In 2015 analyst firm Forrester caused a stir by predicting the “death of the B2B salesperson.” Although a new report two years later tempered that prediction, B2B salespeople sometimes still view eCommerce as their competition. This is usually due to a disconnect between eCommerce systems, and companies’ overall digital transformation strategies.
Although we’ve set aside the idea that the role of B2B sales has become “irrelevant”, the job of the salesperson has been transformed tremendously by digital commerce. Successful B2B eCommerce systems embrace the perspective that the goal of digital transformation is a stronger customer experience. As pricing becomes more transparent for manufacturers and distributors, the idea that “they who service the customer best wins” is becoming a common refrain. Salespeople have to be positioned wisely within digital transformation, because the name of the game now is allowing customers to buy the way they want.
We often see statistics that show less than 15% of new eCommerce systems are meeting their goals, and the problem is usually the lack of customers adoption into the new system. Frankly, it’s usually the sales team who are introducing and inviting customers into the new digital buying experience. When they feel that eCommerce is the “competition” or that “their” customers will have a bad experience, sales may be reluctant to encourage adoption of the new online paradigm.
When your eCommerce Strategy and Sales Teams Align
When done well, the news is actually quite good for B2B salespeople. Successful eCommerce initiatives take low-value tasks away from the sales team, empowering them to do the work they should do best, which is providing consultative expertise and guiding customers to the right buying decisions. The commerce system is never fully self-service, and usually never full-service either. Instead, it is a hybrid system that reduces the cost of sales by removing more menial work from the salespeople’s tasks lists. Sales efforts are focused on more complex, higher value buying scenarios. Re-orders, or simple purchases are typically handled digitally, freeing up sales to move on to bigger and better opportunities.
It’s important to remember that sales needs to be considered throughout the entire commerce cycle. When sales is brought into the planning phase in terms of digital transformation strategy, the role of the sales representative can evolve to dive much more deeply into true business development. Sales can spend their time building strategic relationships with customers where the ROI makes sense to do so.
Unified B2B eCommerce and a Holistic View for Sales
Sales people (just like CSR’s as we discussed in our previous blog) need a complete view into the customer’s history, whether a transaction has occurred online or offline. The ability to view the customer holistically results from a fully unified commerce environment that is integrated with backend systems. In addition, data needs to be synchronous so that real-time information is available to the sales rep when and where they need it. When this happens, the role of sales is enabled to become a strategic partner for the customer, rather than an order taker.
In a truly unified B2B eCommerce environment, the role of sales doesn’t disappear at all. In fact, in an ideal world this role is elevated to that of a consultative business advisor. Manufacturers and distributors need to be ready for this change not only by including sales in the planning process, but with a commerce environment that keeps them apprised of all the activity occurring within the customer buying cycle, whether it’s happening directly or within a digital transaction.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our People of B2B series. Let us know what you think!