The underrated world of B2B sales and marketing
Updated: Jun 17, 2021
Amol Joshi with Sreeram S.
In business schools, a marketing major develops a fascination for B2C companies. And often would be willing to give an arm and a leg to get a job in a B2C organisation, particularly an FMCG company. The most common reason for this is that marketing concepts are often taught using B2C examples and case studies. And this is because students are more familiar with B2C brands and relate more easily with them (think about an everyday product like a bathing soap bought by households versus storage tanks purchased by a manufacturing company).
While there is nothing wrong with aspiring for B2C roles, I feel that students do not get enough exposure to the world of B2B (for no fault of theirs) and do not have enough information about a B2B sales role. I have tried to remedy this in part by sharing my thoughts in this article. I have drawn heavily upon my experience as a B2B salesperson for the past two years in the core sector of manufacturing.
During my days at a business school, I participated in several case study competitions because they provided valuable learning. The case studies used to expose us to various problems across many industries. A team participating in case study competitions must often develop an entire business plan, including the marketing strategy, marketing tactics, financial model, scaling plan and communication strategy.
As a B2B salesperson, like in these case studies, it is gratifying to experience the control and the ownership I have over the entire selling process. You may be restricted to a specific department or a function in other roles, but in sales, you own the customer and are empowered to do whatever it takes to win the deal.
By control, I meant deciding which prospects to target, qualifying the target and the effort to be spent on an opportunity. I was also free to decide which services and products to be pitched, the features therein to be highlighted and the content to be shared and presented. In terms of marketing, my inputs were vital in selecting effective marketing channels for deploying my regional marketing budget, deciding upon the right partner ecosystem, designing communication flyers and creatives. I am supported ably by other teams, and there is enough guidance from my seniors while making all these decisions. But ultimately, I am the one responsible for driving it by sitting at the steering wheel. I am accorded this control since I am the one who is on the ground and closest to the customer.
‘’Your customer, your deal’’, that is what one of my internal stakeholders said to me during one of my past transactions, and I think that aptly sums up what I wanted to say about the ownership involved in this B2B sales role. Thus, I would call it more of a ‘business manager’ role than a ‘sales manager’ role since the scope of my activities is not limited to selling alone.
In no way am I trying to glorify my role or sugarcoat it. The ownership and control bring with them their challenges and perils. Since even a slight misstep could cost me the deal, I cannot afford to get distracted. And despite all my efforts, I cannot control every conversation between my company personnel and the customer’s personnel. I can at best steer them in the direction that is beneficial for the deal, and I need to constantly be on my toes. For this, I would need to pay close attention to all the information shared by the customer in the discussions — with me or without me. Somewhere in those conversations may lie an opportunity for my next deal. All this focus requires substantial physical and emotional effort and can be severely taxing on the salesperson when it has to be done for extended periods.
Another challenge in a role of this nature is that 9 out of 10 initiatives that I am working on will never bear fruit. There would be some acknowledgement for people in other roles in the organisation for their initiatives and efforts. However, for a salesperson, the performance against the number target is the sole metric for success. Either I achieve the number or not, this binary evaluation system is not for the faint-hearted. Thus, even though this B2B sales role is rewarding with its control and ownership, it is equally challenging with its taxing and unforgiving nature.
Having laid out the highs and lows of this role, and upon reflection, I would not trade my current position for any other at this early stage in my career. The opportunity to taste this level of responsibility in a structured environment is priceless. The autonomy and learning that I get in my role with the security and backing of a large organisation help me sleep well at night. I thus look forward to every working day with optimism and the urge to accomplish something significant.
I hope this article dispels some myths about B2B sales and marketing and also enlightens marketing majors. Hopefully, these aspirants would consider roles in B2B companies as a viable option to pursue their careers.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are in the authors’ personal capacities and do not represent those of people, institutions or organisations that the authors may be associated with in professional or personal capacities.