The Difference Between B2B Sales and B2C Sales and How They Work

New colleagues shaking hands
••• Musketeer/Digital Vision/Getty Images

B2B is shorthand for “business to business.” It refers to sales you make to other businesses rather than to individual consumers. Sales to consumers are referred to as “business to consumer” sales or B2C.

Some Examples of B2B Sales

B2B sales often take the form of one company selling supplies or components to another. For example, a tire manufacturer might sell his merchandise to a car manufacturer.

Another example would be wholesalers who sell their products to retailers who then turn around and sell them to consumers. Supermarkets are a classic example of this. They buy food from wholesalers then sell it at a slightly higher price to individual consumers.

Business-to-business sales can also include services. Attorneys who take cases for business clients, accounting firms that help companies do their taxes, and technical consultants who set up networks and email are all examples of B2B service providers.

B2B vs. B2C Sales 

Selling B2B is different from selling B2C in a number of ways. The greatest difference is that you'll typically be dealing with either professional buyers or high-level executives when you attempt to make B2B sales. Buyers make their livings getting the best deals possible out of salespeople and they're good at it. Executives might include the CEOs of major corporations.

In either case, B2B sales often call for a somewhat higher level of professionalism than B2C sales. You'll have to dress and behave more formally to succeed.

B2B sales also require that you to know how to effectively deal with gatekeepers such as receptionists and assistants. You have to get past them to get to your target—the individual who ultimately has the authority to commit to the sale. 

When You're Dealing With Buyers

It pays to keep in mind that most professional buyers have received extensive training in how to work with—and see through—salespeople. Selling tactics that might work well with uninitiated consumers will often fail with buyers. They'll see you coming a mile away.

Buyers also know exactly how to manipulate salespeople and they'll often employ tricks like stalling to try to wrangle a better price from you on the product.

When You're Dealing With Executives

Dealing with executives is a whole different ball game. C-suite decision makers can be very intimidating. They're often extremely busy people so they won't appreciate it if they feel like you're wasting their time.

You should be well-versed in all aspects of your product so you can promptly and easily answer any questions that are posed to you. You can't say, "Let me get back to you on that" because the executive might not take your call or open his door to you a second time. You could lose the sale just like that. 

Do your research on the prospect ahead of time. Understand what he does for the company and how he does it. Get a firm grasp on the company's products or services as well. You'll want to be completely prepared to wow executives with your knowledge of their operations during your sales presentations. 

Some Other Differences—Which Is Right for You?

Your goals will be strategically different. Of course, you want to sell in both areas, but your primary concern with B2B sales is repeat business. You want to build relationships with the companies and their buyers and executives so these businesses welcome you back again and again to meet their ongoing needs.

This isn't the case with consumers. They tend to be easily influenced by the latest effective advertising that rings their chimes. They're fickle and they often tend to buy on a whim. You might make one sale then that consumer is off into the sunset, never to be heard from again, particularly if you're not selling big ticket items like automobiles.

Your potential market will likewise be much narrower with B2B sales. Compare the number of businesses out there that might need your product to the number of consumers eager to purchase the next hot, must-have item...or even a not-so-hot product that's a necessity.

You'll spend more time cultivating your business clients but this factor might not be so pronounced if your B2C sales push a high-ticket product rather than a $5 gizmo.

All this feeds into the sales cycle: It tends to be longer and multi-staged with B2B commerce. Price points for B2B sales tend to be steeper, more complex, and multi-faceted. Not so much with consumer sales.

In the end, it comes down to what and how you like to sell—and how good you are at it. B2B sales can be more challenging overall.