B2B Sales: A Refresher on the Basics

Are your revenues produced through business to business (B2B) sales? That is, you aren't selling retail to the consumer market: your clients are other firms. If that is the case, we’ve produced a quick refresher of the key characteristics that are intrinsic to this particular sales process.

Motivation to purchase

The first and most critical difference between B2B and B2C is the variance in the key motivators that drive a buying decision. In business purchasing, buyers strive to be sure that their purchase is based as much as possible on rational, fact-based analysis. In business purchasing, all buy decisions need to satisfy logical and measurable ends. For example, will it increase profits? Will it aid measurable productivity? Does it improve the satisfaction of a specific stakeholder? Because of this, business purchasing is defined by a rigorous buying process that strives to ensure rational, profit-driven purchasing.  The most structured example of this is the RFP process (Request for Proposal) used in government and industry. The RFP process, with its tightly defined specifications and strict product and service requirements, along with strict parameters for competitive bidding, is designed to create the most effective, rational purchasing process. Good business purchasing  has little space for whimsy or impulse buying.

In contrast, consumer decision-making is not constrained by these narrow parameters. The singular motivation for increased profits that drives business decision-making is missing. There is no final “bottom line” criterion in the consumer decision-making process. Motivations are as varied as the individual.

Multiple decision-makers

Unlike most consumer purchases, the existence of multiple decision-makers almost always characterizes business purchasing, except in perhaps the most mundane areas.
There may be several layers of decision makers, all of which are bound by pre-determined parameters for the determination of value.
Consider a large firm buying a PBX (an internal, company-wide phone system.) Who might be involved?
a) A committee comprised of representatives from all the different types of end-users. These would be individuals who use the handsets at their desk, for example. They would determine which features are needed and which would add value, and then decide how well each vendor’s system meets those criteria.
b)    Engineers who will have the ongoing job of configuring and programming the system might evaluate it for ease of use and flexibility.
c)    A telecom engineer will have input to review each product’s telco interface to make sure any selection makes optimum use of available line services
In short, there will be an array of individuals who will have strictly defined and rational criteria to evaluate the product. Also, because decision-making is a group project, each person serves as a check against the other, in case anyone is tempted to stray toward non-relevant criteria.


In business, the sales relationship is primarily consultative. Vendors work closely with buyers to evaluate and inform. In many cases, there may be a series of site visits where vendors do nothing but learn corporate culture and the buyer’s needs before even beginning to develop a proposal. Compare that to the consumer process, which lends itself to “push” sales. The goal of most consumer sale efforts is a sale “now.” Granted some consumer purchases involve study by the buyer—cars and plasma TVs comes to mind---but the goal is always to get the buyer to leave today with a purchase, be it a car, TV, pack of gum, or new pair of jeans.

Why does this all matter? In the daily press to increase revenues, sales and marketing may find it easy to overlook these critical characteristics of B2B. Any failure to keep these issues in mind will mean that you lose control of the process. Business buyers will have less respect and patience for sales and marketing efforts that try to sidestep or overlook these critical process issues. 

3 BIG Sales Enablement Mistakes You Should Avoid…

Every business considers it fashionable to say that they engage in Sales Enablement. Modern sales tools, sales coaching, seminars, ready-to-use sales collateral---you name it, they have it in their sales enablement program. Yet many companies that invest in sales enablement tools feel a bit cheated when, after paying good money to put a sales automation system in place, they watch their salespeople struggle with sales targets.

Here’s why that happens

Those companies are making 3 BIG mistakes that cause their sales enablement investment to go down the drain. This blog post tells you what they are, so you can save your sales enablement initiative.

Mistake #1: Equating sales enablement with automated sales collateral creation

Typically, companies today are equating sales enablement with sales automation, particularly automation of sales collateral creation. They believe the only thing a salesperson needs is quality sales materials that provide them with all the information about the product/service they are selling. A good sales presentation, a few up-to-date brochures and a couple of sales emails should do the trick then. This entails providing salespeople with access to a cloud-based platform where all sales materials are stored. However, what happens after that is what renders this effort fruitless. In a few month’s time the platform is full of sales materials--outdated and new. Salespeople are at a loss when they try to access the latest version and don’t have the time to sift through the entire portal looking for the ‘right’ version. So, they end up creating their own version as they see fit, based on the prospect they are interacting with at that moment. End result: every salesperson has their own ‘right’ copy of the sales collateral, disrupting corporate consistency and branding standards.

Lesson learned
Sales enablement, in the real sense of the term, encompasses much more than sales assets creation and storage. It involves building, measuring, automating and optimizing sales assets AND sales processes with the goal of making sales teams more effective and thereby able to “sell more.” It involves equipping salespeople with all the knowledge they need so they can say the right things to their prospects at the right time. This includes providing your sales team with the content/assets, process, skills, technology and measurement tools that they need in order to have relevant conversations with prospects.

Mistake #2: Adopting a top-down approach to sales enablement

Most companies look at sales enablement from the top-down. This involves developing sales and marketing materials from their own perspective. For example, the general sentiment is that when a new product is introduced, a new feature is added or a new service is being offered, businesses create material that talk about the new additions. The updated sales materials talk about what’s new and great about the addition. The problem with this approach is that it looks at everything from the company’s perspective. The messaging does not resonate with the audience persona and the buying stage that they are in. End result: buyers just don’t hear you!  Adopting a top-down approach to sales enablement ignores the buyer and their purchase experience.

Lesson learned

For sales enablement to be effective, companies need to look at it from the outside. That involves studying customers, prospects and their interaction with frontline salespeople and managers. It also involves analyzing the industry trends, competitors and getting a clear picture of what is in demand in the market. An outside-in approach to sales enablement helps salespeople follow their prospect throughout their sales cycle journey. It allows them to engage their prospects in a meaningful conversation through relevant sales materials, personalized to suit the audience persona and sales cycle position.

Mistake #3: Looking at sales enablement as a one-time task

Another mistake that companies generally make is viewing sales enablement as a one-time only task. An example would be when management decides it is time to enable their salespeople and invest in a sales portal that primarily takes care of sales asset creation and storage and calls it a day. In reality, sales enablement is a process, not an isolated act. Such inconsistent acts of sales enablement fail to make any serious impact.

Lesson learned

Remember that your sales enablement initiative should be

  • Repeatable - It should be structured so that it can be replicated across the board, by the entire sales department. Examples include creation of a lead scoring model, lead nurturing programs or lead segmentation criteria. When creating these elements, as a part of your sales enablement process, be sure that they can be used across the board by any salesperson, for any prospect or product segment.

  • Universal - Companies should look at sales enablement as everybody’s business and not just that of the sales department. This calls for collaboration and easy flow of information between various functions such as marketing, sales, customer service, etc.

In the end, it’s all about value for your end customers

For sales enablement to really work, its success must be gauged in terms of the value it adds to the customer--the degree to which it enhances the buying experience of the prospect. Merely bombarding prospects with automated sales communications is not sales enablement.  A truly enabled sales team will be able to reach out to the right prospects on time, with the right message to create a unique buyer experience and build lasting relationships.

Why optimize?

Changed times...powerful buyers...a different sales cycle

Let’s start with a key question here.  Why should B2C sellers look to optimize their product/service offering or marketing and sales strategies? Answer...today’s buyer is more demanding and powerful than before and if you don’t offer them what they are specifically looking for, they have no trouble finding someone else who does.

How the sales cycle has changed?
Companies are not getting the chance they really need to make an impact during the sales process, since buyers have complete control over the sales cycle thanks to the internet and social media. The typical buyer makes up his mind before even meeting the salesperson. Social media, internet reviews and online shopping stores are the prime reasons for this. In the new sales cycle, it is not just about price, quality or product/service--now it is all about prospect experience...making the prospects happy and building a personal relationship with them. Customer delight is the key to closing sales in this new sales cycle.

How to build a personal relationship
The key is to reach out to prospects with relevant messaging. You need to optimize your sales and marketing content and your product/service offering to suit your prospects/customers. By providing prospects with relevant content and product offerings, you are hinting strongly that you know them and value their preferences. Isn’t that the start to building a great relationship?

What does this demand of you? 
Access to key customer and prospect data.

Thanks to the Big Data revolution, you don’t have to make guesses about what your prospect prefers. You can have it all laid out in front of you. All you need to do is connect with them through relevant whitepapers, e-books, follow-up e-mails, sale coupons or individualized pricing discounts based on smart prospect data analysis. Optimization based on prospect data offers you the golden opportunity to build a strong personal relationship with your prospects that is based on mutual trust.

How to optimize? Optimization is as easy as 1…2…3

#1: Track your audience
Tracking your audience involves following their activities across all touch points. Examples of prospect activities include email opens, content download, social media tags, website visits, form fills etc. One key concept to have in mind when tracking prospect activities is, you should be tracking prospect activity across all channels—that includes third party/partner touch-points, physical store locations, mobile interaction and call centers. Make sure you have an integrated view of data from all these sources related to every single prospect/customer.

#2: Segment your audience and analyze the results
Step #2 involves understanding all the data that you have captured, then converting all that data into knowledge and recognizing all the underlying patterns. You should then be using that information to segment your prospects. This step will help you understand what your prospect/customer really wants and deliver it to them at the right stage. Lead segmentation is also a great way to understand your lead’s position in the sales cycle, which, in turn, allows you to channel your resources and energy in the most productive manner onto the leads that are most likely to close.

#3: Act!
The next step is to act upon your analysis and segmentation. Acting upon your analysis involves strategizing for each prospect segment and adapting your messaging, offering and marketing/sales strategies to suit that segment. Tracking and intelligent data segmentation can help cement your relationship with existing clients by helping you design relevant personalized customer loyalty and cross-selling or upselling programs.

B2C optimization is all about tapping the right data that helps you recognize who your key prospects/customers are, studying their behavior and gaining an understanding of what they really want, based on your knowledge of that data.

Next Generation Sales Enablement

The traditional sales cycle has undergone a paradigm shift that is characterized by the new, empowered buyer. Mobile internet enabled devices are playing a key role in today’s sales cycle.

The new sales cycle is shorter and the seller has lesser opportunities to influence the buyer. All of these call for drastic change in sales on-boarding, training and enablement processes and tools. This slide deck walks you through the modern sales cycle and talks about what is needed in the current market environment to truly help your sales team succeed.