By 2023 the traditional ‘sales rep,’ as we still know them today, will no longer exist.
All the information that we require will be available digitally and will be accessible everywhere. Customers will no longer feel that they require any sort of sales presentation whatsoever, in order to make informed decisions. Rather, customers will diagnose their problems and define the solutions without any human interaction with possible suppliers. Automation and procurement departments will then ensure the best price and terms are obtained.
Meetings, either face to face or via video conference, may be required to reassure a customer that they can work with a particular supplier. However, these will be merely box-ticking exercises allowing little opportunity for a traditional sales person to ‘add value.’ Moreover, these meetings may be better suited to the talents of a customer relationship manager, who can foster good relationships with a customer, rather than a traditional salesperson with their abilities to ‘handle objections’ and ‘close deals.’
This, of course, does not mean that in 2023 companies will no longer ‘sell.’ Nor does it imply that there will be no personnel responsible for ‘creating opportunities’ and obtaining ‘deals.’
However, successful companies in 2023 will not be using the model utilised by most businesses today.
Information will increasingly be disseminated through conversation rather than publication. Peer-to-peer platforms will be the environments that are used more and more to obtain information as the trust in traditional organisations, such as governments, religious institutions, banks and businesses break down. It will be within these ‘created communities’ that sales leads, credibility and trust will be secured.
The implication of this is that the traditional ‘hunters’ of the sales world will no longer be needed. These are the people who metaphorically ‘bashed down doors’ by visiting industrial estates and office blocks, and went door to door, or made cold telephone calls, probably the main lead generation activity of most salespeople.
Instead, leads will be gathered by using listening tools and monitoring social platforms and communities. Companies will be looking for triggers that can be the start of a worthwhile conversation. In order to be able to have these conversations, those engaged in sales, in the future, will have to be leading experts in their field. They will require a real grasp of the wider implications and business imperatives of the challenges faced.
Moreover, the work will not just take place when a conversation begins. Those engaged in sales activities will have to demonstrate their value and credibility beforehand. This means that they will have to be writing blogs and articles, posting on social platforms and contributing in forums. ‘Becoming an influencer’ in their particular specialism will become a more important aspect of the role that is required from a business development specialist. Of course, this is a complete change from the skills that most ‘salespeople’ currently require, or are trained in, by those who employ them. Moreover, some of the work highlighted will crossover with the activities of the marketing team.
Perhaps this brings another big evolution to the forefront, that by 2023, the idea of having separate sales and marketing departments will be an anachronism from yesteryear. These two departments will have to merge into one, entitled something like ‘Customer Communications.’ Within this department there will be those who are the public face of a business and those who will take more of a back-room role, but everyone will have to work closely together.
In fact, as customer service, and even delivery taking place online and on platforms accessible to all, every person within an organisation, will have to be trained and well versed in customer communications. Businesses will find that some of the key influencers in customers making purchasing decisions are not officially in their sales or marketing teams at all.
As customers, themselves, take the lead in purchasing decisions rather than relying on a few sales presentations from possible suppliers, the techniques and approach that those involved in selling will need to develop will be very different from the skill sets that most people think are important in 2013.
Salespeople have traditionally focused on speaking to customers at their time of ‘need.’ The process has then been to understand their challenges, provide solutions, explain the virtues of their offering over others and ‘close’ the business. Customers will use the information they obtain online to diagnose their issues and find relevant solutions. The result will be that salespeople will no longer be able to ‘add value’ during this part of the process.
The opportunity, in the future, for salespeople to add value to potential customers is when their buying journey is about to start. Instead of knocking on customer doors, the requirement will be for salespeople to ensure they are ‘hanging out’ in the places where customers start to look for answers.
Instead of touting solutions, salespeople will only provide value and gain credibility with a customer if they are able to deliver ‘insights.’ That is, have the ability through video and the written word to be able to challenge a customer’s thinking and provide them with real ‘food for thought.’ In this way, a salesperson will be giving real value, gaining credibility and actually helping their customer define their buying criteria. This will also help the sales process as there is likely to be a much better fit between customer and supplier, further down the line.
In short, by 2023, sales will not be a department, but a way of working. Companies will have to change the structure of their communications, and their perception of how they create value, in order to accommodate this change. Meanwhile, salespeople themselves will need a different set of skills in order to accomplish the new set of tasks they will find themselves undertaking.
We are moving towards a brave new world. As in so many other aspects of business, sales will see a radical change in order to meet the new paradigms that are starting to emerge.
This chapter is taken from the book "The Future Front," which looks at what business communication and operations will look like years from now. Each chapter is written by an expert in their relative field and presents a picture of now and then, predicting what the ‘working environment’ is likely to look like 10 years from now. Being agile, with the ability to respond to a rapidly changing way of working will be key, and this book will enable individuals and organizations to plan and prepare for the changes in the business landscape leading up to 2023.