The success of many business-to-business companies was built through a strong sales team. This causes B2B owners and managers to often resist ecommerce because they see it as competing with those sales personnel.
But the B2B market is radically changing. Increasingly, business buyers prefer shopping and ordering online. And the rise of Amazon Business and other innovative B2B ecommerce sites is forcing heretofore successful manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors to change.
So how does a B2B company transition to ecommerce? How will it affect its sales team?
It isn’t an either-or scenario. Ecommerce doesn’t eliminate or reduce the need for sales people. It is, instead, a tool that can increase the amount your salespeople can sell and improve their ability to compete. In fact, in my experience in implementing B2B sites, I’ve never seen a company downsize its sales team due to ecommerce.
Integrating Ecommerce with Sales Personnel
Obtaining support for ecommerce from a sales department depends on how you approach it and communicate it. Start by explaining how ecommerce can make it easier for sales personnel to do their jobs and for your company make more money.
Here are some common issues and possible solutions.
Sales commissions. If commissions are a key part of your team’s compensation, they may be threatened by online sales. One solution is to give your salespeople credit for sales placed by their accounts online. The ecommerce site becomes a tool where salespeople can take and process orders easier and quicker than before. Plus, customers usually enjoy the convenience ordering what they want, when they want it. And your company could get more orders through up-selling related products while customers are on your site, earning more commissions to the sales staff.
Efficiency. An ecommerce site make salespeople more efficient. By allowing them to log in, they can:
- Place orders on behalf of customers;
- Give special pricing to customers;
- Check on inventory and availability;
- See a customer’s order history;
- Check on order status for a customer.
Wigwam Socks is a client of my firm. Wigwam built a B2B web portal for its reps, to allow them to place orders on behalf of customers and check on the status of orders placed via the website and offline. Reps can provide customers with special pricing and terms via the web portal, and maintain shopping carts for orders that have not been placed.
Simplified quoting. For complex products and for non-public pricing, a website can simplify the quoting process. Allow customers to answer questions that guide them to appropriate products. Show options to customers and allow them to choose what they want. Customers can build their own quote and then send it electronically to a salesperson to follow up. Supporting product information and technical specs can help customers decide, and can also help reps in the sales process.
Communication and lead generation. B2B buyers like the web. But they also like communicating with a real person, even if it’s not on the phone. A live chat service on a B2B site can help. It allows customers to get questions answered quickly, in real time.
Another powerful way to support B2B sales reps is with lead scoring, wherein you track and score a visitor based on her activity on the site. This can be integrated with customer management software to show which customers or prospects are most interested in your products, especially high dollar products.
Lead scoring is a part of marketing automation platforms, such as Pardot, Eloqua, and Marketo. These platforms also enable automated emails from your salespeople to prospects, based on the prospects’ behavior.
In short, a B2B ecommerce site can help sales teams, not compete with them. The reality is that B2B companies that aren’t making use of web-based tools to support their sales teams will lose out to competitors that are. Younger buyers and sales people will come to expect the ability to use the web to place orders, look up information, and interact with your company.