Let’s start with one caveat up front about B2B sales: it’s a tremendously complex topic that people unfortunately often make more complicated, instead of simpler. Entire books have been written about B2B sales. Entire websites are devoted to the topic. This is one page on our website. It’s not going to cover every single aspect of B2B sales in human history, no. But it is going to provide you with a road map to figure out the different steps of the process and how to best navigate through it and find the right partner. That’s our actual goal here.
Where does B2B sales begin?
Good question! We say it begins at the point where a “lead” — either inbound, i.e. they came in because something you put out interested them, or outbound (came in from something you directly pushed to them) — gets picked up for individual processing. Everything before is called lead generation and can be separated from the actual sales process. You can read about our view on lead generation here.
The first stage of B2B sales is thus lead qualification
This is absolutely important. Lead qualification means “This person might actually get all the way through the funnel” before they even enter the funnel. And in reality, what would be the point of putting them into the funnel and connecting them with well paid sales reps if they clearly have no interest?
Hate to break this news to you, but sometimes people download a resource on your website by accident — or sometimes they’re a contractor for a competitor and they think “Maybe this company’s stuff is good.” Great! Your stuff is good! But that contractor isn’t “a lead.” They downloaded something from you to do their job, not to eventually buy your services.
Leads need to be qualified, which is a feeling-out process driven by conversations, questions, and relationship-building. Now, admittedly this usually happens via Sales Development Reps (SDRs), sometimes called BDRs (Business Development Reps), and those tend to be early-career, low-experience, low-salary roles in many firms. (Not always.)
SDRs need to know how to do research on people given to them as potential “leads.” Namely:
- Is the company they work for a good match for your product/service?
- What’s this person’s background?
- What does their career progression look like? (LinkedIn is good for this)
- Where have they been?
- Have they increased in responsibility?
- Do they appear to be a decision-maker or at least close to that level?
- What other interests do they have?
This gives you a 35,000-foot view of who they are and what they care about. Next you need to make sure you formulate questions such as:
- How did you come to hear about us?
- What issues are you facing in your business?
- What’s your boss on you about right now?
- What are you guys struggling with the most?
If it seems like their pain point maps to your solution, this person is a “qualified” lead. They can be moved into the funnel.
This is Step II. Think on it like this: do you ask a girl to marry you on the first date? Probably not. That has happened in human history, we’d reckon, but it’s hardly common. Well, just because someone is qualified doesn’t mean you’re riding them all the way down the funnel on Phone Call No. 1 or 2. You need to nurture the relationship.
It begins with some of the questions above. SDRs often handle the nurture process too, and much of it is rooted in what marketing thought leaders like to call “relevant, valuable content.”
Not everyone understands what that means, so to clarify the easiest way we know how:
Everyone has a boss. Most bosses get on their employees about specific topics throughout the year. “Where is this?” or “What’s the status on this?” Here’s the definition of “relevant, valuable content:” What can you send a prospect at that moment that will help them get their boss off their back for a while?
A perfect definition? No. But we all spend tons of time managing up in roles, and decision-makers are no different. They have problems/issues. You need to be sending them resources that help solve those issues.
Typically these include:
- White papers/eBooks
- Product guides
- Data sheets
- Case studies on how others have done something
Please don’t go immediately into a webinar. That’s a bad first date too: not quite marriage, but you’re asking to live together or something. Instead, consider this chart:
As you’re nurturing prospects, be cognizant of the stage they’re in with regard to hearing from you (and hopefully responding, requesting more, etc.):
- Early stages (people want to know “why”)
- Middle stages (people want to know “how”)
- Late stages (people want to know “which”)
Each stage of nurturing is different. Each prospect is different. Each piece of content/resource/idea you have needs to be catered to them.
I hear people say that they send proposals straight after the qualification call – “they asked for it”. No, they for sure didn’t ask for it. They asked for further information! Maybe all you have is a proposal. Work on it. Buyer need different information in each of their buying stage.
This is what we do every day, BTW: Our Sales Development Reps (SDR) focus on direct and personalized communication to understand the needs of prospects, and providing the information and answers they need to progress in their buyer journey.
Does this stuff even work? Isn’t B2B sales about relationship selling?
Yes and no. Everything is about relationships in sales, of course. But focusing on “relationship selling” can be a problem for sales teams.
Selling to relationship gets you a few quick wins, yes, but it doesn’t get you long-term, recurring business. In many times those deals are not ideal, not in your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) because they come from relationships of your seller. First of all, the relationship cog could leave the company. Second of all, when the sale is on relationship and not product value, the chances of renewing the contract when it’s over (1 year, 18 months, etc.) are not good. Other stakeholders will enter, assess the value, and decline the renewal option.
After those quick wins — after the relationship selling contact list is done — can you work a market strategically with relationship selling? It’s very challenging. Even if the sales principal has been in a specific vertical for 20+ years, eventually the lack of focus on buyer persona and ideal customer profile and his lack of value based selling to unknown people far outside his comfort zone will dry up the potential leads.
The Inside Sales Model
Inside sales is an efficient sales model for most sales reps in B2B SaaS. Everything is handled remotely and it involves high-touch transactions over phone and email.
There was a movement a few years ago around the idea of “If SaaS — software as a service — products sell themselves, why do we even need sales?” Many were weighing in.
We’ll address field sales in a second — and that’s more about reps flying out to do face-to-face work. No one would ever think to get rid of field sales because that’s how we’ve been contextualizing sales for generations. But when people make the “SaaS products don’t need sales!” argument, they are referring to ineffective inside sales models that could be replaced.
Some inside sales models are terrible, admittedly. But the best ones move prospects to buyers along these three questions:
- Why should I act at all?
- What’s your solution vs. your competitors?
- Why this vs. investing in another area of the business?
As you can see, those mirror the three stages mentioned above in some ways. While you have more flexibility to improvise with Field Sales in Inside Sales your sales process is very streamlined and therefore different types of content for all stages and all circumstances have to be available and compelling!
Inside sales is often applied to sell to SMB and Pro-Users. Why? You have the one and only decision maker on the phone.
Field, or outside, sales is a classic type of selling strategy where highly skilled consultative sales reps meet prospects face-to-face to present/discuss and to identify sales opportunities with multiple decision-makers.
Field sales is absolutely necessary for selling to mid-market and enterprise sector. Those sectors have more decision-makers — potentially upwards of 4-to-8 in some companies — and they will want the face time before they commit. Also, logically the contracts are bigger, and no one makes a huge purchase without meeting someone face-to-face. Would you buy your house online, sight unseen, without speaking to another human being? Probably not.
Much of this is rooted in the Challenger Model, which posits that B2B sales — or any selling, really — is rooted in removing the status quo in the eyes of the potential buyer.
See, there are two situations in any sale:
- Situation A: The customer does nothing, so basically stays with their current option
- Situation B: The customer buys from you
The only way to get to Situation B — better for you — is to destroy Situation A and facilitate the change to Situation B. The customer needs to lose the status quo.
Most sales people — in the inside and field models, honestly — try to approach sales like this:
- Discuss how great Situation B is
- Extol the virtues of Situation B
- Show the ROI of Situation B
- Explain how Situation B is absolutely the greatest thing in human history
But because of those issues above, sometimes Situation B is looking amazing — often too amazing — and the prospect still does nothing. The change seems too radical. They stay with their current solution.
Research has consistently shown that the more effective approach is actually to destroy Situation A. A concept like fear of missing out (FOMO) is huge; it drives a lot of why social media is popular, for example. (And why social media depresses people.) The prospect has to believe that their current state (Situation A) just isn’t getting it done, and they’re totally 100 percent missing out by not using Situation B. You have to destroy any remnants of Situation A being appealing to them. That’s where you sell. You have to “lead to B” and not “lead with B”.
There was a belief in sales for years that digital tools could kill the B2B sales rep, and especially the field sales model. If you have to fly less sales reps around, you’ll save money. Paying for flights, hotels, and meals is a lot — building a landing page isn’t a lot of money. Could that be the future?
Well, you still need good landing pages that explain your product and help people “convert,” or move into your lead qualification stage above. But you absolutely need in-person, field sales reps.
You will see this stat used a lot: 60% of the buyer journey is done pre-contact with a rep.
Now, in terms of 35,000-foot view research and bullet point lists of features, that might be true. But overall, as digital noise increases and everyone keeps producing content, we’re going to need more (and better!) in-person sales reps who know how to dictate the journey, relationships and rapport, consult the buyer, and more.
Buyers are going to want a person faster as opposed to being pitched another white paper.
Right now, if you need to buy virtually any product, you’ve got 30+ digital options. But you don’t necessarily know the ins and outs. You might be confused by some aspects. If it’s a B2B situation, you want to know the context for your specific business. You need answers. Your boss is on your a** about deliverables and you want to be able to provide answers.
In our humble opinion, you don’t get those from landing pages or automated programs or artificial intelligence. You get those from discussions with real individuals.
Field sales will be around a while.
B2B Sales is less of an art than you think
If you follow the above, it’s just a series of steps:
- Qualify sales leads from the inbound and/or outbound lead generation team
- Begin and never stop to nurture them
- Move them towards an inside or field model
- Work off value and overcoming objection, not simply relationships or product features
You can do it. And we can help.