Is the B2B salesman about to die out? Some people drew that conclusion from Andy Hoar’s in-depth report, “Death of a B2B Salesman,” which Forrester released in April 2015 and updated in April 2017. While the world of B2B e-commerce is definitely changing, this new B2B sales landscape will offer great opportunities for advancement for salespeople who truly love their jobs.
The key is for salespeople to 1) embrace the intelligence which e-commerce and analytics offer them, and 2) act on this data to create value for their employers.
The two worlds of B2B sales
Sales teams deal with two sets of people: new prospects who may become customers, and existing customers. Sales has a unique goal for each group.
- Goal for new prospects: Bring them on as customers.
- Goal for existing customers: Serve their needs with excellence so they remain loyal.
Large manufacturers using a CRM suite already have the tools in place to track leads and help convert them to customers. But what if salespeople and sales managers could see in-depth data on their existing customers? Even better—what if intelligent use of that data could help them preempt customer needs and problems?
A new kind of intelligence for B2B salespeople
It’s no secret that the job market in B2B sales is going to shrink. But it won’t disappear. Rather, the competitive salesperson will know how to use data, such as e-commerce order history and Google Analytics, to gain insight into the behavior of existing customers. He or she will know how to act on that data and bring value to both the manufacturer and the customer.
Example 1: Understanding your customer landscape with e-commerce data
While many enterprise resource planning systems can tell you who your biggest customer is outside of e-commerce, they can’t easily tell you who your biggest e-commerce customer is. This is where the B2B e-commerce website provides data to help you track how customers are using it. Enterprise resource planning, or ERP, systems include integrated software applications designed to help companies manage data on such things as customer activity, inventory levels and financial records
The e-commerce website can tell you, for example, that your largest customer is Company Y with 29% of all online orders. Now the sales manager can prioritize the team’s efforts accordingly. This is a new kind of intelligence. Salespeople can’t get this data easily inside an ERP system. .
Going a step farther, there are some things which ERP simply can’t do. For example, accounting software can’t tell you that Customer Z came to the website four or five times more often for invoice tracking than they did for other tasks. That kind of information, which goes far beyond simple transactional data, can help paint a picture of the unique needs of your biggest customer
Example 2: Using e-commerce history to prep for customer meetings
An B2B e-commerce website allows the sales manager to log in and enter a customer ID to find order history, delivery status, products which the customer often buys together, and more. But this data has uses beyond its apparent face value.
This data, which a salesperson could access through a mobile app, allows the sales team to gather some intelligence before meeting with a big customer.
Example 3: Using Google Alerts to find traffic decreases in sales territories
A B2B sales territory manager can set up alerts in Google Analytics to let the manager know that traffic is increasing or decreasing week to week. This is non-transactional data, and can be difficult to access and view,
You could use a Google Alert to notify you of anything happening on the website from a Google Analytics perspective. For example, you could create an alert to point out an increase in abandoned carts in South Carolina. Or you could set it up to see an increase in order-checking in South Carolina.
In a complex B2B operation, an alert like this can help a salesperson investigate and cut right to the issue. Maybe there’s a severe product backlog in a particular sales territory that’s contributing to abandoned carts and order checking. An intelligent salesperson can call the affected customers and see what’s going on.
Example 4: Following up with big customers who haven’t bought recently
A data-smart B2B salesman can use e-commerce website data and Google Analytics to see when a big customer hasn’t visited the e-commerce site in a while. The value of this type of insight is fairly obvious. The salesman can make a quick call. “You haven’t been on our website in 30 days. You’re one of our best customers. Is everything okay in your world?”
You never know how this conversation will go. It can lead to great opportunities to increase value for the customer. Maybe the customer responds, “We’ve had some staff churn. We’re in a time of transition.”
If that’s the case, why not offer to train the customer’s new employee on how to use the B2B e-commerce website? This increases value for everyone involved. Plus, it’s a gesture of goodwill toward the customer.
Great Salespeople + New Intelligence = Great Value
While B2B sales will change greatly in the next few years, passionate salespeople should not fear the development of B2B e-commerce websites; rather, they should embrace the deep data penetration and sales insight which these new technologies will bring. B2B e-commerce will take routine tasks off the salesperson’s plate and allow him or her to focus on the more interesting problems that sales data can turn up.
Salespeople should educate themselves on how to use this data to best serve their customers. Those who do will increase value for all parties involved in the B2B transaction.
George Anderson is the communications manager at Corevist Inc., an Inc. 5000 company that integrates SAP business software with B2B e-commerce platforms. He has published articles and guest blogs on many business topics and writes science fiction on the side. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.Favorite