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We’ve all heard the saying, “trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

Try as you might, eventually, you concede and find the right tool for the job.

If you’re approaching B2B sales the same way you would B2C, you might feel similar pain. Although they have some similarities, they’re two different beasts, and you need to treat them that way.

Understanding the differences between your B2B sales funnel and B2C sales funnel plays a vital role in understanding the differences between both sets of consumers and can help you create a strategy specific to your target market.

In this post, I’ll walk you through four fundamental differences between these two sales funnels to help you shape an effective and targeted sales strategy.

B2C vs. B2B Sales Funnels: The Basics

A sales funnel, whether business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-customer (B2C), is a consumer-focused model that visually illustrates a customer’s journey from the first contact to the purchase of a product or service.

During the process, sales reps seek to understand the mindset of consumers and how they might advance through the funnel. While breaking down the stages of a funnel is essential, you don’t want to get too caught up in the process.

We often get funnels wrong by splicing them into too many stages without providing greater clarity. A funnel with fewer stages is preferable, especially in B2B, where sales cycles are already long!

The best way to think about the funnel is that you want as many stages as you need to understand what your prospect needs, but no more than that.

Too few sales organizations use their funnel to help determine what value the salesperson needs to create for prospective clients. When you know the value you need to create, you can: 

  • Address potential blockers early
  • Identify which part of your sales funnel is leaking
  • Determine when you might need to pivot to new strategies or tactics

Before we look at the major differences, I’ll briefly provide context and describe each funnel.

Understanding the B2C Sales Funnel

The B2C sales funnel is simpler and streamlined. It generally targets an individual consumer. For example, if you see an advertisement on Instagram and buy a new pair of sunglasses that you probably don’t need, that’s a B2C transaction.

While you often don’t need a salesperson to facilitate the purchase, the customer still goes on a journey from awareness to action. The modern buyer is savvy and researches before they buy. But they still need some help along the way.

For example, you could buy an iPad or a Samsung tablet. Which is better? Is either better? Consumers might consult company websites but also check out comparison blogs, Quora, and YouTube to decide.

You can break the B2C sales funnel into four stages.

  • Awareness - The buyer searches for information and finds the product.
  • Interest - They research further and learn about the product.
  • Consideration - They read reviews and compare the product to other similar products.
  • Purchase - They make a decision and purchase the product.

There are some cases where the sales process might take longer. With large purchases like a car, a kitchen, or a house, a buyer may go through additional stages before ultimately making a purchase.

Understanding the B2B Sales Funnel

B2B sales is the process of one business selling to another business. B2B companies tend to sell and target a group rather than an individual consumer. Because of this, the purchasing decision involves more people, leading to a longer sales cycle.

While the sales cycle is longer, it doesn’t need three or four more stages. Yes, buyers need to evaluate product-company fit. But if you create enough value early on and continue to provide value at every step, you can limit obstacles.

RELATED READ: Value-Positive, Value-Neutral, and Value-Negative

Unfortunately, uncertain buyers plague B2B sales deals, so it’s imperative to speak to the right person early. You can start building consensus and begin the process of making change.

The B2B sales funnel has six stages.

  • Awareness - The buyer searches for information and finds the product.
  • Interest - They research further and learn about the product.
  • Consideration - They share research and any content you provide with other stakeholders.
  • Intent - Buyers get a product demo or a free trial.
  • Evaluation - They review the contract proposal and negotiate where appropriate.
  • Purchase - They purchase the product or service.

Note: Sometimes, the sales cycle is much quicker if the decision-maker knows precisely what they need and you provide the solution.

Now let’s look at the nuanced differences between the B2C and B2B sales funnel.

2. Lead Generation and Marketing

B2C businesses benefit more from building awareness in traditional ways. Brands have large budgets to spend on TV and radio commercials and paid social campaigns. They want to build brand awareness, so when customers think about buying a product, they’re top of mind.

The largest companies do this well.

RELATED READ: The Outbound Lead Generation Guide

When you think of a smartphone, you think of Apple or Samsung. When you think of sneakers, you think of Nike or Adidas. Yet even though Nike is one of the biggest brands in the world, they still run awareness campaigns.

Nike collaborates with high-profile sports stars. They lean on user-generated content to run social media campaigns. And they’re masters of storytelling. Nike makes the everyday person feel more athletic.

And so when consumers are looking for sneakers, they choose the big brands.

Conversely, B2B buyers identify a need or problem they want to solve and search for solutions. They might be unaware of the answer, but have symptoms of a problem. They often search Google or ask colleagues and their broader business circle for referrals.

For B2B especially, referrals are like gold dust. If someone else uses your product or service and raves about it, it’s much easier to convert potential customers.

Content marketing plays a huge role, too. When you target your ideal customer with helpful and relevant content, you attract leads and bring them into the sales funnel. Ideally, you want to fill your sales pipeline with qualified leads.

B2B buyers use other content to help them make decisions. They’ll show up to webinars, watch demos on YouTube, and mine review sites like Capterra or G2. 

As a salesperson, you can create value by providing the answers your customers need and using content to facilitate the buyer journey.


3. Sales Cycle Length

Much is said about the B2B sales cycle length. And it’s true to an extent. B2C buyers might see a pair of Nikes and buy them off the shelf or in an online store. B2B buyers sometimes take months to vet different solutions.

But, a great salesperson shortens the sales process by creating value at every stage of the funnel.

By creating value, building trust, and developing rapport with B2B consumers, they’re more likely to invest in expensive solutions.

Generally, the higher the ticket price (or subscription), the longer the sales process. For example, a platform that costs $47 to install takes less time to sell than an annual subscription or license that costs $30,000 a year.

A longer sales cycle isn’t always a bad thing. You also don’t want trigger-happy buyers to rush through the sales process only to discover they don’t have consensus from other decision-makers or permission to buy.

B2B buyers need time to liaise with other stakeholders. It usually goes something like this

  • The prospect shares their research with stakeholders
  • All being well, contact is made. You’ll set up a meeting.
  • A follow-up meeting is booked, and you’ll prepare your pitch or demonstration.
  • Your prospect will evaluate your proposal against your competitors and make a decision.
  • Hopefully, they will buy your product or start a subscription to your services.

The stakes aren’t high when a B2C prospect decides between Nike and Adidas. They’re going to get a similarly engineered sneaker at a similar price. A B2B buyer’s decision is higher risk and requires a longer process to ensure they’re investing in the right product.

4. Number of Stakeholders

As mentioned above, unless the B2B buyer is a solopreneur, there are going to be multiple stakeholders involved in the B2B sales cycle. B2C buyers might consult friends, family, or a significant other before purchasing.

But with B2B sales, prepare for various meetings with different employees and layers of seniority.

Let’s use the HR department as an example. An HR specialist might vet multiple platforms and hand off research to their manager. The manager also vets the research and gets buy-in from the chief people officer or director. In turn, they might need the tech, legal, and accounting teams to sign off.

A great salesperson is ready to create value at every stage of the funnel. They’re also prepared to converse with various stakeholders without dropping the ball. B2B buyers are logical and focus on ROI. It’s your job to facilitate their journey while also selling the emotional payoff.

4. Brand Influence

I’ve spoken about Nike, Apple, and Samsung. These major brands influence B2C buyers with incredible storytelling. They’re advertising budgets are also incredible. It’s easier to reach B2C customers when you can invest millions of dollars into driving awareness.

And B2C customers care about and are influenced by the brand and its reputation. Consumers want to feel represented and feel something when they purchase and wear, or use a product.

That’s not to say B2B buyers don’t care about the brand. It just takes different forms. B2B buyers care about social proof, testimonials, customer stories, and case studies. They want to know that people like them have succeeded with your product or service.

Can they see themselves using your product? Do they see the emotional payoff? The logical payoff? 

For example, a marketing manager who wants to prove marketing ROI to her CEO and is looking to drive growth in her company wants to know that other marketing managers have successfully used your product to reach similar goals.

RELATED READ: The 14 Tools You Need to Nurture Your Dream Clients

Equally important is finding your ideal clients. Meeting them where they are. For lead generation to be fruitful, you want to fill your sales pipeline with qualified leads. Where are your ideal customers hanging out? Many B2B consumers spend time on LinkedIn.

A well-timed case study or customer story exposes potential clients to other organizations using your product. It’s on posts like these you can start making connections.

Your B2B Sales Funnel Requires a Specific Strategy 

While there are clear similarities in the awareness and interest stages of the sales funnel, what differentiates B2C and B2B funnels is the longer and somewhat muddy middle.

B2B salespeople must navigate a multitude of conversations and decision-makers. If that’s you, you need to arm yourself with multiple sales decks, social proof, and a strategy to create massive value for your prospects.

The first step to creating value is helping prospects navigate what’s changing in their world and providing solutions that will guide them toward your solution. To do so, you need the exact language to open the conversation and advance each sale.

You’ll get that language and so much more in my proven blueprint for sales success. Let me show you the modern sales approach that will enable you to hit your sales targets, regardless of your experience.

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Sales 2023
Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 19, 2023

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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