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What is the process of B2B sales?

What is the process of B2B sales?

For years I've been helping entrepreneurs with their marketing by teaching them how to write compelling copy that sells products or services. But when it comes to actually selling those things, they're lost. They don't know what works best—or if anything at all—when negotiating terms with decision makers.

I decided to take matters into my own hands, so I started researching everything about how businesses buy from other companies. Then I created a plan for myself based on what I learned. Here's the result: The complete B2B sales process.

This guide will help you understand how your next business sale should go down. It includes the steps we use every day within CogniSci™, our proprietary method for finding qualified prospects who can afford your product or service.

Here's what you'll learn...

What are the six stages of the B2B buying process?

How do you create a sales process for B2B sales?

Let's start by taking a look at each stage of the B2B buying process (in more detail).

The 5 Stages Of A Typical Sales Process For B2B Buying

1) Lead Generation & Qualification - In this phase, you need to find people who have money but won't be able to spend it right away. You want to qualify these leads before sending out proposals. Once you send something over the transom, you risk losing control of the conversation. So make sure you only contact serious buyers who can pay.

Qualifying Leads means checking for certain criteria such as budget size and/or company size. If someone isn't willing to tell you directly whether they can afford your product or not, then they probably aren't ready to move forward yet.

When contacting leads, keep two things in mind: 1) Don't ask too many questions until you get some information back from them 2) Never pitch anyone without first getting their approval to follow up. This goes double for cold calling. You'd think everyone would welcome one more person trying to sell something to them, but most people just hate being sold to. And no matter how much good intention you may have, asking permission first gives them power over you.

2) Discovery & Exploration - Now that you've got your lead qualification under control, it's time to really dig deep into their needs. After all, if you can solve their biggest pain points today, you'll become their hero tomorrow.

Discovery happens after lead qualification because now you can show prospects exactly why solving their problems makes sense. Be prepared with data, facts, testimonials, etc., so you can present a well thought-out proposal that truly shows value.

3) Presentation & Proposal Development - When creating the presentation, remember that "if you build it, they will come." No amount of fancy slides will convince potential clients otherwise. Instead, focus on giving clear instructions on what must happen next. Make sure you include any requested documentation, including contracts, purchase orders, delivery dates, and payment schedules.

Finally, you'll also want to prepare multiple copies of your proposal for distribution. Send one version to the prospect. Keep another close at hand to reference during negotiations. Also, consider having several versions printed off-site, like Staples or FedEx Office, so you always have a backup.

4) Negotiations & Close - At this point, you're finally going to try to negotiate favorable terms. Remember that negotiation skills are highly transferable between industries, so whatever industry you work in, you can apply these same principles.

In general, here are the types of topics to discuss: price, timing, delivery, scope, resources, project management, risks, ROI, and contingencies. However, since each deal is different, you should tailor conversations accordingly.

5) Follow Up & Maintenance - Many times, sales reps fail to follow up with customers once they've closed the deal. That's where customer retention efforts come into play. By staying top-of-mind with new owners through periodic communications, you ensure that they stay loyal to you long term.

6) Ongoing Relationship Management - Building relationships with key stakeholders is critical to maintaining client loyalty, which is essential to successful growth. As part of ongoing relationship management, you should maintain a database of contacts for future referrals.

And speaking of referring others, never forget that word-of-mouth advertising could mean life or death for your business. People love talking about great experiences they had with others. Use social media platforms to spread the news about positive interactions you've had with customers.

So How Do All These Phases Fit Together?

Now let's put together all of these pieces to figure out how they fit together.

First, let's talk about how many stages there are in the overall B2B buying process. There are typically four main phases: lead generation & qualification, discovery & exploration, presentation & proposal development, and contract review & signature. Each phase has its own set of subphases, depending on specific requirements.

Next, let's break down each individual step and explain how they fit together. We recommend following this order:

Lead Gen & Qualification Subphase #1: Contact Prospects via Email

Subphase #1a: Create Opt-In Form With Landing Page

Subphase #1b: Build Website To Capture First Name, Phone Number, Birthday

Subphase #1c: Set Auto Responders On Your Emails

Subphase #1d: Schedule Autoresponder Messages

Subphase #1e: Collect Data From Signup Forms

Subphase #1f: Find Decision Maker(s) Through Google Search

Subphase #1g: Prepare Questions For Meeting

Subphase #1h: Meet Potential Buyer(s), Get Referral Information

Subphase #1i: Take Notes During Meeting

Subphase #1j: Call Hotline Or Cold Line

Subphase #1k: Write Thank You Letter

Subphase #1l: Document Everything

Subphase #1m: Update Database With New Info

Discovery & Exploration Subphase #2: Request More Details

Subphase #2a: Determine Budget Size

Subphase #2b: Identify Pain Points

Subphase #2c: Research Competitors

Subphase #2d: Ask About Past Purchasing Experience

Subphase #2e: Discover Reasons Why Customer Chose [Company] Over [Competitor]

Presentation & Proposals Subphase #3: Create Slide Deck

Subphase #3a: Decide What Slides Need To Include

Subphase #3b: Customize Template Based On Company Type

Subphase #3c: Convert Into Powerpoint Presentation

Subphase #3d: Edit PowerPoint Presentation

Subphase #3e: Add Titles to Headings

Subphase #3f: Order Supplies

Contract Review & Signature Subphase #4: Confirm Terms

Subphase #4a: Compare Contracts Side-By-Side

Subphase #4b: Check Payment Schedules

Subphase #4c: Finalize Contract

Subphase #4d: File Complete Copy

After reading this whole thing, you might wonder how does it all tie together. Fortunately, Cognisci has made it easy for you to navigate the entire sales cycle using this simple diagram:

You can view the full graphic above, along with detailed descriptions below, on CogniSci Academy.

To recap, the eight major components of CogniSci are:

Find Quality Customers

Develop Rapport

Provide Value

Build Trust

Close Deals

Maintain Relationships

Increase Profits

CogniSci Methodology Explained Step-by-Step

If you were wondering how the various parts of CogniSci relate to one another, you now know. Let's revisit each component individually.

Finding Quality Customers

A quality customer is someone who has enough purchasing power to affect change, even though they're not necessarily interested in doing so immediately. Therefore, it's important to identify what type of organization qualifies as a buyer. Are they large corporations? Small businesses? Government agencies?

Once you determine what category your target market falls into, you can customize your approach to suit them. For instance, small businesses tend to respond better to phone calls than emails. Whereas government organizations prefer email communication due to security concerns.

Developing Rapport

Rapport refers to building trust between you and your prospective customers. One way to develop rapport is by listening carefully and understanding their unique challenges. Once you fully grasp what they need, you can provide solutions tailored specifically towards improving their circumstances.

Providing Value

One of the keys to providing value is determining what problem your target audience wants solved. Another crucial element involves educating your readers on how your solution benefits them. Most importantly, you should prove yourself trustworthy by showing confidence in your ability to deliver results.

Building Trust

Selling in business can be challenging because it requires selling complex ideas that often don't resonate with buyers or sellers who have different ways of thinking about problems. How does one bridge this gap between two very different worlds? Well, here's how we did it at CogniSMART™ — and what you should take away from our experience.

In this article, I'll explain our approach to creating a new way to close more deals faster while also helping your company grow revenue. Here’s a step by step guide on how to create your own B2B sales process.

First, let me describe Cognismart™ as an opportunity marketing platform used by companies like Accenture, Dell Technologies, Ericsson, Intel, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Verizon Wireless and many other global Fortune 500 companies. We've been called "the Google" of opportunities when it comes to connecting businesses with qualified prospects. That said, no matter whether you're interested in building relationships online or offline, there are five commonalities among successful marketers.

1) Developing great products/services

Great products/services must solve pain points. The solutions offered need to be valuable enough so they will attract attention and compel people to want them. If not, then why would anyone pay for them if they could get free alternatives elsewhere? Think Amazon vs. eBay. Why buy books from Barnes & Noble when you can find cheaper prices on sites like Kobo and Kindle? And why use cable TV providers when you can watch movies for free via services such as Netflix? This is true for all industries. But specifically true for B2B where potential customers tend to shop around first before making any purchases. In order for a product or service to appeal to its target audience, it needs to offer something unique.

So ask yourself these questions, “what makes my solution better than my competitors'? Or 'why should someone choose us over another vendor?' Then focus on providing answers to those types of questions. For instance, in the realm of technology, consider a client who has grown their team quickly through outsourcing and now wants help managing projects and resources. They may already know some things about project management but perhaps aren't sure how well their current tools work. You might say, ‘we provide best-in class support and collaboration features including real time chat and file sharing.' Now imagine you’re talking to a member of HR whose job responsibilities include recruiting and onboarding employees into projects. Wouldn’t she benefit from knowing exactly what your project management tool provides? Perhaps you might say, ‘our PM system offers comprehensive reporting capabilities.' Whatever message you decide upon depends on the type of customer you’re trying to reach. It’s important to remember that most prospects won’t understand technical jargon. Make sure that even though you speak differently, you still communicate effectively.

2) Building trust

Trust means being honest, delivering on promises, having integrity, etc. Most likely, trust is built by showing respect, valuing differences (e.g., cultural fit), listening, demonstrating expertise, giving back, and doing favors. Trust isn't earned overnight. Rather, it's cultivated over time. When you build trust in the early stages of relationship development, you lay a strong foundation for future growth. However, if done incorrectly, it can actually damage credibility, especially during tough times. There are several ways to earn trust:

Be authentic- Authenticity matters most. People look for authenticity in others and expect it from themselves. Don't try to impress people with empty words. Be truthful and consistent. Do what you say and say what you mean. Honesty builds trustworthiness. Show up on time and perform consistently.

Give value - Give without expecting anything in return. Value is contagious. Others will naturally follow your lead. Don't just talk about benefits; demonstrate them. Share knowledge and educate. Provide content and information instead of empty fluff. Ask open ended questions. Help people discover answers for themselves. Offer training sessions and workshops and encourage feedback.

Listen and respond- Listen carefully and respond thoughtfully. Answer questions honestly and avoid vague responses. Acknowledge concerns and challenges. Take responsibility whenever possible. Say sorry when necessary.

3) Establish Rapport

Rapport refers to the ability to establish a connection based primarily on similarities shared rather than on superficial factors such as age, race, gender, education level, religion, socioeconomic status, geographic location, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, occupation, hobbies, etc. Once rapport is established, it enables conversations. Conversations allow you to share ideas and opinions and begin solving problems together. At this stage, you start establishing working relationships. As long as everyone involved keeps communication lines open, chances are good that the relationship will continue to evolve organically.

4) Engage prospect interest

Engaging a buyer's interest starts with understanding his or her problem. Your goal is to identify their biggest challenge(s). Then formulate a solution tailored to address each specific concern. Prospects prefer solutions that meet three criteria: 1) easy to implement 2) affordable 3) effective. All too often, salespeople present overly complicated proposals full of unnecessary bells and whistles. Instead, simplify your proposal by focusing on solving the big picture issue.

5) Prove ROI

Proving Return On Investment (ROI) is critical for securing funding commitments and winning bids. To achieve this, you must show both short term and long term results using metrics such as savings, productivity improvements, increased revenues, operating efficiencies, and cost reductions. Also, keep in mind that prospects care less about price tags and profit margins than they do about outcomes. So when presenting your final bid, compare apples to oranges. Present comparative analysis across multiple vendors' quotes to illustrate value. Focus on outcome driven measurements like reduced costs, speed to market, improved safety standards, operational efficiency, etc.

Next, let me walk you through a typical Cognismart deal cycle starting with finding leads.

How do you make a B2B sales process?

When it comes to developing a B2B sales process, you can either hire a consultant or develop your own model. Many consultants typically charge high hourly rates for designing customized processes. While customizing can certainly yield higher returns, it takes longer and can feel overwhelming. Plus, hiring experts usually doesn't come cheap. Alternatively, you can opt to simply download our B2B Sales Process Instruction Manual below which outlines a generic eight-step process. Each step includes actionable items along with supporting documents. Follow these simple instructions and you'll be able to design your own process within hours instead of days. Best of all, you can customize this general framework to suit your organization's culture and goals.

How do you process a B2B?

Here's how you go about processing a B2B deal:

Step #1: Lead Generation: Identify relevant leads using industry data and referrals. Use social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, forums, etc. Post compelling visuals and links to websites offering additional details. Set a budget to ensure maximum visibility and engagement. Consider leveraging influencers and celebrities to generate buzz and drive awareness.

Step #2: Qualification: Determine if leads qualify by addressing key issues. Evaluate the quality of the lead and determine if the person possesses requisite skillsets.

Step #3: Discovery: Build deeper connections with qualified leads. Try to uncover hidden interests and motives. Find out what drives them emotionally. What do they enjoy reading about? Where do they network? Who do they turn to for advice? Discover if they'd be a fit for your organization.

Step #4: Conversion: Gain agreement from prospects after qualifying them. Address objections and gain commitment to move forward. Discuss preferred timeline and next actions. Agree on milestones, deliverables, and compensation plan.

Step #5: Close: Finalize deal terms and conditions. Get sign off from decision makers. Sign binding agreements. Deliver agreed upon goods and services. Create testimonials. Send official thank-you notes. Celebrate successes.

What are the 5 steps of sales process?

Let's recap what happens throughout the above steps:

Step #1: Lead generation: Generate leads and qualify them for further consideration.

Step #2: Qualification: Verify qualification by evaluating skill sets and match against requirements.

Step #3: Discovery: Learn more about the prospect and learn about him or her personally. Understand his or her situation and find ways to relate. Discover what motivates him or her.

Step #4: Conversion: Obtain agreement from prospects and secure signatures needed to proceed.

Step #5: Closing: Complete formalities like signing contracts, sending official letters, sending gifts, celebrating celebrations, and thanking clients.

Now that you know how to put it all together, let's discuss an actual case study involving a large financial institution.

What is an example of a B2B sale?

In this article we'll take a look at what makes up a typical business-to-business (B2B) sales cycle so you can better understand how your own sales team should be approaching it.  You might also find that by taking time to go through these steps, you will have more confidence when talking with prospects about upcoming projects or new products.

The stages of our model cover the entire sales pipeline from lead qualification all the way down to follow-up calls after the sale has been made. This allows us to track where opportunities stand throughout their lifecycle and allow easy adjustment along the way.

This post comes courtesy of my colleague Adam Sheehan who runs CogniSci's Sales & Marketing consulting practice here in Chicago. He helped develop these eight key elements into one structured framework that any company could use as its foundation. With over 20 years experience working on complex sales situations with CFOs, CEOs, Directors and VPs across industries ranging from consumer goods to technology services, his expertise knows no bounds.

Let’s get started...

What are B2B processes?

Before delving into anything specific let’s define exactly what a “process” means within the context of the business world. In general terms, a process is defined as "a set of coordinated activities performed according to well established guidelines". A process is not something static, but rather something dynamic and ever changing. It is often described using 5 Ws – What, Where, When, Why and How. The first three describe the inputs required while the last two focus on outputs. So for example, if you were asked “what happens when someone signs off on the deal” then the answer would be “the contract gets signed”. If however, you were asked “why does that happen” then the answer may vary depending upon the situation. For instance, if you are trying to sell a large project to a client, they want to know “Why do I need to buy this product now instead of next year?” To help illustrate how everything fits together, think of each individual element as being like pieces of a puzzle and every piece must fit perfectly before moving onto the next phase.

So back to the original question - what is the actual process of B2B sales? Let's break it down and examine each step individually. We've listed them below in order of importance and detail some specifics around each item.

1.) Lead Generation: Nowadays there are many ways to generate leads including social media marketing, advertising campaigns, trade shows, speaking engagements, etc. However, the best results come from having good relationships with thought leaders in your target market. People tend to naturally gravitate towards those whom they respect and admire which gives companies such as yours significant advantages. These individuals usually already have a built-in fan base comprised of customers, partners, peers, subordinates and other stakeholders. By finding out who they personally know and reach out directly to them, you're much less likely to waste precious resources chasing dead ends. Don't forget to include influencers whose opinion matters most within your target market.

Don’t just email people randomly hoping for the best. Create meaningful connections by reaching out to influential friends, colleagues, advisors and experts in your industry. Send them emails asking for introductions or invitations to speak/train. Be sure to show genuine interest in helping others succeed and provide value without expecting anything in return. Most importantly don’t act desperate because everyone hates pushy salespeople. Also remember that networking events aren’t limited to conferences and conventions alone. There are countless local groups focused on professional development, education, community service, philanthropic endeavors and even hobbies. You never know who you’ll meet until you give yourself permission to explore.

2.) Qualification Process: Once you receive an inquiry, the goal is to qualify whether or not this particular opportunity meets your criteria. An ideal scenario is when you can immediately determine whether or not the prospect qualifies based solely on information provided and data points gathered online during initial outreach. That eliminates unnecessary phone tag calls and wasted time spent on unsuccessful meetings. But sometimes you may have to ask probing questions and gather additional information before deciding to move forward. Remember, qualifying isn’t meant to discourage potential candidates, but rather to ensure that the right person is identified. Never make assumptions or assume things won’t change once the relationship begins. Ask open ended questions related to skillset, career goals, strengths, weaknesses, challenges and frustrations. Asking thoughtful questions early will save you valuable time later on if you decide to pursue further contact.

3.) Presentation: After receiving positive feedback regarding qualifications, your next objective is to present your solution offering. During this meeting, try to avoid going overboard with too much technical jargon or making claims beyond what can reasonably be supported. Focus on providing actionable benefits and demonstrating ROI upfront. Keep conversations short and concise, and only address issues raised by your audience. Try to keep presentations under 10 minutes unless requested otherwise. Make sure you highlight the unique aspects of your offer compared to competitors'. Your presentation materials should be simple yet engaging, relevant and visually appealing. Use PowerPoint slides containing bulleted bullet points with clear callouts to main ideas. Avoid fancy fonts and colors. Finally, always prepare several copies of your handout material ahead of time and leave plenty of room for Q&A sessions.

4.) Discovery Phase: One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make today is jumping straight into discussing pricing. Too often times founders start negotiations by presenting multiple price options to clients without understanding the full picture. Take time beforehand to discover what your customer needs and wants. Determine the exact scope of work involved in addition to requirements concerning budget, timelines, expectations around milestones, customization levels, desired outcomes, risk factors, etc. Then create an accurate estimate of costs associated with doing business with you. Next, compare prices against similar offerings in your area, and finally evaluate the pros and cons between different solutions. Always strive to deliver top quality service while keeping the end user in mind. Do not sacrifice your brand integrity or reputation due to financial considerations.

5.) Decision Making: At this point, assuming that all parties agree to proceed, you should expect to hear back from decision makers informing you whether or not they are interested in pursuing further discussions. Depending upon preferences, decisions can range anywhere from “Yes” to “No”. Sometimes a company may require approval from superiors prior to proceeding. Regardless, it is imperative to maintain professionalism at all times and stay patient. Do not pressure anyone unnecessarily.

6.) Proposal Development: Based on input received thus far, it’s time to put pen to paper and draft a formal proposal outlining details surrounding items mentioned earlier. Again, try to stick to facts and avoid hyperbole. Stay true to your word and be prepared to explain things clearly and thoroughly. Consider reviewing proposals submitted by competitors prior to sending your own version. Many times a buyer will request changes to existing specifications therefore it becomes necessary to adjust accordingly. Prepare detailed estimates showing costs incurred over various billing periods along with estimated profit margins. Lastly, attach supporting documents and references that verify accuracy of figures presented.

7.) Negotiation: Assuming agreement was reached, hopefully you’ve successfully closed the deal. However, chances are high that you’ll encounter resistance from certain areas and disagreements may arise. Therefore it’s crucial to remain calm and rational at all times. Remain flexible and willing to listen to concerns brought forth by decision makers. While negotiating, try to refrain from mentioning past performance records and achievements since credibility is essential. Instead, emphasize future accomplishments and goals while highlighting tangible benefits gained versus alternatives. Also consider giving incentives/rewards to seal the deal. Remember, trust takes time to build so don’t rush through negotiation procedures. Stick to deadlines and don’t delay delivery dates. Have patience and persistence.

8.) Follow Up Calls: Following successful completion of a transaction, a natural consequence is increased workload. Expect to spend considerable amounts of time managing accounts receivable, processing paperwork, answering inquiries and following up with decision makers. Maintaining communication channels with buyers will prove vital to maintaining long term relationships. Constantly monitor progress and report on missed deadlines, problems encountered and resolutions achieved.



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