It predicts 1 million salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by 2020. It is, of course, not just the ability to purchase online that’s driving this change; it’s the digitalization of the entire sales process from start to finish.
That 70% of buyer journeys happen before anyone directly contacts a brand is partly driven by the ability to access a plethora of digital information sources and partly by the fact that most people would rather eat a bucket of sand than actually speak to a salesperson. Inevitable as this shift may be, one question remains challenging: Will replacing people with technology improve things?
I look at this in two ways.
Will it improve the experience for the buyer? Probably.
But will it improve things for the seller?
Will it differentiate the distributors that are digitizing their customer journeys?
The answer is: It depends.
The lack of sales conversations alone will be enough for most buyers to make them happy. And replacing poor salespeople with smart technology is an easy win. But I don’t think enough time or thought is being spent on replacing the good--or even excellent--salespeople (perhaps because they are so rare). As much as we try to avoid talking to salespeople at almost any cost, we’ve all also experienced the excellent ones--and good salespeople provide a lot more value than the right content at the right time to the right person.
My experience across brands of all shapes and sizes is that the automation of generic sales and marketing is happening, and on occasion in a fairly advanced way. The leaders in this field are the ones that are reading their customers' digital body language, identifying buyer personas, profiling progressively, and dynamically creating personalized experiences.
Even for the best in the business, the predominant form of profiling and personalization is still behaviorally based. Even when attitudinal dimensions have managed to elbow their way into the personas, they rarely make their way into the actual customer experience.
The concept of reading a customer’s digital body language to understand a prospective buyer is really the goal, but it’s nothing that would come close to a truly great salesperson doing the real thing (i.e., in-person reading of a customer’s body language). Just think how powerful that will be when marketing automation systems could be taught to do it.
This will be the next level of intelligent marketing to emerge after we’ve all made it past “automation”--which, if you think about it, isn’t really that high a standard to set.
To improve on what’s happening right now, it would be great to see more salespeople reinventing themselves as masters of digitizing the sales process to truly bring their expertise to bear on the world of marketing automation. It’s all about marketing at the moment, and many of the marketers, who are quick to point out the flaws of their sales organizations, are still not as expert as they need to be in the art and science of selling. This represents a huge opportunity for sales experts to not only survive the one-million-person-cull but to one day actually help design the intelligent marketing systems of the future.
If not, we’ll just have to wait for artificial intelligence to truly take over. But we can take the sales role back and add value by capturing those digital clues.
Here are a few ways an outstanding ERP system with integrated E-Commerce can help.
- Customer stratification - know who your customers are and who the right ones to target are.
- Review buying patterns and work those times, if you see your customers placing orders at 2am , give salesman the ability to interact with them via online chat and remote access. Salesman don't need to work 9 to 5 to accomplish thier goals, so let them set thier own schedule and interact with thier customers. (Within reason..)
- Use business intelligence and data to answer questions before they come, if an item is in short supply make sure salespeople and customers are aware and offer alternate solution. Using automated substitutions , make sure to take into account customer preferences to know what they are willing to sub out and what they are not.
- Expiring Goods, help them manage stock and inventory by reminding them of any expiring goods on the shelf. If you take returns - offer new items instead and turn a negative into a positive.
By utilizing the digital information age to profile customers and follow their habits, we wont see the death of the B2B salesman - Rather the evolution in the B2B Salesman 2.0 and beyond.