Last week, the editor of Reuters.com, James Ledbetter shared his belief that salespeople are an endangered species. Take a look at the article below.
If you read this article carefully you’ll find that Ledbetter first argues that “salesmen” are disappearing and this seems to be the reason why America’s economy is suffering. I think that this line of reasoning is nonsense. First, we should stop using the word salesmen. If you advertised jobs for salesmen, you’d be sued for discrimination. Second, the decline of America’s economy hasn’t been caused by the loss of sales jobs. The economic decline was caused by bankers who turned into gamblers, enabled by a lack of regulatory oversight. That decline lead to the loss of jobs across all sectors, including sales.
Mr. Ledbetter is an accomplished journalist who has written several books. What strikes me as odd is his fascination with death and depression. He wrote the book, The Death of Public Broadcasting, and co-authored a book on the Great Depression. His Slate article closes with this death-march drum beat: “The strength of sales jobs is that they can be reasonably high-paying but typically don't require technical training or other specialized skills. When those jobs disappear, the people who hold them will often be pushed down the wage ladder or even out of the workforce. Sixty years after Willy Loman, that is our tragedy.”
I don’t think the profession of selling is headed towards tragedy. On the contrary; the profession of selling is going to meet with greater opportunities than ever before.
I asked a number of people whose opinions I trust to comment on this article. Take a look. Read them and share your comments.
Michael Weening, VP Sales Bell Mobility
"It has been proven time and time again, that people are more likely to buy from people that they like or have a relationship with. Companies simply need to do the math: When the value of the sale is matched with an increased probability of volume, due to persuasion, and it makes financial sense, then the salesperson will remain in the equation. If the value of the sale is so low, or relationship does not play a part in the purchase, the salesperson will be cut out. Simple.”
Ken Powell, VP World Wide Sales Enablement, ADP
"This transformation is consistent with the greatness that has defined the American economy for hundreds of years. The advent of technology its adoption into mainstream business has driven changes and necessary adaptation of the American worker. Those who used to farm had to adjust their skills to work in factories. Factory workers had to modify their skills to sit behind a desk. Desk workers had to move from pencil pushing to thinking and now thinkers have to adapt to be innovators. Unlike the sales person who pushed product, persuaded buyers and closed business, as a result of readily available product specifications and information on the Internet, the new sales person has to be a change agent. The sales person of this next century will sell perspective and ideas, not products or even solutions, so like every other transformation that the American, and now global worker has encountered, the new era sales person has to adapt, change and find a new way to bring value."
Emmanuelle Skala, VP Global Sales Operations, Sophos
"I think the article is dead-on. The interesting impact that he doesn’t really delve into is B2B. While I don’t have the statistics on the number of sales people in B2B dropping what I can tell you is that it is much harder to create demand. Demand is already created before you ‘get to the dance’. The typical sales process of “Discovery” -> Solution Mapping -> Solution Validation no longer works because buyers are coming to us during their “Evaluate Options” stage of the buying process (post Need Development). And when they do, they won’t want to go BACK to discovery/need development where they have to re-hash to the sales rep why they are here. In their mind, they have done the research, they have developed the need and now they just want to see the product.
Sales reps need to understand where the buyer is and meet them there. Going into Need Development when they come to us in Evaluate Options is counter-productive and will turn away customers and perpetuate the myth that ‘sales reps don’t listen and don’t understand me’.
At Sophos, we teach what we call the “Stage 4 Rewind”. (Our stage 4 is Solution Validation). The Stage 4 rewind teaches reps to work backwards with the customer instead trying to start from the beginning. For example, a prospect comes to us and says “I have a need. I’ve done my research. I want to evaluate you and 2 other competitors”. Instead of peppering them with questions on what their pains are (essentially taking them back to the beginning of a normal selling process), the rep should engage the prospect where they are (in this case they are thinking PRODUCT) by asking them “what type of solution are you looking for? What does your ideal solution look like?” Then follow this up with “Why does it need to do that?” Then follow up with “What benefit would that provide to you”? Then follow that with “Why is that important to your business? What pains does that solve?” etc etc. Working backwards from Product/solution to pain versus jumping right to pain is more natural for the buyer and meets them where they are."
What do you think? Is the profession of selling doomed as Ledbetter says? Read Part II tomorrow.