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When Forrester predicted that 1 million B2B salespeople would be displaced by 2020 in their 2015 report, “Death of a B2B Salesman” they certainly caused a stir. While a 2017 report re-examined that prediction, many B2B salespeople still view eCommerce as their competition.

Although there is still a great need for B2B salespeople, their roles have evolved with the introduction and adoption of digital commerce. The use of eCommerce in B2B sales has increased over the last decade, forcing companies to consider the pros and cons of driving new sales initiatives using digital solutions. When sales and eCommerce teams can collaborate to drive more sales and higher efficiency, it makes the world of difference.

In a recent study by Insite Software and WBR Insights, we interviewed 100 members of B2B sales leadership across the United States and Canada to understand how sales leaders are approaching their digital transformations and empowering their teams through these new channels.

Let’s first examine sales initiation. The majority of companies we surveyed claim their salespeople currently initiate at least 61% of their sales. However the vast majority of companies also expect salespeople will initiate fewer than 61% of sales in the next 12 months. One thing is definitely true, whether the sale is being initiated by a sales person, online or another channel, salespeople still play a crucial role.

Even if the eCommerce platform initially gets the customer’s attention for a sale, the customer may look to a salesperson for more in-depth product information or comparative guidance. Which means, implementing eCommerce can free up sales people from things like cold calling and order taking so that they can focus on more consultative tasks.

Sales Initiation

In terms of the overall sale, companies see success in person-to-person and digital sales channels fairly equally. Although person-to-person sales lead in current performance, the share of companies that prefer person-to-person, digital sales, or both aren’t far apart in comparison.


Digital vs. Person-to-Person Sales

While examining these categories of sales further, we found that the salesperson’s role increasingly overlaps with digital initiatives. In fact, 60% of companies compensate their salespeople for their online sales.

Salespeople are at the heart of manufacturing and distribution businesses. They are the greatest representatives of the business and can offer the most esteemed guidance and consultation for their customers.

Salespeople that are comfortable with connected and digital technologies can meet the buyers’ need to self-serve while offering full-service consultation and a personalized experience across channels.

Rocky Little, Head of Sales at Bearing Distributors, Inc spoke of the transformation of the sales role at the company, “In our business, the sales team and eCommerce are the same…a new eCommerce site replaced the cumbersome traditional order entry model, where the sales team captures the order from the customer and then gets these entered into the ERP system. This was typically done by talking with the CSR team on the telephone or entering them manually while sitting in the office. Now, it can be done directly while talking to the customer.”

With the right onboarding strategy, digital channels don’t disrupt sales people. Rather the channel becomes complementary to them, empowering them to be more efficient and lowering the cost to serve. These digital channels add new dimensions for customer interactions and allow sales people to focus on what’s most important.

So how does this shape out on the customer end? Does empowering sales people through digital channels allow manufacturers and distributors to meet customers’ preferences? Check out our blog on integrating customer touchpoints to meet evolving expectations to find out. Plus, you can get your own copy of the full Onboarding to Digital report here.

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