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In the age of ecommerce and the self-service support portal, prospects are empowered to buy what they want, when they want it. Having to deal with a salesperson when an option to purchase directly online is available can be perceived as an unnecessary and frustrating hurdle. 

Unfortunately for sales reps, research from Forrester corroborates the anecdotal evidence. According to the firm's 2015 B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Survey, 59% of buyers agreed with the phrase "I do my research online and prefer not to interact with a sales representative as my primary source of outreach." Additionally, 74% of respondents said buying from a website was more convenient than buying from a sales rep. In other words, don't call us -- we'll call you (but seriously, don't call us).

Findings like this led credence to Principal Analyst Andy Hoar's prediction that one million B2B sales jobs would be net displaced by the year 2020 -- primarily in the so-called "order taker" category. 

However, there was a bright spot for salespeople in the data. Although buyers made it clear that they don't want to work with a salesperson to make all their purchases, there were a few exceptions. 

At the 2015 Forrester Sales Enablement Forum, Hoar revealed the five sales scenarios in which the buyers surveyed desired a salesperson's assistance:

  1. Price negotiation is involved (91%)
  2. The purchase is complex (82%)
  3. The purchase is expensive (67%)
  4. The offering requires installation (67%)
  5. The offering requires service (64%)

It seems that prospects reeling from sticker shock would still like the option of negotiating price with a human. But according to Hoar, software and algorithms could soon assume this duty. "There's a lot of technology out there that is making it possible for you to negotiate with a computer and not interact with a sales rep," he said. In fact, technology is likely to lessen buyers' dependence on human interaction in all the circumstances named except for "the purchase is complex," he added. 

So are salespeople at risk of becoming obsolete? Hoar argued that while certain types of reps will start to shrink in number, those that can act as consultants capable of dealing with complex buyers and complex purchasing decisions will secure their roles. However, by and large, self-service methods will threaten B2B sellers, Hoar warned.

"I don't want to talk to your people -- especially if I've decided what I want to buy. I want to just make the purchase," he said. "We've seen the future here -- it's called B2C." 

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Originally published Mar 9, 2015 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Sales Prospecting