In a few years, the staff depicted in the TV show The Office will be out of a job. Jim and Pam, Stanley and Dwight. Yep. The Office will become The Automated E-commerce Website. The order takers working for the Dunder Mifflin paper company will find themselves replaced by clever, reliable self-service websites that convey information directly to the warehouse downstairs. Accountants Angela and Kevin might need to stay on to keep track of all the additional revenue, though.
Andy Hoar, of Forrester Research cites an example from their extensive study of 236 Business-to-business enterprises. “A company we interviewed estimates that it reduced its cost per order from $24.48 per transaction via a salesperson-driven paper-based ordering system to $1.50 per transaction via a customer self-serve e-commerce,” the report says." 1
Some other results of the study:
Buyer behavior has changed. Almost 75% of pro- B2B marketing by internet say that convenience is the top reason they prefer e-commerce over dealing with a sales rep. 93% of buyers who have already decided on their purchase would choose a website over a live salesperson.
Most of the job erosion is in what Forrester calls an "Order Taker" role. There will also be losses in the "Explainer" roles who provide a bit of customer service along with the sale of a more complicated nature.
There are also…
- ”Navigators,” who help buyers understand what their own companies need to purchase. Job loss: 15%, or close to 150,000 out of 900,000 jobs
- ”Consultants,” who have extensive knowledge about the buyer’s company to help the buyer understand what her company needs to purchase. Job gain: 10%, to 550,000 from 500,000.
So you are in good shape if you sell space station equipment to NASA. If you sit in a cubicle accepting orders for ball point pens, you might want to get some additional training for a new job.
Another startling fact revealed by the survey was that only 25% of B2B companies have made a robust move to online commerce.
One more thing- they found that an increasing number of interactions with salespeople take a digital form, such as email, live chat or collaborative online meeting space.
Embrace e-commerce. Investing in the infrastructure needed to make the transition will pay off sooner than you think. Not only will it benefit your bottom line, the survey numbers are clear: you are making an adjustment that will make your customers happy. They want this!
Make sure that your online information flow is seamless, rock-solid reliable, and available to all parts of your supply chain. A buyer will tolerate one incident difficulty with their order, maybe two, but by the third strike they are ready to email your competitors.
Offer to retrain your "order takers." they may be just the assets you need in different roles. Challenge them to take on more.
Make your detailed product information transparent and widely available. Articles or reviews are perceived as less biased and more forthcoming than product information from a salesperson- for obvious reasons.
Be ready for more change. Buying and selling is already migrating from our computer screens to our smartphones, so make sure you build in plenty of responsiveness. Keep an eye on the latest developments in online commerce, because it's practically guaranteed that things will change by next year!
B2B Marketing has changed, and quickly. Imagine watching a TV show like "The Office" 20 years hence. "What?" your kids will say, "No virtual reality? No surround sound? No way to interact in real time with the characters? Sheesh, TV was so BORING back then."
No matter how much you liked The Andy Griffith Show or The Bionic Woman, it's time to embrace the zombie, vampire and political intrigue shows of today. And think about your marketing processes. Are they still geared to the era of I Love Lucy?