Sales People: Death Of Salesman 2.0?

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Sep 072011

Sales People: Death Of Salesman 2.0?

 Sales People: By Tibor Shanto – Principal – Renbor Sales Solutions Inc, Via

 Sales People: Ah, the poor 21st century sales professionals, if he/she is not getting it from their manager, they are being squeezed by what he thought was a “loyal” customer, wringing yet another concession to ensure they keep the business.  As if all that were not enough, there is always a sniper, pundit or sales expert ready to threaten their existence and value.  One such “end is near” piece was on, entitled “How Many Sales people Will Be Left by 2020?“, according to which the species will be all but extinct by the end of this decade.

While I think it is important for experts and pundits to challenge sales people to stretch and evolve, to stay on top and ahead of evolving trends and technology, it is also important to keep it real.  Since the advent of technology, especially from the start of the last century on, there has been a debate about the impact of technology on selling and sellers.  The recurring prediction that sales people will be replaced or diminished in importance by automation, seems a favourite among some.

Technology no doubt brings levels of efficiency that will make selling different and impact the interaction between sellers and buyers.  And while this discussion is important, it also needs to be real.  It is important that we pundits help and contribute to the process of evolution, rather than impede or distract with outlandish statements that serve a narrow and self-serving agenda.

The piece starts and builds from a question asked by the author at Sales 2.0 conference, relating to acquiring books from, and interaction with staff.

For me, and for all professional sales people, the piece has some short comings, not the least of which are it fails to address or distinguish the real difference between B2B and B2C; it fails to differentiate between transaction – interaction – purchasing and selling.

If there is the dramatic reduction in the species that the piece suggests, it is almost certainly to come in the B2C camp, not in the B2B.  Buying a book from Amazon is as retail as it gets, even more so than the drive through at SONIC℠.  There is a great difference between selling and buying, and more so between buying/selling and fulfilment, which is what Amazon does when it comes to books.  The book was sold by the author, publisher, pr firm, Oprah, and these days social media, but Amazon, they just delivered it.  Most people these days will go in to B&N look at the book, compare and then transact using the fulfilment facilities offered by Amazon, There is no more selling by Amazon there than going to your local Piggly Wiggly® for a tube of toothpaste.  Just look at how Piggly Wiggly® describes itself on their site,”America’s first true self-service grocery store, was founded in Memphis, Tenn. in 1916 by Clarence Saunders.”  Not much new there, it has been going for 100 years; the store has just shifted to my screen.

As for the statement: “Gartner, a research organization, predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of interactions between businesses will be executed without human intervention. It is likely that of the 18 million salespeople in the United States, there will be only about 4 million left.”  Gartner quotes interactions not sales.  EDI has been around for a long time facilitating interactions between business, with the victims being more inventory clerks than B2B sales professional.  Even when you look at concepts like Vendor Managed Inventories, the reduction in bodies have been related to warehouses and accounts payable staff than in the sales people who sell the service to begin with.

While we are all impressed with Watson’s success, that is a long way from creating demand, generating leads, dealing with all the variables that human interactions involve when it come to risk, money and emotion.  I am not sure Watson answered complex questions as much as to chew through reams of data with breakneck speed.  Dealing with a buyer afraid to pull the trigger on a change that is good for the company. Or responding and managing to emotionally based “objections”, are the same as searching a database at any speed.  For an interesting examination of this read a piece: “Jeopardy, Schmeopardy, Why IBM’s next target should be a machine that plays poker“.  By Chris Wilson, Feb. 15, 2011.

Another puzzling aspect to this is that the same people who seem to harp on relationships, and “people buy from people”, seem to be the ones supporting the disappearing sales person view.  I don’t claim to be an expert, but how does Watson fit into the social selling world of the future?

An altogether more practical view of the issue was presented by Jeffrey Gitomer, in a piece in his July 5th edition of Sales Caffeine in a piece titled “Death of a Salesman! How alive are you?“.

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