According to Forrester a million B2B sales jobs are set to disappear by 2020. But isn’t this just confirmation of what most sales professionals realised 10 or 15 years ago? Forrester categorises into neat piles the various types of sales people from the order takers at the bottom to the consultants at the top, from simple product sales into more complex environments. They did a great job of making what is very simple into something rather complicated, albeit eruditely written.
Of course order takers will disappear and the proportion of experts required in the sales process will grow in line with the increasing complexity of products. Sales professionals have already witnessed the order taking role being handled online, so the poor sales rep armed with a mobile phone, a garage bought sandwich and a company car was bound to be next in line. But the value in what Forrester is saying is that ‘social selling’, which uses the mass of online information to enhance the sales process, is now a major part of the future of B2B sales.
That buyers are considerably more knowledgeable than they used to be is a given, it’s easy to research products or services and get close to a decision about what to buy before you even contact a supplier. But this omits the opportunity to provide the useful service of being an ‘educator’, someone that the buyer recognises and trusts.
That’s why the consultative sales person, possibly an account or new business manager in a corporate function, will likely always be there to fill in knowledge gaps and assist in the final decision. Which leaves the burning question: how can we restrict sales people who bombard us with their wares to only those that are relevant?
The answer does lie broadly in the domain of social selling although in many ways it should be called ‘relevant selling’ as the word ‘social’ gives implications that are inaccurate. True, social networks can be a part of the information supply chain but they do not comprise all of it. Relevant information comes from a much broader sphere, in the same way that product review data doesn’t just come from the specialist journal, ‘Which XXX’ it comes from review and comparison networks.
Buyers demand to be sold to by people that have sufficient ‘intelligence’. Unless the seller can say something relevant in the subject line it just won’t make it through the ‘junk mail scan’. As a sales person you would only want to sell to people who were relevant, or had an actual need. This is fundamental to know before they even pick up the phone or send the email that has to cut through the deluge of data.
It seems that it would be in everyone’s interests to ‘give to get’ by becoming active participants in the collaborative world of shared data. For our own part we are encouraging companies to load as much non-confidential data as they can into as many collaborative environments as possible. This will mean that organisations using those same platforms will sell appropriately and save both their own and their customer’s energy by being relevant.
LinkedIn is living proof that we are prepared to do it and has become the industry standard personal phone book (the most used tool of recruiters globally). All corporate buyers require is the same selective approach that anyone would ask for in their personal lives.
Jobs in the sales sector are changing as a result of evolution and in itself this is not particularly significant. But what will have massive impact is the changing behaviour of the buyer and seller. It’s good bye to e-shots, cold calling, spraying and praying – the change, which is far more exciting than any job statistics is the era of informed selling – call it social selling if you like.
Andrew Yates, CEO of Artesian Solutions