It seems to me that there's a trend in articles which start with suggesting the old order is dead.Posted by: David Regler @
I've seen all the "Is cold-calling dead?" and "Is direct marketing dead?" ones over the last few years as everyone promoting online and social media marketing will tell you that the old nasty world of push marketing has been replaced by a new cosy opt-in world chocked full of engaging content and social interaction.
(In fact, the "cold-calling is dead" one has been doing the rounds for as long as I can remember, the first time I saw it it was pushing face-to-face networking as the solution to all your problems.)
Anyway, let's leave that argument on one side and look at a new variation on the theme, "Salesmen are Dying and Other IT Trends".
The article is focused primarily on IT B2B buyers so it doesn't necessarily equate to all sales and, in particular, service based propositions. But the fundamentals are that Internet-enabled buyers only engage with a vendor's salespeople towards the end of the process, which means that salespeople have less time to build relationships and influence decisions.
In B2B sales, the buying/sales process is more complex that B2C transactions. B2B sales is driven by multiple stakeholders and decision makers, and carries more risk. Also, with more complex/technical solutions there's a greater reliance on vendors to help with scoping the solution.
So, are sales people dying?
Certainly, the more commoditised the product the more it will move towards online transactions.
I was chatting with a client the other day who used to work for the UK's largest distributor of safety products. 10 years ago they used to have a huge branch network and hundreds of reps on the road. Now it's nearly all telesales and online ordering.
Maybe another 5 years and the telesales will be a fraction of what it is now and most will be online.
Also, the shift towards buyers researching online means that there's a reduced need for sales to engage early in the sales cycle. When I ran a field sales team we'd get the leads from head office (usually a response card from a magazine or lead from a trade show) and the local rep would make an appointment to sit down, provide the prospect with brochures, etc and qualify the lead.
Now buyers can get the information they want before they have to engage with sales. Which means less sales people are needed.
Less head count for sales means that each sales person is focused on deals that are more advanced in the buyer/sales process. Being more efficient and effective with limited resource is the name of the game, hence the rise in sales support teams, web-demos, etc.
Where is this all going?
To me, the trend in B2B sales is that the classic "sales rep" is heading for extinction. Poorly trained road warriors will be a thing of the past as buyers today don't need to waste their time with them just to find out early stage information.
The lead qualification piece has shifted internally to telesales or inside sales support.
Beyond that, there is a need for B2B sales people who bring real value during the more advance stages of the buying/sales process.
Refining scope, assisting in vendor selection decisions, support prospects with building business cases, and, ultimately, supporting with implementation and hand-over, these are the areas where sales now have to focus.
B2B sales people aren't dying, the smart ones are already adapting.
But, I agree that the dinosaurs will become extinct.