In this article, we discuss how different sectors such as banking and accounting were affected by the growth of digital transformation. We emphasise the impact digital transformation has on sales. The B2B sale sector was considered to some extent protected from the transformation wave. But it somehow appears to be hit by this phenomenon too, in a big way. Actually, there are two sides to this story that are debatable.
B2B sales impacted by digital transformation and Big Data
On the one hand, B2B sales is said to be resilient, since it is based on one-to-one contact and individual salesmanship. 10 years ago, famous author and researcher Bernard Cova told me that a B2B brand appears to be less important than a B2C brand. He believed then that the contact with the salesperson at the time of the purchase was a definite advantage, as opposed to B2C. What he meant by that is that it doesn’t matter if your brand changes or even disappears, as long as there’s someone to explain it to customers. In a way, what Bernard said is true. In fact, a small consulting firm like ours, is able to gain the trust of big accounts. It’s simply true because of our capabilities to explain and deliver services to clients in earnest, based on our expertise.
Ironically, buyers dislike salespeople, but they love to buy from them
Nevertheless, all that Bernard Cova told me 10 years ago is no longer entirely true anymore today. B2B sales is changing completely, in all types of markets (lower-end, mid-tier and high-end markets). Ironically, buyers dislike salespeople, but they love to buy from them.
On the other hand, it would be interesting to touch on the role of automation and digital transformation in the next 5 to 10 years. Compared to the US, we will always be a few steps behind. This lag gives us the ability to take a bit of hindsight on the subject. However, it should not be an excuse not to keep up and adapt to changes. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity to take a step towards change and always ensure a turnaround is possible, before it’s too late.
B2B sales is transforming and this is old hat
I look back on the day I started my career at Philips household appliances some 30 years ago in B2B sales, and I don’t find transformation in sales to be a ‘new’ phenomenon. I remember being in this exact situation upon my first day at the Dutch firm back in 1985; its salesforce was then divided by two, large retail groups started taking over local businesses and the culling of that B2B salesforce went on until none of its members was spared. In a way, I didn’t complain too much, I had never found that job to be of much interest to me – even though I learned a lot from it – I then moved on and became a user project leader deploying Marketing business systems worldwide for a major IT player. A change I’m glad I made in retrospect. 30 years later the Philips Salesforce has entirely disappeared.
Automation speeding up change
My personal opinion about one-to-one sales made unfortunately no difference. It’s probably a great way of building a client-vendor relationship. Yet, things did change drastically, in spite of that, for the cost of maintaining face-to-face sales killed the job completely. Today, this change is accelerating. It coincides with the advent of online B2B and sales automation (yet another trend I was part of since its early beginnings, 20 years ago).
We still hear people in B2B say that business to business e-commerce doesn’t exist and that it’s not applicable. Some even claim that the need to enhance the customer journey is not compelling. All these statements are fallacies, and will probably be ignored in a few years. The case of Amazon and its Web Services justifies my argument. The Forrester’s report (April 2015) also confirms this statement. In fact, my first post on the Zebaz blog is based on this report.