Ashley Sterland, Communications Director at The Change writes: –

When one of the most influential research and advisory firms in the world states that 1 million B2B salespeople in the US (20% of the B2B salesforce) will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by 2020, you have to sit up and take notice. But are things really as bad as they seem? In this digital world we live and following this latest report from Forrester, do account managers still have a role to play in the modern sales environment?

In a word, yes. Although, the figures might suggest ‘doom and gloom’, Forrester analyst Andy Hoar explains on his blog – Death of a (B2B) Salesman – that companies must evolve to survive the ongoing digital revolution. To succeed, his recommendation is to build digitally enabled selling models that put self-serve eCommerce on equal footing with commissioned salespeople (watch this space).

The Forrester data shows that almost 75% of B2B buyers prefer to buy online when purchasing products for work. Despite this, only 25% of B2B companies actively sell online and many insist that buyers interact directly with a sales representative. As a result, many companies are missing out on this potentially lucrative business stream.

But however much we like to buy online, there will always be a role for a ‘human’ contact. For example, how many of the 1 million B2B salespeople that will supposedly become unemployed by 2020 will still be required to deal with errors, complaints or general queries from all those online purchases? Especially when you consider how many will be self-educating online about products and services.

There have also been a number of industry professionals disputing the report’s claims. One direct response, from the MD of IT recruiter Merlin Corp, states that the role played by knowledgeable sales staff will only become more important as there is no one-size-fits-all and the ‘do-it-yourself approach is simply not enough for customers’.

It’s a crucial period for businesses looking to survive and thrive, as the customer is constantly changing. There’s no denying that digital channels are here to stay, but it’s up to the account managers, B2B salespeople and their companies to evolve with the market. Forrester may have claimed that B2B salespeople are a dying trade, but account managers still have plenty to give and to paraphrase Mark Twain – “the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.”

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