The Salesperson is Dead. Long Live the Salesperson.

Have Amazon.com and other companies that mostly sell without salespeople proven that salespeople are necessary? Has the internet replaced the salesperson, providing more and better information than a human salesperson? Do people prefer to buy without the help of a salesperson, even when a decision comes with complexity and risk? Does all this technology suggest that salespeople are now unnecessary?

You have to believe a lot of assumptions to believe that salespeople will soon disappear.

Assumes knowledge: To believe that salespeople are going to disappear, you must also assume that people have the necessary knowledge to know what they need to do and what choices may be available to them. “But, Iannarino,” you say, “they can search the internet.” And you would be correct and wrong at the same time. What Google query do you enter when you want to know what it is that you don’t know you don’t know?

Assumes understanding tradeoffs: Is this choice better than that choice in my situation? Some of the information I have gathered conflicts with other information I’ve found. Which information is right? Which tradeoffs make the most sense for me now? Assuming that people want to make decisions by themselves runs counter to how humans have made decisions for a long time. When decisions are important, people seek counsel. They seek wisdom. They do this after they have information.

Assumes the right solutions: Are all solutions available, configured, and tailored for every application? Do they all come with a built-in understanding of every complex process or system in which they are going to be installed? Do they all automatically know why one stakeholder is going to benefit from what one buys while another stakeholder in the same company will be crippled by the decision? Most of what salespeople who work for companies that have customer intimacy find collaboration and customization to be critical to building the right solution.

Assumes one doesn’t want or need help: Some people believe that because they keep their own counsel (like the man who acts as his own lawyer and has a fool for a client), they believe no one else wants help with important decisions. But it’s not true. A lot of people like to hear from people who have knowledge—and wisdom—in the areas in which they need to make decisions. In the future, it is not likely that people will abandon this practice.

Assumes one can convince others: Because more and more decisions are made by consensus, to believe a salesperson will be obsolete to the buying process is to believe that one person is going to search the internet, find the information they need, chat with a bot, and convince the 16 people who are going to be affected by the decision that person makes. It assumes that this person will be able to sell her peers, even when outside opinions often weigh more than the opinions of the people who work for the company.

Assumes concerns are resolved: How many times have you set out to buy something online and abandoned your shopping cart? The reason you bailed is that you had unresolved concerns. For some reason, more information did not resolve your concerns. You didn’t need information. You need to know that you were going to get the outcome you wanted, that what you bought was going to work, and that you were making a good decision. What is that technology didn’t supply?

If all you can do is transact, then all that is needed is a transaction. The role of a salesperson is diminishing. But when this is not the case, the salesperson is going to have a role for a long time into the future, even if the nature of the role changes, and even if they are aided by greater technology.

Filed under: Sales Knowledge

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