On January 12th, I posed the rhetorical question: "Have We Been Witnessing The Death of Professional Selling?"
I went on to say ..."Interesting question? I think we all know the answer - deep in our hearts - but many people will not want to answer it, because for them, that answer is something they cannot possibly contemplate.
That's the bad news. The good news is that it really is not that simple; yes, selling is undergoing the biggest upheaval it has ever undergone, and we do not have any choices, we have to go with the flow. The fatality list is going to be extensive - unparalleled - but for the lucky few, a new dawn beckons."
Since that post, sections of the sales space have been "agitated" to respond in various forms, ranging from the thoughtful to the myopic and protectionist.
Frankly, I was re-assured by all the responses, including those that came served with a generous helping of bile and vitriol, even though they offered no alternative opinion. As a revered acquaintance shared with me recently, albeit about a totally unrelated issue: "People with no parade of their own, will always be happy to rain on yours" I did question the use of the word "rain" and suggested a more suitable alternative.
To those people, I would say this: If I read a blog post today with this headline: "Are We Witnessing the Death of Marriage?" my first reaction would be an emotional one, because I firmly believe in the sanctity of marriage. That's the emotional and myopic viewpoint of course.
Reality then kicks-in: I contemplate how many of my friends have divorced, and how marriage for many couples is like a disposable tissue, to be discarded at will, as soon as something better comes along.
I carry out some research, and I do indeed discover that divorce rates are soaring - 58% currently in Europe. I read that actually young people are preferring to co-habit, rather than tie themselves into anything long-term. More and more women are choosing to be single parents, and raise their babies out of wedlock .... and so on.
Conclusion? Yes, it would appear that we are indeed sadly witnessing the death of marriage. But, and this is a big BUT, I totally respect any individual's right to make their own life choices. At the end of the day, we should all resolve to do what is right for us, and not be dictated to by anyone, least of all the Church, which, in my view, needs to get its own house in order. (Just realized that I have opened another bag of worms with that comment - yet another full post-bag on its way - ho hum!)
The relevance of all of that? Well, in the same way, those that have contemplated the topic of the future of professional selling, have taken a far more pragmatic and intelligent approach, sifting through the considerable evidence, and arriving at more or less the same conclusions I arrived at.
This is not a topic that lends itself in any way to ostrich-like behavior - or come to that, narrow-mindedness. Neither is it something that anyone I know intends to make commercial or political gain from, despite one person's opinion, not made directly to me I should add, but as usual, through a third-party medium ....
"The idea is to create a problem that does not exist then create courses and sell books to head off the disaster that never was on the way and laugh all the way to the bank. At least, that is my impression."
He continues ...
"And it really doesn't matter to me how many years experience you have, how many you trained or who is in your alleged book "who's who."
"Maybe it is not your intent but you are framing yourself as a politician hoping to be elected to solve a problem that is not there."
I rest my case!
The reality is that "selling" covers such a wide spectrum of situations and industries.
98% of sales (it might even be 99%) are made in a B2C scenario - business to consumer - and as I made very clear in my original post, this is where we are witnessing the most fatalities.
It is not just beginning to happen, it has been happening for years. It's progress. Why employ expensive and non-performing salespeople, when consumers don't need them?
I quoted my experiences over the Christmas period, when I purchased computer equipment, clothes, a new mobile phone, food and wine, and even a new car - all online - no selling involved.
Has anyone asked consumers if they prefer to buy online or be cajoled and "persuaded" by a salesman or woman? We can find all the information and all the advice we need from the comfort of our armchairs, and make our own informed choices, we are more informed than we ever have been - and often more informed than the so called sales "professionals" who are trying to sell to us.
I do not in anyway consider myself to be a sophisticated online shopper, but neither am I a Luddite - something in between possibly - maybe a "sophisticated Luddite."
The real "winners" in this new business to consumer relationship, and hence their increase in importance, are the marketers, who are helping to steer our online preferences - oh, and the company bosses, who are saving billions of dollars on salaries.
But let's return to what may have been perceived as a throw-away comment in my original post: "but for the lucky few, a new dawn beckons"
I have since quoted Jeb Brooks, of The Brooks Group, who in a recent post said:
"In today's super-modern, fast-paced, non-stop world, how easily can a sales professional move from one complex sales environment to another?
The answer, I think, depends on how much the salesperson is willing to learn. How quickly he can consume (and retain) information. In a Sales 2.0 where prospects and customers often know as much or more than salespeople, buyers are really looking for experts.
So...could your average, talented "I-Can-Sell-Anything-Salesperson" sell...
• ERP Systems;
• Organic Food;
• Book Contracts;
• Commercial Presses; AND
• Thoroughbred Horses?
No, the average salesperson could not."
I agree totally - well almost - I do buy my wine and organic food from known suppliers online, because I can now access resources globally, and I am no longer restricted to vendors from my own city!
So, once and for all, I have stated that it is my belief that marketing, technical support and customer service are going to become increasingly essential to commercial success, but professional selling in most B2B arenas will survive - and I said: "Finally, those salespeople who remain, will become genuine "business consultants, strategic orchestrators, and long-term allies"
The 2015 sales professional will not only be an industry expert, but also have a solid grasp of commercial issues, and as a consequence, they will speak the language of the buyer, not their own"
This is a clarion cry to all sales professionals everywhere ... "In today's world of selling, there is less and less room for apprenticeship. Selling has become an exclusive club of highly skilled professionals, where product knowledge and time management skills, for instance, are the cost of membership, not leadership.
Ongoing research demonstrates that today's 'average' salesperson is just as effective as the high performer in explaining features and benefits effectively, relating a service or product to customer needs and closing a sale. But, above this Level 1 plateau of competence, the exceptional salesperson is busy defining the "basic skills of tomorrow"
The message is a very simple one - adapt and thrive, or stagnate and perish.
Two further resources you may care to acquaint yourself with:
"Death of a Salesman. Of Lots of Them, Actually." By James Ledbetter, an article which was sent to me by a good chum last week.
You really need to read the article in its entirety, but here are a couple of snippets.
"From 1950 to 1980, sales represented one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. In the 1980s, sales was by far the largest job-growth category, increasing 54 percent. That growth slowed in the 1990s, and by 2007, the number of sales job was shrinking. No other job category has experienced a drop this sharp in the same time period."
"But the biggest culprit in killing off sales jobs is right in front of you: the Internet. There was a lot of talk in the dot-com era, mostly positive, about "disintermediation," or creating direct connections between consumers and suppliers. Think of all the purchases you make today online that once would have been accompanied by a salesperson: a sweater, a book, a "compact disc," a small appliance or piece of electronic equipment, shares of a stock or mutual fund, airline tickets, etc. Even in my own industry-media supported by advertising-some ad space can be booked online, as Slate writer Seth Stevenson demonstrated in a video earlier this year. The precise impact of Internet selling on sales jobs is hard to quantify, but it's a big contributor and it's irreversible."
I suspect you may also enjoy this superb piece of thought provoking writing from another good chum, Christian Maurer, which offers us a very balanced and considered view-point - "Three Megatrends For Professional Selling"
So there we have it. Again, in case anyone is left in any doubt, when I asked the question: "Are We Witnessing the Death of Professional Selling?" - I repeat it was a rhetorical question!!!! I was not in any way suggesting that in five or ten years time sales professionals in every sector would become extinct.
There may even be some people who thought I might have been "mischief - making" - leading with a sensational headline, only to retreat when the atmosphere warms up.... not in my nature. Neither am I into goading anyone.
You would not catch me driving through the countryside and upon spotting a field full of newly born lambs, winding down my window and shouting "mint source" at the top of my voice.
Neither would I, upon being attacked by a group of turkeys (not sure what the collective noun is here, gaggle doesn't sound right) whilst on a country stroll, would I bend down and whisper "Only 158 days until Christmas, yum, yum"
And you certainly know that I would be the last person who on attending the launch of Windows 7, and being told by a very arrogant presenter from Microsoft that MS have alwaysgiven us world-class operating systems, might spit through my teeth: "What about that bloody useless Vista crap" It just would not be me.
That's it - subject closed - I have, for now, grown tired of this debate ... here endeth the epilogue.
Do look out for two significant upcoming Top Sales World Roundtables, later this month - "The Future of Professional Selling" featuring panels consisting of world class experts debating this most topical of... well, topics