Sales Hasn't Changed. It's Disappearing!

Traditional Sales Will Disappear

I entered "sales has changed" into Google and got 1.29 billion hits in 0.23 seconds. (Yes! Billion not million.) Confronting me was a sea of experts sharing their perspective on how we've moved from Sales 1.0 to Sales 2.0, and how sales has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the past 100. I didn't bother to read any of them. Why? Because they're all wrong!

Sales Hasn't Changed

The world has changed. We live in a very different world than we did 25 years ago. Twenty five years ago, the Berlin Wall fell, and with it much of the structural assumptions of the modern world. In a way, the fall of the Berlin wall symbolized the fall of modernism and the triumph of postmodernism. In our postmodern world, nothing can be taken for granted. This loss of structure is the main reason salespeople and the profession of sales have lost their way.

Sales worked well in a structured world. You knew your role and I knew mine. My role was to educate and persuade you. Your role was to learn, be persuaded and open your wallet. Ahh. Why can't we bring back the good ol' days? Sales conferences were organized to educate salespeople on product features and then wind them up with enthusiasm so they could get out there and "sell, sell, sell".

As the world has become more complex, and buyers have become more sophisticated, there is an increasing pressure on salespeople to meet their quotas and justify their existence. Ultimately, sales has not changed. It is still about educating and persuading prospective clients. The problem is it must now operate in a completely different context. In addition to a more sophisticated buyer, salespeople also face the rapidly emerging challenge of increasingly sophisticated e-commerce platforms. Hmm. A sophisticated buyer and robust e-commerce... where does a traditional salesperson fit in?

Traditional Sales Will Disappear

I predict that the traditional salesperson will disappear altogether within the next 10 years. Technology will see to that. We are already seeing the trend of organizations moving from field sales to inside sales in order to reduce the cost of sales. Isn't the next logical step to move from inside sales to e-commerce or channel partners who have trusted relationships with buyers? Sales professionals have only one choice: they must recognize that they are in the middle of a dramatic polarization. On one side is increasingly robust e-commerce and easy-to-use systems and on the other is the Strategic Account Manager -- both have great value to the sophisticated buyer. For well-defined problems, the buyer can get exactly what he wants via Google and e-commerce exactly when he wants it. For complex, emerging and poorly defined problems, the buyer can get a business partner who understands his business as well as any employee (and perhaps even better than most). This partner has command of a myriad of resources and is constantly thinking about what's next for her client. She is a Trusted Advisor and makes herself indispensable to her client. The Trusted Advisor still educates and persuades. The buyer still opens his wallet. But this exchange is happening within a very different context. Both client and Trusted Advisor enjoy a highly profitable and mutually beneficial relationship -- what I call a Symbiotic Partnership.

If You're in the Middle, You'll Be Crushed

Buyers will always want transactions, they just won't pay for the overhead of a salesperson. In addition to transactions, buyers will always require transformations. For these, they will happily pay for a Strategic Account Manager. Suppliers will be automated. Symbiotic Partnerships will never be automated. They require a genuine human-to-human connection. Those who try to play in the middle as transactional salespeople will be crushed by the march of progress.
Adrian Davis
Adrian Davis> all articles
With over 20 years of experience in professional selling, Adrian's rise from homelessness to phenomenal success in the trenches gives him credibility before any sales audience. His experience in the field, as a practitioner and as an advisor to CEOs and their executive teams, informs his role as a sales strategist and trainer. When working with sales leaders and their teams, he has a relentless focus on driving results. He positions the sales department as one of the most important assets of any organization.

Adrian, the author of Human to Human Selling, is also a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), past president of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers -- Toronto Chapter, and the president of management consulting firm Whetstone Inc. He has earned a reputation for delivering insightful and exhilarating keynotes and workshops. As an expert in sales and strategy, he is frequently called upon to advise senior leadership teams and sales groups on the subjects of sales strategy and relationship management.

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  • /_ckcommon/images/blanks/userPicture.jpgJohnson Kandi6/25/2014 5:35:49 AM
    Good article with a different eye on the current generation with the future. But still not fully convinced. Can someone convince me on this article so that i could buy it.

  • /data/userPictures/2A6A8166-6D98-4D60-8613-E76C7096BF98.jpgAdrian Davis6/25/2014 8:22:38 AM
    Hi Johnson,

    Thanks for your comment. The clear trend I am seeing is buyers are becoming more empowered and less patient with non-value-added interactions. Some may argue that transactional sellers will always have a role.

    I don't think it's critical to be convinced one way or the other. I think what is critical, however, is that we remain aware, look for signals and be wiling to act before it's too late. History is full of examples of people who stuck to the status quo for too long and were made irrelevant by the march of progress.

  • /data/userPictures/C82819ED-4005-4FD8-A368-5166A14659F8.jpgJeff S. Wiebe7/4/2014 10:02:16 AM
    Thanks for the post. The accuracy of your interesting prediction depends on how we define a traditional salesperson. The model of a 'chatty brochure-wielder who carries an order book' is already nearly extinct. I like your Trusted Advisor paradigm and think it is indeed the future of our profession.

  • /data/userPictures/2A6A8166-6D98-4D60-8613-E76C7096BF98.jpgAdrian Davis7/7/2014 7:05:58 PM
    Well said Jeff! I think you've captured the traditional salesperson well. As I work with clients, we use the terms inside-out vs. outside-in. Inside-out means one is product focused. If you scrutinize these salespeople, they really don't know much about their clients and what they do know is superficial and dated. They specialize in product knowledge and then try to push their "solution" onto prospects.
    The new breed of salesperson is outside-in, i.e., they are client-focused. While they know their products well, what they really specialize in is understanding their customers/prospects. It is this deep understanding that enables them to provide rich insights and relevant applications.
    I think as we move into the future, context will become increasingly important to initiating and developing strategic relationships.
    Thanks for your comment!