Sales team resistance to B2B e-commerce: How to overcome it

A cartoon illustration of a business man using his keyboard to hit is computer screen implying that he is frustrated

As a business owner planning to take your B2B company online, you may be concerned about possible resistance from your sales team. And you’d be right to be. Implementing e-commerce requires a considerable investment of time and money, change can be challenging and livelihoods are at stake on both sides. Head sales team resistance off at the pass, before your new system becomes the enemy, by understanding the dynamics and how best to deal with them.

Understand the concerns that cause sales team resistance to a B2B e-commerce system

From your perspective, it may be quite clear why you need to implement e-commerce in your B2B business. You want to simplify your business processes, shorten the usual drawn-out sales cycle, free up your sales team to help you build both your business and your customers’, and meet the changing needs of your B2B customers. You probably already know that B2B buyers are researching their purchases online anyway, before they even involve the sales rep. They also expect the rep to have accurate, up-to-date information when they do contact them. So going online, and preferably integrating to your ERP too, makes complete sense for your business.

Your sales reps may see it differently though, and it’s important that you understand their concerns. Planning how you will communicate the benefits FOR THEM is critical. If you can get them involved in the planning upfront, that’s even better as they’ll have time to get used to the idea and buy into the process.

In our considerable experience, there are three very common concerns we hear over and over again:

A screenshot of a group chat between three people

1. “I’m going to lose my job”

The fear here is that if customers go online and complete the entire process themselves, they will have no need for a sales rep. In fact research shows that the opposite is most often true. In well over half of B2B companies that implement e-commerce, sales teams actually GROW.

The role of the sales rep does shift though. Instead of selling products, they are using their relationships to sell and grow the brand. The site then simply becomes a tool to help them sell far more efficiently. No longer bogged down by admin, queries and taking orders, they are freed up to provide far more important services to their high-value customers: strategically analysing their sales and advising on procurement decisions. This transforms them from order takers into hunters. They now have time to focus on increasing the value of those customers to your company, as well as bringing in new business that helps you grow.

2. “My commission is going to take a hit”

Most effective sales reps are driven by their commission. As a result, being left out of the sales loop (as they may see it) is never good news. Addressing this requires a two-prong approach: (1) explain that it will simply be a role change, as described above, and (2) make sure they are incentivised and rewarded equally as well, if not better than before.

Some B2B businesses reward all sales in the same way regardless of the channel. Whether the order comes in online, face-to-face, over the phone or by email makes no difference – it’s all money in the bank. Also consider rewarding reps for different achievements, like persuading existing customers to move online, which is less expensive on both sides, or for improving critical figures like average order value (AOV).

3. “I’m going to lose my customer relationships”

Many sales reps have spent years building relationships with their customers through regular interaction. When those customers move online, it can seem like a threat to that hard-won trust relationship. They need to understand that the new e-commerce system will help them develop even closer relationships. In fact, they will be freed up to provide a whole new level of service to their customer, which is critical in today’s world where service and value often trump price. They may speak to them a bit less often, but the interactions they have will be of high quality.

Providing this service is even easier with a CRM integration that gives reps access to a massive amount of customer data, for example, what kinds of products they’re ordering or what they’ve been searching for. Reps can then suggest other options that might work more effectively for them, or up- or cross-sell, thus improving sales figures. They’ll be contributing more strategically to the customer’s business and, not incidentally, boosting their own commission too.

Educate a resistant sales team on the benefits of B2B e-commerce

When you talk to your sales reps about why you’re implementing e-commerce, you could begin by mentioning that if you don’t, you’ll all be out of a job in 10 years. It might be better to lead with the benefits though, focussing on what they get out of it, with special reference to making their lives easier and improving their commissions. These points are a good start:

Diagram showing why 5 points as to why your business should implement e-commerce

1. Improved communication

One of the most common reasons for lost sales is poor communication. This could be a result of misunderstanding between the rep and customer, or because of silos in your company, with the result that the rep and the rest of your team end up singing from different hymn sheets.

When you integrate your e-commerce site with your ERP, everyone involved, from your entire team to the customer, has access to live, real-time data, including customer information and order status, product and inventory data, and much more. It’s easy to keep track of changing requirements and it’s simple for sales reps to access this data, even when they’re on the road. Reps can see exactly what’s going on in an account, consult effectively with the customer on the spot and then take the necessary steps to seal the deal.

2. Clear, customer-specific pricing

B2B businesses often agree to special deals with some of their customers. This can make for a minefield of tiered pricing, as well as potential confusion between departments in a siloed business – all of which makes the sales rep’s job more difficult.

When your e-commerce site is integrated with your ERP, these pricing rules are held in one central place. It’s very easy for customers and reps alike to see exactly what the best deal is for them, no negotiation required. This leaves the sales rep free to add value in other ways, like cross- or up-selling or increasing order value.

3. Enhanced sales process

Traditionally, B2B transactions require quoting and approval at multiple levels before the order is finally placed. This slows the sales process right down, especially when quotes need to be modified and reapproved.

With an e-commerce system, integrated to an ERP, the entire process happens online, quickly, easily and transparently. With the customer able to manage the entire process themselves on your e-commerce site, from initial quote to final order, things move fast and efficiently. The sales rep can provide assistance, either remotely or on their mobile device while visiting a customer, without all the old admin. Now they can spend their time focussing on adding value to their customers, helping them to buy more strategically and improving their business. More business from their customers equals more commission in their pockets.

4. Faster payments

When customers pay offline using cheques or cash, it can take some time before the amount registers in the company’s bank account as a payment from that customer. Being able to quickly view invoices and make payments online, automatically linked to the customer’s account, speeds up this process. The sales rep doesn’t need to spend their time following up on payments, and the faster the money arrives in the business’s account, the sooner they get their commission.

Equip your sales team with tools that shift them from order takers to hunters

Take your sales reps’ buy-in to the next level with tools that make their jobs easier.

Quote from Richard Bayston: The challenge isn't to get sales managers or sales ops to believe that sales tools work. They already know they do. The challenge is to get reps to believe that using these tools works... for them

When you help them provide high value service to their customers, it gives them an opportunity to sell more. We’ve mentioned a few of these before, but it’s worth rounding them up here:

  • Incentivise your reps with an at-a-glance view of their performance against their KPIs. A dashboard that displays, for example, sales by product or by customer, average order value or commission earned is highly effective. Even better, also show them how they’re doing against their colleagues. Competition is a great motivator.
  • Help reps sell more by providing online access to rich content, from product specs and how-to-videos, through to stock availability and suggestions for up-selling and cross-selling.
  • Make doing business easy by giving reps the ability to generate a customer quote using their device, even on the road.
  • Free up reps by allowing more hands-on customers to request and approve a quote online themselves, and then to simply click to convert it into an order.
  • Help reps manage their customers, and decide when to get involved, by giving them access to up-to-date information on order status, including alerts for certain customer actions – or non-actions, like delays in converting a quote to an order.
  • Give reps insight into how to support their customers with reports on behaviour during the purchasing process, for example, orders, searches and abandoned carts.
  • Help reps streamline their customers’ buying experience with shopping lists that can be configured for certain types of customers, or for repeat purchases.
  • Build relationships and trust by offering customers the option to talk live online to reps when they need support during the purchasing process. Live chat also reassures customers that there is still a real person available to speak to them.

Once you’ve implemented the system, take time to train your reps on how to use it from top to bottom. Be sure to give them concrete examples and run them through various scenarios. Invite them to ask questions and share ideas to improve the system. Also give them a chance to role play their new, improved customer service processes, so they can experience how it all works together in practice and enhances their performance.

The bottom line…

E-commerce is the future for B2B businesses and the time to hop onboard that train is now. It’s natural for sales teams to feel initial resistance to this. After all, e-commerce is an unknown quantity that seems to threaten their livelihood. Understanding the dynamics at play, and clearly and strongly communicating the benefits for everyone involved, helps you achieve their buy-in over time. And once they’re onboard, you’re well on the way to improved performance all round, which translates into higher returns for your business.


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