But many companies still struggle with blending online sales with the full service that sales reps offer customers, Forrester Research says.

The B2B salesperson is alive and pushing ahead, Forrester Research Inc. says in an updated version released last week of its 2015 “Death of a (B2B) Salesman” report.

But business-to-business salespeople and their employers still have a ways to go to give buyers what they want in a mix of in-person attention and self-service e-commerce, Forrester says in its latest report, “Death of a (B2B) Salesman: Two Years Later.”

Andy Hoar, principal B2B e-commerce analyst, Forrester Research

B2B digital pros must recalibrate their investments to match where their customers are starting their journeys, which is increasingly online.

“Two years after forecasting that 1 million B2B salespeople would be displaced by 2020, Forrester sees B2B buyers both accelerating their shift to self-serve and demanding higher-quality interactions with sales pros,” Forrester says in the report, which was authored by Andy Hoar, vice president and principal analyst for B2B e-commerce, along with other Forrester analysts.

It adds that B2B e-commerce sites are growing in importance as commerce tools, with 68% of buyers in the recent study saying they prefer to research products online instead of with the help of a sales rep, up from 53% who said the same two years ago. “B2B digital pros must recalibrate their investments to match where their customers are starting their journeys, which is increasingly online,” the report says.

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Forrester notes that companies are making progress in addressing the shift to self-service e-commerce and more helpful sales reps. It offers as examples such businesses as beverage companies MillerCoors and The Coca-Cola Co. and apparel maker Levi Strauss & Co. These and other businesses, Forrester says, are using online technology to improve sales and service through self-service e-commerce and through sales reps who can access online data while helping customers make purchases that require a lot of consideration.

Still, many companies are lagging, particularly in offering what Forrester calls “full-service commerce.” The report defines full-service commerce as when sales reps—whether in person or connected with a customer via phone or live chat—can access their company’s e-commerce system to check such information as customer order history and the latest product details to help a customer research and complete an order.

“While digital business pros excel at delivering self-service, they still fall short when it comes to delivering digitally enabled, hybrid, and full-service commerce,” the report says. It adds that today’s digital leaders must be “capable of delivering self-service commerce for low-consideration purchases as well as digitally enabled commerce for high-consideration purchases” fostered by sales reps.

The report cites the following examples of how companies have used e-commerce to improve their operations:

  • Coca-Cola reduced its average cost-per-interaction with customers by 85% after getting more customers to order online;
  • Levi Strauss has used its online ordering system to “cost-effectively” acquire thousands of new mom-and-pop stores as customers, reduce its cost of serving customers, and improve its order-fill rate;
  • MillerCoors, the beer brewing company, has equipped its field sales reps with tablet computers that enable them to make more effective sales pitches. Using a mobile app developed by Mediafly, the report notes, the reps have been able to illustrate how bar owners could earn more revenue per tap-handle pull by selling particular MillerCoors brands.

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