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Selling Cleaning Chemicals: The Future Landscape?
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Selling Cleaning Chemicals: The Future Landscape?
Date: 10-07-2017

In our final Talking Point article, Arpal Gulf considers the potential impact e-commerce will have on the traditional B2B sales rep as many will potentially lose their livelihoods because B2B buyers’ purchasing behaviour is changing and will continue to do so progressively and more rapidly over the decade. In simple terms, those most likely to lose their jobs are those who take orders for commodity products.

The rapid increase in online ordering is displacing many traditional sales reps working for manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors because B2B buyers say buying from an e-commerce site is more convenient that buying from a sales rep, with many believing they prefer buying online when they’ve already decided what to buy.
There is no doubt that there are believable and evidence-based facts to support this trend within the cleaning industry in particular, but before we start to dig graves for thousands of hard-working territory sales reps here in the UAE, it should be pointed out that these jobs will not just disappear – rather they will be re-directed into another business channel – the sales specialist.
In essence, sales reps involved in basic order processing will diminish, while those that are offering higher-end services to help buyers in larger corporations order complex products and systems will fare better. Order takers are the ones in trouble because it all comes down to value in the ordering process—whether sales reps add value or not. 
We believe, therefore, that although the salaries of this growing population of sales specialists will increase, so will the demands from their employers to be far better equipped to satisfy B2B purchasing requirements, be better business people, more commercially aware, be better relationship managers and become business unit managers rather than traditional territory reps looking after a multitude of low spending customers.
Whilst there is a definite cost benefit from e-commerce in certain areas of the cleaning industry, especially with low unit-priced commodity items with agreed specifications, there are many areas where a far greater level of explanation and account management skill is required – for example, where the goods are closely aligned to added value services and legislative compliance – like cleaning and disinfection products and systems.
Online order processes for vendors can reduce employee costs and overall operating expenses, and a report from Forrester’s indicates that one company in the US, which was interviewed, reduced its cost per order from $24.48 per transaction via a salesperson-driven system to $1.50 via a customer self-serve e-commerce transaction.
However, as we know, this will always have limitations within the cleaning products and services industry, and cleaning suppliers need to get the balance right, because client manpower management is one of the most important facets of the sales/purchasing dynamic.

So what types of seller are we looking at?

  1. Order takers: Process orders – customers could easily place through online self-service.
  2. Explainers: Provide buyers with more information about complex products.
  3. Navigators: Help buyers understand what their own companies need to purchase.
  4. Consultants: Have extensive knowledge about the buyer’s company to help the buyer understand what their company needs to purchase.
Whilst none can deny the transactional cost savings or efficiencies of e-Commerce we would add a word of caution to those UAE cleaning sector companies that think this is Nirvana, and who may think that creating a faceless digital interface will eliminate the need for human talent. Wrong – we still need the explainers, navigators and consultants.
Yes, the impact and importance of digital communications is increasing and for companies within the chemical industry, the communications between buyer and sales specialist are already becoming more digitally based. For example, negotiations, following the initial pitch, meet and greet are now often conducted by digital means such as email, [live] chat, and collaborative software as opposed to the traditional phone call or meeting.
We believe, however, that the skill sets and overall commercial abilities of the account manager are going to become more and more important. The reign of the traditional sales rep is coming to an end and although we don’t want an army of sharp suited, clean shaven clones to clog up motorways and march robotically through the business door – we need to understand that technology whittles out the unnecessary time and cost, and leaves what precious time is left to talk business. In our last blog series, we will look at some interesting trends that will disrupt the cleaning landscape over the next decade.
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