In a previous role in a distribution company, I was monitoring the results of a day of online sales shortly after our new ecommerce platform had launched – only to find that a significant number of pending orders had been canceled.
After some investigation, I discovered that members of the inside sales team were canceling the online orders, rewriting them manually, and submitting them to the company’s business system. I asked why, and learned they mistakenly assumed they wouldn’t get credit for those online sales.
Sound familiar? It’s a common misconception. I’ve encountered many forms of sabotage by well-meaning field sales reps, which worked against the success of those ecommerce initiatives.
The truth is that people, not technology, ultimately make or break ecommerce. Our research shows that inside and outside sales teams along with customer service drive 59% of online sales, much more than email (22%), organic search (19%) and social media. Print collateral, such as catalogs and direct mail, may support online sales, but it doesn’t drive it.
That falls to your team.
When salespeople are slow to embrace or even actively resist ecommerce, they create massive missed opportunities that not only hurt the company, but the customers they are trying to help. They’re even hurting themselves.
Cultivating a sales culture that’s invested in your ecommerce system is worth the time and resources – and the only way you’ll see online revenue soar.
Why Sales Reps Sabotage eCommerce Sales
Traditionally, the role of the sales rep was to be at the beck and call of their customers: looking up products, writing quotes, placing orders and never missing a phone call. Some sales reps are skeptical when they see their long-time customers getting comfortable online, accessing product information and firing digital orders – without them. Insecure sales reps who don’t understand the value of online ordering for all stakeholders are most likely to engage in ecommerce sabotage.
They’re simply guarding the customer relationship. Reps may be worried that customers no longer need them, convinced customers only value them because they answer phone calls at all hours of the day – even pulling off the side of the road to place emergency orders.
This kind of thinking not only sabotages the success of your ecommerce initiative; it sabotages the customer’s potential for long-term growth with the company as customers quickly learn they can place orders with online competitors. And don’t be fooled: It’s not just the young or exceptionally digitally savvy customer who wants to transact business this way. Customers of all ages now use online ordering in their personal lives, and that has inevitably bled into their business relationships.
That a salesperson immediately moves to protect the relationship in the wake of a new ecommerce platform reveals a disconnect between the sales team and management in communicating how ecommerce can actually make the salesperson’s job more efficient, increasing their overall sales and ultimately earning them more money.
How to Motivate your Team to Drive eCommerce Sales
Ask yourself if your sales reps truly understand how embracing the ecommerce system will help them increase their sales. A near-perfect website doesn’t matter if your team doesn’t understand it. Make your platform relevant, easy and profitable for salespeople to embrace.
Engage the Sales Team
From the start, engage your salespeople to listen to customers and collect data on how they want to use your ecommerce platform. This will reveal to sales reps what customers actually want and interfere with any assumptions salespeople may have about maintaining a traditional customer relationship. Involving sales reps in this process can turn some of your biggest detractors into your biggest online supporters.
Improve the eCommerce Experience
Make sure your website loads quickly, has been audited for errors, clearly states the value proposition and features meaningful content. This not only helps customers navigate the site, but it will also make it easier for inside salespeople to tour it with customers and encourage them to sign up. When salespeople are masters in training customers to smoothly navigate the website, they will look like a hero.
Incentivize Sales Reps to Grow Online Sales
In addition to putting to rest any fears sales reps might have over not getting credit when their customer places an order on the site, embrace simple incentives to drive ecommerce success long-term. For example, create a contest to get a certain number of customers signed up for the website or to hit a certain active usage number. Watch sales increase as salespeople become evangelists and trainers for the ecommerce system.
The Immortal Sales Rep
Ultimately, an ecommerce platform shouldn’t threaten sales reps that add more value than simply writing down orders on every visit.
In the infamous 2015 report, “Death of a (B2B) Salesman,” Forrester forecast that 1 million B2B salespeople would lose their jobs to self-service ecommerce by 2020 because they are out of sync with B2B buyers. In 2017, the author of that report said that it’s not about loss but about “re-engineering the sales strategy, selling motion and sales team” to align with digital expectations of B2B buyers.
The best salespeople are problem-solvers. Those who understand that ecommerce saves them from the mundane busywork of order-taking and other customer service activities and allows for more time to develop sophisticated solutions for their customers will do the best.
Say goodbye to sales reps pulling off the side of the road to scribble last minute orders on the back of their hand. Instead they’ll push a customer to the website for a quick and easy solution.
The truth is, the rep has never owned the customer. The company does. But reps can make themselves invaluable customer consultants with the time they’ll save than they ever could have in the “old days.” Because if reps ever thought that fulfilling orders and writing quotes was their definition of their work, they weren’t serving customers well anyway.
But the highly specialized problem-solving rep will stand the test of time.
We use our experience to help you define requirements and architecture for your website, as well as create buy-in among your team, for success. Learn more about our ecommerce strategy solutions.
Dean Mueller is Independent Consultant at Distribution Strategy Group. He has more than 30 years of experience in sales and marketing and helps distributors build holistic digital strategies that drive a significant shift to online sales, improve profitability and grow customer satisfaction. Take your digital strategy to the next level. Contact Dean at firstname.lastname@example.org.