Slate Magazine Predicts the Demise of Salespeople Part I
Three Strategies for Selling in the New Economy

Slate Magazine Predicts the Demise of Salespeople Part II

The author James Ledbetter wrote a story in Slate magazine about the Death of a Salesman. Of Lots of Them, Actually.

The article concluded with: “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.

Read what well respected sales leaders had to say:

Craig Jones, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, ADS Americas
James-head "I think that it is indicative of the great uncertainly that is currently gripping the market.  As companies decreased production in 2009 to try and increase scarcity of product, sales forces were reduced at rates equal to or less than their manufacturing coworkers.  As the reduction in surplus is taking effect and confidence is building in the market demand for goods and sales people to fill those needs IS increasing.  Salespeople are the engines of growth and once senior business leaders see that the recovery is more than short term, hiring will increase and good talent will be in high demand.  We are seeing that in our business as we are going out in the market to recruit management talent to help drive our growing business.  The less people hear about bad news the more consumers will begin to demand products and companies seek sales people to fill those demands.  Market segments will be effected unequally and some markets (housing, automotive, luxury goods) may take a decade to recover to 2008 levels. I am very optimistic for the future."

Mark Roberge, VP Sales Hubspot
Roberge-head "Great article Gerhard.  I especially like the point about the disruptive effects of the Internet.  The Internet has shifted control in the sales process from the seller to the buyer.  A decade ago, a buyer had to interact with a sales person to get the information they needed.  One could be "in sales" if you simply memorized a product sheet, mastered a PowerPoint deck, or knew how to process an order.  Thanks to the Internet, buyers can accomplish these tasks online and prefer the experience over a "pushy" sales person. 
Today, a sales person needs to add value to the buying process by being an expert in their industry.  They need to understand how to build trust with a prospect, understand the prospect's unique pain, and work with the prospect on potential solutions.  Sometimes that may even mean recommending an alternative product if your company is not the right fit.  At a recent conference, I heard a great quote that sales is no longer about Always Be Closing but instead Always Be Helping.  That was a smart comment."

David DiStefano, President, Richardson
Distefano-head "Although I don’t believe the “salesman” is an endangered species by any measure, it is undeniable that the internet has forever altered the landscape of buying and selling.  As such many sales roles/people have become “commoditized” and will continue to struggle to adapt to this new world we live in. You might ask what I mean by “commoditized” sales roles. As the author pointed out, sales roles typically don’t require technical training or other specialized skills and in today’s internet dominated society and compounded by the severe global recession, a large number of sales people who relied on personality or charisma find themselves ill equipped for success and have suddenly become a replaceable commodity. On the flip side, the opportunity for sales people and their employers is to recognize the importance of “specialized skills” that are essential to succeed. The combination of deep personal conviction, the desire to help customers succeed and an advanced mastery of critical selling skills including listening and questioning and an appropriate level of business acumen are in fact “specialized skills” that when demonstrated at the highest levels led to success that is not replaceable. So in fact, although the professional of selling does not require formal education per se, it does require the refinement of these specialized skills each and every day."

Clint Fairweather,  Director, Organizational Effectiveness, SunGard Financial Systems
Fairweather-head "Interesting piece.  If the author believes that sales professionals hold the “middle”, I couldn’t disagree more.  With development and skills training, a sales person not only gets better at their current job, but will most likely excel at higher levels."



Jim Dickie, Partner CSO Insights
Dickie-head "The cases the article cites regarding car salespeople and pharma reps, are two examples where sales forces were created to primarily share "product" information with clients. The Internet is taking over that task and is very attractive to buyers for two reasons; first it is available 24/7, second customers can access information without talking to a rep unless they are ready to do so. Will this cause some of those jobs to disappear? Yes, or it may cause them to evolve.
There are other types of sales people who are in place to share "problem solving" information. A property and causality sales rep's main role is to help clients wade through a vast array of potential coverages to find the one that mitigates the risk most effectively for their customer. An HP or IBM reps value add is helping clients determine the most effective ways to leverage technology to solve business problems. In areas like, telecomm, professional services, oil and gas exploration, etc., the role of the rep is evolving from selling a product to helping clients co-create a solution.
If I had written the article, I would rather have said the product rep may be on the verge of extinction, but selling as a profession is not. If I bring a new product to market it would be foolhardy to think I was going to be successful simply by having my computer talk to your computer. Rather I need to focus on my solution specialist talking to your problem specialist."

The profession of selling keeps growing

The fact that selling is quickly becoming a profession is evidenced by the growing number of University Sales Programs. The following universities teach a minimum of three professional sales courses. These universities offer sales internships and they are a prime target for companies who want to recruit well educated sales professionals.

Ball State, Baylor, Bradley, California State, Central Michigan, College of Saint Catherine, DePaul, Florida State, Georgia Southern, Illinois State, Indiana, Kennesaw State, Michigan State, Missouri State, Nicholls State, Northern Illinois, Ohio, University of Akron, University of Arkansas, University of Central Florida, University of Connecticut, University of Dayton, University of Houston, University of Louisville, University of Nebraska, University of Toledo, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, Washington State, Western Carolina, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, Widner University, Weilliam Paterson University,

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Darryl Miller

Old school sales dead? Hell, I guess I didn't get that notification. I don't know that the techie industries ever got "old school" in the first place. I don't think of spamming and cold calling as old school--but to me are quite modern. Selling to business people is about being with the decision makers face to face, engaging in conversation, and doing business. That stuff isn't going away. GOYA (get off your ass ...and sell) simply works.


Great article. I agree with the statement made that Mark Roberge made that the shift has been made between sellers and buyers. The idea of sales people hunting down customers has been declining for a while and customers do not want to be spammed and cold called. Sales people are needed to help customers that have already identified the product/services they need move through the process. Old school sales is dead.

Dave Jarvis

I'd agree that some traditional sales functions will migrate away and that may mean reductions in overall numbers. For instance, hunting for leads by going office to office or lab to lab is no longer acceptable use of a salesperson's time. But I don't see salespeople vanishing as long as there are problems to be solved and trust relationships to be built.

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