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?