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The Sales Rep’s New Role In A B2B eCommerce World

Well before the pandemic hit the globe, B2B organizations were beginning to accelerate their eCommerce strategies, with a focus on optimizing the end-user experience.

Offering the ease and simplicity of a consumer-like online buying experience was an important goal, but today, it’s now a must as in-person showrooms and sales meetings are no longer at-play.

In haste, organizations are trying to get their B2B eCommerce projects off the ground, with SAP Commerce one of the most popular options for larger entities. Yet for the middle market, the time and costs associated with launching eCommerce projects via SAP may seem overwhelming, according to LiveArea Vice President of B2B Sales Rich Morgan.

In a conversation with PYMNTS, Morgan, along with LiveArea’s Hybris Technical Architect and product owner of the FastTrack solution Justin Goeres, discussed how an out-of-the-box approach can help mid-market firms jumpstart their B2B eCommerce operations without compromising customization.

Plus, they explored some of the biggest friction points in B2B online sales that are ripe for innovation as more organizations make the digital leap.

Acceleration Through Preconfiguration

Every business is unique, and especially for businesses headed toward or already in the middle market, customization of technology is critical to successfully executing a digitization strategy.

In many ways, B2B eCommerce is at the heart of that modernization journey, said Morgan.

“For businesses contemplating their digital transformation, they have to look at a variety of technologies they need to support that transformation,” he said. “The area of eCommerce plays a critical role to that.”

The eCommerce ecosystem encompasses everything from product information management to payment processing, so achieving an eCommerce strategy launch can leapfrog an enterprise into the digital age. Yet because it is such a complex area of operations with many facets of functionality, developing and executing on that strategy can be a headache.

Commerce-as-a-Service solutions are key to overcoming that pain point. SAP Commerce Cloud, as Morgan explained, is a popular platform for larger enterprises, but for the middle market, it is often considered too cumbersome for easy deployment. In an effort to address this pain point, LiveArea announced the launch of its FastTrack Commerce solution in the U.K., a technology that accelerates the ability for organizations to launch eCommerce operations via SAP Commerce Cloud.

The service provides preconfigured integrations in areas like data feeds and connections into pricing, product catalogues and other data sources, as well as prebuilt tax calculations, credit card payment capabilities, tokenization and fraud management functions, search engine optimization (SEO) and analytics.

“This is a starting point,” explained Goeres. “If you’re willing to use this payment processor, if you’re willing to use this tax gateway, you don’t have to build things from scratch.”

It’s a much faster, and often more affordable, way to launch eCommerce operations. Of course, not everything can be preconfigured to adequately meet the needs of each business. But for organizations that simply need to get their eCommerce operations off the ground, this solution can greatly reduce the complexity and costs associated with manually building configurations and integrations one-by-one. Once operations have launched, then entities can collaborate on custom features and workflows that are able to scale with the business as it grows.

What’s Next for the Sales Rep?

As middle-market firms expand and scale, they will be better positioned to embrace more complex functionality within their eCommerce solutions.

Once organizations have found their B2B eCommerce footing, Morgan said they’ll be looking for technologies that can tackle widespread B2B eCommerce pain points. That includes the ability to provide buyers with consistent product and pricing information across channels, whether they’re shopping online or speaking to a sales representative on the phone.

Inventory management is another key area of focus as organizations increasingly demand insight into product availability within the manufacturer as well as their distribution network, said Morgan.

“The pandemic triggered interesting buying behavior, where distributors ran out and bought up a lot of inventory,” he explained. “A lot of manufacturers were in a situation where they didn’t have visibility into where their inventory sat. When customers called them directly, they didn’t have an answer. There has been a lot of interest in where inventory is in the procurement chain.”

Other functionalities are primed to spill over from the B2C world into B2B. That includes search functionality and proactive notifications around order status, while Goeres added that support for buyer accounts with information on order history and product recommendations are also seeing higher demand.

Today, technology has injected a high level of sophistication that embraces self-service and automation, and according to Morgan, it’s dramatically changing the role of the traditional sales representative.

The sales rep’s job won’t fall by the wayside, he said. On the contrary, the evolving role of this profession will actually position B2B sellers to forge stronger relationships with their corporate customers.

There are important opportunities for these reps to wield analytics technologies to more accurately suggest new products, or even understand what a business buyer may need before the buyer knows it themselves. That could mean scheduling anticipated product maintenance or repair services, for example, or even offering product maintenance packages on a subscription service — opportunities that could boost revenue streams for B2B sellers.

“The role of those sales reps, who are still going to be needed, is evolving to that of a selling agent,” said Morgan. “It’s an amazing shift for B2B because it’s positioning sellers not just in a reactive warehouse that’s providing parts, but it’s really placing them as a partner to their customer for the long term.”

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