Reconciling The Self-Service And Direct Sales Channels

For many manufacturers and wholesalers, introducing self-service channels within a wider omni-channel strategy has enabled them to broaden sales efforts, and empower their customers to independently order from online or mobile platforms.

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Oren EzraOren Ezra

In the world of sales, whether B2B or B2C, automation seems to be the name of the game. How can teams become more efficient? How do we create a lean, productive team, reduce costs and increase margins? For many manufacturers and wholesalers, introducing self-service channels within a wider omni-channel strategy has enabled them to broaden sales efforts, and empower their customers to independently order from online or mobile platforms.

However, there is an inherent conflict when manufacturers push the self-service channel. That is, if customers are all self-servicing, what becomes of the direct-sales channel, or in other words, what becomes of the salesman?

There must be a way to reconcile these two channels, and make them both winning strategies in a holistic omni-channel strategy.

Despite the ongoing commentary surrounding last year’s bearish prediction from Forrester Research that by 2020 almost a quarter of the U.S.’s B2B salespeople will become unemployed, the future of the industry is anything but hopeless.

Modern sales and marketing practices are undergoing a paradigm-shift — and are being buoyed by the same advances in technology that are revolutionizing the business world generally — automation, cloud/SaaS technologies and mobility.

The Salesperson Of The Future

The salesperson of the future, unlike many of his present-day counterparts, will be an avid technology user and adept at employing the latest in sales automation tools to prioritize effectiveness and targeted approaches over volume-based workloads.

As increasingly more sophisticated technologies afford salespeople greater insights into customer buying habits, previous order histories, and local and national trends, more of a salesperson's workday will be spent on the business of selling at maximum efficiency — and less on the administrative drudge-work that previously dogged the industry.

Allowing the salesperson the freedom to operate a self-service channel — whereby customers in his territory can place orders directly from the vendor without his involvement — is another novel feature of the evolving relationship between self-service and direct sales.

It is imperative that the representative be compensated for facilitating these sales, which have emerged through leads he has opened but not directly sold to. In this role, the sales representative will take on the role of a facilitator: providing training, resolving issues as they arise and making visits on site as required.

In addition, the sense of ownership he feels for this channel, and his compensation for operating it, will encourage him to adopt it and drive its development and allow him to focus its use on less strategically valuable customers, while he can take a direct sales approach to those with more potential value for the business.

This will facilitate salesperson’s importance in the company's omni-channel strategy.

Shifting From Transactional to Strategic Salespeople

This shift will be a critical one to make for manufacturers and wholesalers. The change will be specifically evident in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) sector, in which many are still charging their sales reps to take orders by hand, putting pen to paper (and ending up with errors and unhappy customers in the process), serving a completely transactional role.

However, if this transactional sales rep is part of a tech savvy company, and understands how new technologies can become transformative — both for the sales rep professionally, and for the sales process as a whole — the direct sales channel will not come into conflict with the self-service channel at all. Shifting from a transactional sales rep to a strategic one means that it is unlikely that we will see the death of a salesman as a result of faceless technologies displacing real-life workers.

Rather, the increased integration between sales, marketing, and business development departments, as a result of the increased adoption of automation platforms by salespeople, will lead to a significant amount of convergence within these closely aligned business functions.

The result of this transformation will be a net gain for all parties.

The job of the salesperson will be modified and enriched by the field sales automation tools that he deploys to his job and his role will encompass a wider variety of functions — and less tedium — than ever before.

Broadening The Scope Of Sales

Instead of being confined to a narrow set of responsibilities, salespeople with heightened job descriptions will be regarded as being of strategic value to their company and be able to offer assistance in tasks traditionally the sole purview of the business development, new customer acquisition, and even marketing departments.

For example, the representatives can perform shelf-display audits of product lines, take in-store photos, collect competitive data, perform stock taking and capture feedback on new product introductions via structured customer surveys.

An illustrative use-case is OGI Eyewear, a company that manufactures and sells a branded eyewear portfolio to retail and independent optical stores worldwide. It equips its sales force with tools featuring geo-location services and complete customer data to locate prospective clients. The mobile tool significantly ramps up new customer acquisition using a data-driven approach.

Representatives working in the field and equipped with live feedback tools can also fulfill important business intelligence functions, relaying information gained from face-to-face interactions to help devise and refine campaigns that target the specific needs of their customers.

They can resolve customer issues and questions related to an online store while onsite and train buyers that are struggling with self-service ordering.

This trend is in concert with what’s happening on the customer side of the transaction.

The New Knowledgeable Buyer

Given that 80 percent of buyers now know what they want before even contacting a vendor, these increasingly informed customers will be more likely to seek salespeople as a guide through the sales process rather than persuaders hoping to convince them that their products are the best.

With this change in buyer-profile, we see the necessity of having both the direct sales channel and the self-service channel open and operational.

For the sales rep equipped with automation technologies, the direct sales channel is reshaped by the rep’s involvement in a variety of crucial business functions. These reps provide a more necessary and effective service for end-customers. And, for customers, having the option of the self-service channel makes for a more efficient purchasing process.

By developing both of these channels to work symbiotically, sales reps, manufacturers and customers all win.

Oren Ezra is CMO at Pepperi.

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