It takes a lot more than a “Buy Now!” button to make customers move towards e-commerce, but there is little doubt the shift is under way.
Just look at the rise of e-commerce giants such as Amazon and Rakuten, who have created massive changes in the way consumers purchase everything from books and clothes to groceries and even cars. In the consumer space, e-commerce brings convenience because it means people don’t have to visit a physical store location to find and buy what they’re looking for.
Among business customers, some of the same advantages may apply, but there’s an extra, critical factor to consider: the corporate sales team of the vendor selling to them.
Even if you’re a small or medium-sized business with only a few reps, e-commerce may look, at least at first, as an almost existential threat to the sales team. Forget about the fears of robots and artificial intelligence -- if customers can click their way to a purchase, why would an organization need a sales team at all?
Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, but as demand for e-commerce options make their way to B2B -- and analyst firms such as Forrester suggest this is already the case -- it’s best for firms to figure out their strategy now.
In some organizations this starts with offering a commission or other incentive for sales reps who refer customers to buy via e-commerce. That may or may not work depending on your products, your culture and other factors. The advice you’ll see here will work whether you opt to incentivize e-commerce sales or not.
The good thing is that, if you’re already using CRM tools such as Sales Cloud, you may be better able to execute on that strategy once you’re ready.
Some B2B companies may only offer a handful of items for customers versus the hundreds or even thousands that a consumer brand has on its shelves or in its warehouses. If you think about what’s involved in buying, say, a major appliance like a washing machine versus a scarf, “closing the sale” is probably a little different in each case. After all, a scarf is a scarf -- unless the customer wants a certain colour or fabric, it’s a commodity item. Buying a washing machine, on the other hand, may involve a lot more research and questions to a sales associate standing in the appliances section of a department store.
There are commodity items in B2B firms too, of course. In some cases these may be add-ons to the orders customers make when they decide on a larger purchase (details of which should be in your CRM), but companies may be in a position to sell more of them -- and more often -- if customers can do so via e-commerce. These are not where your sales team’s talents are best put to use anyway.
Instead, what is the equivalent of a washing machine in your product and service portfolio -- where are your reps not merely selling an item but helping to solve a complex problem? Solution selling is where the best reps perform, and usually have the biggest profit margin -- which of course means more commission for the rep.
Even if you don’t have anything you’d call a commodify item, think about demo or trial versions of products that might only be available through a rep today, and think about how you could make them more accessible online as a pilot project.
Even if they’re among the most highly productive quota-crushers, reps can only cover so much ground. There might be customers in geographies far beyond your typical borders, for instance, where e-commerce might be a way to reach them. In other cases there could be new vertical industries to grow your business, but you don’t want to risk taking a rep away from existing accounts. If you’re selling primarily to big businesses today, meanwhile, there could be additional revenue from smaller customers -- but they might not be worth the extra time and attention that a dedicated rep could offer.
In all of these areas, it’s not just a matter of telling the sales team what’s off-limits. Look for ways to leverage their knowledge, along with insights about what converts buyers from Sales Cloud, to shape the user experience you build into e-commerce tools. This could include everything from:
Making reps part of this strategy makes them feel a part of the process and less alienated about the technology.
The sales cycle in e-commerce doesn’t necessarily end when the customer’s credit card number is entered. In fact, the self-service nature of online orders may mean there are more questions or requests for assistance once customers begin to use whatever they’ve purchased.
While chatbots and other tools may easily resolve those issues, there might also be opportunities to hand off certain questions to the sales team -- for instance, when the customer needs additional functionality that may come through ordering an additional product or a more sophisticated service offering.
And while you’re at it, make sure reps are well trained on e-commerce tools to make their own lives easier, whether it’s checking to see what is in stock, order input and a host of other chores that take up a lot of their time today. E-commerce works best when it’s easy -- and sales teams should be able to take advantage of that ease of use for their own purposes.
Sales teams also need to know that the work they do doesn’t just mean more data for tools like Sales Cloud. No matter where they’re involved in the purchase process, they reflect your firm’s culture and ensure there’s a human touch whenever it’s needed. The decision to offer e-commerce is not an either-or. It’s a way to bring value to your customers -- and hopefully your sales team, too.