The Disappearing Sales Organization—Is Yours Next?
Change leadership and sales expert, Brett Clay, says salespeople and the companies that employ them are becoming irrelevant. Unless companies significantly invest in the capabilities of their sales organizations, they will join the ranks of the 15 million sales positions forecasted to be eliminated this decade.
Seattle, WA (PRWEB) June 29, 2011
Brett Clay, author of ‘Selling Change, 101+ Secrets for Growing Sales by Leading Change’, named the best sales book of 2011 by Axiom Business Book Awards, says “The trends of globalization and Internet-empowered buyers are devaluing the roles traditionally filled by salespeople—to provide product information and take orders.” Gerhard Gschwandtner, CEO of Selling Power magazine and host of the Sales 2.0 Conference says “70% of purchasing decisions are now made online, before the buyer comes in contact with a salesperson.” The result is a greatly diminished need for buyers to interact with a salesperson—such a diminished need, in fact, that Gschwandtner predicts 15 million traditional sales positions will be displaced by technology over this decade, leaving as few as 3 million of the approximately 18 million current sales positions.
What is changing? In the past, the role of the salesperson was largely to help inform the customer and transact the purchase. But, today, in a drive to lower costs and in response to customer demand, companies provide a wealth of information on their websites, enabling customers to thoroughly research their options and make a purchase—without the assistance of a salesperson. Today’s well-informed customers have access to the best products at the lowest prices offered by scores of global suppliers, resulting in increasingly efficient markets. Often, the best available price is below the production cost of even the most efficient vendor.
Clay says, “Online commerce and global competition are not news. Yet, many company executives are in denial about the reality of today’s marketplace. They are hoping that ‘when the economy turns around’ they’ll return to profitability. This is not a temporary problem. The fundamental structure of the marketplace has changed. When the economy turns around those companies that have restructured their sales and marketing organizations will get stronger—and those that haven’t will simply disappear faster.”
What are the options for restructuring? Clay says, “At the ends of the spectrum companies are left with two options: a) become the most efficient producer of the product or service or b) become the most differentiated creator of customer value.”
Companies that choose to be the most efficient producers must eliminate the high costs of salespeople by automating the transaction process and moving remaining salespeople into customer support roles. This option matches a buying cycle that is controlled and operated by the customer. Clay says, “In the past, many companies have operated from a perspective of ‘sales enablement.’ Going forward, companies must reframe their thinking to ‘customer enablement’”. Examples of ‘customer enablement’ include online diagnostic tools, return on investment calculators, knowledge bases, and other decision support tools that enable customers to identify their problems and determine the best solutions—without the involvement of a salesperson. Rod Brooks, Chief Marketing Officer of PEMCO Insurance says, “Today, customers are in control. They control the buying process and the company’s brand. That’s why we’ve invested heavily in transforming our sales and marketing at PEMCO and have made ‘the voice of the customer’ our most important strategic initiative.”
Companies that choose to create the most business value must hire or train highly skilled salespeople who operate as ‘customer counselors’ identifying value-creating opportunities and guiding customers through the process of realizing those opportunities. This option matches a buying cycle where the customer is highly dependent on the supplier’s goods and services. Clay says, “At this end of the service spectrum the salespeople are so actively involved with customers, that they can appear to be an employee of the customer. These salespeople must be highly skilled and capable managers who can lead projects and deliver the customer’s business results.” Required skills include ‘soft’ skills in the areas of change leadership, management and human behavior, as well as ‘hard’ skills in the areas of project and operations management, finance, and technology, among others. Brooks says, “The companies that lead with customer intimacy and value-added service will have sales forces that are more than order takers and will be the survivors.”
Many buyers, and indeed many company executives, may not lament the ‘death of a salesman’ forecasted by Gschwantdner, Pulitizer Prize-winning journalist, Thomas Freidman, and others. However, says Clay, “Sales organizations are like canaries in the mine. Once a company’s salespeople have been marginalized, so has the company’s product—and so has the company. Whether they like it or not, both salespeople and companies will have to invest in new sales capabilities to survive.”
About Change Leadership Group and Brett Clay
Clay is the author of “Selling Change,” named the best business book of 2010 and best sales book of 2010 and 2011, and is the CEO of Change Leadership Group, LLC, a firm that helps clients improve their sales, marketing, and leadership capabilities. A veteran of 20 years in international sales and marketing management, most recently with Microsoft Corporation, he is an award-winning author, award-winning marketer, trainer, speaker, consultant, and business leader. http://www.ChangeLeadershipGroup.com.