As a member of Vistage, I get to hear some very good speakers each month that are charged with educating, inspiring and provoking thought. Sam Bowers was the speaker for our group this month and led a discussion on the future of the sales profession.
In cliff notes, Sam shared his perspective and research that companies will eventually eliminate salespeople because of increased commoditization of products and services due to the internet. I.e. The prospect goes to various websites, gathers information, calls three to four companies and negotiates the best deal. There is no need for a salesperson. Or is there? Here are a couple of thoughts:
A) The business to consumer arena is the first to really take a look at the cost of sales and rethink the title of salesperson. It might be better to build an on-line presence or replace a salesperson with an information desk. Case in point. Has anyone shopped in a department store lately? It is a maze of products and staffed by sales clerks that are often trained in how to point you in the right direction. I was shopping for a bedspread this weekend. The major buying criterion was the color: the bedspread needs to be a solid ivory. The salesperson had no clue where to find the color so we wandered throughout the store. No luck until the salesperson brought over the visiting buyer who found a “kinda” ivory bedspread. The reward for finding the “kinda” ivory bedspread was a 10 minute product dump from the buyer to me on thread count, quality and feel of the fabric. (Did I mention that thread count and quality were not on my list of must haves.) A well trained salesperson would have asked me the following:
- You sound set on this color….can you share with me what you are envisioning for the room?
- Where have you looked?
- What else have you considered?
- Have you thought about?
- What colors are the walls? Curtains? Furniture? Nada, nope, nothing.
- Time to build an information desk that can point me in the right direction.
B. My opinion, which does not align with Sam’s, is that sales professionals will continue to be important in the business to business segment, especially where the purchase is complex and expensive. There is a need for strong business consultants that understand the business of business, their customer’s business and their customer’s customer. The salesperson of the future must develop critical thinking skills, problem solving skills and eliminate old selling tactics such as overcoming objections, leading questions and the assumptive close. Here’s the bad news: many salespeople are running vendor calls versus consultative sales calls. As a result, they get clobbered by the prospect who has been trained in negotiation and buying. Business owners and presidents will need to make a decision regarding their go to market strategy. If your product or service cannot be enhanced by a high level sales consultant, then make the shift to increasing efficiencies and stripping cost out of the business model. Go ahead and compete on price. If your company still adds value for the customer, please get your salespeople some training on consultative selling, emotional intelligence skills and negotiation skills. (By the way, they are all tightly connected.) There are too many sales teams being put in the commodity space too soon because of poor mindset and sales skill training. So there you have it. Now, it’s your turn. Is the profession of selling gone? My opinion is that there will always be room for people with influence skills, persuasion and problem solving skills.
Colleen Stanley Chief Selling Officer