Here is a trivia question for the next time you and a group of friends enjoy tasty beverages at the neighborhood pub: can you name a once plentiful job that no longer exists?
Ready…here we go:
-Bowling alley pinsetter
-B2B sales rep
What a second? What was the last one? Business-to-business sales executive?
That can’t be right. There are currently millions of people employed worldwide in positions that involve selling products and services from one business to another.
Yet, according to analyst Andy Hoar at Forrester Research roughly one million B2B sales jobs will be lost to self-service eCommerce by 2020.
B2B buyers now favor do-it-yourself online options for researching and buying products and services, and they are demanding that B2B sellers fully enable those digital paths to purchase. Yet too many of today’s B2B companies still insist that B2B buyers interact with sales reps in order to complete a purchase…for the majority of B2B buyers who are self-educating online about products and services, or who already know what they want, the diversion is inconvenient and unwelcome.
Hoar does acknowledge that a minority of customers who buy complex and expensive products and services will continue to find value in talking to a sales rep. Yet, a considerable swath of sales professionals will become as irrelevant as the long-extinct Dodo bird.
I find Hoar’s prediction of a million lost to under-estimate the day of reckoning creeping up on unsuspecting B2B sales organizations. Research by CEB into a trend referred to as the enlightened buyer reveals that customers are nearly 60 percent of the way through the process before entertaining a conversation with a supplier.
Anecdotally, I see this trend manifest itself with my clients every day. Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) represents purveyors of high value and complex solutions. And guess what? Their customers have actively redefined the sales cycle to control when, where and how they will engage.
To remain viable (and employable) B2B sales reps must embrace a three-pronged approach:
- Be an expert in customer needs and market trends, rather than product features and functionality.
- Be a source for thought leadership and best practices via social media and digital participation. Don’t sell…share, guide and support.
- Aspire for intimacy in customer relationships. Ultimately, people do business with people they know and trust.
In the wonderfully amusing disaster flick Deep Impact mankind was threatened with an extinction level event due to a meteor strike.
Take heed, sales rep, and act now. Or you may just find yourself smacked in the head by a big falling rock.