How to Make Sales Reps Welcome Again

Rather than scaling back the role of sales reps in the age of self-service, Kevin McGirl advises on how distributors can update their image in the buyer's mind.
female customer support phone operator with headset  at workplace

In 2021, Gartner data showed 43% of B2B buyers want a rep-free experience. Sales leaders and reps were feeling this, and many were unsure how or whether to pivot. Now, in 2022, this sentiment has only grown: 72% of B2B buyers want to go from consideration to purchase without involving a rep (Gartner 2021 B2B Buyer Survey).

The imperative to pivot has arrived.

But not so fast. This news doesn’t mean you should shrink your salesforce in favor of self-serve digital selling experiences. The same Gartner data shows B2B buyers who bought through digital commerce experienced remorse post-purchase. More than a third said, “We should have chosen something different from what we ended up buying.” While half of the respondents reflected, “With more information, we would have made a better decision.”

You don’t need to scale back sales reps. Instead, you need to update their image in the buyer’s mind. There’s a misconception that sales reps don’t add value and waste people’s time with idle chatter. But this is as untrue as saying that all a golf caddie does is carry a golfer’s clubs. Technology, just as caddies, bring value to the game, by providing additional knowledge. To flip the script, you must focus on the value reps add, helping buyers make the right purchasing decisions.

You must also equip your reps with tools that help them continue to provide such value in a changed selling environment. Selling is hard, and we can’t ignore added challenges like burnout and the labor shortage. Many companies are implementing AI-powered sales enablement technology to facilitate guided, intelligent selling and help their reps have more informative, productive interactions that add value for buyers.

In fact, Gartner data shows: 75% of B2B sales organizations will augment traditional sales playbooks with AI-guided selling solutions by 2025. That’s merely two years away.

Your competitors are investing in AI as part of their sales strategy. It’s time to decide how you’ll support a hybrid selling model that will make sales reps welcome again in the minds of your buyers.

What’s Standing in the Way of Reps Adding Value Today?

They’re burned out. The labor shortage is contributing to burnout. Gartner data shows 87% of sales reps report being burned out. Due to the labor shortage, fewer reps means each rep has to cover larger territories and retain more information.

Onboarding is arduous. Onboarding new reps is typically a long process, taking months of training and getting familiar with products and territories.

Gathering data takes time. Pulling and analyzing data to provide additional value manually takes a lot of work on the sales rep’s part, taking away from their selling time. That is if they’re the type of rep who wants to be as consultative as possible instead of winging it and relying on personality and charm.

How to Get Sales Reps Invited Back

Sales reps must add value easily and intelligently to conversations with little preparation necessary. They need to be readily aware of customer requirements, previous transactions and preferences to be predictive and consultative. This scenario is the script we want, not the one where a rep shows up with boxes of donuts to chit-chat about sports and the weather.

Sales enablement technology powered by AI solves for the:

  • Data-zealous sales rep: The data they would spend time searching for is at their fingertips so that they can focus on the call instead of data gathering and analysis.
  • Sales rep who prefers to wing it: Data analysis and intelligent suggestions are available so that they can pair personality with value-add.
  • Brand-new sales rep: Sales technology supports a faster onboarding process, facilitating guided selling that gets reps ramped up faster.
  • Burned-out sales rep: Information and conversation points are pushed to the rep proactively, so a sales rep covering many territories and customers can do so more efficiently and effectively.

For each of these sales reps, sales technology with AI brings them to the sweet spot of hybrid, guided selling. AI gathers information quickly and helps sales reps guide conversations to the most relevant customer problems. During these conversations, reps are fully informed and engaged, and AI serves the most appropriate conversation points and next-best actions.

The technology-enabled rep will suddenly be welcome again.

Technology as Your Reps’ Selling Caddie

A good caddie only makes golfers better. The caddie carries the bag and signals information to the golfer when they pass the club, insights like yardage, green sloping or warnings – watch out for the bunker.

AI-powered technology is like a salesperson’s caddie. Rather than being a threat or a side note, it gives them information to use in their relationship with the customer. Technology provides science, and the rep brings experience, personality and humanity.

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