In an age of e-commerce and digital marketing, does anyone really need to speak to a sales rep anymore? Thankfully, the answer is yes, and there is recent research that proves it.

According to the 2015 B-to-B Buying Study by analyst firm Sirius Decisions, human interaction between a potential customer and a sales rep not only continues to happen, but happens throughout the purchase process from beginning to end. In fact, 85 per cent of the more than 1,000 B2B executives surveyed described interacting with a salesperson as a positive experience.

The tricky part, according to the Sirius study, is that B2B purchase decisions aren’t linear. In other words, the way customers choose a product or service doesn’t happen in a series of predictable steps. Sirius described their behaviour as more “episodic,” with certain moments where human interaction is absolutely critical. Technology doesn’t need to replace salespeople during these episodes, but it can certainly help. Here are a few of the ways:

Episode 1: When Search Engine Results Lead To More Questions

In what Sirius calls the “education” phase of a B2B buyer’s journey, 20 per cent said they look online for basic information about a product or service, and 17 per cent look at a vendor’s web site. That may not give them enough details, which is why close to 10 per cent say they still meet with sales reps from the very start of the purchase process.

This is a great way to think about best practices in marketing automation. For example, cloud-based tools can give reps a curated selection of marketing content that will help prepare them the moment customers come with their initial questions. Then, lead nurturing activities such as personalized e-mail marketing can drive those prospects to a sales event or webinar, which were some of the other human-oriented interactions the Sirius report noted at this phase.

Episode 2: When Prices Change

In the business-to-consumer world, people tend to get excited by discounts or special sales, but in the B2B arena customers behave a little differently. According to Sirius, human interaction between prospects and sales reps tends to rise when prices for a product or service go up, probably because they have more questions during the “solution” phase of choosing between competing vendors.

Sales pros will be better armed for these conversations when they have the best, most accurate information available. Think about automated data cleansing within your CRM tools and use call preparation features like data from Hoover’s First Research. You’ll be able to not only explain pricing differences, but know enough about prospective B2B buyers to convince them that the value they’re getting is worth every cent.

Episode 3: When The Handshake Is About To Happen

In the final, “selection” phase, B2B buyers told Sirius Decisions they are more likely to meet with a sales rep in person to finalize a deal. What they want to feel here is trust, validation and confidence in the vendor they’ve chosen—in other words, that making this buying decision won’t be something they regret.

One way to do that is helping customers understand that getting any future problems solved will be both instant and easy. Explain how cloud-based customer service tools will give them ongoing contact with the resources they need from wherever they are. This could include live agents delivered via chat software or online communities that bring B2B buyers together to support each other.

Check out Salesforce’s free eBook for more insights on how sales professionals are changing the way they work: