While our prototypical idea of a transaction may be an individual customer buying from a business (e.g. a person buying groceries), the reality is that there are many ways that product transactions occur. In the case of B2B (business to business) transactions, a business is buying from another business. In fact, some companies sell exclusively to other companies. These transactions are called enterprise sales, or complex sales.
Considering that selling a product to other businesses is typically a long-term arrangement, finding and attaining enterprise clients can be the most difficult part of B2B business, especially if the outreaching company is small or a startup. In fact, there is much that needs to be attended to before the company even begins the outreach phase if they want to be successful. From building your company’s reputation to maintaining relationships, success for a B2B business model largely depends on how well the company strategizes and follows-through on this process.
How to contact a company to sell your product
While in many ways, marketing to other companies is similar to marketing to private individuals. There are some elements of a B2B marketing strategy that must be significantly different in order to find and retain clients. Outreach is one of the primary areas in B2B marketing that differs from business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing.
The first problem a growing B2B company must tackle is which channels they should use to contact their market. As with B2C marketing, it will be necessary to start by asking two questions: “Who is my audience?” and “Where is my audience at?”.
Finding your audience
The first question can be difficult to approach because you don’t want your audience to be too broad or too narrow. If you are a company that offers onboarding software, for example, your product may technically be useful for almost any company under the sun, but you will still want to be slightly discerning. You want to cast a wide net; however, you don’t just want to thin out your marketing resources by putting an egg in every basket. Don’t just choose companies based on whether they could use your product; choose businesses that also seem to have long-term potential that you would like to work with.
The next problem is that no one knows every company, what they do, and their business practices off the top of their head. Some research will be in order. Find leads by using platforms such as LinkedIn to filter businesses by type. Perhaps start by looking into businesses that you do know off the top of your head that would be good candidates. This will, in turn, lead you to similar businesses.
Once you have identified some choice candidates, you will have to choose a method or methods of outreach:
- Build your reputation (let them come to you). Doing great work and letting it speak for itself is both the best and most difficult way to get clients. It always is worth it, but it will take time for this to produce significant rewards. Make yourself easy to find and easy to deal with. Online stores using a headless commerce system make this simple, allowing for experimentation and redesign without disrupting operations or the customer experience.
- Ask for referrals. Asking existing clients or acquaintances for referrals can be awkward. Unfortunately, sometimes that is what it takes to get your name out there, especially if your contact is established in your target industry.
- Cold-calling. This is a simple way of finding possible clients and reaching out to them, whether that be with a simple inquiry, an offer to have a meeting or a full proposal.
- This option is useful in almost any type of marketing, but it can be trickier in the context of B2B since your target audience is likely to be highly specific and need convincing to commit to your product. Advertising in B2B marketing will often primarily be for the sake of creating name recognition and establishing yourself as a positive influence in a community. For these reasons, advertising by participating, for example, in a fundraising event is often ideal.
- Offer free trials and coupons. As stated, businesses will often need to be thoroughly convinced of the benefit of your product. Therefore, offering them a trial version or a discount can help lower that initial barrier.
- Collaborate with businesses that already have clients. Even if you have to offer them discounts or additional work for the opportunity, it will be worth it to have inside assistance to get your foot in the door.
Attracting and retaining enterprise clients
Like any client, an enterprise client has to be earned. They also often will have much more at stake if they choose to invest in your product, since large businesses will usually need products long-term or in bulk to accommodate wide-scale operation. Therefore, it will take even more effort to help your portfolio and reputation enough to acquire such a client, and to ensure you have the means to deliver on the needs of this type of company.
Building a reputation and retaining clients is a cycle. Building a reputation will help your business retain clients, and retaining clients will prove the worth of your company and its product, thus improving its reputation. The most difficult part of building this snowball is the very beginning. If you want to secure a good reputation early on, you need to ensure that your company is capable of delivering on its product, at the scale and quality promised. It is therefore highly advisable to underestimate rather than overestimate what you can do for clients and to invest in advanced order management systems early on.
This can be difficult if you are starting out with few assets and little revenue, but it is essential. This is another reason why it is often in the best interest of a new company trying to attract enterprise clients is to start making a few, very select inquiries to potential clients to begin with, in order to avoid accidentally over-promising and ultimately being unable to deliver.
In short, a successful up-and-coming B2B business will, above all, be certain they can deliver before they try. They will then continue to deliver and use that reliability as a springboard for future enterprise relationships.
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