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Death of a Sales Rep — by B2B e-Commerce? Don’t Hold Your Breath…

August 25, 2019 By Stacey Woods

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You want to boost revenues by making sales ordering more convenient and accessible to your customers. You'd also like to decrease your reliance on costly sales reps that you've invested time and money to train only to see them leave your business after 18 months. Online B2B e-commerce systems address these issues by enabling B2B customers to order 24/7 via a self-service web portal or mobile app; buyers can conduct their own product research before placing an order, and obtain automatic order confirmation and shipping information for status tracking.

Given that sales reps have been the ones to traditionally handle these sales processes, Forrester estimates that a million B2B sales reps will lose their jobs to e-commerce by 2020.

Is e-commerce killing the sales rep star?

The benefits of self-service B2B e-commerce are evident, and so, B2B buyers are increasingly demanding an integrated B2C-like online shopping experience for their business buying. Accordingly, it seems a foregone conclusion that sales reps, who function primarily as onsite order-takers, will lose out and eventually become redundant.

The good news, though, is that—finally liberated of a good portion of time-consuming, tedious order processing, thanks to e-commerce—sales reps will get to spend more time interacting strategically with customers, and that will ultimately increase sales for your business. The question is: can sales reps and B2B e-commerce coexist successfully?

More jobs for consultative sellers

Sales reps are still essential—and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. But their role is changing. By handing over routine order-taking to B2B e-commerce platforms, reps are taking on more of a consulting role, allowing them to close more deals, differentiate amongst competitors and provide better value to customers—all leading to increased sales. Here are 6-examples of how this is happening:

  • A mobile-first sales platform allows salespeople to focus their skills and energy on strategic customers and the products that are best suited for them. They gain data-driven insight into real-time inventory, top and worst-selling items, outstanding debts that need attention, customer sales performance vs. goals, and more. Less strategic customers and remote customers can be visited less frequently, and be served by B2B e-commerce as the main sales channel.
  • Armed with relevant customer intelligence (and more time!) reps can up-sell, cross-sell, and devise customized pricing - thereby increasing average order size.
  • Reps can now also perform retail merchandising activities - stock taking, customer satisfaction surveying, shelf display auditing, etc. - to improve brand visibility and the likelihood to win at the shelf.
  • While on sales calls, reps can show customers how they can easily re-order using the B2B e-commerce portal or mobile app. This improves user adoption of the B2B e-commerce channel.
  • Reps can spend more time engaging with and converting new customers and understanding their specific needs. Reps can use the B2B e-commerce channel as a business differentiator.
  • Sales reps can provide feedback to your marketing about the effectiveness of campaigns and pricing promotions, and even tailor (together with marketing) promotions that are most suitable for their customers.

Rep-driven vs. Buyer-driven

Sales orders are generally categorized as either “Rep-driven”- typically large deals where the sales rep is actively driving the dialog; or “Buyer-driven” - usually smaller transactions where the buyer initiates the process (often re-orders).

With B2B e-commerce taking over routine “Buyer-driven” sales activities such as re-orders, sales reps will take on more “Rep-driven” ordering.  And that makes sense. Humans should do the challenging work and leave the boring stuff to automation.

The B2B sphere has plenty of room for both sales reps and B2B e-commerce to coexist. With a successful omni-channel B2B sales strategy that contains both mobile sales automation and B2B e-commerce, everybody wins: sales agents are freed from menial tasks so they can sell to the max ("rep-driven"); and an efficient “Buyer-driven” channel ensures a steady flow of self-service orders for the brand.