Running a business-to-business (B2B) operation is naturally different than selling directly to consumers. Many of the lessons learned in the consumer market simply don't apply, but B2B entrepreneurs may not know exactly how to tailor their sales approach to a business customer.
Here are some tips to help your B2B company thrive, including some common mistakes to avoid.
Rely on research instead of cold calls
Cold calling used to be a favorite tactic of B2B operations. It made sense when it was harder to gather information on clients. However, today it's relatively easy to research whether a potential client can likely be converted to a sale, how profitable they could be, and what the common needs are within their industry.
It's wise to identify more than one real, tangible business reason for meeting with an account before doing so. Remember, your time is valuable, and prioritizing the clients you meet with could be the difference between booming business and flagging sales. A final sale can often be determined in the information gathering stage, so don't skimp on your background research.
[Read more about how software can help the research process, and how the best CRM for small business can help leverage that research]
Look for opportunities to qualify leads
Once you've done your research and decided to engage with a potential client, it's important to continue to qualify your leads as you being to engage them. How can you help support this business, and do they have the means required to secure your services?
Doug Burdett, founder of Artillery Marketing, suggests taking the GPCT and BANT approaches to qualifying a lead. These involve ascertaining the goals of a business, understanding and helping them craft their plans, identifying the challenges they face, and working within their intended timing. Further, you should determine whether they have the budget necessary to solve their problem, identify the people within the company with the authority to make purchasing decisions, find out if there is a specific need that your business can address, and provide an actionable timeline for completing your solution.
Don't reduce your interviews to "sales calls"
When trying to secure the business of a B2B customer, you're not engaging in a "sales call." This term suggests a more B2C type approach and can appear unprofessional or undignified when working with companies. Instead, present your meetings as interviews; you might even consider typing up a questionnaire ahead of time to better understand your leads needs and goals. Your potential clients are seeking out your help because you offer expertise in whatever vertical you serve. Finding a way to demonstrate that expertise while learning more about the client is a great way to impress and boost your chances of landing a deal at the end of the day.
Don't be pushy or aggressive
The old sales mentality of constantly trying to close a deal is generally not the best approach in the modern B2B environment. According to Accenture research, 71 percent of buyers prefer to conduct their own research and then access a sales representative remotely. That means you're not likely to schedule a face-to-face and most buyers will come to you with information gathered.
While you can help educate them on the nuances of your services, you won't often be teaching anybody the basics for the first time. Differentiating yourself in the marketplace is key, and then nailing that first point of contact – by qualifying your leads and making your value propositions apparent – is what will close your sales. Pushiness and aggressive salesmanship will not win the day; availability of information and a consultative approach are much more effective.
Remember that B2B customers, ultimately, are people
Just because you are selling products or services to a company doesn't mean you're not dealing with people. Beyond the very important aspects of a potential client's challenges and the ways in which you will help them solve them, it is also important to leave a positive personal impression on the individual charged with selecting a solution.
The best B2B salespeople will take the time to understand a decision-maker's likes, dislikes, and the other complex layers of their personality. Many business people live by the mantra, "first you know somebody, then you like them, and then you do business with them," so remaining cordial and warm is as important as being strategic and factual. By combining a clear value proposition, a helpful and consultative approach and personal likeability, your B2B sales should virtually close themselves.