The Incredible Shrinking Sales Person

Have you ever heard someone say, “I can’t wait to talk with a sales person today”? Yeah, me neither.

People may love buying stuff, but they sure hate being sold.

I’ve spoken to a number of business owners over the last year or so and a growing number of them are doing everything they can to rid themselves of reliance on sales people.

That’s bad news for sales people. And technology is helping to make a salesperson-less future more and more possible.

If you pay attention to Wall Street, you know Carl Icahn, an investor well-known for buying stakes in promising companies that he deems a little rough around the edges, took a large stake in a company called Nuance.

You may not know the name, but you know the technology, which powers Apple’s Siri, a voice-powered valet for iPhones. Tell “her” to schedule a 1:00 reminder to call your mom, and Siri makes it so.

A future where we tell our remote controls to record the next Manchester United game or ask a digital waitress to summon a cold beer aren’t all that far from mainstream.

What does all this have to do with the decline of sales people? Well, I’ll go out on a limb and say a lot of consumers would rather speak to a machine as opposed to a human being. Maybe it’s the same reason we’d rather text than play phone tag or make small talk.

Checkout “Rob” rocking the tradeshow circuit.

Not nearly as cool as Tupac onstage, but eventually these holograms will be able to have Q&A with prospects and show-off products, which means fewer sales people in the booth.

I’ll give you a more relevant example closer to 2013. Thanks to technology, filling a sales funnel is easier than ever before. Savvy companies are using content marketing in any variation of webinars, ebooks and videos to send prospects on a road to an eventual purchase.

Email autoresponders make ongoing contact with prospects easy. Prospects can view demos and hear pitches on their own time as opposed to dealing with sales people calling “at the worst possible time.”

And don’t forget about cost. No doubt the best sales people are worth their weight in gold – especially in specific industries – but for the other 90 percent, there are a lot of business owners who would rather not incur the expense of dealing with such overhead.

The frontline of the sales process is slowly losing out to Mr. Roboto. Get used to it. The rise of the machines will impact a lot of people. If 3D printers ever put a whole lot of Chinese workers out of a job, things could get really dicey. That’s a different post.

But sales is a lot different than putting together an iPhone, right? Maybe. Since it’s now baseball season, I’ll make this analogy. Of the nine players on a team, maybe 3-4 are great. The others come-and-go with little fanfare. They can be a manager’s biggest headache.

That’s what sales is becoming. The best will be tolerated, nurtured, rewarded. The others will be holograms at a tradeshow.

And how does this impact recruiting? Well, fewer sales people to hire is a start. The other is knowing how close sales’ DNA is with recruiting DNA. There’s the same risk that many recruiting tasks will become technosized.

Prescreening, assessment, and sourcing tools are already doing their damnedest to get rid of a lot of recruiting tasks. It’s a trend that won’t quit and many recruiters are less necessary today than they were yesterday.

Indeed Trends data may reveal the canary in the coal mine. Although job postings for titles around “sales” are steady, these tend to encompass a lot of retail jobs, which take time to catch-up to professional trends. In contrast, the postings for “business development,” a title more familiar with white collar positions, is way down even in an improving employment picture.

A recent interview with Square CFO Sara Friar entitled “Square is Avoiding Hiring Sales People” serves as a good template for how many companies regard sales people. “I’m least excited about the day that I have to hire a salesperson,” she said.

Sales people aren’t going away. I’m sure they’ve been around since cavemen were bartering sticks for rocks.  What I do believe, however, is there will be a world with fewer sales people and breaking into the profession will be tougher.

And a lot of consumers and companies are quite happy with that reality.

Joel Cheesman :