The landscape of B2B sales is undergoing a significant transformation. Today's buyers are more informed than ever, not just about your offerings but also about your competitors. They no longer rely solely on salespeople to make informed decisions. This shift is especially relevant for contract manufacturers, where competition is fierce, and differentiation is vital.
If you're following an inbound marketing approach, your sales team has access to valuable information about prospects, such as the web pages they've viewed and the content they've downloaded. This data can reveal their lifecycle stage and buyer persona. Moreover, leads may have been nurtured through workflows, attracting negative or positive scoring, which helps generate marketing qualified leads (MQLs) ready for sales qualification.
The role of sales in contract manufacturing is increasingly advisory. Salespeople must be aware of all the information the buyer has accessed and adapt their approach accordingly.
The B2B sales cycle
The B2B sales cycle refers to the series of events, phases, or steps from the first customer contact to the final sale of a product or service. It's a more complex process than B2C sales, often involving multiple decision-makers, longer sales cycles, and higher-stakes purchases. Here are the typical stages of a B2B sales cycle:
- Prospecting - This is the initial stage where potential customers or leads are identified. It can be done through various methods such as market research, attending trade shows, networking, or using lead generation tools.
- Initial contact - Once potential leads are identified, the sales team makes the first contact. This could be through a phone call, email, social media, or even a face-to-face meeting. The purpose is to introduce the company and its offerings and gauge the lead's potential interest.
- Qualification - In this stage, the sales team determines whether the lead is a good fit for the product or service. This involves assessing whether the lead has a genuine need for the product, the financial capacity to purchase it, and the authority to make buying decisions.
- Needs assessment - Here, the sales team works to understand the potential customer's specific needs and pain points. This often involves asking detailed questions and researching the prospect's business.
- Presentation of a solution - Based on the needs assessment, the sales rep presents a sales pitch to the prospect. This could be in the form of a product demo, a sales presentation, or a formal proposal. The goal is to show the prospect how their product or service can solve the prospect's problem or improve their situation.
- Negotiation - The negotiation phase begins if the prospect is interested in the solution. This could involve negotiating the price, delivery, terms of the contract, or other details of the sale.
- Closing the sale - If the negotiation is successful, the sale is closed. This involves finalising the contract, arranging for delivery of the product or service, and setting up any necessary training or support.
- Follow-up and relationship management - After the sale is made, the business should follow up with the customer to ensure they are satisfied with the product or service. This could involve providing customer support, asking for feedback, or offering additional products or services. The goal is to maintain a positive relationship with the customer, encourage repeat business, and generate referrals.
Your B2B sales strategy should inform your sales cycle. Your B2B sales strategy is a set of principles your business will follow to sell your products or services. It explains how your business will pitch its product or service to customers. A B2B sales strategy based on your business's value proposition will help you differentiate your business from your competitors.
Remember, in contract manufacturing, the length and complexity of the B2B sales cycle can also vary greatly depending on the complexity of the product or service being sold and the size and nature of the buying organisation.
The B2B sales process review: 3 steps
Conducting a sales process review is a comprehensive task that involves several key aspects, including aligning your Sales and Marketing teams, documenting your B2B sales process, and auditing your sales content.
1. Align your Sales and Marketing teams
The inbound sales model mirrors inbound marketing, transitioning prospects through awareness, consideration, and decision stages, focusing on supporting the buyer. For contract manufacturers, alignment between marketing and sales is crucial. Marketing needs to create relevant content for sales at every stage to drive prospects through the sales funnel and convert them into customers.
The alignment ensures that marketing creates relevant content to drive prospects through the sales funnel and that sales teams effectively convert them into customers. A review can help identify misalignment and improve collaboration, creating a shared understanding around leads, defining the 'hand-off' process, and encouraging feedback.
By unifying your sales and marketing, you can:
- Create a shared language around leads
- Define the process of 'hand-off' from Marketing to Sales
- Develop an agreed definition of qualified leads
- Commit to the delivery of meaningful sales leads
- Encourage Sales to provide feedback and 'close the loop' with Marketing
2. Document your B2B sales process
Often sales processes evolve organically and are undocumented, especially in manufacturing, where businesses have traditionally relied on a direct or distributor sales force to generate growth. However, having a documented sales process to measure against is vital in an inbound world. By defining your process, you can quickly identify any disconnects and areas for improvement.
A sales process review lets you discover areas where sales performance could be improved, new sales techniques to introduce, or any training required to help transition your staff to an inbound sales approach.
The first stage is to observe your salespeople - look back at your closed/won pipeline. How long did the whole process take from the first contact to deal closed, how much time elapsed between each touchpoint, and are there any common patterns in behaviour?
Then map your observations to a generic inbound sales process model. While every sales process is different, it is likely your observations align somewhat with the standard steps. This will help you to define what made the prospects move from one stage of the sales process to the next based on the prospect's actions.
Once you have a documented sales process, you can use it to measure progress and look for trends and inefficiencies. For example - how long are your prospects staying in particular stages on average? Are there places where you could "speed up" the time spent at one stage?
3. Audit your sales content
The review process also involves examining your existing sales content to identify gaps or areas for improvement. This includes sales literature, presentations, videos, etc. The audit can help you understand if your content effectively supports the sales process and where improvements could be made. It also allows marketing to work with sales to create email templates and automated email sequences to nurture leads through the sales funnel until they are ready to connect.
In an ever-evolving world, reviewing your B2B sales process to ensure it aligns with your buyers' behaviour today is key. By aligning your Sales and Marketing and making the most of automation tools such as HubSpot, contract manufacturers can stand out from the crowd, build a strong sales pipeline, and ultimately win more business.