Dec 07 2018

Should B2B sales reps be wary of B2B ecommerce?

Let’s talk about beer, specifically light beer and its impact on sales. In 1974, Miller introduced Miller Light. By 1991, the brewing company sold 32% less of its main product, High Life. Fifteen years after introducing a light beer, Michelob saw sales for their four major products drop 25%. Coors eventually sold at a quarter of what it did before Coors Light.

Some of those B2B sales reps who are against having an ecommerce site may see it as their Miller Lite. They’ve been doing fine since the beginning. They worry that the new channel will hurt their sales. They think it will weaken the company as a whole. It doesn’t offer the same full-bodied experience of the original (hopefully they’re not actually saying that).

Some of those concerns are backed by data, specifically the ones that could be bad for sales reps but are good for sales goals. 74% of B2B buyers say that buying from a website is more convenient, and 93% say that they prefer to buy online once they’ve decided they want to buy. At first glance, it certainly sounds like sales reps should be looking for a life raft.

The question is: does this allow the sales team to focus on generating more revenue or does it replace them? The answer may depend on your C-suite’s vision, the effectiveness of your online presence, the complexity of your product, the readiness of customers in your industry, and the ambitions of each salesperson.

Only eight percent of our survey respondents cited “sales reps won’t support it” as their top barrier for not selling online. Yet, when we asked our survey respondents to mark which sentiments their sales team had about ecommerce, only 23% said sales reps believed it wouldn’t affect them. One way or the other, sales reps care about ecommerce and believe it will have an impact on their jobs.

Feelings appeared to be overwhelmingly negative. Just one out of every seven respondents said that salespeople viewed it as automating the tedious parts of their job. Only one in six thought it would allow them to collect better customer data to improve sales. However, nearly one in five respondents said their sales reps worried that the channel would replace them. And even more, one in four said sales reps believed it would weaken the company’s customer relationships by reducing human interaction in the buying process.

While it may not be your main reason for not investing in B2B ecommerce, getting your sales reps to overcome concerns about weakened relationships is no joke. The trick is educating a sales team to understand how ecommerce, through better customer data, will improve human interactions, not reduce it.

For example, an ecommerce store will track customer behaviors and enable sales reps to make data-driven product recommendations. So, instead of guessing what other products a client might like, you will know exactly what to recommend based on what products and content a customer viewed online and previous purchase history. Additionally, an ecommerce site acts as a digital catalog that you can show a customer on a tablet. One that allows filtering of inventory helps make a sale (or at least generate interest in a product) even when inventory is unavailable.

An ecommerce site will also free up sales reps to focus on what they do best: selling products to new customers and upselling and cross-selling to existing ones. An ecommerce platform provides a frontend customer experience that enables clients to check order status, update account information or speak to a customer service rep without needing to contact the sales rep.

Many business leaders want to turn sales from an art into a science. Instead of relying on savvy sales reps, they want to create a more predictable business. Even if that’s not the case though, you can bet that any sane leader is looking to automate some portion of the sales process and create a 24/7 business.

Whether you’re a salesperson or someone who is worried about a bad reaction from a sales team, you can proactively address your concerns. Instead of fighting change, you can lead the charge by developing a plan to use ecommerce to meet your quota and drive online sales. You could share it, and become the leader of a high-performing sales team, or you could keep it to yourself and become the lone survivor of a low-performing department.

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Matt Rickerby

Matt began his career in ecommerce at Blue Acorn over seven years ago. His areas of expertise include persona development, account-based marketing, and content marketing. He has co-written speaking sessions for Bronto Summit, DIG South, GIANT, and Revolve, and received multiple awards for videography, blogging, and copywriting.

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