How B2B e-commerce is changing the sales rep’s role

Posted in B2B sales & distribution.

E-commerce is gaining traction in B2B markets. The global shift during the pandemic has cemented e-commerce as the preferable method of transaction. While the possibility of in-person interactions has reemerged, e-commerce continues to grow in influence. It creates a B2C-esque experience that caters to a newer generation of B2B buyers that appreciate the convenience and personalisation it creates. On the B2B sellers’ side, e-commerce utilises the advances in technology to create streamlined sales processes and automate many aspects of B2B sales.

But how does this impact the average sales rep? E-commerce places the buying initiative into the buyers’ hands, enabling them to be drivers of sales. For many sales reps, this is their job. They are there to facilitate the buying process. Thus, many sales reps have resisted the adoption of e-commerce to protect their own job security.

Is e-commerce a threat to sales reps?

Historically, the role of a sales rep in the sales process was prospecting. The focus of the sales rep was then placed squarely on selling. If this is the heart of being a sales rep, indeed e-commerce is capable of achieving that if done correctly. It takes power away from sales reps and gives it to buyers. But the best sales reps do more than just selling a product or service. They advise customers, keeping track of their specific needs and guide the sales process in a non-invasive manner. They leverage their expert knowledge to paint a desirable outcome.

It could then be said that e-commerce adds more selection pressure against the mediocre sales rep. E-commerce platforms are able to sell products on a rudimental level, and expert sales reps are able to highlight unique perspectives, shed light on challenges, and navigate a customer through alternative solutions. The average sales rep is threatened on both sides of the spectrum. Many can be replaced with an e-commerce platform, and many do not have the expert knowledge to orchestrate an intricate sale.

It can then be said that the threat to sales reps is not e-commerce. Instead, it is mediocrity. E-commerce is possibly able to replace only one aspect of being a sales rep. It is not eliminating the role; it is shifting its focus.

The role of the new sales rep

There is a place for sales reps in the new e-commerce paradigm. In essence, they are mediators between the business and the buyer. They communicate that which a product description cannot, and rectify misconceptions that buyers’ own research creates. They are the guides for those who cannot traverse the e-commerce landscape by their lonesome, and they are the human interaction that e-commerce cannot replicate.

The sales rep’s strength is in being a customer expert. Intimate knowledge of each account and the ability to act on that knowledge in a nuanced manner is something that e-commerce platforms cannot yet replicate. Furthermore, e-commerce works best with existing customers. Sales reps still hold much utility in lead generation.

And while e-commerce may take something away from the sales rep, it also gives back in the form of a new role. With self-service arises assisted service. With access to real-time information about customers, sales reps can provide personalised customer support. Not everyone would be able to navigate an e-commerce platform or set up intricately customised orders. The sales rep now enables e-commerce platforms to be utilised to its fullest.

The days in which sales reps can remain glorified order takers will soon be over. They don’t need to. E-commerce frees them up to complete more advanced tasks. And it benefits the sales reps who go beyond.

E-commerce benefits the sales rep

There are many discussions about the threat to sales reps that e-commerce might pose. There are also many ways in which technology is seen as a tool to augment a sales team. Logically, e-commerce, as a technological innovation, has the potential to enhance a sales rep’s job. Instead of being mutually exclusive concepts, e-commerce and sales reps synergise.

Think data. A sales rep’s performance is greatly enhanced by access to data. E-commerce websites are a goldmine for such data. Purchasing histories, hesitancies, buying patterns are all such kinds of data that is of great use to sales reps. Some may not recognise this, because some e-commerce websites are not built to provide such information. Sales reps are often not data scientists. If e-commerce websites are the mines, the right analytical tools can refine data into actionable inferences for sales reps. Furthermore, omnichannel platforms enable centralised data for strategic development.

The base issue is not that e-commerce threatens the sales rep’s role. It’s that e-commerce is not being used to enhance the sales team as it potentially can.