By giving sales reps the knowledge and tools they need to work with ecommerce, they won’t feel like they’re losing control over any aspect of their job. Instead, they will have a way to contribute to closing deals while still retaining influence over the process, writes Yana Persky, a marketing professional at B2B sales technology firm Pepperi.

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Yana Persky

So, what is preventing B2B businesses from embracing ecommerce? Surprisingly, sales reps are the ones hampering B2B ecommerce take-up. Just over 70% of B2B decision makers believe that a conflict with sales reps is inevitable when switching to B2B ecommerce.

Many sales reps will want to cling on as long as possible, but in today’s sales landscape, that simply won’t be an option. Today’s ecommerce-driven sales environment requires a different approach — and that approach can be tricky for some reps. We are still living in a transition period where there are often two camps: those who resist change (no matter how beneficial) and those who embrace it.

B2B ecommerce forecasts do not equal actual adoption. Based on an estimate from technology research and advisory firm Gartner Inc., 80% of sales interactions between suppliers and buyers will be online by 2025. But according to internal data by Pepperi, only 18% of B2B business have implemented B2B ecommerce.

Sales Reps + Resistance to B2B eCommerce

There are three main reasons for sales reps’ resistance to ecommerce:

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1-Sales reps fear losing control over customer relationships. Sales reps are territorial about their accounts and don’t like giving up control to computer software or to another rep who may take away one of their best clients.

2-Sales reps fear losing control over information. Information is power in sales, and many salespeople see their information as proprietary data not easily shared with others inside or outside their company who may be able to use it more effectively.

3-Sales reps fear lost income. Many salespeople think they’ll earn less money if they start using an order management system. They think they’ll be forced into territory where they don’t know enough about a product or service, and won’t be able to compete successfully against another rep in their territory who does know something about it.

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The Future of Selling

Historically, sales reps have put an emphasis on prospecting over expertise with their customers. Instead of focusing on customer service issues or giving customers advice on products (or services), a rep’s focus is placed squarely on selling something – even if it is not necessarily in a customer’s best interest.

Sales reps are essential to any B2B business, but their roles will be changing due to new technology and techniques. As sales organizations become more agile and prospects continue to engage directly with brands online without having to talk with a sales rep first, it seems likely that these numbers will only continue climbing in the coming years. So, what will happen with all the time sales reps used to spend following up with existing customers? It’s critical to help them embrace the future of their profession by showing them what these changes mean for their future.

Helping Sales Reps Embrace Change

The solution —  make sure salespeople understand that being a customer expert is what really matters. This means knowing everything about each account — the client’s needs, wants, expectations, competitor offerings, etc.

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For example, ongoing monitoring (as shown below) provides visibility at the account level into purchases, future orders, credits, fulfillment status, store functions, best-selling items, and much more.

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When you focus on education rather than selling, sales reps will actually appreciate it. They won’t feel like they’re losing control over any aspect of their job, because now they have a way to contribute to closing deals while still retaining influence over the process.

Data-Driven Tools

It’s time to move past static sales reporting, the monthly-versus-quarterly cycle, and endless dashboards of mediocre data. In today’s high-velocity market, innovative data-driven tools are evolving.

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Platforms are building out configurable models that allow users to design easy-to-use, interactive sales trends and comparative dashboards (such as shown below), choose different metrics and analysis methods, and connect to multiple platforms.

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This is not just a way for companies to get a more detailed view of what’s happening in real time — it also gives reps an opportunity to be more proactive about customer relationships. For example, showing the rep a list of accounts with a drop in sales over the previous three months, accounts that are below average, or accounts that have no sales at all, can definitely take them to the next level.

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Helping sales teams to use data-driven tools as an integral part of a B2B ecommerce solution is key to retaining them. With data-driven tools, sales reps can easily analyze sales trends, perform comparative analysis, visualize anomalies to take preventive steps, and adjust their tactics accordingly.

By uncovering deviations in sales trends in their customers’ buying behavior, sales reps help to pinpoint areas that need immediate involvement. With data at their fingertips, sales reps are alerted to their customers’ negative trends before they start to impact a company’s bottom line and their paycheck.

Crucial steps for sales reps

Sales reps are important to any B2B commerce business, but their roles will be changing due to new technology and techniques. It’s important to help them embrace the future of their profession by helping them understand what these changes mean for their future. These changes will take away some of the control they have over their customers, and to understand their role is changing but not going away.

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To handle these changes, it is crucial that sales reps have a good understanding of how technology can support them — and most importantly, when it’s time for technology to take over.

This means it is critical for business leaders to guide and train reps so that they embrace, rather than resist, change. Make sure to create a culture of acceptance among various team members: showing them why change is important, involving them in decision-making, and letting them know their contributions matter. While transforming your B2B business, lead sales reps down a path towards accepting B2B ecommerce, rather than resisting it.

Yana Persky is the head of product marketing at Pepperi, a provider of B2B  sales technology for brands and wholesale distributors. She has spent more than two decades in the high-tech and software industry. Connect with her on Twitter.

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