There is an air of inevitability that at some point, in the not too distant future, many of the tasks now routinely handled by “salespeople” will become automated – in fact, it is already happening.
Commoditization virtually eliminates seller-buyer human interaction and, at the time of writing this, it is a B2C “phenomenon.” It is of course due largely to consumer’s new affection for online shopping via the Internet and sales organizations desire to capitalize on the breadth of audiences they can reach, and the lower costs of sales and delivery.
However, it would be foolhardy to not anticipate that, as buyers continue to become increasingly self-educated about our products, companies and our market sector, the sales role in many industries will undoubtedly become diminished. The role of sales is shifting to a consulting model that brings expertise in the areas of business, industry, company, stakeholder, and capabilities.
While the role of the order taker salesperson will go the way of the Internet, for the complex sale for the foreseeable future, the role of the salesperson is secure. There will always be a place for the professional business consultants – the “Top 5% Players.” These people consult more than sell, as they assist their clients in making sound buying decisions.
I am not a clairvoyant, but in working with salespeople, sales leaders and customers, a vision of sales is emerging. Let me share those ideas…
The ability to gather and analyse data will help salespeople be more precise in identifying customers and anticipating their needs, so they get to them before those customers get to the market.
Everything will be more precise. I see sales organizations not having a defined sales process, but rather multiple processes for renewals, new business or accounts at risk, etc.
Telephone and online conferencing will be the way of the sales, and face-to-face will be reserved for major deals and major milestone points in the sale.
Sales training will go to the Universities as the foundation with majors in sales (currently this is starting to grow).
As machines get smarter, they will do more of the work – will they be personal assistants, provide sales coaching, figure out pricing, set the sales strategy and so on? How far am I looking out—maybe 10 years?
So how does a sales organization survive in this current changing world? How do we get ready for the world of sales hot on its heels?
I see two avenues that are vital… The first is expertise and the second is relationship. I see the second as the greater challenge.
Expertise is exactly what customers are looking for today. The bar has been raised for sales organizations in how they select and develop their people. Customers will spend time with salespeople who they believe will bring them relevant expertise, and who will help them solve their business problems. In the content era, expertise was product expertise, but today it goes far beyond that to business acumen, industry knowledge, company and stakeholder knowledge, and team leverage knowledge and access, etc.
Relationships: Technology has given us so much, but as young people rely more and more on on-line communication, they are not developing relationship skills such as the skills to read people’s expressions, read body language, or tone of voice. People need to relate, they need to trust and to use intuition in making decisions. Research shows emotions are more a factor in decision-making than data (David Brooks). The need to connect is hard wired into people.
But my concern is salespeople and customers alike will not have the skills needed to connect. The ability to connect and build relationships will be the big differentiator.
It is the ability to earn trust and connect built on transparency, vulnerability and genuine concern in working with customers to bring value, that will help them grow their business. Young people would rather send a text than use the phone. Face-to-face is warmer than phone and video, and both of those are warmer than text. Computers will win out with data, but making emotional connections is the advantage humans bring to the table.
Sales 2.0 gave us improved technology and did accelerate the rate at which more and more sales teams went inside. The image that we had of an inside sales professional performing routine tasks, cold- calling, dealing with account administration issues, and all the time looking enviously out of the window as their external sales colleagues drove away in the expensive company cars to wine and dine clients, has now been replaced. Today’s insider is a career professional who is able to manage the entire sales/buying process from open to close, utilising video technology when required – they are no longer simply on the first step of the sales career ladder.
Obviously, economics has played a big part in this lemming-like rush for companies to convert their sales teams – it is not all technology influenced. Typically, an outside sales team costs twice as much to run as an inside one, which makes it a no-brainer in most scenarios -especially here in the UK, where one could be forgiven for thinking we are attempting to create the largest car park in the world, stretching from John O’Groats to Lands End, and sideways from Felixstowe to Anglesey!
Survival, let alone reaching a Sales Superstar status, requires significant changes in our worldview, how we think about ourselves and how we think about our relationships with key stakeholders. We are faced with new ways of thinking, many of which directly challenge what has proven successful in the past.
Despite my predictions, we all know that nobody has a crystal ball! Perhaps the way to look at the future of selling is to compile a team consisting of a sales and marketing professor, a technology professor from MIT, maybe someone from Apple and Disney, a few buyers and, for good measure, a science fiction writer – history has shown writers like Ray Bradbury have been truly prophetic.
Sales organizations have a long way to go to achieve optimum fitness!