Do We Need Real Live Sales People Anymore?

With the internet’s inexorable encroachment into all things both personal and business, I often hear and read some business observers predicting that the future role of the sales person is under threat.

Sales people are expensive and high maintenance, and companies are now presented with a plethora of ever more sophisticated digital lead generation tools and techniques. These include SEO, blogging, internet forums, article directories, ebooks, social media marketing, pay-per-click advertising and advanced web analytics which give detailed insights into website visitors’ browsing and buying habits. Meanwhile, dynamic automated ‘push-marketing’ tools are becoming more and more effective in responding to customer buying preferences.

So, with all of this automated ‘digital’ power at an online marketer’s disposal, does this sound the “death knell” for the human sales person?

Well, it’s certainly true that the level of commoditisation of products and services increases every year, while the subsequent increase in the willingness of buyers to research and source sophisticated products and services over the Internet is rising accordingly.

However, certainly in the business world (and also in the high end of domestic buyer segments), what is actually happening is that purchasing decisions are becoming more polarized between ‘commodity’ purchase transactions (that can be delegated or completed online) and ‘strategic’ procurement decisions that represent a considerable investment in terms of value, complexity and/or risk.

In these latter strategic procurement decisions, it is true that business decision making involves (usually multiple) people who want to buy from companies and people they value and trust.

Selling in this new world means low margins for commodity suppliers and higher margins for ‘value-added’ suppliers of solutions to the customer’s strategic needs. Companies that want to protect or grow margins must therefore position themselves as value-added solutions providers and must identify, contact and interact with potential customers to make them realise that:

  • They have a need that is a priority in terms of magnitude and urgency;
  • The selling company understands the needs thoroughly and its solution will service that need in a unique and compelling way;
  • The benefits are high enough to warrant the expense involved in the purchase;
  • Any concerns are addressed and the selling company can be trusted to deliver on its promises;
  • The time to buy is now and the company to buy from is this one.

Therefore, in today’s ever more competitive world, the need for well informed and highly professional consultative sales people is becoming ever more critical to the success of a business. Those sales people and sales teams who intend to survive in this world need to be at the top of their game in terms of selling at the strategic level and by differentiating both themselves and their companies in terms of the unique value they create at that level.

Footnote: Just to underline the importance of how crucial sales people are still expected to be in this ever changing world, Facebook currently has 172 vacancies posted around the world, of which no less than 110 are business-to-business sales roles or business development roles. That is a mighty 66% of all of vacancies in what is one of the most advanced tech companies in the world today. This is because Facebook is focusing on developing major business-to-business relationships around the world and realizes that the only way to do this is by having great people who can sell at the top of their game.


Written by: Adrian Atwood, Client Development Director at Sterling Chase