The B2B Omnichannel World and the Evolving Role of Sales Reps

Fiona O'Donnell-McCarthy
January 7, 2015

In a recent Forbes article, Brian Walker asserts that “Omnichannel is not just a buzzword: Buyers are demanding it.” He cited a recent study conducted by Forrester that has found 75% of B2B buyers around the world would buy again from a supplier with good B2B omnichannel capabilities. In fact, according to a separate survey conducted by Accenture, 66% of suppliers are already investing (or planning to invest in the next six months) in omnichannel initiatives in express response to this demand. B2B Omnichannel commerce is here to stay.

The Crucial Role of Sales Reps in a B2B Omnichannel World

The most successful wholesale brands will be those who respond to the B2B eCommerce opportunity in a responsive and thoughtful way. Though orders can now come from multiple channels, including online B2B e-commerce websites and/or mobile apps, B2B sales is still largely about trust and relationship management. The field sales representative remains an instrumental and increasingly strategic part of the sales process. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in wholesale sales, as the role of the sales rep becomes more influential than ever before. As it gets easier and easier to get an order placed and captured, the role of the sales rep is transitioning from order capturing point to strategic partner--from receiver to coach. The technology available today is eliminating the manual data entry tasks that once took over much of sales reps’ time, allowing them to focus on building long-term partnerships with their retailers. To put it another way, the sales rep’s job is no longer focused on taking orders and sending them out for processing. It’s more about becoming a trusted advisor, providing insights on assortment planning, inventory depth, reordering techniques, and lean supply chain strategies. Reps can talk with retailers about how to increase margin, phase purchases, and understand the competitive landscape. They can help them differentiate themselves in a world of increasing competition from online channels and other brick and mortar retailers. We’ve seen many examples of these consultative sales relationships already, especially among third party rep firms that pride themselves upon building strategic relationships with both retailers and vendors. Writing orders is now just a means to an end--the end being long-term, advisory relationships built on trust. Technology-enabled sales processes are bringing firms from good to great. Great firms are investing in solutions like order management software to liberate their reps from data management and data entry, resulting in more effective selling. Because in the end, people buy from other people. All of the talent, product knowledge, and passion in your reps can come to life once they’re unburdened by the tedium of order management work. It means more time for product education, assortment advising, product demos, and introductions to new lines. To stay relevant and increase the lifetime value of your retailers, you just have to make the leap.