The Death of the Sales Rep – It’s Personal

The role of the Sales Rep is changing. How will digital experiences and ecommerce influence their work?

Back in 2015, a Forrester report forecasted that a million B2B sales people in the US would be out of a job by 2020. Was the crystal ball right? While Covid has clearly pushed many changes to processes in the B2B world, none seems to have moved faster than the traditional B2B sales process. No longer is the sales rep the sole source of product/service information, pricing, or ordering. Today’s B2B buyers want digital channels because of their speed and ease of use.

In fact, Gartner “Future of Sales” report expects 80% of interactions between suppliers and buyers to happen digitally by 2025. It’s clear that this buyer behavior is being driven by a shift toward millennial buyers. But a key question of this transition is how to keep the personalization of the traditional sales rep in the digital process?

The answer lies in personalized digital ordering experiences.

Personalization in essence means being relevant to each and every individual and providing the product and service information they need, when they need it, along with pricing, packaging, and delivery information. It starts with having a digital content management engine that is deep and broad enough to cover the supplier’s business. More importantly, however, is connecting the content with the B2B commerce engine that can complete the full digital process. This includes being able to have prices and discounts tailored to particular customers, based on particular promotions, previous buyer behavior, and of course volumes. But that’s just part of it.

Being able to complete the buying process digitally is something that everyone is used to in today’s world thanks to retail consumer sales models. It should be no different for B2B buyers. By providing the B2B buyers the ability to completely discover, order, and checkout, manufacturers and distributors make it easier and more accurate for their buyers. It’s also less costly and faster.

But the B2B world is not quite the same as retail in this aspect. Most manufacturing and distributor customers have sophisticated procurement systems in place, and they want orders to flow digitally. One of the harder parts is connecting these systems with manufacturers, distributors sales channels. Some of the challenges with this include having proper authorizations, protocol differences, and custom tuning to a particular buyer’s needs.

In the past this process was the domain of the B2B sales rep. Matching customers and products, searching product catalogs, viewing previous orders, checking inventory, and checking pricing all required the human touch of the rep. Going forward this will no longer be the case. Connected systems will effectively have taken over.

Today, millennials are a fast growing percentage of B2B buying process as noted in this 2021 TrustRadius report. These buyers are very much used to the buying model of the retail, consumer world – digitally centric from start to finish without human interaction. These new buyers want to have the same experience for B2B.

So, will B2B sales reps be completely gone in a few years? Not likely. But their numbers will be greatly reduced as manufacturers and distributors see the cost savings in their business models by implementing fully digital ordering procedures. And this transition will allow sales reps to focus on the personal relationships required for stronger, larger business relationships. The only real question then becomes how many sales reps does a B2B company need.

But it’s not all bad news for the B2B sales rep. In fact, their role will morph into something much more important. They will become more specialized and focused on leveraging the digital experience. They will become the trusted advisor for buyers. And they can spend more of their energy supporting the important corporate customers hands on, while letting the digital processes handle the routine buying transactions. So, the B2B sales rep of the future becomes a crucial link to business growth.