Death of a Salesman

You may probably go a bit away from what this post tries to tell if you are trying to link the content to renowned American playwright Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Death of a Salesman that created a sensation some years ago.

 Death of a (B2B) Salesman

Nevertheless, this post deals with yet another sensational episode entitled Death of a (B2B) Salesman, authored by the world’s leading research and advisory firm Forrester not very long ago. To be precise, Forrester has forecasted that ‘in less than five years’ time, the death knell will have sounded for 20% of B2B salespeople (around 1 million) and account managers in the information technology sector.’ But is the future as bleak as it sounds? Perhaps, not so, as I presume for situations emphasized below.

To begin with, if a B2B company (along with its sales force) wishes to survive and stay ahead of the game, it must evolve and adapt to its surroundings. Also, it must go ahead taking the people along and rethink about the ‘role’ of the contemporary salesperson or account manager. And the best part of the whole story is that the articulation and accentuation of the salesperson is still very much in demand, save and except that it needs a bit of revamping. Talking more closely, Forrester’s survey suggested a need for expanding the role and incorporating self-service e-commerce to make it more market friendly.

B2B buyers buy direct from websites

We do not need any research analyst to tell us that near about 75% of B2B buyers confirm that buying from a website is far more convenient than from a sales representative. What’s more, once they have decided what to buy, their number rises to a staggering 93%.

“The days of flipping through a B2B catalog or talking to a B2B company sales or call centre representative to learn about a particular product or service are over,” writes Forrester analyst Andy Hoar. “Now, B2B buyers educate themselves online throughout most of the buying process, often wherever they find the highest-quality information and have the best browsing experience.”

However, buyers also enter the ‘sales cycle’ when they are more than halfway through the process – after visiting the website, researching competitors and seeking out case studies. This, incidentally, gives the salesperson little bit of opportunity to convince the buyer through self-serve e-commerce of the bona fides that go with sales through a company appointed salesperson. But unless B2B companies create such sites they risk losing market share to those who have reacted to need of the day.

The matching game

According to Forrester, B2B buyers currently fall into four distinct groups – ‘Show me’, ‘Enlighten me’. ‘Serve me’ and ‘Guide me’ types. And consequently, four types of sellers too.

Looking closely, we may find that high complexity products and services require careful scrutiny from the buyer’s side, and more often than not, persuasion from the seller’s side in relation to a purchase that calls for an ERP or CRM system. At the opposite end of the gamut, low impact and high volume products require little input from either party.

Companies, therefore, should match appropriate B2B seller ‘archetype’ with each of the four   specified B2B buyer type. Until this has been acknowledged across the industry, self-service e-commerce websites will continue to serve B2B buyers more effectively and efficiently than salespeople can – especially in low complexity buying environments where human interaction just gets in the way.