Death of a salesman in B2B?
Methinks that “the reports of his death are greatly exaggerated”. But it makes for great headlines.
Last April, Forrester’s Andy Hoar published a report entitled “The Death of the (B2B) Salesman” where he predicted that 1 million US Salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by 2020. It was quite the headline that really stirred up a a great discussion in the industry. In the “better late than never” category, I’d like to weigh in from Corevist’s perspective.
I have no doubt that in the end, non-value adding salespeople will indeed be relegated to the junkpile, but that’s how it’s always been and will always be. The moral of the story from my perspective is that either salespeople in the age of B2B eCommerce find new ways to add value to their customers and corporations or they will become footnotes to history. Our evidence suggests that in fact a well designed, and SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce, website can actually be a salesperson’s best friend…not their enemy.
First a bit of background from the Forrester report:
- People prefer to buy from eCommerce websites than from salespeople – In fact, according to Forrester research, “75% of B2B buyers now say that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative” and “93% say they prefer buying online rather than from a salesperson once they’ve decided what to buy”.
- Not all industries are the same – Big, complicated, expensive capital equipment may always need (at least for the foreseeable future) the assistance of a knowledgeable sales representative. The converse is also true. Inexpensive, simple, commodity like products should only be one click away from being purchased. Websites assist in the former case by educating buyers, in the latter case a well designed and deeply integrated eCommerce website should be able to run the entire lifecycle from customer acquisition to returns processing (if required).
- It takes a village to create a satisfied customer – According to Andy, B2B eCommerce websites should be created in a way that they can “network B2B buyers researching online with call centers, inside sales agents, field sales professionals, and their own internal websites”. In many industries, B2B eCommerce websites don’t simply facilitate a purchasing transaction with the customer, they facilitate a long running relationship with them. From providing quotations to product returns and all of the steps in between like: negotiating price, scheduling/delivering ancillary services and approvals for all of the above. B2B eCommerce websites, and their ecosystem of users, each have roles to play.
Forrester’s analysis is spot on. Let me back it up with some of the data that we’ve been collecting over the years.
Simple, inexpensive products should require no salesperson intervention in order to sell.
The Industry Source sells salon and spa supplies. Their theindustrysource.com website is designed to attract and educate new users, as well as sell products to registered, and in many cases, licensed, practitioners. Here is what Google Analytics (GA) tells us happened on their website in Q2 of this year:
- High traffic website – Over 70K users came to the public pages of theindustrysource.com and looked at over 1.1 million pages.
- Browsers as well as shoppers – There were 56K users who only walked the aisles of the website and 14K users, or 35% of all visitors, (labeled “external” in GA) that actually logged in and made purchases.
- No salespeople – Only 104, or 0.37%, (labeled “internal” in GA) of users who used the website were Industry Source employees. Virtually NO SALESPEOPLE use the website.
- High value website – Customers (or “external users”) stayed on the website almost twice as long as the non-registered users (13:31 minutes per session vs. 6:51 per session). That makes sense because if you’re not logged in the only thing you can do is learn about products. Once you’re logged in you can check on price and availability, place and track orders, look at your account and purchasing history, create order templates etc.
More complicated products, with more complicated purchasing processes, requires a village to support the customer.
Drive Medical sells a broad range of durable medical equipment. Their drivemedical.com website is the primary vehicle whereby they sell and support their vast reseller network. Here is how their website supported their business during the second quarter of this year:
- Salespeople are using the website – In fact, almost 20% of the sessions logged on the website were by “internal” Drive employees.
- Salespeople are providing value to customers – Almost 20% of all orders placed on the website were place by employees on behalf of their customers. That could be because: some clients still refuse to use the website (believe it or not), when salespeople place orders they can influence the size and mix of products better, they are converting quotes into orders etc. Almost 27% of the delivery status checks on the website are performed by salespeople. Maybe they don’t want to embarass themselves by not knowing about late shipments before they make a sales call to offer new product lines?
- Overall, the website is providing value – We delivered over $800K of value to Drive Medical during Q2. That’s $800K that they didn’t have to spend on people supporting customers and salespeople with routine transactions and inquiries. Every self service interaction on the website saves the need to interact with a human being that gets paid by the hour to perform obsolete clerical tasks. When you place close to 500 orders a day, it helps to have a website that doesn’t mind working 24×7 and never checks Facebook :-)
In conclusion, technology isn’t inherently good or bad. It isn’t a foregone conclusion that these “evil” B2B eCommerce websites are destined to give pink slips to a legion of antiquated salespeople. If you’re a B2B salesperson, it’s probably a smart bet to harness the trend in technology. Advocate the adoption of your B2B eCommerce website to your customers so that you can be doing higher value work. Help your customers stock up for the new season. Teach them about your new products. Find new customers who you can drive to your company and website.
Don’t be threatened by the technology, make it your ally or the reports of your imminent death may not be so exaggerated after all.