Are You at Risk of Being Replaced by Technology? We have entered the “displacement economy” where new technology drives out the old ways of doing business. Do you remember how old phone booths were replaced by cell phones? Newspapers are steadily shrinking, while online content is continually expanding. Amazon.com recently reported that eBook sales are now exceeding print book sales. The music business has been displaced by online music sales tools like iTunes.
Innovative technology can also displace jobs. Over the years, ATM machines have replaced bank tellers and telephone operators have been replaced by automated answering technology. Travel agents ere replaced by travel websites. Video store clerks were replaced by Netflix. In NYC, doormen risk getting replaced by sophisticated security technology.
Will Salespeople be replaced by technology?
As we all know, the Web has become the computational platform for all business processes. Here is an example: Salesforce.com: The Sales Cloud Sales Cloud. The promise: Salespeople will become more productive, more effective and more collaborative.
Many technology vendors use a similar sales pitch: “We help your salespeople cut down the time they spend researching prospects, generating leads, preparing presentations, developing proposals and generating reports. As a result, they will be able to spend more time with customers and increase customer satisfaction and sales. Example:Microsoft Dynamics, CRM 4.0
The reality is that some companies are already leveraging technology, not to save time, but to save the high expense of keeping salespeople on the payroll. Case in point: At the latest Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston, Brian Dawson, CEO of Tel-Tron Technologies told the audience of 250 sales leaders that better technology allowed him to let the bottom three performers go.
What do the Experts say:
I asked a few experts for their opinions by asking this question: Do you see sales jobs being eliminated by technology? Here are their answers:
Jim Dickie, Partner of CSO Insights says, “I agree, auto dialers can replace sales jobs. However, I see a larger issue. If all a sales person can do is talk about the product, then for sure their job is at risk to technology. Customers can access a wealth of product information via the Internet: Websites full of not just data sheets but podcasts from developers talking about the design of the product, video clips of customers talking about the product, automated demos showing the product in action, etc. With the ability to get answers to their product questions that way, why do they need a sales rep? The role of sales is going to have to evolve to them providing a value-add, or otherwise they may well not be needed in the process.”
Mike Damphousse, CEO of Green Leads says, “We are using Connect and Sell and our productivity has gone through the roof. As a result, we have hired more people and we’ve grown our business. However, I do see companies making cuts in the sales staff after investing in technology. In some cases however, the job gets shifted and companies create new positions such as the manager of sales operations.”
Anneke Seley, CEO of Phone Works and author of the book Sales 2.0 says, “We may be eliminating low-level sales jobs with these technologies, but at the same time we are elevating the role of more skilled sales people, making them more productive, and generating more profit for their companies which can create more jobs - for additional geographies or more specialized territories. Or, the company generates more money to invest in educating the lower level people whose jobs were replaced by technology! More territories (lower rep to customer ratio) typically translate to better customer experience / service while growing revenue even though (or because) the "patch" is smaller.”
Dave Elkington, CEO of InsideSales says, “What we have found is that about 65% of our clients will use the benefits of the new technology to grow their business and 35% leverage the technology to reduce head count. We also see that many of our clients use the technology to help the less experienced inside sales reps become more professional. As a result, they are able to do the job of an outside sales rep and these outside sales reps are being let go. Our fastest growing product is our sales lead response management solution. Salespeople will get a web lead within seconds after a prospect visits their website. Within seconds of the online visit, the salesperson automatically dials the prospect, and automatically leaves a voice mail, followed by an email five minutes later. One salesperson can follow up with over 250 prospects a day and the callback rate is about 12 per day. Without automation, a salesperson may be able to follow up with only 30 leads per day. The demand for this is so huge that we’re growing at over 100% this year. While our clients let some of their people go, our biggest challenge is hiring good inside salespeople. But what’s most interesting is that some of our clients are leveraging technology to drive their competition out of business. In that case, it’s not only salespeople who lose their job; it’s the entire staff that loses their jobs.”
Brian Vass, VP Marketing at Sant says, “In our business, I haven’t seen any sales jobs eliminated due to technology. Companies are using our applications to make their sales people more productive, and they hope this extra capacity is used on revenue-generating activities and not the golf course. Our technology also makes sales people more effective by improving their win rate. Our customers typically have B2B sales forces with large quotas. They would rather invest in technology to improve the sales person’s effectiveness than save money on salaries.”
Simon Blackburn, VP Sales of ConnectAndSell says, “Introducing technology into a sales organization is no different than introducing any new IT system. We typically run a production pilot with a select group of sales reps so we can fine-tune to the specific customer needs (there are several ways to use ConnectAndSell). Once the pilot concludes, we make the necessary adjustments and roll-out to the rest of the sales team. The pilot approach has some big benefits to customers; we address issues early, collect great feedback from the
sales team, and, customers get to see the real potential of the system in the hands of their top performing sales reps."
Garth Moulton, Co-founder of Jigsaw says, "What I’m seeing from an anecdotal level is that technology is fueling the move by companies to transfer jobs from the traditional, outside, geographically dispersed suit- and- tie, in person sales guys to inside teams that are either 100% online and phone based or a hybrid. These Sales 2.0 teams make better use of the new technologies and methods, but I don’t think they are necessarily being replaced by technology. However, in the transfer of resources from higher paid, more expensive employees to much more efficient Sales 2.0 teams, there is considerable cost savings, if not actual headcount."
Action step: Read this new book by Seth Godin: Linchpin.
It will show you how to become indispensable to your employer. (The book is also available on Kindle). It’s a brilliant book that can change your life. After reading Linchpin, I was so impressed that I asked Seth to speak at our next Sales Leadership Conference in Philadelphia on Sept. 21st. We are lucky that he said yes since he accepts only very few speaking engagements. If you have never heard Seth Godin speak, don’t miss this opportunity. Get your invitation now.
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