Study: Field Sales Roles Still Key Despite E-Commerce Shift

Man briefcaseSales roles today are becoming less transactional as more customers move ordering activity online. In a recent survey we conducted with MDM, distributors have predicted that as this trend continues, sales reps will have a harder time getting in front of customers (see Amazon Effect Takes Aim at Relationship Equity). A million U.S. field sales positions may even disappear because of growing e-commerce, if Forrester’s 2015 prediction is to be believed.

Will the rise of e-commerce really result in the death of the outside sales representative as a key component of distribution sales strategy? A new study examined this prediction by asking  manufacturers and distributors that have adopted e-commerce portals whether the size of their field sales teams have changed as a result.

Eighty-four percent reported their field sales team either remained the same size (43 percent) or increased (41 percent). When asked about the importance of their sales reps to their business, “75 percent of respondents cited the in-person sales channel as very important or extremely important,” according to the report. How can this be if, as the report also found, customers generally prefer to make orders online?

I’ve already suggested an answer in our whitepaper, The Sales Rep of the Future, but here is a point that bears repeating: The expertise – and value-added services – that reps provide isn’t easily replaced by an e-commerce platform. Distributors can capitalize on this fact not by eliminating scores of sales reps but by shifting field sales roles away from the traditional, transactional focus of the past. Successful distributors will adopt a B2B sales strategy where sales reps spend most of their time not on order writing but on conducting needs analyses for customers, documenting real customer cost savings, and disrupting the old-school traditional reps by taking their customers away.

This is just one element of building a distribution sales strategy that adapts to the way customers today want to buy. For more on this topic, download The Sales Rep of the Future whitepaper for free here.