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For: eBusiness &

Channel Strategy
Professionals

Death Of A (B2B) Salesman


by Andy Hoar, April 13, 2015

Key Takeaways
B2B Buyer Preferences Have Fundamentally Shifted
By a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate versus talk to sales
representatives to learn about products and services. In addition, a majority of
B2B buyers now say that buying online is more convenient than buying from a
salesperson.
But Most B2B Selling Models Remain Single-Channel And OfflineCentric
While B2B buyer behavior has changed significantly in the past few years, B2B
seller activity has not. B2B companies still force most buyers to interact with sales
representatives to learn about product prices or complete the purchase process,
despite the fact that B2B buyers prefer self-service.
eCommerce Will Eliminate 1 Million B2B Sales Jobs By 2020
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 the US economy employed
4.5 million B2B salespeople. Forrester estimates that 1 million of those sales
professionals, mostly what we call Order Takers, will lose their jobs to self-service
eCommerce by 2020.
B2B Companies Must Respond By Implementing Digitally Enabled
B2B Selling Models
B2B companies and their ecosystem partners are now putting selling via
eCommerce on equal footing with selling via commissioned salespeople. They
are also replacing traditional sales representatives with a network of inside sales
representatives, a self-serve eCommerce website, and call center agents.

Forrester Research, Inc., 60 Acorn Park Drive, Cambridge, MA 02140 USA


Tel: +1 617.613.6000 | Fax: +1 617.613.5000 | www.forrester.com

For eBusiness & Channel Strategy Professionals

April 13, 2015

Death Of A (B2B) Salesman


One Million US B2B Salespeople Will Lose Their Jobs To Self-Service
eCommerce By 2020
by Andy Hoar
with Josh Bernoff, Carrie Johnson, Patti Freeman Evans, Susan Wu, Laura
Naparstek, Jacob Milender, Lori Wizdo, Shar VanBoskirk, James L. McQuivey, and
Peter ONeill

Why Read This Report


Forrester forecasts that 1 million US B2B salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service eCommerce by
the year 2020. While B2B buyers overwhelmingly prefer to research, and increasingly buy, products and
services via a self-service website, B2B sellers still force buyers to interact with their salespeople as part of
the purchase process. This report describes how and why B2B eBusiness and channel strategy professionals
must radically transform their historical sales models to accommodate a real-time and global buying
environment where websites, not salespeople, are at the heart of how B2B companies buy and sell.

Table Of Contents

Notes & Resources

2 B2B Commerce Will Never Be The Same

Forrester interviewed executives at 18


different vendor and user companies for this
report.

5 B2B Sellers Are Out Of Sync With B2B


Buyers
7 eCommerce Will Replace 1 Million US B2B
Salespeople By 2020
11 Welcome To The Era Of The Digitally
Enabled B2B Selling Model
Recommendations

16 Ditch Outdated Thinking For A New Digital


Era

Related Research Documents


Develop A Digital Business Road Map That
Drives Innovation
Elevate Your Sales Training Impact With A
Strategic Framework
The New And Emerging World Of B2B
Commerce

What It Means

17 Only B2B Companies That Disrupt Their


Own Sales Models Will Survive
19 Supplemental Material

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resources. Opinions reflect judgment at the time and are subject to change. Forrester, Technographics, Forrester Wave, RoleView, TechRadar,
and Total Economic Impact are trademarks of Forrester Research, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective companies. To
purchase reprints of this document, please email clientsupport@forrester.com. For additional information, go to www.forrester.com.

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Death Of A (B2B) Salesman

B2B Commerce Will Never Be The Same


Were all familiar with the stereotype of the B2B salesperson fighting over leads, working the
phones, taking clients out to play golf. While the stereotype is secure, the future of the profession is
not. In fact, in the past 18 years, the number of salespeople per million dollars of real GDP in the US
has declined by half, from 2.08 in 1995 to 0.98 in 2012.1 With this as a backdrop, Forrester analyzed
B2B employment trends and B2B buyer attitudes to determine the future of the B2B salesperson.
Our model estimates that of the 4.5 million US workers employed in B2B sales and sales-related
professions in 2012, 1 million, or just over 20% of all B2B salespeople, will be displaced by self-serve
eCommerce by 2020.2
B2B Buyers Prefer Self-Service Experiences
B2B buyer behavior has changed significantly in the past few years. B2B customers who are
accustomed to buying on Amazon now expect that same kind of customer experience in the world
of B2B buying.3 The days of flipping through a B2B catalog or talking to a B2B company sales or
call center representative to learn about a particular product or service are over. Now B2B buyers
educate themselves online throughout most of the buying process, often wherever they find the
highest-quality information and have the best browsing experience. In a survey of 236 professional
and nonprofessional B2B buyers, we found that todays B2B customers:4

Prefer to do their own pre-sales research. The data is very clear that B2B buyers now favor do-

it-yourself options for researching products and services. By a factor of three to one, B2B buyers
want to self-educate versus talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services.
They say that gathering information online on their own is superior to interacting with a sales
representative by a margin of 53% to 17% (see Figure 1). In fact, they explicitly indicate that
they do not want to interact with a sales representative as their primary source of research by a
margin of 59% to 19%.

Indicate that buying online is more convenient than buying from a rep. B2B buyers today

not only prefer to research online, but they also prefer to buy online. Nearly 75% indicate
that buying from a website is more convenient than buying from a sales representative when
purchasing products or services for work. In addition, 93% of B2B buyers say that they prefer to
buy online rather than from a salesperson when theyve decided what to buy and just need to
make the purchase. Furthermore, an ever-increasing number of B2B buyers are deciding what
to buy online long before they ever contact a companys salesperson, if they ever do.

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Death Of A (B2B) Salesman

Figure 1 B2B Buyers Prefer Digital Self-Service


93%
74%
53%

I prefer gathering
information
online on my own

59%

I prefer not to
interact with a
sales rep

Buying from a
website is more
convenient

Prefer to buy
online when
I've decided
what to buy

Base: 224 US B2B buyers and sellers


Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey
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Source: Forrester Research, Inc. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution prohibited.

Buyers Still Need Salespeople For Discrete Purchase And Post-Purchase Activities
Despite the growing use of self-serve eCommerce websites throughout the purchase life cycle,
B2B buyers still prefer to interact with salespeople in certain circumstances. However, theyre
increasingly conducting those negotiations with salespeople by way of digital means such as email,
chat, and collaborative software as opposed to via a traditional phone call.5 B2B buyers indicate that
they want to interact with salespeople in discrete circumstances, particularly when the product or
service they buy for business:

Necessitates a price negotiation. Ninety-one percent of B2B buyers say they want to interact

with a salesperson when they are negotiating price (see Figure 2). Why? Both buyers and sellers
engage in the practice thinking they will come out ahead. B2B salespeople have historically used
price negotiation as a means to close a deal and/or sell additional services. B2B buyers have
used price negotiation in the hopes of driving a bargain and securing a favorable outcome.

Is inherently complex. eCommerce websites are getting much better at providing critical

information to customers about products and services, but more than 80% of respondents
indicated that they still want to talk with B2B salespeople about complex purchases. For
example, even though self-service eCommerce websites can track deliveries and report on
shipping times, B2B buyers still prefer to speak with sales representatives when they feel they
need detailed assurances about on-time delivery.6

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Is an expensive purchase. Two-thirds of respondents said that they prefer to speak with a B2B

salesperson when the product or service is expensive. Despite generous return policies and
fully functional sites that can describe product or service details to an unrivaled level of depth,
some B2B buyers still prefer the comfort of knowing that they can call or meet with someone in
person to de-risk a costly purchase.

Requires installation or servicing. B2B buyers still frequently want to talk to a salesperson

when the product they are buying requires a service to activate or maintain it. Sixty-seven
percent of B2B buyers like talking with a sales representative when a product requires
installation, and 64% of B2B buyers prefer to interact with a sales representative when a product
or service requires regular servicing post-purchase.

Figure 2 B2B Buyers Use Sales Professionals In Specific Circumstances


For what types of purchases do you prefer to interact with a sales rep?

91%
82%
67%

When
expensive

67%

When
complex

When
Requires
negotiating installation
price

64%

Requires
service

Base: 224 US B2B buyers and sellers


Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey
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B2B Sellers Are Out Of Sync With B2B Buyers


B2B buyers are living in a digital-first world, but B2B sellers are still living in a 1965 salesman-first
world. The reality is that B2B companies still force most buyers to interact with sales representatives
despite the fact that most B2B buyers would prefer self-service. According to the US Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS), 91% of all B2B sales still take place offline despite a clear desire on the part of B2B
buyers to research and buy online.7 But just 25% of B2B companies today actively sell online. In the
age of the customer, where only customer-obsessed enterprises will survive, B2B companies remain
too heavily invested in expensive and commission-driven offline sales resources. The truth is that
eCommerce is both more convenient for buyers and more efficient for sellers.
Self-Serve eCommerce Delivers An Experience That Salespeople Cannot Match
Todays self-serve eCommerce websites do more than replicate the functions of a B2B sales
representative; in many ways they far outpace what a human can do on many levels. Salespeople
cannot monitor buyer research and purchase behavior at scale, or make suggestions for tens of
millions of assortment and pricing combinations, like self-serve eCommerce websites can. As
B2B commerce becomes more real-time and global, self-serve eCommerce websites will start to
outdistance what B2B salespeople can offer by:

Incorporating new technologies that enhance customer engagement. B2B companies use

self-serve technologies today to successfully automate the process of personalizing product


recommendations, conducting price negotiations, and facilitating order taking (see Figure 3). A
majority of B2B buyers tell Forrester that product recommendations shown in websites are as
valuable as recommendations made by sales representatives (50% versus 16%).8 Leading B2B
companies also leverage personalization technologies to increase average order sizes by crossselling complementary products and use price optimization software packages to compete at the
item level in near-real time.

Leveraging the wisdom of the crowds online. Vendors such as Bazaarvoice and

PowerReviews make it possible for B2B manufacturer and distributor partners to share
product ratings and reviews between sites so that B2B buyers can see breadth and depth of
content across the entire ecosystem. Further, B2B buyers browsing online can link directly into
B2B community sites such as the SAP Developer Network, Marketo Marketing Nation, and
Spiceworks. These sites give B2B buyers access to a network of thousands of likeminded peers
who are knowledgeable about solutions in the space and can share best practices and advice in
real time as B2B buyers shortlist, compare, and ultimately purchase products and services.

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Figure 3 Automating The B2B Sales Process

Automating the sales process


24x7x365 self-serve website
Order taking
Personalization algorithms
Product recs
Digital transaction management
Contracts
Price optimization software
Price negotiation
Robotic chat
Customer service
SEO/SEM
Prospecting
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Online Sites Offer Compelling Scale Efficiencies


Self-serve eCommerce websites have a much lower average variable cost per sale than offline models
employing commissioned sales representatives, especially when selling to small and medium-size
businesses (SMBs), as SMBs often dont generate enough volume of revenue to justify devoting
salespeople to their account. Simply put, sales forces are expensive: B2B salespeople in the US make
an average of $53,000 per year. And in high-tech, B2B companies spend approximately 5% to 10%
of total revenue on sales compensation.9 In addition, B2B companies spend a great deal to support
salespeople with staff, services, and materials.10 B2B eBusiness professionals who have successfully
scaled their online selling models have:

Scaled company revenue without having to amp up their sales force. Atlassian Software runs
a $200 million B2B software business with zero dedicated salespeople all sales are done by
customer-initiated web-based trial downloads and subsequent customer-initiated upgrades
to full-service contracts.11 When a major power tools manufacturer launched a self-serve
eCommerce website a few years ago, the firm was able to grow sales while reducing its sales
force by 10%.12

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Dramatically reduced their cost to serve. 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 eCommerce system.13 Another company
said it reduced operating costs by 30% by eliminating sales reps and migrating all of its reorders
to a self-serve eCommerce website.14 Furthermore, Heritage Parts, a distributor of equipment
replacement parts to the food service industry, improved margins by 20% and reduced call center
staff by 50% in just two years by launching a self-service eCommerce website.15

eCommerce Will Replace 1 Million US B2B Salespeople By 2020


B2B buying behavior has clearly changed, and B2B firms must adapt. But its not easy for B2B
decision-makers to determine where the economies of digital customer engagement can be gained
without compromising the effectiveness of the selling process. Forrester has developed a matrix that
can help by grouping B2B buyers into four quadrants, or archetypes, 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 (see Figure 4). In parallel, Forrester matches four new seller archetypes
with each of these four new buyer archetypes.

Serve Me buyers pair with an Order Taker seller model. Forrester characterizes B2B buyers

who purchase relatively self-explanatory products or services and operate in relatively simple
buyer environments as Serve Me buyers. These buyers are ready and able to order and just
want to complete a transaction as efficiently as possible. One example is an individual farmer
who is simply reordering several bags of standard fertilizer that he has purchased many times
before. Forrester believes that Serve Me B2B buyers are most appropriately paired with an Order
Taker B2B seller archetype that focuses on delivering quick and frictionless transactions. In
reality, though, in many cases Serve Me B2B buyers would actually be best served by a self-serve
eCommerce website as opposed to a salesperson.

Guide Me buyers align well with Navigator seller archetypes. B2B buyers who are similarly

decided about a product or service but operate in a more complex buyer environment
(potentially with multiple internal stakeholders and budgets) are what Forrester calls Guide Me
buyers. These are buyers who need help from sellers navigating their own company-internal
barriers to buying. A Guide Me buyer would be a farmers cooperative that is pooling resources
to make a bulk purchase of standard fertilizer. Forrester believes that a Navigator archetype
is the best fit for a Guide Me B2B buyer because Navigators specialize in mapping buying
organizations and helping to find budgets and secure institutional buy-in.

Show Me buyers need an Explainer seller model. B2B buyers who have budget but need to

know more about a complex product or service before they buy it are Show Me buyers. An
example of a Show Me buyer is a director of technology at a company who has budget in place
to buy an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system but doesnt fully understand all of the

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features and functions of the system or know the respective pros and cons of various vendor
solutions. An Explainer B2B seller archetype matches up well with a Show Me B2B buyer: Show
Me buyers require a disproportionate level of information about products and services prior to
purchasing, and Explainers are in a position to provide that.

Enlighten Me buyers necessitate a Consultant seller archetype. B2B buyers who are

undecided about a product or service and operate in complex buying environments where
budget and buy-in are uncertain are what Forrester calls Enlighten Me buyers. Enlighten Me
buyers are, for example, a team of company-internal stakeholders collectively exploring a firsttime purchase of a global license for an ERP system. The seller archetype that fits best with this
B2B buyer is a Consultant. Consultants are the highest-performing salespeople in a B2B selling
organization and are the most adept at understanding customer needs, explaining company
products and services, and helping clients bring internal stakeholders and budget together to
make purchases.

Figure 4 B2B Buyer And Seller Archetypes


Buyer says show me

Buyer says enlighten me

High
Explainers

Complexity of
product/service

Consultants

Buyer says serve me

Buyer says guide me

Low
Order Takers

Navigators

Low

High
Complexity of the buyer dynamic

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The Death Knell Tolls For Order Takers, While Consultants Will Thrive
Despite BLS projections in 2002 that the number of B2B salespeople would increase by 10% by 2012,
in actuality, the number of B2B salespeople in the US declined by 2% in that time frame.16 We predict
that another 1 million B2B salespeople will lose their jobs from 2012 to2020. The reality is that many
B2B companies have already proven the benefits of self-serve models and are starting to steal share
from offline-only models. Plus, as retirement-age B2B buyers attrite out of the workforce, millions of

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new digital-native B2B buyers are coming in and forming new buyer loyalties.17 In response, B2B firms
are actively rethinking and restructuring their conventional selling models to focus more on selling via
self-serve eCommerce websites.18 Forrester believes that of the 4.5 million B2B salespeople in the US as
of 2012, the latest year for which the BLS has employment projections, by 2020:19

Thirty-three percent of all Order Takers will disappear. We believe that of the 1.6 million

Order Takers in the US in 2012, nearly 550,000 will disappear by 2020 (see Figure 5). That will
represent over 50% of the total loss across all seller types. Order Takers are most vulnerable to
replacement by self-serve eCommerce websites because they match up with decided, ready-totransact, Serve Me buyers who can purchase more efficiently by way of self-serve eCommerce
websites. Theyre also the least likely to be upskilled into other positions. The highest percentage
of displacement of Order Takers will take place in wholesale distribution, travel and hospitality,
financial services, and high-tech (see Figure 6).

Twenty-five percent of Explainers will be displaced. The number of Explainers will decline

by just over 400,000 to an estimated 1.1 million by 2020, representing over 40% of the total
loss across all seller types. Historically, B2B salespeople have played the role of explainerin-chief by enumerating the value of products and services over the phone or in person to
clients. As companies productize more of that content (e.g., via FAQs, using how-to videos,
and leveraging syndicated user generated content), more Explainers will lose their jobs to selfserve eCommerce websites. To keep their jobs, Explainers must develop an ability to navigate
customer-internal bureaucracies.

Fifteen percent of Navigators will vanish. Hit the least by digital selling, Navigators will represent
just 10% of the total loss of B2B salespeople across all seller types. Next to Consultants, Navigators
are the least vulnerable to displacement, as they excel at leveraging personal relationships and
knowledge of client internal operations value that technology cannot easily replace. Some B2B
companies will use procurement systems and policies to simplify buying internally and reduce the
need slightly for a B2B salesperson to navigate the broader organization to surface budget pools.
Navigators can be upskilled into a Consultant sales position, as they typically possess intangible
and hard-to-train qualities and high emotional intelligence

Consultants will actually grow in number by 10%. As the best of the best within B2B

selling, Consultants are not under threat from advances in technology or changing B2B buyer
behavior. They are most capable of relationship and solution selling, integrating themselves
most effectively into the key functions of their clients business and engaging in problemfinding.20 Consultants will grow in number by 2020, albeit just 10% off of a small base, because
they understand how to leverage advances in technology to understand their customers
problems better. They also adeptly navigate the more complicated agreement networks that are
commonplace among certain B2B buyer groups.21

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Death Of A (B2B) Salesman

Figure 5 One Million B2B Sales Jobs Will Be Eliminated By 2020


Salesperson type population
4.5M
-22%

Order Takers 1.6M

-33%

3.5M
1.0M

Explainers 1.5M

-25%

1.1M

Navigators 0.9M

-15%

0.75M

Consultants 0.5M

+10%

0.55M

2012

2020

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Figure 6 B2B Sales Jobs: Displacement Impact By Industry Vertical

nc

nd
ra
B ng
ri
tu G
ac P
uf d C
an n
m a
d
an
le n
sa t i o
le b u
ho r i
W st
di
d
an
el t y
av li
Tr pita
s
ho
l
ia
nc
n a es
F i vic
r
se

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i n io
ld t
u i uc
B tr
ns
e

co

su
re

ch

ca

te
h-

lth

ig

ea

In

H
Consultants

Low

Low

Low

Low

Low

Low

Low

Low

Navigators

Low

Medium

Low

Low

Medium

Medium

High

Medium

Explainers

Med

Medium

Medium

Medium

High

High

High

Medium

Order
Takers

High

Medium

Medium

High

High

High

High

High

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Welcome To The Era Of The Digitally Enabled B2B Selling Model


In the age of the customer, B2B buyers demand more transparency, convenience, and speed. As
such, B2B buyers are forcing B2B sellers and their ecosystem partners (such as resellers, distributors,
service providers, agents, and manufacturer sales reps) to rethink traditional selling models and
harness technologies, both to deliver a superior customer experience and to drive agility and
operational efficiency.22 To build an effective digitally enabled B2B selling model, B2B eBusiness and
channel strategy professionals and their ecosystem partners must:

Put selling via eCommerce on equal footing with commissioned salespeople. eBusiness

professionals must work with their leadership to develop a strategy whereby the self-serve
eCommerce website is a necessary and equal partner to B2B salespeople in the B2B selling
process serving both customers externally and B2B salespeople internally as a research and
transaction booking service (see Figure 7). Its a model whereby the self-serve eCommerce
website figures far more prominently in the pre-sales process, becomes the default destination
for all transactions (save for the most complex transactions and transactions tied to the very
largest accounts that require special care and feeding), and takes the lead on most of the postsales process.

Develop advanced self-serve eCommerce websites. B2B eBusiness professionals must build

sites that can provide a comparable buying experience to what salespeople have traditionally
provided. This includes functionality that sufficiently describes products and services online,
personalizes the research and buying experience, and enables customers to make a purchase.
But increasingly, self-serve B2B eCommerce websites must also source and integrate numerous
internal and external data feeds, create consistent and compelling experiences on several types
of mobile devices, and manage especially complex pricing and inventory combinations all in
real time.

Leverage well-trained customer account professionals across all channels. These employees

were traditionally referred to as field sales representatives and paid mostly by commission on
sales, but firms increasingly refer to them as customer account professionals and are focusing
them primarily on joint planning with clients to maximize profitable sales. The new role requires
a much higher level of training and a much deeper understanding of the customers business lines
and financials, thus making for a more exclusive and expensive club. B2B companies today are
relying less on commission to compensate these individuals and are instead paying them more in
base salary and bonusing them based on the companys overall performance.
Weve done away with the word sales in their titles and now call them account executives
because thats what they do they work directly and closely with their accounts to
optimize the clients sell through and maximize the clients sales and profits. They do not
sell per se to their clients now and are no longer paid commissions. (Senior executive from
a large apparel and footwear company)

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Death Of A (B2B) Salesman

Harness multipurpose inside sales reps to accelerate buyer journeys. As B2B companies

convert large field sales organizations into smaller, more focused pools of customer account
managers, inside sales teams will step up their game. Many B2B companies are moving these
inexpensive and agile inside sales reps into spaces where more expensive field sales reps used
to operate, increasingly placing them in marketing to focus on lead and demand generation. A
B2B building materials manufacturer we spoke with reduced its traditional sales headcount
from 75 to 50 without hurting sales by upgrading its ERP and CRM infrastructure to better
access data and by hiring inside sales reps to do lead generation.

Incorporate versatile call center agents into key parts of the selling process. Instead of

dispensing information that is now easily and more efficiently obtained online, call center
agents must increasingly become junior salespeople. In a world where customer attention is at
a premium, properly trained and adequately resourced call center agents (using a customized
version of the self-serve eCommerce website themselves) will shift from a historically
reactionary role to take advantage of the opportunity to cross-sell and upsell customers
products and services. Call center agents will figure especially prominently in the sales process
with enterprises as B2B companies increasingly upskill them to act in place of expensive field
sales reps in a person-to-person selling capacity.

Vary the digitally enabled model based on whether they are selling to SMBs or enterprises.

In general, complex sales transactions will continue to flow to sales reps and call centers across
all sizes of clients, while all other transactions will increasingly be routed through self-serve
eCommerce websites. For B2B companies selling to SMBs, though, Forrester expects field sales
to play a smaller role, while self-serve eCommerce websites will play a much larger role, from
pre-sales to post-sales by 2020 (see Figure 8-1). Similarly, in the enterprise space, self-serve
eCommerce websites will figure far more prominently in the sales process from beginning to
end by 2020 (see Figure 8-2). In five years, inside sales will play a larger role in the enterprise
pre-sales process, and call center agents will fill a small void in the sales space left by departing
field sales reps.

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Death Of A (B2B) Salesman

Figure 7 The Rise Of The Digitally Enabled B2B Selling Model

Customer

Account team
Field sales
Inside sales
Call center

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Self-serve website
Mobile
PC/laptop
Tablet

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Figure 8 The Digitally Enabled B2B Selling Model


8-1

Digitally enabled B2B selling model selling to SMBs


= Size of role
Field sales

Pre-sales

Sales

Post-sales

2015
2020

Inside sales

2015
2020

Call center

2015
2020

Website

2015
2020

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Death Of A (B2B) Salesman

Figure 8 The Digitally Enabled B2B Selling Model (Cont.)


8-2

Digitally enabled B2B selling model selling to enterprise customers


= Size of role
Field sales

Pre-sales

Sales

Post-sales

2015
2020

Inside sales

2015
2020

Call center

2015
2020

Website

2015
2020

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r e c o m m e n d at i o n s

Ditch Outdated Thinking For A New Digital Era


Its tempting to assume that just because competitors are employing the same salesperson-centric
sales model companies employed 100 years ago, the model is still ideal. But B2B buying behavior
has shifted too dramatically in recent years and is now solidly a digital-first value proposition. B2B
companies that figure out how to use digital to get buyers more of what they want, more quickly
and easily, will steal share from those who do not. To prosper in a new digital-first business reality,
eBusiness and channel strategy professionals at B2B firms must:

Learn what todays omnichannel B2B buyers need and want. Detailed research about

single-channel, offline-only B2B customers is useless in a world where B2B buyers move
seamlessly across both offline and online channels when they research and buy. B2B
companies today must update their core internal understanding of their customers
omnichannel behavior by surveying both their existing customer base and a reasonable
prospect universe to establish a new baseline of available market B2B buyer behavior. The
purpose of the exercise is to establish a foundation from which to set a new planning cycle
in motion and prioritize critical digital investment strategies.

Create a digital-first omnichannel selling strategy. Leading B2B companies must start with
a vision of where they want to be in five years as an omnichannel B2B seller, set key goals
and objectives based on the vision (including defining what they are not going to do in that
time frame), and then develop a detailed plan to achieve those key objectives. eBusiness
leaders must co-create and cross-pollinate priorities with their business technology
colleagues to ensure that the company can operationalize and advance their omnichannel
vision with core systems of engagement and robust and scalable technology infrastructure.

Triage the existing sales force and hire salespeople with specialized skills. B2B companies
must first determine how many of their sales reps currently fall into each of the seller
archetypes based on how they would segment their own customer base by buyer archetype.
They must then create an environment conducive to attracting Consultants who are experts
at solution selling, as well as upskilling promising Explainers and Navigators by removing
barriers to their success from a people, processes, and technologies perspective. B2B
companies should also consider aligning their sales teams by verticals to leverage valueadded and differentiated industry-specific domain expertise.

Shift resources toward developing and maintaining a robust eCommerce website. For

B2B distributors, a self-serve eCommerce website must be the center of their interaction
with end user customers. For brand manufacturers, a self-service website sits right in the
middle of their channel ecosystem. However, all B2B eBusiness professionals must develop
their websites to be able to run small-scale pilots, measure test results in real time, and

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iterate changes in short order. Because the eCommerce website will replace a substantial
number of the Order Taker salespeople in the organization, the website must be industrial
strength and fully functional which will require making substantial initial and ongoing
investments.

Partner with marketing colleagues to automate stages of the buyer journey. As B2B

buyers become more decided earlier on in the sales process, B2B marketing professionals
and B2B eBusiness professionals must join their digital sales enablement models. This will
involve aligning strategies on messaging and positioning in the pre-sales process, as well as
increasingly automating customer segmentation, demand generation, and lead nurturing. In
addition, eBusiness and marketing professionals must create a shared vision in the post-sales
process to drive customer retention, loyalty, and lifetime value creation.

Rationalize the eCommerce channel and partner channel. B2B manufacturers need to

figure out how to make their eCommerce channel and their partner channel peacefully
coexist at a minimum. At a maximum, they need to discover how to make the two channels
incremental to one another. Since channel partners are now independently pursing digital
customer engagement strategies, as well, B2B companies must use new eCommerce
syndication technologies to network their diaspora of channel partners into a tight and
coherent eCommerce affiliate network capable of selling their products and services to a
range of B2B buyers.

w h at i t m e a n s

Only B2B Companies That Disrupt Their Own Sales Models Will Survive
Amazon has proven that its possible to produce tens of billions in revenue annually from
selling products and services online, all without salespeople. In addition, established software
companies now offer trial downloads of full software packages that convert automatically into paid
subscriptions without the intervention of a single salesperson. Todays eBusiness and channel
strategy professionals at B2B companies are leading a fundamental transformation of their firms
sales models that will:

Unleash significant resources for website and sales assist technologies. Forrester predicts

that the elimination of 1 million B2B sales jobs in the US will free up billions of dollars for
B2B companies to use to fundamentally rearchitect their approach to selling. Theyll be able
to put more resources into integrating with customer supply chains to trigger reorders and
replenishment sales automatically. In addition, theyll be able to invest in giving salespeople
who sell complex products and services in complex buying environments hardware,
software, and applications to understand and act on customer needs in real time.

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Create a path for salesperson-free new B2B business models. Look for Internet-only B2B

industry-specific websites and customer-segment websites to emerge. For example, sites such
as Graingers tiger brand Zoro leverage a low-cost-to-serve website to reach cost-conscious
industrial parts and supplies buyers who are interested in transacting almost exclusively
online. Such sites will offer limited customer service, but they wont rely on humans to close
sales. Omnichannel B2B companies will offer more vertical-specific low-cost sites that
leverage an existing supply chain, and online-only sites will piggyback on partners drop-ship
infrastructure to capture a new class of low-frequency, low-volume B2B buyers perhaps
even compete for certain types of prosumers that currently buy via B2C sites.

Transform a decades-old entry-level B2B career path. As companies reduce the number of
entry-level commission-carrying salespeople, B2B companies will no longer offer hundreds
of thousands of college graduates the opportunity to enter the workforce as salespeople.
In parallel, with employees in their twenties and thirties eschewing traditional sales jobs
offering variable pay and individually competitive environments, preferring instead stable
pay and team-based environments, B2B companies will struggle to find new salespeople.23
The entry-level path into B2B companies will continue to shift from commission-carrying
first-level salespeople to generalist data analysts and marketing specialists, and B2B
companies will use digital programs to train them as support personnel for Consultants.

Force B2B companies to wrap services around commoditized products. As products

become more available across more distribution points and pricing becomes more
transparent generally, B2B companies will increasingly be forced to differentiate and earn
profit from core and adjacent services. B2B companies will accelerate their marketing of
warranties on products, insurance for transportation and product use, and credit terms
and financing for purchases. They will also offer more services linked to razor- and
razorblade-like models, with a profitable and customized single-use refill item thats tied to
a commoditized multi-use product. For example, towel dispenser manufacturers such as
Georgia Pacific and SCA currently sell touchless systems to B2B clients as a means to the
end of driving a hand towel refill recurring revenue stream.24

Enable them to leapfrog B2C companies and lead change. Being the first to replace

salespeople with websites, B2B companies have the opportunity to pioneer the use of
technologies such as avatar-based selling, partner ecosystem data-sharing, and content
syndication tools. Forrester also expects that by automating salespeople in the sales process,
B2B companies will drive automation in other parts of the sales process such as with
automated analytics, marketing, and customer service.

Empower B2B brand manufacturers focused on converting captive traffic. In a keyworddriven world, B2B brands will see greater traffic coming from search engines. Forrester
believes that B2B brand manufacturers will be able to close the historical disintermediation

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gap with end customers as B2B buyers increasingly insist on learning about products and
services on, and buying directly from, manufacturers websites. As technology disrupts more
distribution channels, B2B manufacturers will have special opportunities to target priceinelastic, brand-enthusiast, and early-adopter B2B buyers.

Supplemental Material
Methodology
Forrester used a combination of two primary data sources in the creation of this report:

B2B buyers survey. Forrester surveyed 224 US-based B2B professional and non-professional
buyers in the Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online
Survey.

Executive briefings. We conducted in-depth interviews with over 30 eCommerce and sales

executives from October 2014 to March 2015 about the current and future state of their offline
and online selling operations.

Endnotes
Source: Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Race Against The Machine, Digital Frontier Press, January
2012. Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee calculated that the number of salespeople per million dollars
of real GDP in the US declined from 2.08 in 1995 to 1.79 in 2002. Forrester estimates that the number of
salespeople per million dollars of real GDP in the US declined even further to .98 by 2012.

Forrester defines self-serve eCommerce as fully functional eCommerce websites that B2B buyers use to
place orders with B2B manufacturers and distributors.

Until recently, most B2B companies relied on thick print catalogs, armies of sales reps, and well-staffed
call centers to drive and support customer purchases. See the The New And Emerging World Of B2B
Commerce Forrester report.

Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey.

Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey.

Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey.

Forrester estimates that B2B eCommerce will top $1.1 trillion and account for 12.1% of all B2B sales in the
US by 2020. At the end of 2015, Forrester expects eCommerce to reach $780 billion and represent 9.3% of
total B2B sales in the US. See the US B2B eCommerce Forecast: 2015 To 2020 Forrester report.

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Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey.

Source: 2012 Sales Compensation Practices Survey For The High-Tech Industry, WorldatWork,
2012 (http://www.worldatwork.org/waw/adimLink?id=61615) and Kevin Johnson, Sales Expense vs.
Revenue Percentage, Houston Chronicle (http://smallbusiness.chron.com/sales-expense-vs-revenuepercentage-30579.html)

Technology vendors are spending, on average, 19% of their selling, general, and administrative (SG&A)
costs, or $135,262 per quota-carrying salesperson, in support-related activities. Few are aware of this
enormous amount because the costs are hidden tucked away in many different budgets dispersed
throughout the organization. See the Uncovering The Hidden Costs Of Sales Support Forrester report.

10

Source: Annelise Reynolds, Atlassian Posts Another Banner Year With 44% Revenue Growth, Atlassian,
September 10, 2014 (https://www.atlassian.com/company/press/press-releases/atlassian-posts-anotherbanner-year-with-44-revenue-growth).

11

Source: February 2015 Forrester in-depth executive interview.

12

Source: February 2015 Forrester in-depth executive interview.

13

Source: January 2015 Forrester in-depth executive interview.

14

Source: October 2014 Forrester in-depth executive interview.

15

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014 (http://www.bls.
gov/ooh/).

16

Source: Kelsey Snyder and Pashmeena Hilal, The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, Think with Google,
March 2015 (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/the-changing-face-b2b-marketing.html).

17

Forrester applied its seller archetype model to the entire population of 4.5 million B2B salespeople and
reviewed both detailed historical and present-day data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to
construct a bottom-up model of B2B salesperson pool growth or contraction by seller archetype.

18

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updates employment data every year. However, the BLS only publishes
10-year employment projections the second year of every decade (e.g. 2002, 2012, 2022, etc.).

19

Source: Daniel H. Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, Riverhead Books,
December 2013.

20

While some salespeople still sell to individual procurers, as the organizational scope and impact of
decisions increase, so do the number of people who will have input into decisions within an agreement
network. Individuals in different roles and at different organizational altitudes have unique perspectives
about their challenges and the value of solutions. See the Elevate Your Sales Training Impact With A
Strategic Framework Forrester report.

21

Digital business transformation is a multiyear, multidimensional challenge. Traditional wisdom encourages


firms to approach such a wholesale change as a big-bang transformation program, but the reality is that too
many of these large-scale change programs fail. See the Develop A Digital Business Road Map That Drives
Innovation Forrester report.

22

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Source: Lauren Weber, Why Its So Hard To Fill Sales Jobs, The Wall Street Journal, February 6, 2015
(http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-its-so-hard-to-fill-sales-jobs-1423002730?KEYWORDS=Why+It%E2%8
0%99s+So+Hard+To+Fill+Sales+Jobs).

23

Source: Timothy W. Martin, Paper or Power, Nothing Cut and Dried About Hand Washing In Restrooms,
The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2014 (http://www.wsj.com/articles/paper-or-power-nothing-cut-anddried-about-hand-washing-in-restrooms-1403663581).

24

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