The Ultimate Strategy for B2B and B2C Sales

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Ultimate Sales Machine" by Chet Holmes. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the key to securing B2B sales? How does the business-to-business sales approach differ from business-to-customer’s?

B2B and B2C sales approaches are polar opposites. With business-to-business selling (B2B), it’s important to make sure you’re talking to the right person at the company. For business-to-customer sales, you need to cast a wide net in your marketing efforts to reach lots of people at once.

Keep reading to learn about B2B and B2C sales strategies.

Business-to-Business Selling: Get Past the Gatekeepers

Junior- or mid-level officers at a big company don’t have the authority to make big purchases on their own. And many receptionists and administrative staff members are specifically trained to prevent salespeople from speaking to the CEO. Part of training your staff is teaching your salespeople to get on the phone with high-level corporate officers like CEOs or CFOs who are actually empowered to make decisions. 

Always Be Respectful to the Assistants

But just because you’re trying to get past the administrative or executive assistants to speak to the CEO doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take those people seriously or treat them with respect. Even though they’re not the ultimate decision makers, one of their main functions is to act as the gatekeepers for the decision makers—deciding who does and doesn’t get to speak to them. That’s why it’s smart to get on the gatekeepers’ good side. 

In New Sales Simplified, Mike Weinberg writes that it always pays to be gracious and courteous with receptionists, assistants, and other gatekeepers at a prospect’s company. Making a good impression on people in the company can only help your sales efforts. Further, when you actually get an appointment with the CEO and have the opportunity to meet an assistant in person, Weinberg recommends taking time to express appreciation to them for their help.

Project Confidence and Be Persistent

Holmes recommends calling them up and projecting confidence with the receptionist, speaking as if the CEO knows you and is expecting your call, and—most importantly—avoiding sounding like you’re a salesperson. For example, if you were looking to speak to Elon Musk at Tesla, you could say something like, “Hi, this is Johanna. I’d like to speak to Elon. Is he in?” If the admin doesn’t put you on right away or tells you the CEO doesn’t know who you are, you can further project confidence and persistence by saying something like, “Tell him again that it’s Johanna from Devon Capital. That should jog his memory.” Holmes writes that it’s important to not include overt sales pitches like, “I want to tell Elon about an exciting investment opportunity.” That’s a surefire way to brand yourself as a salesperson and get the cold shoulder.

Again, the key is persistence. CEOs of major companies whose business you’re trying to get will respect your determination. No matter what you’re selling, if they hear your company’s name enough and you do a good job of educating them on the value it provides, they will eventually turn to you when they decide they need what you’re offering. 

When Not to Fake It

Holmes’s advice to act as if you know the CEO when you don’t in order to get a meeting with her is a form of bluffing, or at least a variant of the “fake it ‘till you make it” adage. Yet some experts warn that this kind of bluffing can actually backfire. If your bluff turns into bravado or arrogance, you can sour your prospective clients or partners by coming off like you think you’re the most important or smartest person in the room.More broadly, some psychologists write that “acting as if” can only be successful if done for the right reasons. If your motivations are intrinsic and based in a desire to change something about yourself that you feel is hindering your happiness or success, then acting “as if” you are the kind of person you wish to be can indeed be a successful approach. But if you’re faking it to project a certain image of yourself to others—as Holmes is recommending—you’re less likely to succeed. In fact, some research suggests that putting on a facade to impress others only makes you more conscious of your own shortcomings, reduces your confidence, and forces you to expend so much mental energy that your ability to make good decisions becomes impaired.

Business-to-Consumer Selling: Cast a Wide Net

For business-to-consumer (B2C) selling, where you’re directly selling to the end user, Holmes writes that the approach is a bit different. Since the biggest customers in your target market could consist of hundreds or even thousands of individuals, you simply won’t have the time to ring them all up on the phone and speak to them directly. Instead, you need to find ways to reach as many people as possible at once.

One tactic Holmes recommends is to target neighborhoods or geographic areas that are likely to have the best buyers. For example, you might run a company that installs swimming pools. Since it’s expensive for someone to build an in-ground swimming pool in their backyard, the people who do it tend to be relatively affluent.

Therefore, you’d want to target your campaign to people living in zip codes with high per-capita income. You could even drill down further and use public records to specifically target households within those zip codes that have enough property to accommodate a pool.

Your Data and Experiences as Raw Material

Since The Ultimate Sales Machine was published in 2008, it has become vastly easier—and more profitable—for companies to target consumers using data from search engines, digitized purchase history, social media postings and sentiment analysis, and even predictive data pulled from the “real” world—our cars, homes, streets, neighborhoods, parks, even our bodies. Every time we use our phones, drive our cars, conduct a search query, check our digital watches, or swipe our credit cards, we are generating a trail of what the tech industry calls “data exhaust” that gives powerful insights not just into our commercial preferences, but also our innermost thoughts, desires, fears, and hopes—all of which are enormously valuable to marketers.

In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff argues that this represents an entirely new form of private enterprise, defined by the use of digital technology to monetize human experience. Our experiences and thoughts, Zuboff writes, made visible by the iPhones, Facebook likes, Google searches, and Twitter posts through which we live so much of our lives, provide the raw material that the new breed of surveillance capitalists refine into marketable behavioral data. 

Build the Relationship

Holmes writes that a big mistake a lot of companies make is thinking that their customers are simply vehicles for sales. A customer isn’t someone your company simply does a transaction with and never sees again. Instead, a customer is someone with whom you build a relationship that will yield many sales over its lifetime, as well as new customer leads through the recommendations they make to others.

That’s why Holmes emphasizes the importance of establishing lasting relationships, friendships, and emotional bonds with your customers. If they’re your most loyal and lucrative customers, you want them to feel a deep bond with you and your company that goes beyond a mere transactional relationship—even after the sale is over.

Holmes says things like client dinners, vacation getaways, and frequent friendly check-ins (without the express purpose of selling) are an essential component of after-sales marketing and are crucial to establishing these lasting bonds. This builds a loyalty between you and your best customers that makes it emotionally difficult for them to do business with a competitor—because it feels almost like an emotional betrayal of your friendship. 

The Liking Principle: Connections = Compliance 

The importance of establishing close relationships with people to positively influence their future behavior—in this case, continuing to do business with your company—is closely related to what social psychologists call the Liking Principle. In Influence, psychologist Robert Cialdini defines the Liking Principle as the idea that we’re more likely to comply with requests from people that we know and like. Thus, we are more amenable to the persuasion efforts of neighbors, friends, and family. This is why salespeople are trained to be friendly, personable, and engaging, because these attributes will make it easier for customers to form an emotional bond with them. Simply put, if you like the seller, you’ll probably like what she’s selling. Understanding the Liking Principle gives us greater insight into Holmes’s ideas about building a sense of trust and loyalty with customers. Once you’ve made your customers like you, the social costs of saying “no” to you are much higher.

Anticipate Barriers to Buying

Both B2B and B2C sales strategy must anticipate your target customers’ barriers to buying. With every potential big sale, they need to be thinking, “What could stop me from closing this deal? What would make them say ‘no?’”

Holmes writes that the best way to do this is often to simply ask the customer what their red lines are, or what would be a dealbreaker for them. You can even design role-playing exercises in your company’s staff training to help your sales force overcome these barriers to buying.

The Ultimate Strategy for B2B and B2C Sales

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  • How to build a first-rate sales operation
  • Why it's better to be an expert at a few things instead of adequate at a lot
  • Why you should get rid of your "open door" policy

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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