The latest publication from Forrester Research is titled "Death Of A (B2B) Salesman" That's a pretty ominous start. Couple that with their headline finding:
"One Million US B2B Salespeople Will Lose Their Jobs To Self-Service eCommerce By 2020" (Forrester Research)
We can be under no illusion that the statistics and predictions from the marketing automation industry are beginning to manifest themselves in cold, hard commercial reality. The report concludes that 75% of B2B buyers surveyed preferred to research and learn about the products they are buying online.
Forrester projects a near-term reality where:
"Websites, not salespeople, are at the heart of how B2B companies buy and sell."
To survive, B2B salespeople are beginning to rethink their role. They need to work alongside digital analysts and strategists to architect the next generation of B2B customer journeys. These journeys will be real-time. They will be fluid and adapt to the needs, preferences and concerns of each buyer. Successful organisations will continually analyse and optimise their buying process, delivering relevant content at the right time, across the right channels to suit the concerns of the buyer throughout what are often long and complex sales funnels.
B2B salespeople are also beginning to reconsider where they fit in this digital process and how they can add value. Previously, they would have spent a lot of time at the beginning of the sales funnel, sourcing leads and converting them into prospects. These are the parts of the funnel that are being automated in the digital process.
The role of sales may need to be re-focussed on a few key 'moments of truth' along the sales cycle. This may be a meeting with hot prospects, involvement in service reviews and nurturing long-term relationships with key clients. With the nuts and bolts of the rational buying journey taken care of online, these face-to-face opportunities enable the salesperson to focus on the 'something extra' that buyers want.
This shift in the buying process has been driven by customer behaviour. Technology has contributed. Successful responses will come from organisations where sales and marketing are completely integrated to orchestrate the digital and face-to-face customer journey. Failure to do so will leave a team of salespeople all dressed up with nowhere to go.