22% of B2B Sales People will be Replaced by Search Engines by 2020 #SocialSelling

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 11.24.11Taxi for the B2B Salesperson?

In Forrester’s US B2B eCommerce Forecast: 2015 to 2020 they quote that “74% of B2B buyers research, at least one-half of their work purchases online. In addition, 30% of today’s B2B buyers complete at least half of their work purchases online. With that percentage nearly doubling to 56% by 2017, B2B sellers will see a significant volume of offline business move online in the next few years.”

IMG_0495Taking those facts further, at the recent Forrester’s Sales Enablement Forum , a study by Andy Hoar, Principal Analyst at Forrester, revealed that he expected 22% of B2B Sales jobs go by 2020.  With Enterprise purchases taking place online this means the traditional B2B sales person is being replaced by Search Engines, YouTube, websites etc.  The Diagram top left is Forester’s view on how what will replace the B2B Sales person.

IMG_0806Are Things Really that Bad?

Recently talking to a friend of mine who works for an “Enterprise” Cloud technology company, they relayed this story.  An inbound sales call, that went like this;

Caller: “We want to buy your product, can you tell me how much it is please?”

Salesperson: “Er, OK, but how can this be, don’t you want a demo?”

Caller: “No, we have done our research for a new product online and we watched your demos on Youtube.  We have decided yours is the best, so we just need to check it meets our budget and then we would like to go ahead.”

This means that 90% of the research has taken place on-line.

This conversation, (let’s assume it’s an exception) seems to back up the Forrester research, but could Forrester be understating things?  In my experience in talking and working with companies we (in sales) have reached a tipping point.

What Does that Mean for us B2B Sales People?

Not sure if my friend had realised but she had gone from being a (in my opinion a highly respected) B2B Salesperson to an Order Taker.  Nothing wrong in being an order taker, but when most of us started out on the road into sales, it wasn’t where we want to be.  So Where do we go from here?

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 16.48.59“Move up, Move down or Get Out”

I was once given some advice when it comes to significant moves in the market; “Move up, Move down or get out”.  You can apply that to this situation. The “Boston Square” on the left from Forrester shows how Salespeople and Sales organisations need to organise themselves as the market shifts to be completely buyer centric.  

With people getting more used to, and more comfortable with, buying (high value) B2B products over the web.  With technical details, pricing, and product demos all available over the web, I can see a continuation of the commoditisation of the buying process.

Sales people need to raise their game and while not be Thought Leaders they need to be a “beacon” in their given niche and or industry.

If you are in sales, here is some good news, or at least a solution.

What Does a B2B SalesPerson Need to do So They Don’t Become Irrelevant?

Let’s look at that Data from Forrester in more detail (Just remember this is US data, as I write for a global audience, you can question this is the same in your geography, but in the UK where I live, where the US leads, the UK will follow).  See panel below.  It’s all doom and gloom apart from one area.Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 17.13.10

Let me repeat what Forrester say ….

“”Consultants,” who have extensive knowledge about the buyer’s company to help the buyer understand what her company needs to purchase. Job gain: 10%, to 550,000 from 500,000.

Companies need to undertake a major transformation of their sales force.  One tactic of that will be to undertake a Strategic Social Selling program (starting, obviously, at the top management) and employee advocacy program across your organisation.

The Harvard Business Review puts it more eloquently  Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 17.28.38

More Details of the Forrester Report

Forrester says the biggest impact will be on sales reps at wholesalers and distributors, but less so in such industries as high-tech manufacturers and providers of healthcare technology.

Forrester indicates that trend toward more self-service online research and ordering is only likely to increase as more companies that sell to businesses and government agencies get more into e-commerce.  In many cases for B2B buyers, Hoar says, e-commerce “has taken away the need to talk to someone to explain things.”

Reduce your Cost per Sales Transaction from $24.48 to $1.50 …

Another trend contributing to the shift to self-service e-commerce is the increased efficiency online order brings to sellers—for example,  through lower employee costs and overall operating expenses, Forrester says. “A company we interviewed estimates that it reduced its cost per order from $24.48 per transaction via a salesperson-driven paper-based ordering system to $1.50 per transaction via a customer self-serve e-commerce,” the report says.

Forrester also notes, that B2B buyers will continue to purchase through sales reps in certain situations, such as for complex products and systems procured across large enterprises. Yet even in these situations, communications between buyer and reps are going more digital, Hoar says. “They’re increasingly conducting those negotiations with salespeople by way of digital means such as email, [live] chat, and collaborative software as opposed to via a traditional phone call,” the report says.  For example, I’m aware of a company that purchased a $350,000 product via Skype, no face to face meetings took place.

Further reading:

Tom Pisello: The ROI Guy: Death of a Salesman?   Tom has an excellent blog, if you don’t follow it already.

Harvard Business Review: B2B Salespeople Can Survive If They Reimagine Their Roles

Why Lenovo CEO Yuanqing Yang wants you to follow him on Twitter http://www.bizjournals.com/triangle/blog/techflash/2015/04/lenovo-ceo-yuanqing-yang-twitter.html?ana=twt via @TriangleBIZJrnl

Really keen to get your comments, agree or disagree, help shape the debate.  What are your own experiences in your customers and prospects?  Please leave any suggestions or comments below.

Tim Hughes is a Social Selling Innovator and Pioneer his blog has become a reference point for Sales People throughout the world to get hints and tips to get into Social Selling; Newbies and Influencers alike. Tim’s 27 years as a quota carrying salesperson, means he cuts the fluff and speaks in a no nonsense style. The blog is not about slogans but about how you can use Social to allow you to over achieve your quota, quicker.

Tim Hughes is a Speaker and Blogger on Social Selling and be can be contacted @Timothy_Hughes or Tim_Hughes1@hotmail.com or contact me at LinkedIn



14 thoughts on “22% of B2B Sales People will be Replaced by Search Engines by 2020 #SocialSelling

    • Friend of mine did some consultancy for EMI and at the end of acetate presentation he was asked to put some futurist prediction. He decided to say something “out there”; his prediction was? One day, you might be able to download music via telephone wires. Oh, how they all laughed.


  1. Pingback: I Can’t Outsource This To Robots or I Need To Start Writing Again | Rhymes with Cars

  2. I enjoy reading your posts Tim, thank you for keeping up. Regarding the percentage of 22% of B2B sales people that will be replaced by search engines by 2020, I wouldn’t go for a fix percentage. It’s clear things are changing, and this happens fast. But to advance a certain number and present it as certainty is a bit much. 15 years ago, speaking about the document management in the digital era, many said in 5 years the new office will be paperless, printers will be gone and forests saved. Why I saying this? Because we are social and like to touch and interact with other humans. In consumer business the way sales are done is changing every day, don’t need sales people there. But in B2B we speak about projects, services and less products. Most of these include customizations. Yes, it depends from industry to industry. But a few things will never change when about sales. A future successful sales person will be the one having strong relations with customers. For this, has to be present in the places where the customer is. Social media is today one of such places. Showing you have authority in that field, understand customer’s business, having a strong brand, could make a B2B sales person standing out of the crowd. To sum up, a sales person will continue to have success over the next 10-15 years if proves to be knowledgeable, recognized as an expert, customer focused, trustable and the customer can acknowledge that. It’s a lot of work to achieve these.


  3. Thanks for sharing this Tim. I wrote recently on LinkedIn that some sales jobs will be taken over by AI/Robots. The trend is of more sales being made online. Product info can given to potential customers by `chat assistants’ who are actually AI/Robots! This makes the sales process cheaper & more efficient to run. BTW search engines are really AI/Robots and Google’s spiders are algorithms! http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/airobots-take-over-sales-marketing-jobs-ivonne-teoh


  4. Thanks for this great article, Tim. We specialize in high-level, peer-to-peer meaningful interactions for B-to-B sales, so this information rings true to us. We will continue to “Move Up!”


  5. Hello there. I can only appreciate Forward Thinking of this post and report you mentioned, thank you.
    As Tony Robins says; “Leaders anticipate!”. Another saying goes: “Don’t go where the pack already is! Go where the pack is heading”.
    I bumped today into another, very similar report and infographic, very much confirming what others are already predicting. Hope you will find it interesting.
    “One fits all” has been dead for some time now but in 2020 we move even further, customers will expect brands to personalize experience! Are we ready for that?
    According to Walker Information, Customer Think and the Chief Customer Officer Council in 2020 Customer Experience will overtake Price and Product as the key brand differentiator. It also suggest that companies need to adopt customer leadership roles.
    Please see details and draw your own conclusions here.


  6. I have heard several well respected sales people say this process is already well underway. I was somewhat skeptical, especially wrt Fortune 500 companies, since I am very familiar with how they buy technology. As I look around, there are elements that are very true – the customers are educating themselves first and the role of the enterprise software rep is not diminished. Enterprise software companies are slow to grasp this – still doing business the old fashioned way of walking the halls. It will be interesting to watch how this process unfolds.


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