When I worked in Sales, it never failed to amaze me how much criticism some customers have for their previous Account Aanager, and I used to think that “as I walk out the door I’m sure that they will be saying similar things when I eventually leave the account too”.
Yet the customer still bought from that company despite that disconnect between salesperson and the account. Sure, it could be down to the brand and scale of the company alone; or it could be down to only a few companies being able to provide those particular products that I sold; but they could always source these products and services from thousands of different places.
So is selling still a relevant and required profession and does it really have an impact on the customer buying decision?
Outsource the outsourcer
In today’s organisations, the sales teams are one of the few departments that hasn’t been affected by outsourcing. After all, your sales teams are at the forefront of the business, they are customer facing and need to be visible and easily accessible to your customers. However, more and more companies are resorting to less costly ways of servicing their clients by having fewer external, field salespeople, and managing many customers remotely over phone and email. This has meant that the sales forces of yesterday are long gone, it is a scaled down skeleton team that cover the biggest customers. Do we still need face to face, traditional sales people?
Another factor is the move to online retail by consumers and also businesses for their purchases. Even when companies do interact face to face, their procurement may be operated through an automated online tool so there is less interaction between sales and client in the buying process. In many scenarios, customers are now purchasing purely online; even for technical requirements there is such a vast repository of information readily available that customers don’t need the expertise of their account managers, or the cost, and prefer to fulfil it themselves online.
The buyer has become more complex
Despite this, as business feels the effects of globalisation and technology advances, so too does the buying process in many fields become more complex. There is just more choice nowadays, and every product from a new microwave to a data centre software suite has more and more technology built in, which takes conversations away from a straightforward comparison sale. We have more financing options than ever before, we have energy and green considerations and we have complicated pricing models that distort our ability to compare on merit and value.
So as products and companies have become more complex, the need for sales to guide customers through the quagmire of information has grown. Sales people need to be experts in their industry, product and company, and also able to thoroughly grasp the requirements of their customers. The traditional slick sales teams are redundant, and in their place is a humbler yet more specialised account manager to provide high levels of customer support whilst coming up with innovative ways to solve customer challenges.
So the sales profession hasn’t died but it may have evolved beyond all recognition.