Digital commerce requires sales pros to use data about products and customer interests to provide the help and service their customers need, Forrester Research says in a new study.

In a follow-up to its 2015 report “Death of a (B2B) Salesman,” when it projected that a million sales reps would lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020, Forrester Research Inc. contends in a report released last week that sales reps must learn to better use the data digital commerce provides to more effectively respond to customers’ needs.

Leave behind the stereotype of the B2B salesperson—fighting over leads, working the phones, and taking clients out to golf.

“As we head into the 21st Century, we leave behind the overused and now-inaccurate stereotype of the B2B salesperson—fighting over leads, working the phones, and taking clients out to golf,” Forrester says in the report, “B2B Consultant Sellers Reign in the 21st Century,” which was authored by Mary Shea and Jacob Milender along with other Forrester analysts.

Today, as their customers resort more to self-service e-commerce for purchasing commodities and re-ordering basic supplies, sales reps must become more like consultants armed with information on what customers need to help them in placing more complex orders across more product lines, Forrester says.

Forrester adds that digital commerce and marketing present new opportunities for businesses to learn about their customers’ interests and engage them with highly personalized email and other messages based on digital records of their product research and buying activity. But this also presents a double-edge sword for both buyers and sellers, who can get overwhelmed by data intended to be helpful, it says.

As a result, sales reps with consulting skills must be prepared to help customers cut through the clutter of marketing messages to bring to the forefront what’s most important to the customer’s business. But “the more accounts a salesperson works on, the harder time she has sifting through the noise,” the report says.

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Forrester advises, among other things, that sales reps take the time to develop a comprehensive understanding of their company’s overall marketing and product development efforts—and combine that information with their personal insights as well as data on their customers’ buying needs. “To win business for their firms today and in the future, B2B salespeople must tightly align with marketing, receive the right information and insights, and work tirelessly to gain and sustain their buyers’ attention.”

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