Death of a (B2B) Salesman

Forrester forecasts that 1 million US B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by the year 2020. B2B buyers now favor do-it-yourself online options for researching and buying products and services, and they are demanding that B2B sellers fully enable those digital paths to purchase.

Yet too many of today’s B2B companies still insist that B2B buyers interact with sales reps in order to complete a purchase. For a minority of customers who are buying complex and expensive products and services, talking to a sales rep can be a value-added experience.  But for the majority of B2B buyers who are self-educating online about products and services, or who already know what they want, the diversion is inconvenient and unwelcome.

B2B companies that want to stay ahead of the curve must reshape their channel sales strategies and fundamentally rethink the role of their salespeople by:

  • Expanding the role of self-service eCommerce.  The evidence is clear.  Nearly 75% of B2B buyers now say that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative.  Further, 93% say that they prefer buying online rather than from a salesperson when they’ve decided what to buy.  B2B companies that wait too long to create self-serve eCommerce websites risk losing share to pure plays and omnichannel competitors. 
  • Pairing specific buyer archetypes with certain sales archetypes. Forrester believes that today’s B2B buyers fall into four distinct quadrants based on a combination of the complexity of the product or service they are seeking and the complexity of the buying environment within which they operate.  B2B companies must pair the appropriate B2B seller "archetype" with each quadrant's B2B buyer type. For certain common scenarios now, self-service eCommerce websites can serve B2B buyers more effectively than salespeople can.   
  • Delivering a digitally enabled B2B selling model.   Digital channels are here to stay, and both B2B buyers and company-internal sales professionals are using them to complete transactions.  B2B eBusiness and channel strategy professionals and their ecosystem partners must create websites that network B2B buyers researching online with call centers, inside sales agents, field sales professionals, and their own internal websites.

What do you think?  Feel free to share your thoughts and start a conversation below.  


Dear Andy, Thanks for you

Dear Andy,

Thanks for you post.

The fact that buyers already prefer buying from websites should open the eyes of the last remaining B2B sales departments who still haven't worked on their digital strategies. The B2B-complexity argument is still used too often though when it comes to B2B-e-commerce (at least in Europe). Maybe you could elaborate on the mentioned 4 archetypes in a future blog post so that this argument and corresponding discussions get a bit more serious.

Best regards,

Don't Agree

This new digital arrangement for b2b purchases doesn't make any sense for buyers or sellers. For buyers, they risk making the wrong purchase for their department when they self select without a conversation. For sellers, an e-commerce model leaves money on the table because buyers, left to their own choices, will spend the least amount possible. Why are skilled sales people highly compensated? Because they direct the buying process and create vast revenue streams for their company. Leave it to an online kiosk, watch revenues will plummet.

Please can I quote you Andy?

Hi Andy

Interesting perspective. I am currently writing about this, and I wondered if you would allow me to quote you on your comments on the Forrester research?

Better yet, if you would like to give me a couple of original insights that would be fantastic! Please get in touch. Thank you.

Andy - great controversial

Andy - great controversial post. But I think Forrester has greatly over simplified the notion of how B2B sales happen. If a sale is to an individual buyer alone within an enterprise I can agree with the trend. But in most cases, a sale requires multiple departments or stakeholders to chime in or approve, extended purchasing interface, etc. An initial trial, Qty 1, 2, 3, might happen via self-service, but that's just the start of the real sales process -- not the end.

It depends upon the product or service


Great article and one that I don't in general disagree with.

The more complex the sale and education needed to present to the buyer, the less likely the sales process will be conducted entirely online.

The more simple the product or service and commoditized it is, the more likely the marketing and sales engagement will be conducted online. Have you seen the number of computer retail stores that have been closed over the past 5 years?

Of course the marketing and sales process of the more complex products and services will continue to move almost completely online in the next 10 years. We are seeing that today in sales of websites, cloud-based services, software, consulting, etc.

It will be interesting to see if you do annual updates on the evolution of marketing and sales going digital in the B2B market.

Noe will click to but $25,000 B2B solutions


B2B sales is definitely going through a disruptive stage - like everything else. For commodity type technologies or solutions, I agree that buyers will do their research and get what they need by clicking. However, when it comes to new technologies, transformative or survival projects in new areas (like going from commercial to open source), then, no, the B2B rep will not disappear. The higher the price tag and the more unfamiliar the solution, the bigger the stakes for the buyer to get it right.

The big mismatch with B2B sales has always been the gap between the buying process and the selling process. Vendors need to put a lot more effort into closing that gap with technology that better guides the rep through the process and a fundamentally different understanding of the process.

Great post and please keep stirring the pot.

Could Technology help a B2B Sales approach?


I agree with Tim, and most of the other people who have passed comment; the B2B rep is not dead yet. I do know that most new companies are more likely to get investment if they do NOT rely on a direct sales model. I also know that people like my pal, Paul Walsh, prefer a technology-driven approach. Paul was CIO at Dell until recently and introduced the excellent e-Commerce system at Dell and is now pioneering the omnichannel approach at Omnicient. These will all succeed, so it would appear that B2B sales is dying – but all of this pre-supposes that things don’t change. For example, research using Google has been very effective, but I contend that Google is now only serving you information from companies paying the highest fees to Google. Small startups just cannot play in certain fields. Another assumption is that “Sales” will remain technology-blind. Salesforce is a dinosaur that does not help customers buy. It just helps Sales Managers forecast. B2B Sales is VERY expensive and involves many players, but technology is coming along that is helping sales move from the world of the lone wolf to into something “collaborative” – and into something that helps orchestrate people, resources and content to make the reps REALLY useful to the customer. It also brings huge efficiencies into “sales” so you get full benefit from your sales resources. This is only just starting and the truth is that as this evolves it could easily overtake how useful Google is at helping the customer buy the right product, on the buying side; and the optimization of sales resources through the use of technology will slow down the need to rely on a pure e-commerce model on the selling side.
Besides people DO like buying from people, too.