The best way to answer the question "What is B2B sales?" is to compare it to other types of sales. The term "B2B sales" means a business is selling to another business. This term differentiates this type of sales from B2C sales (business-to-consumer) and B2G (business-to-government). Here are some factors that make B2B Different:
B2B Sales Are Often Long-Term Arrangements
B2B: When a company sells to another company, the sale is called B2B. Much of the time, these sales are long-term contracts and relationships, as the two companies may work together for years or decades. If you imagine a company needs to buy something so they can manufacture or provide what they sell, they are going to have continuous needs.
B2C: When a single person buys something they want or need, it is a B2C sale. When you walk into an Apple Store to buy an iPhone, you are engaged in a B2C sale. You might buy Apple products, but you have a different relationship with Apple than does Best Buy, which carries Apple products. When Best Buy purchases Apple products to sell to consumers, it is an example of a B2B sale that allows Best Buy to sell B2C.
B2G: Business-to-government sales are often very long sales cycles, and the process is different than both B2B sales and B2C sales. Because these sales have government oversight, the process is generally one that starts with an RFP (request for a proposal). The arrangement might be one where the business sells something to a government entity for years or decades, but the process has to be fair to every company that competes for a contract.
B2B Sales Has Different Clients and Stakeholders
B2B buyers tend to be decision-makers and people who are charged with ensuring their business is able to deliver to their clients. Generally, in B2B sales, the buyers describe their own buyers as clients, instead of customers. If you sell to Coca-Cola, you would describe them as a client.
B2C: B2C sales has a business selling to a consumer. In retail sales, the person buying is often called a customer. When a consumer buys from a professional, like an accountant or lawyer, they are often called a client, in part because of the nature of the relationship and the fact that accountants and lawyers are paid for their advice.
B2G: In B2G sales, the government entity is the client. The stakeholders are almost always those in purchasing roles. The government entity that uses what the business sells will eventually be the client, but only after the purchasing function is complete.
Competition in B2B Sales
B2B sales tend to be more difficult than B2C. The B2B salesperson is going to be required to create new opportunities by calling other businesses to ask them for a meeting. These meetings sometimes allow the B2B salesperson to help address areas where the prospective client can improve their results. When this is true, the B2B salesperson has an opportunity to help the company achieve new or better outcomes.
If the business the B2B salesperson calls on is trying to improve their results, they are likely to be entertaining a number of different sellers, all of which may or may not be a good fit for them. This level of competition is different from B2C, where the competition is pursued in different ways.
B2C sales is as competitive as B2B sales, but the difference is that the company vying for the consumer's business does much of their work through marketing. Every day, AT&T and Verizon advertise on media channels to position their offerings and attract new customers. Neither AT&T nor Verizon is going to come to an individual consumer’s home to sell them a smartphone and a service plan. However, these companies will be happy to send someone to an office to have a conversation with a prospective business client.
In B2G sales, many businesses compete to win large contracts. The contract size and time duration attract companies looking for the certainty of being paid over a set term. The arm’s-length nature of this type of sale is designed to give each company an equal chance to compete and potentially win a contract. Occasionally, a company that feels they were not given the right consideration will file a complaint, asking that the decision be overturned.
Are You Right for B2B Sales?
The question of whether B2B sales is a good choice for you is difficult to answer. Many salespeople choose to sell B2B because there is a tremendous upside that comes in the form of commissions or bonuses. B2B sales also come with more autonomy than most other professions, while also allowing the salesperson to have long-term relationships with their clients.
But B2B sales also requires activities that cause some salespeople to avoid it. Compared to the past, a larger number of people are uncomfortable calling strangers, interrupting them to ask for a meeting. Cold outreach makes some people uncomfortable. B2B also requires that the salesperson be accountable for their results while also being accountable for their clients’ results. Finally, other people dislike working alone, and B2B sales is mostly an individual activity.
Experience selling B2B leads a lot of salespeople to develop many of the skills and character traits that prepare them for leadership roles, both in sales and outside of it. The ability to help others change and improve their outcomes is easily transferred to helping people solve problems or challenges, and make the changes that improve their results.
For a deeper dive into B2B sales and the competencies and character traits necessary to succeed in it, pick up a copy of The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need. There, you'll find everything you need to get started in B2B sales.