The Death of the Salesperson

Research shows that B2B buyers are engaging less (and later in the buying-process) with sales professionals.

Even where the solution / product is complex or high-value, buyers research information from digital sources that influence their assessment of available options before engaging in a conversation with sales. And where products and services are of lower value or complexity, or repeat purchases, the use of eCommerce is increasing; which leads to even less pre-purchase interaction with sales.

Marketing needs to adapt to this environment by providing buyers with access to the information, content and tools online.

Certainly for complex solutions or where there is a reasonably long buying-process the buyer will still value the human interaction that comes from engaging with the sales function of a potential supplier.

Marketing’s role here is to nurture the buyer throughout an extended buying process until the buyer is ready to engage with sales. Marketing automation technology and a sophisticated mix of techniques can be used to deliver relevant, personalised content that engages buyers.
Better informed and more self-sufficient buyers are having a dramatic impact on the culture, structure and role of both sales teams and marketing teams.

Research by Forrester and presented at the 2015 Forrester Sales Enablement Forum in Arizona brings the future of B2B sales teams into sharp focus. In the US, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 4.5 million B2b salespeople. As the roles and therefore respective importance of marketing increases and sales decreases it is estimated that 22% of B2b sales roles will be eliminated over the next 5 years.

One million jobs will be displaced by 2020″Andy Hoar, Principal Analyst Forrester Research

Forrester Research has identified the four main types of sales professionals and how they will be impacted:

Type of Role Current ranking by number of roles Impact on number of roles Replacement

  1. Order Takers – Dramatic decrease due to self service resources
  2. Navigators – Decrease due to tools and integration that streamline procurement
  3. Explainers – Significant decrease due to sophisticated websites, content and distribution using automation
  4. Consultants – Will see an increase in demand as businesses de-skill roles that are not business critical and outsourcing increases

The research doesn’t forecast the demise of all B2b sales roles. It highlights that it is lower skill roles that are likely to be most affected and disappear.

However, it also highlights that as the complexity of the solution / product increases, the number of the most sophisticated sales professionals (consultants) will need to increase. Sales consultants have a high level of knowledge of the suppliers’ solutions / products and importantly are able to advise the buyer on how they can be best implemented within buyer’s organisation. Their value comes from their ability to give specialist advice and expertise on the specific customer’s circumstances. By its bespoke nature, this expertise isn’t something that marketing can easily produce and publish.

The recommendations for B2b suppliers that follow from this change in the way that buyers now engage with prospective suppliers are:

  1. Scale back their sales teams and invest this budget into marketing capability
  2. Embrace technology for marketing that radically alters the way that marketing reach and engage with their potential customers
  3. Invest in sales professionals at the highest level (consultants) ensuring that they have the skills and knowledge to provide valuable expertise to buyers

For individual salespeople the message is clear – over the next few years the market will value those that have the greatest knowledge and skills and are able to provide consultancy-level advice and guidance to customers.