“Death Of All Sales Reps”

By January 14, 2011E-Rep

Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman has been one of my personal favorite plays for years.  The tragic figure of Willy Loman has always been inspiring to me in an “anti-hero” sort of way.  Someone as sharp as me can easily spot Willy’s weaknesses and flaws of course, and avoid them!

Then I read Have We Been Witnessing The Death Of Professional Selling? on Jonathan Farrington’s blog.  He and I exchanged perspectives, and now I’ve got this “Death Of All Sales Reps” theme banging around in my head.  The more I think about it, the more I become certain that sales as we know it is about disappear – evaporate – go the way of the dodo bird.  And it’s going to happen in the not too distant future.  Like over the next three to five years.

While the examples in Jonathan’s post refer to items toward the commodity end of the scale and are B2C, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the trend.  (…and trends tend to pick up a lot of speed quickly!)  Ten years ago not one of the transactions described would have been possible.  More and more stuff can purchased online every day.  You could easily add 10 or 20 examples of your own.  The B2B examples are pretty easy to dream up aren’t they?  (Assuming of course you’re willing to take your head out of the sand!)

Want to scare yourself?  Take thirty minutes.  Think about your biggest, best customer and begin to list all the products and services they buy.  Put a check-mark next to each item that could potentially be intelligently purchased with nothing more than information made available on the internet.  It’s not the least bit outlandish to check virtually every item.  Especially if you consider the use of not only text, but also images, audio and video.

Right now, I see only two intelligent paths for sales professionals who intend to survive and thrive to pursue.  (The best and brightest will pursue both!)

  • Become a trusted, respected (albeit honorary) member of the customer’s senior management team
  • Create, maintain and continuously improve an electronic version of yourself, an “e-Rep” (i.e., Get out in front of the inevitable trend.)

To achieve the first, executive-class strategic planning, leadership, financial, communications, political and analytical skills are required.  Most times a lot of practical business experience will also be a prerequisite.  It’s one heck of a tall order; and one that to a significant extent leaves younger folks out in the cold.  Ouch!  I won’t go so far as to say that a formal MBA will needed, but MBA-level knowledge and a commitment to ravenous, continuous learning are different stories.

Achieving the second is easier, but entails development of a whole range of non-traditional talents.  Writing heads the list.  (Writing skills, at least in the US, are generally abysmal.)  “King Writing” is followed closely by the ability to very succinctly articulate extremely highly customized value propositions not only in written form, but also in recorded audio and video.  Obviously, audio and video production skills (including talk radio style interviewing skills)  will be essential, along with the information systems savvy to publish it all.  That in turn implies a deep understanding of blogs and the growing range of social media tools.

Too extreme a view?  I don’t think so.  What do you think?

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Rick Howe says:

    Todd,
    I agree with you. It’s becoming more of a selective evolution in sales to survive and prosper.

  • Tom Pisello (http://tompiselloroiguy.blogspot.com/) wrote the following comment:

    Could not agree more! From my blog on 2011 Predictions: The End of B2B Sales and Marketing as We Know It
    http://tompiselloroiguy.blogspot.com/2010/12/predictions-for-2011-end-of

    Internet Fueled Buying Cycles on the Rise – In the B2C space, the Internet has fundamentally changed how books, apparel, electronics, music, cars and other goods are bought and sold. The consumer is now in charge: researching specifications, configuring and customizing solutions, getting peer reviews and advice, comparing prices, and “buying now”. During the B2C Internet revolution many a vendor’s world was turned upside down by failing to recognize and invest in the fundamental shift towards empowering consumers with content and buying tools.

    Now, in B2B, we have seen a similar dramatic shift towards prospects taking charge of the buying cycle, using on-line content marketing, resources and tools to drive research, comparisons and purchase decisions. Savvy B2B marketers will recognize the “consumerization” of B2B and in 2011 proactively increase content marketing investments to deliver the right content and interactive decision support tools at the appropriate right step in the buying cycle.

    The Death of a Salesman? At the same time, as buyers are becoming more empowered, sales professionals are seen by these buyers as less valuable in the decision making process, and as a result are being invited later and later in the buying cycle. The invitation often coming after key decisions have already been made.

    In a recent survey by IDC, 24% of buyers indicated that the sales reps are not prepared for presentations at all, 30% indicate that they are somewhat prepared , and only 29% indicate that they are well prepared. An empowered buyer means that the role of sales will dramatically be impacted, requiring sales enablement and marketing to help redefine and drive a new breed of value selling professional.

    To prevent complete disintermediation of sales from the prospect’s decision making process, sales professionals must be made relevant and important again to buyers. Sales professionals must be armed with unique knowledge and tools so buyers want and need to engage sales earlier in the buying cycle when important strategies are set, budgets assigned, and solution providers evaluated and selected.

    As a common example, an Internet empowered prospect will often self-diagnose their issues, but may not do so completely or accurately. Empowering sales with executive assessment tools so that they can interactively, in a value-add workshop, diagnose prospect’s issues more thoroughly and completely, benchmark the issues versus peers and leaders to set priorities and create urgency, and provide a roadmap of potential recommendations. Increased investments in engaging sales content and interactive tools will be required in 2011 to keep sales professionals relevant and valuable to ever more empowered and skeptical buyers.

    Many vendors will also need to consider adding “buy it now” options for solutions they would never have thought to have this for in years past. This, to serve a new breed of B2B buyer that completely rejects salesperson involvement and wants to manage the purchase process all on their own.

  • […] First, my friend, Dan Waldschmidt, wrote this. Then, my friend, Jonathan Farrington, wrote this. Now, my friend, Todd Youngblood, writes this. […]

  • […] OK, I’ll admit to exaggeration in the title of my recent “Death of All Sales Reps” post.  Anthony Iannarino called me on it here.  More accurately it should have been […]

  • […] Death of a Salesman. Whether you believe it or not, Todd Youngblood suggests that the need for sales reps to sell your product or service might be a thing of the past…soon! This is good news for the small business owner who can’t afford a sales force. But it could also be good news for the best of the sales reps…who could soon be small business owners of their own selling their own products online. Todd Youngblood’s “SPE” Blog […]

  • […] Death of a Salesman. Whether you believe it or not, Todd Youngblood suggests that the need for sales reps to sell your product or service might be a thing of the past…soon! This is good news for the small business owner who can’t afford a sales force. But it could also be good news for the best of the sales reps…who could soon be small business owners of their own selling their own products online. Todd Youngblood’s “SPE” Blog […]

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