The Evolving Dynamics of Digital Self Service

How your B2B sales team can drive lifetime customer value.


About eighteen months ago, Forrester struck fear into the hearts of sales organizations around North America with the bold prediction that one million B2B sales jobs would be eliminated by 2020.  Many organizations' sales forces revolted and insisted – not them. Their relationships were far too important and there was no way this can be automated or devalued without significant impact to the business’s bottom line. Today, this has held true for many organizations that have adopted a digital strategy aimed at addressing the low hanging fruit of customer engagement, but continue to struggle with customer and sales force adoption. 

Recently, a large manufacturing client we are working with quantified the cost of serving a customer at $5-7 for each phone call. Of the phone calls received, over 80% were tied to very basic transactional inquiries that the everyday consumer takes for granted – order look-up, shipping status, return status, or part identification. By quantifying both the cost to serve as well as the key pain-points, this client was able to optimize their use of their sales team. The solution was to build a digital program that provided helpful contextual information in a post-order support function, therefore, freeing the sales team to focus on more complex tasks such as cross selling of services and increasing topline revenue from their customers. This strategic move has shifted the relationship between their customers and their sales team from a transactional one to a more guiding and consultative engagement.

Point in case, while attending the SAP Hybris Americas Summit, I participated in a roundtable where a manufacturer lamented how they could not get customers to leverage their eCommerce solution. These customers were from an older generation and still “preferred” human contact.  One of the individuals at the table asked how the sales force was being compensated for utilizing online transactions. The short answer - they were not.

In other words, Forrester was not predicting the outright elimination of a million sales jobs, but rather a shift in the traditional way sales teams should engage with customers.  This change ultimately drives the need for a fundamental shift to a value-added consultative approach, rather than that of an order taker.  If we were to look at a traditional sales and support funnel it may look something like this: 

Customer Experience Silos

The challenge within organizations is that each of the focus areas within the sales funnel conventionally have been siloed across various departments and business stakeholders.  This resulted in initiatives, technologies and processes that were implemented separately and without thought to the overall customer experience.  The need to fix the resulting disjointed customer experience led to a solution shown in the story above – the organization’s digital team built a commerce solution that delivered all the basic demands of a customer such as order lookup and shipment tracking.  However, since there still wasn’t a cohesive customer experience strategy in place, each stakeholder continued to make decisions based on their own set of priorities.

It is necessary to shift to a hybrid multi-channel selling model that combines consultative human-to-human sales with the ease of digital access. A recent study showed that when organizations support a multi-channel selling strategy, customer engagement and spend increases while cost to serve dramatically decreases.  This is why there must be a focus on more complex selling cycles where more value and growth can originate for the business. Below is an example of a more customer-focused sales funnel: 

Evolving dynamics.

As we look at how product focused companies have moved into a service oriented culture, it comes back to the end-to-end experience of their customers. How must a company adapt to engage a new generation of customers who have the ability to engage and buy on their own terms? The market now demands that companies to re-think status-quo and reinvent ways to engage and drive brand loyalty. As you examine how your organization is set-up to support this inevitable change to a multi-channel sales, try to identify who is best able to support this new strategy and engage with your customer across every touchpoint regardless of channel.

With the customer at the center of your engagement model, you will be able to provide an experience that keeps customers coming back.  Not only is it is easier to keep a current customer than find a new one, loyal customers tend to spend more per transaction. To thrive in the Age of the Customer, meld the convenience of digital with the human touch.


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