The Role of Your Sales Team in B-to-B Ecommerce

A word to the wise: any business-to-business organization deploying an ecommerce site that forgets its sales personnel is asking for trouble.

These men and women who’ve marched on the frontlines of the business, who’ve been shot down and trod upon, and who would give anything not to have to board yet another plane deserve more than a bit of recognition for establishing accounts that will likely be the end users of that ecommerce site you’re deploying.

Unfortunately, there is no magic answer as to how this should be dealt with, but one thing to consider is organizing buyers into territories, categories or tiers. By doing this, you make it possible for a representative assigned to a certain region or account size to leverage his or her skills to drive traffic to the ecommerce site.

Also, consider the structure of your sales team and how members are currently handling accounts – and how they are paid commissions – during your project planning phase. This will ensure that the vision for your b-to-b ecommerce site aligns not only with the beliefs of the team, but with your plan for the professional development of your employees in this new age of selling.

Decide to commission or not to commission
The organization should consider up front whether or not to pay sales commissions on orders that are entered through the ecommerce system.

Some organizations feel that the sales team should not be commissioned for orders that come through the ecommerce system. The thinking there is that the sales team is not directly involved with the sale, and therefore no commission should be paid.

Be forewarned: this will quickly and directly impact how the sales team views the ecommerce system. Under this scenario, the sales team will view the ecommerce engine as competition, and therefore will not encourage their customers to use the system, negatively impacting the return on your ecommerce investment right off the bat.

It’s understood in the industry that the costs of processing orders through an ecommerce channel are lower than orders processed through other methods (telephone, email, fax, etc). Because of this, the gross margin on ecommerce orders is greater than traditional orders. Therefore, a strong case can be made that the sales team should be commissioned on these orders. By paying the sales team commission for these ecommerce orders, the company ensures that the sales team embraces the ecommerce system and drives the customers to utilize it. This will help to drive down the cost of transactions and ensure the success of the project.

Communicate the benefits of the new tools for the sales team
A fully integrated b-to-b ecommerce site brings with it several new tools and strategies that can improve the lives of the sales team. Essentially, the ecommerce system can be leveraged as the Sales Force Automation (SFA) tool.

One if the most positive aspects of this is the introduction of customer self-service tools. Various industry studies have found that roughly 45% of customer calls into an organization (and the sales team) center around three questions: What is my price for an item, is the item in stock and where is my order? By tightly integrating the ecommerce system to the ERP, these three questions can be answered for the customer without involving any person within the company.

At the same time, a new ecommerce site replaces the cumbersome traditional order entry model, where the sales team captures the order from the customer and then gets these entered into the ERP system. This was typically done by talking with the CSR team on the telephone, or entering them manually while sitting in the hotel room, or by faxing hand written order forms to the home office.

The sales team can still leverage order entry as needed on behalf of the customer. In this scenario, the salesperson utilizes the ecommerce engine to place orders for the customer, typically while visiting with the customer or while on telephone with the customer. The advantage of this scenario is that the sales team is leveraging the same systems as the customer, and can see any other orders that the customer has placed.

Finally, once the sales team is using the ecommerce tool for placing orders, then the organization can use the ecommerce tool for marketing to the sales team on behalf of the customer. In this scenario, the cross-sell/up-sell functionality is geared more towards the sales person, rather than the customer.

This helps to ensure the sales team is made aware of all the latest promotions, at the exact time they need to know it: when they are placing an order for a customer. This also helps with new members of the sales team by educating them as they are working with their customers.

All of these tools allow the sales team to spend more time on the “art” of selling – a significant benefit to any organization.

William Onionis managing director of IT services company Briteskies.