What Is B2B Sales – The Definition And Evolution In Digital Age


To understand any complicated context of business to business operation, it’s time to get back to basics to define all the fundamentals! If you still confuse exactly what is B2B sales is, let’s discover its definition and insights in this article.


What is B2B sales?

B2B sales is shorthand for business-to-business sales. The term refers to a transaction where a business is selling its products or services (=creating value) to another business.

B2B sales are often more complex than B2C (business to consumer) sales. The key distinguishing feature of a B2B sale is that the customer is an organization rather than an individual consumer.

Some Examples of Business to Business Sales

B2B sales often take the form of one company selling supplies or components to another. For example, a tire manufacturer might sell his merchandise to a car manufacturer.

Wholesalers often sell their products to retailers, who then turn around and sell them to consumers. Supermarkets are a classic example: They buy food from wholesalers then sell it at a slightly higher price to individuals.

Business-to-business (b to b) sales can also include services. Attorneys who take cases for business clients, accountant firms that help companies do their taxes, and technical consultants who set up networks and email are all examples of B2B service providers.

What Does a Successful B2B Sales Rep Look Like?

Managing Directors at CEB – Matthew Dixon and co-authors of a book titled The Challenger Sale – Brent Adamson, outline a successful B2B strategy explaining that most successful B2B sales managers and sales reps proactively solve problems and challenge their customers to make intuitive improvements.

Offering this kind of insight requires a deep understanding of the customer’s industry and their needs. To successfully close a deal today, a sales professional must have the ability to share information and ideas that help clients better compete in the market.


A Shift in Today’s B2B Sales Process

Far gone the day a salesperson had to make hundreds of cold calls to seek for customers, brought a printed catalog to showcase their products in person, and filled in massive ordering forms to close a deal. The traditional sales execution soon become a myth belonging to the past. B2B salesmen and buyers now are involving more in online buying and selling, with a completely new process.

1. Reason for the shift: Modern technology

To explain this change, it’s obvious that modern technology, featuring with new business models as e-commerce and m-commerce, is the main cause for the shift in B2B sales process.

Provoked by the B2C market, with the leading of retail giants as Amazon and Alibaba, ecommerce gradually predominates over the buying and selling globally. Though the popularity of B2B ecommerce is not as enormous as B2C one, ecommerce and other digital platforms are now the norms in B2B market. B2B customers expect the B2B sales experience comparable to the one in B2C ecommerce sites.

According to a report on the path to B2B purchase, 89% of B2B buyers use the Internet for their purchase. It’s expected that half of all B2B purchases will be made directly online by 2018. Especially, at the golden age of Omnichannel retail, B2B buyers will require a B2C-like experience, which allows them to buy anywhere and anytime.

Undoubtedly, B2B buyers are using more mobile devices during their buying process, leading to the fact that 75% of B2B buyers rely on mobile search and ads, as registered in a report by International Data Group.

Not only searching for a product on mobile devices, B2B buyers are interested in making a purchase on mobile platforms. It’ revealed that more than half of B2B executives are comfortable buying on mobile.


2. New buying journey

As a result, a new typical buying journey of B2B customers has been formed.

  • Awareness: Buyer becomes aware of his problem
  • Research and compare: Buyer conducts online research to find out how to solve that problem, and discovers possible solutions
  • Education: Buyer finds companies’ website, which includes high-quality, valuable content
  • Initial contact: Buyer provides his email address in exchange for some of that valuable content
  • Funneling: Buyer receives a series of emails from the company educating him about his problem, presenting possible solutions, and finally making a case for why this company’s solution is the right one for him
  • Ready to talk to the sales rep: Buyer reaches out to the company for a consultation / free trial/ demo / etc.
  • Close: With the support of the salesman, the customer makes the purchase

As can be seen, the new buying journey requires fewer sales reps’ involvement since B2B customers tend to interact with customers more on online channels.

Gradually, B2B companies improve their technology capabilities to satisfy the more demanding customers, and the advent of new technology, with ecommerce and m-commerce, are the most powerful, started their dominance over the B2B market, forcing salesmen to “the edge of extinction”.

Definitely, it’s not an unproven consumption to fear that sales reps will be replaced one day since modern platforms like B2B ecommerce are allowing customers to buy on their own.

It’s predicted that 85% of B2B transactions will occur without any human intervention in 2020. Furthermore, the pace of technology development is occurring at a rate that Matthew King, CEO, and Founder at Royal Cannabis Advisors believes that 95% of salesmen will be replaced by AI within 20 years.

3. How Modern Technology almost Replaces Sales Rep

a. Traditional B2B sales representative workflow

To clarify how modern technology replaces salespeople, it’s a must to understand how sales rep sold in the old days. Normally, the conventional sales followed the process below:

  • Prospecting: Sales rep would find or be handed with a prospect
  • Direct contact: Sales rep makes a cold-call to the prospect
  • Research and understand: Sales rep asks questions of the customer in order to understand their situations and challenges
  • Pitching: Sales rep introduces their products/ service to customers
  • Proposal and negotiating: sales rep makes a proposal and negotiates with the prospective customer about the price, payment and voicing, etc
  • Close: when the customer is ready to buy, the sales rep closes the deal.

Traditionally, a salesperson would be the one who initiated the relationship between customers and the business by making cold calls to prospective customers in a handed list.

After the call, they would determine whether they found a potential customer or not, and whether to move to the next step or give up. Besides, customers didn’t have a full access to products’ information, i.e. price, specs, customer reviews, so on, and salespeople played a vital role in educating buyers about their products/ services.

Salesmen also closely involved in the stage of placing an order, giving customers further consultant and writing order manually. After a sale, salespeople continued their communication with customers for further engagement and created a long-term relationship. Needless to say, sales reps involved in almost every step in the traditional B2B sales process.


b. How technology force sales rep to the edge of extinction

However, the day a B2B customer couldn’t place an order without a salesman has gone. With the advent of new business models as ecommerce and m-commerce, sales rep are losing their vital roles.

At the day when the Internet of things is a global norm, and Google can find millions of results in half a second, people prefer searching for every piece of information on their own, whether it’s for personal or business purpose. Following this trend, B2B businesses are now showcasing their products or services via online catalogs, allowing customers to actively search for their interesting product.

No longer waiting for a cold call from salesmen, customers now can proactively contact a business via their websites or emails. Gradually, they become the ones who mainly initiate their relationship with the business, which used to be provoked by sales reps in the old days.

For the same reason, customers now get the full access to information like pricing, specs, customer reviews, or competitor information, instead of the only limited source of data. As these things are no longer a secret of salespeople, they lose their role of a products/ services expert to new technologies.

One of the most important roles of a salesperson is closing a deal, but now they become an optional factor in the sales process as customers can buy online and proceed to checkout on their own.

Business models like ecommerce and m-commerce featuring with self-service portal allow technical-savvy customers to easily finish their complex purchase. From placing an order to choosing shipping and payment method, customers can do without a helping hand of salespeople. This would sound impossible in the old days when people couldn’t make a sales without salesmen.

However, it’s so popular today for B2B customers to buy online that it raises a question on whether businesses still need sales reps to consult buyers. Modern technologies even replace salespeople in after sales activities to delight customers. Automated tools can make everything simple and easy, like sending emails and offers for customers after they place an order, or collecting customers’ behavior data in a more effective way.

To sum up, it’s an open question to determine exactly whether modern technologies are helping salesmen become more consultative/productive or taking core responsibilities away from sales teams. Perhaps both views are true. And it’s also questionable that if there are any technological gaps salesmen can bridge in the modern online sale process.

Final thought

If someone asks you What is B2B sales, the answer including its definition is not enough. To clarify the idea of B2B sales, business people should also understand the evolution in the B2B sales process that moves along with the current digital transformation. Getting these insights, you would help your business more adaptive to the changes in the B2B realm.

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