We read with much interest recently the Forbes article titled ‘Death of a (B2B) Salesman’  dated 15th April 2015. The article reveals forecasts from Forrester that predict 1 million U.S B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service ecommerce by 2020.
It’s part of a wider topic we’ve been discussing here at Williams Commerce. For the past five years we’ve helped proactive wholesalers large and small embrace online ecommerce as they cater to the demand of their trade customers, many of whom prefer the digital convenience of placing bulk orders online 24/7.
Read our article Online or On The Edge on Wholesale News
It’s true with the growth in ecommerce, busy retailers value the convenience and speed of self-service ordering online and this is only set to rise further as online ordering becomes more slick and sophisticated.
Andy Hoar, author of the Forbes article says, “B2B companies that wait too long to create self-serve eCommerce websites risk losing share” to competitors. Businesses dithering over decisions to invest in ecommerce should not delay further. B2B ecommerce is here to stay, but the journey to get there is not always clear cut and easy.
We’ve witnessed first-hand the struggle many digitally minded wholesalers have encountered as they work to develop an online channel and create a cultural change across their business. The battle to get the offline working in harmony with the online poses a real challenge. Traditional on the ground sales teams and agent networks often view the ecommerce channel as a real threat to their sales targets, their commission and their livelihood.
There’s no doubt more traditional sales behaviours and business processes will need to evolve in order to remain competitive. Survival of the B2B Salesman will be dependent on the ability to accept change, move with the digital times and integrate with ecommerce and digital marketing.
Read further resources… ’How Wholesalers Can Be Better Online’
Robert Williams, Managing Director of Williams Commerce talks about his companies experience dealing with hundreds of B2B who are succeeding online. “The growth of B2B ecommerce does not have to signal the extinction of the B2B Salesman. From our experience self-service online portals certainly enables a business to operate more efficiently and lower their cost to serve customers during certain parts of the sales pipeline. Buyers no longer have to wait for a catalogue issued once or twice per year or a monthly visit from a field sales rep to make their buying decisions. They can engage with a company when and how it suits them. Those businesses who listen carefully and adapt their business processes to offer choice and efficiency in the ways customers need to interact with a business will hold the key to future success.”
Robert goes on to illustrate this point more clearly.
“We’ve seen ambitious wholesalers with successful traditional field sales team adapt their internal processes to work in unity with the online opportunity and are creating exciting new sales opportunities. Here’s how we have seen it work in practise.”
- The business implements an online ordering portal on a platform like Magento Enterprise for example that is fully integrated with warehousing and ERP systems to create an end-to-end solution.
- The ecommerce website is managed by a team of proactive Telesales staff who support new incoming sales leads online and service small tail end accounts that field sales reps do not visit.
- Search Marketing like PPC and SEO drive incremental inbound new sales leads to register for a new trade account.
- The telesales and website work together via a targeted marketing program involving outbound calls, promotional activity and segmented email campaigns to scale and build up the small accounts which in time can be handed over to field sales reps to grow further.
- Field Sales Reps are kitted out with an integrated iPad ordering system such as mSeller that feeds out marketing data re: new product information and special offers daily or weekly and enables sales reps to place orders in real-time straight into the ERP system.Learn more about mSeller the ultimate order management system for field sales.
This way of working certainly reduces Field Sales Reps dependence on finding new business and frees them up to focus on working more collaboratively with the highest value customers.
The website becomes great at self-servicing existing customers, but most importantly is your best lead generating salesperson. The Field Sales team’s role becomes more educator, collaborator, facilitator, and nurturer of loyalty and account manager in every sense of the word.
According to Forbes, Forrester outlines that today’s B2B buyers fall into four distinct quadrants based on complexity of the products and services and complexity of the buying environment in which they operate. And B2B companies must pair the appropriate seller “archetype” with the B2B buyer type. There are certain common scenarios, Forrester believes where self-service ecommerce websites can service B2B buyers more effectively. 
For many wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers this may be distilled down to simply offering more choice in the ways buyers can interact with their business.
Trade buyers are expecting more from b2b ecommerce than ever before. They are, after all, consumers themselves and their online shopping habits will undoubtedly influence the way they make purchases online.
The shift in B2B ecommerce is creating demand from wholesalers and manufacturers to offer a more retail led experience, which is resulting in offering a far wider choice in the way their customers can interact with their business, such as;
- Ability to browse real-time product catalogues online, on mobile, via apps and on social media.
- Ability to place orders in a variety of ways; the usual ways by phone, email and sales rep, but also online via bulk ordering online, super quick excel order upload and via sales reps mSeller mobile sales apps.
- Ability to communicate across a wider range of options; via phone, email, online chat and through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.
- Marketing their business’s products and services through paid search, shopping feeds, social media, online advertising and more.
Read some of our case studies how wholesalers are using Paid Search to generate new business leads.
Further evidence of how wholesalers are adapting to offer a superior online experience is via the increasing sophistication of the trade dashboard. We are implementing a diverse range of b2b facilities for trade buyers, which include some of the following;
- Repeat my last order
- My invoice history
- My regular best buys
- Product code ordering and spreadsheet order upload
- Category based ordering
- Resources Area offering product description, image, video and catalogue download
- Place an order for free of charge P.O.S materials
- Book a sales rep visit, book a trade-show appointment
- Book a showroom visit and much more
- Full ERP and backend systems integration
Death of the B2B Salesman? For some businesses, we think potentially yes, b2b ecommerce will have an impact on the scale and role of field sales teams, and businesses will leverage opportunities to reduce the cost to serve customers. But for many other companies, the role of field sales will remain undiminished and customer to sales traditional interactions will continue to drive value albeit in potentially new ways.
If you’re a wholesaler, distributor or manufacturer looking to migrate online, call us for a chat and take advantage of our wealth of experience working with a wide range of B2B companies across a diverse range of industries.
Phone: 0116 326 1116
Email: [email protected]