Our customers’ buying behaviour has changed dramatically since the emergence of the internet, and since social media took over some of the salespeople’s tasks. The recent Connected Commerce paper from Nielsen once again confirms how much we’re all shopping with smartphones in hand, comparing prices and searching online for product specifications and reviews. Phenomena such as webrooming and showrooming fit in seamlessly with this trend.

Before you read on, we’d first like to reveal that showroom salespeople do still have an important role to play in the digital era! But the job is different nowadays, and certainly hasn’t become any easier.

We’re still buying expensive (customised) products from real-life salespeople

Showrooming is when customers go into a shop to look at, try on and test products such as clothes and electronics, but then place their orders online. Webrooming is the opposite: customers search for information online, but then validate their choice in the shop or showroom, and ultimately buy from a salesperson in the flesh.

However … the higher a product’s value and/or complexity, and the less often you buy it, the greater the sense of risk. You can quickly choose and pay for a new vacuum cleaner online, for example. But for bigger investments – especially when there’s some customisation, e.g. kitchens, patios, doors and windows, tiles or a car – most buyers still want to complete their buying process with some form of human interaction. This is therefore a typical product category for webrooming.

Challenges for showroom salespeople

Potential buyers of higher value (customised) products are still going to showrooms, but only less than twice on average. We’re also seeing that good, experienced salespeople are spending much more time and energy completing sales nowadays. But why?

  • Webrooming, discussed above
  • Increasingly competitive markets – sometimes with several suppliers offering similar products in the same street – mean that salespeople need to convince customers why their products are the best option. Customers don’t always have a clear overview of any differences, and so are tempted to simply choose the cheapest.

In order to convince potential customers to complete a purchase, our salespeople generally have two options, each with their own disadvantages:

  1. Immediately finalise all the details for a product sale with the customer (e.g. design a kitchen, configure options for a car, etc.), provide a quote straight away, and try to seal the deal.
    Disadvantage: this takes a lot of time. But mainly: the potential customer then has all the information they need, meaning in principle that they no longer need the salesperson, and can instead use the information gained to negotiate a price with your competitor
  2. Or the salesperson tries to make a second appointment.
    Disadvantage: waiting too long to find out all the information and receive a quote increases the risk that a potential customer will seek a solution elsewhere and buy from your competitor in the meantime

Dovy Keukens: what competences do salespeople need today?

You used to be a product salesperson who knew your product inside-out. Or you were good at building relationships, and you made sales based on the trust you earned. But you need more than that nowadays.

Johan Verbeke, Sales Manager at Dovy Keukens, a leading Belgian supplier of tailor-made kitchens:

Like all companies, we had to adapt to the digital era. We’ve realised that salespeople need to do the right thing at the right time to meet each individual customer’s wishes. So they need to work out rapidly what to do- and what not to do- and decide if it might be better to make a follow-up appointment.

Salespeople need to translate the desired experience into a proposal that makes the most of our product strengths. They also need to capitalise on the company’s strengths, because the way we approach things can also make the difference. Sealing the deal at the right time keeps us ahead of our competitors.

Salespeople are therefore expected to be real all-rounders these days. Together with Perpetos, we’re actively working to develop all these competences in our sales team. And we clearly see the positive impact this has on our conversion rates.

Important role for Sales Management: keep the team focused

In order to discuss customer cases quickly and efficiently, and maximise our salespeople’s results, it’s important that managers and salespeople speak the same language.

Sales Management can help keep salespeople focused by providing sales support and coaching the team- to take advantage of each individual situation in practice. Digital tools, such as CRM, are often still seen as an administrative burden, even though they can help with coaching and improve performance. This does require the CRM being adapted as a sales support tool, however, and not just a reporting tool.

Is there room for improving your sales performance? Do you want to optimise your margins or sales cost? Would you like to discuss your experiences without any obligation? Contact our experts

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It used to be the case that your quote was too expensive, and prospective buyers would almost always question it. If you asked why they thought it was too expensive, they would tell you it cost much more than your competition. This meant that good negotiators who could resolve issues automatically became the best sellers. Our client, Kris Verheye from Belgacom, says those times are now a thing of the past. Buyers aren’t price-buyers anymore, so you won’t get very far with sellers whose only skill is negotiating.

This new buyer, Buyer 2.0, is a very well-informed buyer. Our own experience and figures confirmed in Harvard Business Review tell us that B2B decision-makers have already made 60% of their purchasing decisions before they even meet potential suppliers. This means that the sales conversation is no longer about price, but rather about value and risk management.

At our latest Corporate Performance event, Kris Verheye said: “Buyers don’t always know how to get good value out of the things they have informed themselves about. That’s why the new buyer has to help, and make the difference as a good guide.”

So the conversation cannot be about the cloud to begin with, for example, but about the client’s challenge. What do they want to solve? What do they want to improve? Where do they want to be more competitive? The new seller doesn’t have to find an answer for the whole business strategy straight away, but they do have to understand the client’s market conditions well enough to be able to take advantage.

Once the intended aim of the purchase is clear, we shift to the financial aspects. What is the available budget? What is the expected TCO? How will we calculate the return? The new seller starts acting as CFO and, in this role, concludes the second phase of the purchasing process.

Only then is it time to discuss the solution and, for example, look at that cloud. The average buyer won’t necessarily want to know what it is exactly; they might know about that already. But they will want to know how their supplier can ensure the implementation will be as invisible as possible, and how they can minimise any risk resulting from the change. So the new seller becomes the risk manager.

Perhaps there’s no need to discuss a solution at all, because the seller also has to be able to decide if it’s best to pull out of being the potential supplier, for example if the business case isn’t clear enough, or the budget won’t satisfy the ambitions, or the client is underestimating the project management. If this is the case, the seller also needs to be a risk manager with an eye for a maximum success rate for quotes, and a high return from pre-sales costs.

Together with the price-buyer, the price-seller is also disappearing. Ironically enough, this increases the sales costs, which you can read more about in this article.