Are you worried that ecommerce will undermine your business to business (B2B) sales team?
Do you think new technology will devalue the relationships your sales reps have built with customers?
Don’t worry any more...
B2B companies that create a flexible, resource-rich sales environment that takes full advantage of ecommerce technology and the talents of skilled and experienced sales professionals will have a significant competitive advantage.
Who said B2B sales reps would be replaced?
Only a few years ago pundits were proclaiming that a million or more sales reps would lose their jobs by 2020 because of the changes brought about by B2B ecommerce.
The ‘Death of a (B2B) Salesman’ report from Forrester predicted that B2B buyers would become ‘consumerized’. It said that the B2B market would be profoundly changed as buyers looked for more leverage with their suppliers.
However, the reality in 2020 is that sales professionals now have an even more significant role to play in the B2B buying journey.
According to Gartner the challenges of B2B selling are less to do with a diminishing role for traditional sales reps and telesales teams and more to do with how complicated it is for customers to buy.
While we know that buyers will have completed more than 80% of their buying journey before contacting a supplier, this is only part of the story. Making useful and accurate information easy to find and use online is essential, but B2B buyers say that their buying journey is difficult.
The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers. Each of them will have four or five pieces of information that they have gathered independently in their research.
The options and solutions each buying group must consider are growing all the time as new technologies, products, suppliers and services emerge.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak B2B buyers expected a lot from their suppliers. With social distancing and lockdown to contend with, it has become even more important for B2B businesses to provide:
- an easy and useful ecommerce channel
- knowledgeable sales reps
- simple and transparent purchasing terms and processes
- excellent after sales support.
Gartner says there are six B2B activities that buyers must complete to successfully make a purchase:
- identifying problems – recognizing that action needs to be taken
- finding solutions – actively looking for options
- defining requirements – specifying the outcome
- choosing suppliers – reviewing outcomes with possible providers
- validation – confirming that needs will be met
- consensus – building agreement between decision-makers.
However, this isn’t a simple A to F journey and buyers will typically ‘loop’ through these stages to check and validate information before deciding to make a purchase.
B2B organizations that recognize how sales reps can add value as proactive advisors in their buyers’ decision-making process can increase online sales and improve customer retention.
Sales professionals can drive customer value through the creation of information specifically designed to help them to complete their buying tasks more easily.
In a recent report nearly all B2B buyers (94%) said that salespeople generally improve their experience when making purchases. Over two thirds (69%) said they would not be able to complete their purchase without them.
The report also says that 81% of buyers would choose a supplier with excellent ecommerce and customer portal capabilities even if costs were moderately higher than their competitors; that’s an increase from 74% just a year earlier.
So, combining this proactive sales approach with an excellent ecommerce experience will help B2B companies to be more resilient in the expected economic downturn following the coronavirus outbreak.
The same report says that:
- four out of 10 buyers struggle with inconsistent product information across channels
- six out of 10 say they have difficulty understanding how a product fits their business
- more than five out of 10 say they have difficulty finding ways to compare products and prices.
So, here are three easy examples of how sales reps can add value to the online experience by:
- providing and explaining in-depth product information and specifications that aren’t available or easy to understand online
- exploring how specific products will fit buyers’ business needs
- helping to compare different product and pricing options.
For high-value B2B purchases sales reps play an important role to get the deal done. Less than a third of buyers are happy to complete purchases online worth more than $300,000.
Sales reps with deep knowledge of higher value products can act as educators and advisors to support the final purchasing decision. When they proactively contact interested buyers, they can fast-track the deal and facilitate the purchase.
What’s more, when your sales and marketing teams work together, they can develop messages and campaigns specifically designed to answer common questions and concerns to build buyer confidence and trust.
For agile B2B organizations, the launch of new products or services is the ideal opportunity for sales reps to contact relevant buyers and explain the benefits, rather than waiting for them to discover new offers online.
While machine learning and artificial intelligence can deliver Amazon-like recommendations, this is also the role of the proactive sales rep. Where suppliers aren’t meeting this need, buyers might easily turn to Amazon Business or Alibaba to find what they are looking for.
The more complex your product or service, the greater your sales rep’s role will be in making upsell and cross-sell recommendations. They can highlight in-house products and services as alternatives to third-party options and can generate volume discounts, helping buyers to simplify purchases that they might otherwise make with multiple suppliers.
So, are you worried about how to get your sales team on board?
Do you think they will lose motivation or feel undermined by new ways of doing business?
Even as digital transformation marches on, sales reps will remain at the heart of almost all B2B organizations, so getting their incentives right is important.
As an ecommerce focussed organization, think about how you will:
- make sure your sales reps understand that a high quality B2B ecommerce website delivers a competitive advantage
- get your sales team to buy in to the investment it takes to create and maintain a quality site
- show each sales rep how B2B ecommerce has increased their opportunities for sales and commission.
While your website helps your business to increase sales, everyone in your sales team will want to know how their compensation works. Their influence on increasing online purchasing will need to be included in their incentive package.
For example, you will need fair and transparent ways to reward your sales team for winning new customers, even when they buy online, or when average order values for existing online customers are increased. You can also allocate new online customers to sales reps to follow up, helping them to build relationships and to enhance buying experiences.
Make sure customer feedback is recorded and shared, and you can continually improve your customers’ buying journeys.
End-to-end business system integration including your enterprise, customer relationship management, product information, warehouse and logistic systems will make this magic work.
Not only will you and your sales team have a complete view of each customer’s journey, you will be able to accurately calculate total costs and the contribution each of your sales channels has made, both online and offline. Aggregating this data is key to properly incentivizing your sales reps and growing your market share.
You will be able to see locations, customer types, average order values and many other key indicators. This will allow you to organize and allocate your resources to the best effect.