22% of B2B Sales People will be Replaced by Search Engines by 2020 #SocialSelling

Taxi for the B2B Salesperson?

In Forrester’s US B2B eCommerce Forecast: 2015 to 2020 they quote that “74% of B2B buyers research, at least one-half of their work purchases online. In addition, 30% of today’s B2B buyers complete at least half of their work purchases online. With that percentage nearly doubling to 56% by 2017, B2B sellers will see a significant volume of offline business move online in the next few years.”

Taking those facts further, at the recent Forrester’s Sales Enablement Forum , a study by Andy Hoar, Principal Analyst at Forrester , revealed that he expected 22% of B2B Sales jobs go by 2020. With Enterprise purchases taking place online this means the traditional B2B sales person is being replaced by Search Engines, YouTube, websites etc. The Diagram top left is Forester’s view on how what will replace the B2B Sales person.

Are Things Really that Bad?

Recently talking to a friend of mine who works for an “Enterprise” Cloud technology company, they relayed this story. An inbound sales call, that went like this;

Caller: “We want to buy your product, can you tell me how much it is please?”

Salesperson: “Er, OK, but how can this be, don’t you want a demo?”

Caller: “No, we have done our research for a new product online and we watched your demos on Youtube. We have decided yours is the best, so we just need to check it meets our budget and then we would like to go ahead.”

This means that 90% of the research has taken place on-line.

This conversation, (let’s assume it’s an exception) seems to back up the Forrester research, but could Forrester be understating things? In my experience in talking and working with companies we (in sales) have reached a tipping point.

What Does that Mean for us B2B Sales People?

Not sure if my friend had realised but she had gone from being a (in my opinion a highly respected) B2B Salesperson to an Order Taker. Nothing wrong in being an order taker, but when most of us started out on the road into sales, it wasn’t where we want to be. So Where do we go from here?

“Move up, Move down or Get Out”

I was once given some advice when it comes to significant moves in the market; “Move up, Move down or get out”. You can apply that to this situation. The “Boston Square” on the left from Forrester shows how Salespeople and Sales organisations need to organise themselves as the market shifts to be completely buyer centric.

With people getting more used to, and more comfortable with, buying (high value) B2B products over the web. With technical details, pricing, and product demos all available over the web, I can see a continuation of the commoditisation of the buying process.

Sales people need to raise their game and while not be Thought Leaders, they need to be a “beacon” in their given niche and or industry.

If you are in sales, here is some good news, or at least a solution.

What Does a B2B SalesPerson Need to do So They Don’t Become Irrelevant?

Let’s look at that Data from Forrester in more detail (Just remember this is US data, as I write for a global audience, you can question this is the same in your geography, but in the UK where I live, where the US leads, the UK will follow). See panel below. It’s all doom and gloom apart from one area.

Let me repeat what Forrester say ….

“”Consultants,” who have extensive knowledge about the buyer’s company to help the buyer understand what her company needs to purchase. Job gain: 10%, to 550,000 from 500,000.”

Companies need to undertake a major transformation of their sales force. One tactic of that will be to undertake a Strategic Social Selling program (starting, obviously, at the top management) and employee advocacy program across your organisation.

The Harvard Business Review puts it more eloquently

More Details of the Forrester Report

Forrester says the biggest impact will be on sales reps at wholesalers and distributors, but less so in such industries as high-tech manufacturers and providers of healthcare technology.

Forrester indicates that trend toward more self-service online research and ordering is only likely to increase as more companies that sell to businesses and government agencies get more into e-commerce. In many cases for B2B buyers, Hoar says, e-commerce “has taken away the need to talk to someone to explain things.”

Reduce your Cost per Sales Transaction from $24.48 to $1.50 …

Another trend contributing to the shift to self-service e-commerce is the increased efficiency online order brings to sellers—for example, through lower employee costs and overall operating expenses, Forrester says. “A company we interviewed estimates that it reduced its cost per order from $24.48 per transaction via a salesperson-driven paper-based ordering system to $1.50 per transaction via a customer self-serve e-commerce,” the report says.

Forrester also notes, that B2B buyers will continue to purchase through sales reps in certain situations, such as for complex products and systems procured across large enterprises. Yet even in these situations, communications between buyer and reps are going more digital, Hoar says. “They’re increasingly conducting those negotiations with salespeople by way of digital means such as email, [live] chat, and collaborative software as opposed to via a traditional phone call,” the report says. For example, I’m aware of a company that purchased a $350,000 product via Skype, no face to face meetings took place.