just follow these 8 steps. Here's a quick summary for those of you in a rush:
B2B Sales Process Stage
1. Lead generation
5. Objection handling
Okay, let's look at these a little deeper.
1. Lead Generation
The lead generation stage is finding and attracting new potential customers.
A "lead" is the name we use to refer to potential buyers in the sales world. The process of "generating" leads is often a marketing activity.
For example, the marketing team at Uber uses this lead form to capture potential prospects for their driver program:
However, sales can get involved in lead generation, too, especially in the social selling context.
For example, you might grow an audience on LinkedIn and subtly use your authority and reach to promote your company and drive sales opportunities.
The discovery phase involves learning more about a prospect's needs.
Say you've received a new lead through a lead gen form on your website. The customer has told you:
- Their name
- Their email address
- Their company name
- Their phone number
- The product they're interested in
Not a whole lot of information, is it?
It's enough to give them a call, though, and that's where you start in the B2B sales process.
You're going to conduct a discovery call, which is where you perform a needs analysis. That is, you find out why they've come to you, what challenges they're facing, and what goals they'd like to achieve.
That bleeds nicely into the following stage: qualification.
The qualification stage is where you determine if a prospect is a good fit for your product and your business, and vice versa.
It's basically a game of you asking (and them answering) a bunch of questions that relate specifically to your ICP (ideal company profile).
For instance, you might ask questions about the current problems they're facing to establish your ability to help and about employee headcount to determine whether they meet your minimum user requirements.
This is the part where it starts to feel like you're actually "selling."
In the typical sales process for B2B companies, especially in SaaS, this is where the prospect gets handed over from the SDR (sales development rep) to the AE (account executive).
Based on the SDR's information gathered during the discovery and qualification conversations, the AE creates a personalized product demonstration, typically in a video call.
You'll cover key product features that differentiate you from competitors and dive deep into the functions that benefit the customer you're speaking to now (that's the personalized part).
5. Objection Handling
Few sales get across the line with at least one customer objection.
An objection is any reason a prospect gives to not buy. It might be a legitimate objection, such as waiting for approval from their boss, or an illegitimate one (where they're trying to get out of saying "thanks, but no thanks."
Your job here is to first get to the bottom of which it is and then if the objection is legit, find a way around it.
You might, for instance, change the terms of a deal to get it across the line if the problem is pricing or some other facet of the agreement.
Alternatively, you might use your expert sales skills to change your prospect's mind. Either way, you've got to solve the objective before proceeding.
The closing phase of the B2B sales cycle is where the sale actually happens.
This is a fairly simple stage. You get agreement from the customer and any stakeholders involved and then whip out your contract.
With the contract signed, it's time to hand things over to the operations or delivery team and to brief the account manager and/or customer success manager to take over.
The follow-up stage looks a little different depending on your industry.
For example, if you're selling used cars, the follow-up call is likely to be performed by the same sales rep who sold the car and simply be a "Hey, how's everything going with the vehicle?" Of course, this could also be an excellent opportunity to ask for a referral!
In many SaaS startup sales environments, the first follow-up call comes from an account manager or customer success manager, who is now responsible for the customer account.
This flows nicely into the last stage of the sales process in B2B: expansion.
In SaaS software sales, profitability primarily comes from retention and expansion.
Retention is nurturing relationships to keep customers on board; expansion is growing the revenue you receive from the account.
Think about it like this:
You sell a software platform with a price tag of $30 a month. It costs you a lot more to attract leads, nurture them throughout the sales cycle, and close that deal.
You're going to need to retain that account for at least a year (and probably a few) to make that investment back and start turning a profit, and you're going to do that a whole quicker if you're driving more revenue.
Generally speaking, you can expand an account in three ways:
- Sell more users (if you charge on a per-user basis)
- Add additional products to the account (known as cross-selling)
- Convince and motivate the customer to upgrade to a higher pricing tier (known as upselling)
Check out the land and expand strategy discussed shortly to learn more about this process.
4 SaaS B2B Sales Strategies
Selling software in a B2B environment is as you probably already know, a little different to traditional B2B sales.
The main difference to note is that you're looking to form a long-term relationship; a customer that only stays on board for one month doesn't drive a lot of revenue.
So, check out these four SaaS B2B sales strategies to help drive more recurring revenue.
1. The Account-Based Marketing Strategy
This might, at first, sound like a weird recommendation for a SaaS B2B sales strategy. Come on. It has marketing in the name.
But while account-based marketing (ABM) does involve the marketing team, it also involves a ton of sales effort. In sum, it's a collaborative effort.
Let me explain:
In the traditional marketing environment, your team spreads the word about your product to anyone and everyone who'll hear it. You'll attract many potential customers if you do an excellent job connecting with your target audience.
But you don't know who they're going to be.
In the ABM world, you first choose your target customer accounts. In most cases, this is an enterprise play. You're targeting large accounts that can make a difference from a revenue standpoint.
Then, your sales and marketing teams collaborate to target those specific accounts and create a personalized plan of attack.
For example, you'll identify the key decision-makers (KDMs) that you need to talk to, learn as much as possible about them, and then design a content strategy designed to target that customer specifically.
2. The Land and Expand Strategy
The land and expand strategy focuses on long-term revenue growth.
Instead of closing as big a deal as possible up front, you just get that deal closed. Then, you use your product's strengths and various marketing and sales campaigns to grow that account.
For example, if you're selling a product on a tiered pricing structure, you might look at ways to upsell customers to a more expensive plan.
Additionally, you'll aim to cross-sell add-ons (products that complement what they're already buying) or look for ways to increase user accounts (super effective for those software companies who charge on a per-user basis).
3. The Partner Selling Strategy
The partner selling strategy involves using other businesses and consultants to sell your software package.
The important thing here is that your partners already have an in with an audience you're trying to target; otherwise, they're just contracting sales reps.
For example, at Ringy, one of our target audiences is law firms that need a better way of managing customer communications.
Suppose we were to adopt the partner selling strategy. In that case, we might partner with the New York County Lawyers Association, as they already have direct access to an audience we're trying to target.
4. The Product-Led Growth Strategy
This is another one of those weird SaaS B2B sales strategies that's like, kind of a sales strategy, but kind of not. Why?
Because it's a strategy for making sales that doesn't necessarily involve a sales team.
The product-led growth strategy is all about letting the product itself push your revenue growth. That is, you let the popularity of the product (and a handful of great inbound marketing tactics) win new customers.
Then, as those customers realize the immense benefit of what you offer, they not only stay onboard but upgrade themselves to higher pricing tiers, as they realize that they can get even more value out of your product by paying just a few extra dollars per month.
A well-developed and customer-centric sales process in B2B circles is the secret to success.
Except it's not really even a secret. Because we've just told you how to do it.
However, it is the thing that separates the highest-performing B2B sales teams from the pack. Well, it's one of two things.
The other is a robust platform for managing their B2B sales process. Yeah, we're talking about a CRM.
Save yourself the hassle of days of research and just jump straight into a demo of Ringy.