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Turn Your Outside Sales Force into a Lean, Mean E-Commerce Machine, Part I

Turn Your Outside Sales Force into a Lean, Mean E-Commerce Machine, Part I

Getting outside sales teams to sell through e-commerce isn’t always easy, but it’s also not impossible. Here’s why your distributorship needs to devote some time to developing a lean, mean e-commerce selling machine.


The fastest-growing sector of the bigger e-commerce picture, business-to-business (B2B) online sales have taken off like a rocket over the last few years. On track to hit $1.2 trillion in sales by 2021 (up from $889 billion in 2017), at which point it will account for more than 13% of all B2B sales in the U.S., B2B e-commerce is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4%, according to Forrester Research.

Electrical distributors that aren’t offering their customers e-commerce and/or mobile buying options could find themselves working with a smaller and smaller piece of the B2B pie over the next three years. And as if Forrester’s numbers weren’t enough reason to kick-start a new (or overhaul an existing) e-commerce effort, how about the fact that Google says 89% of B2B buyers go online first during the shopping process?

That’s right folks. Your customers aren’t picking up the phone to call their inside or outside sales reps for help, nor are they driving over to their closest electrical distributor to find what they need. They’re getting it online.  And most of them are already researching online, “then providing a hassle-free, enjoyable, and efficient B2B buying experience would be the logical next step,” k-eCommerce points out.

Opportunities or Challenges?

These realities have created both opportunities and challenges for distributors and their outside sales forces, the latter of which have historically operated as autonomous “road warriors.” Experts at developing close relationships with customers who call on them when they need electrical supplies and service, outside sales reps serve as the valued conduits between the distributor and its customers.

But what happens when those customers are standing on the job site, iPad in hand, researching products and placing orders via the distributor’s website? The situation can get complicated pretty quickly.

“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,” Salesforce.com points out in The Best Way to Make Sales Teams Comfortable With E-commerce Options. “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?”

Grabbing the Bull by the Horns

The Internet has opened up a new, competitive landscape in the world of B2B buying and selling. “It’s easier than ever for business buyers to launch a quick search on Google, or, more and more recently, on Amazon, and find products they have never used and suppliers that they have never done business with,” Brian Beck points out in How e-commerce makes B2B sales teams more effective. “This threatens your traditional sales channels, but it is also an opportunity.”

Beck says the key is to think about e-commerce not as an alternative to traditional sales methods, but as a valuable tool that can help reinforce all of your company’s existing sales channels and make those channels more effective. “When B2B e-commerce is implemented successfully, it enables businesses to reinforce their existing channels while simultaneously entering new markets and capturing new customers,” Beck writes. “The end result? Increased market share and an expanded customer base.”

Getting outside sales reps onboard with an e-commerce selling strategy usually starts with a revamped commission structure that factors in online sales to the mix. In other words, even if the salesperson is “hands-off” during a particular sale, he or she deserves the credit for it. “Salespeople are ‘coin-operated,’” says sales training expert Chris Stock. “Put simply, it’s all about structuring a commission plan in a way that rewards the right behaviors.”

Thinking Past the Basics

Knowing that some sales reps will look at e-commerce as a “competing channel,” Stock says distributors can help them shift that thinking over to more of a “complementary” mindset. In other words, rather than seeing e-commerce as a threat, sales reps instead embrace it and start using it to their advantage. With nearly 93% of contractors now using smartphones on the job site, and about 65% of them using tablets to conduct business, embracing e-commerce instead of running from it is truly a no-brainer.

The same goes for the distributors themselves, who have many incentives to invest in e-commerce platforms and well-trained sales teams. “The reality right now is that a sale generated via an e-commerce platform generally costs a lot less to fulfill,” says Stock. “In simple terms, the customer is doing the order entry; the invoicing and back-end systems are automated; and fulfillment is streamlined.”

Because of this, distributors get a faster, cheaper, and more efficient transaction online than they do in the offline world. “This should be incentive enough to get your sales team to optimize the e-commerce channel,” Stock adds.

It’s Not Going Away

As B2B online sales continue to climb, expect more electrical buyers to use their laptops and tablets to research products, place orders, and communicate with their sales reps. The trend isn’t going to let up anytime soon, so now is the time for distributors to train those reps to fully embrace and work through the online sales channel.

Stock says achieving that goal isn’t as difficult as it may seem. “It’s simple really. Generally, salespeople get into the profession because they like selling and they’re not as good at administrative-type tasks anyway,” he points out. “Therefore, online sales channels free them up to do more of what they enjoy and more of what they get paid to do. They make more money, and so does the company they work for.”

For the customers, buying online is usually quicker and easier. It also gives the customer more control. “They place the orders when they want, they get insight into terms of delivery, and presto!” Stock says. “Maybe e-commerce really is magic.”


In the second part of this 2-part article series we’ll show you exactly what your distributorship needs to start doing to get its outside sales force onboard with an e-commerce selling strategy.


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Bridget McCrea  is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

Discussion (1 comments)

    Frederic B Moses November 9, 2018 / 10:11 am

    You mign find this article of interest.


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