Are You Ready for These Shocking Changes in the Sales Profession?

By Adrian Davis

Are you facing increasing sales targets and increasing challenges in achieving these targets? Well, it’s going to get even harder because of some fundamental shifts in our economy.

I’m currently working in the robotics industry. Exposure to this has sensitized me to the growing prevalence of automation. Many professionals feel that automation is not something we have to worry about. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Automation: Be Afraid! Be Very Afraid!

Sales is polarizing into two approaches. The first path is transactional. Salespeople who engage in transactional selling are order takers. Order takers deal with problems that are well defined. Furthermore, the solutions purchased are well understood.

The only questions in buyers’ minds are: how much and how soon? The sales rep who is cheapest and fastest wins the business. More and more, that sales rep is showing up as not a person, but a slick e-commerce Website. E-commerce sites work 24/7. They respond to buyers with unprecedented speed. They guarantee the lowest price. The traditional sales rep is becoming obsolete.

Is Consultative Selling the Answer? (No.)

This is driving sales leaders to get their teams to focus on “consultative selling.” In a previous blog post, I explained that the consultative sales approach is obsolete. Sales reps who show up asking too many questions end up annoying buyers instead of pleasing them. Buyers complain about reps who take their time before they provide anything of value.

Sales leaders realize they have to up the ante. They have to teach their salespeople how to create value for the buyer up front. The buyer must immediately recognize the benefit of developing a relationship with them.

Debating with the Younger Generation

But wait! Isn’t challenging buyers safe from the encroaching threat of sweeping and inevitable automation? That’s what I thought…but an article I tripped over jolted me awake.

Years ago, my son Ryan – who is very articulate – said he wanted to pursue a career as a software developer. Being a seasoned and passionate sales guy, I tried to discourage him. I explained that companies are automating back-office jobs. Companies will outsource those that aren’t automated to China and India. I asked him to leverage his incredible communication skills. I asked him to focus on being in front of the customer because that’s where he could create real value.

This conversation took place about five years ago – which, as we all know, was a long, long time ago! So much has changed since then. Ryan recently shared a YouTube video with me called “Humans Need Not Apply.” This video captures the implications of the work my son is now doing. I watched the video. I thought, “Yes, but companies will not automate professional work. Professional work requires human judgment!”

I woke up when I read an article in the Harvard Business Review. It was “Technology Will Replace Many Doctors, Lawyers and Other Professionals.” The gist of this article is artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives are now unstoppable. AI machines are outperforming human beings in many cognitive tasks. Professionals use approaches that seem immune to automation. Unfortunately, AI enables new approaches. Moreover, AI learns from itself and teaches itself how to be even more efficient.

In the next 5-10 years, professionals all over the world will get the shock of their lives. Automation and AI will replace routine and mechanical tasks. It will also replace “sacred” and insulated professional roles. This relentless drive toward automation will challenge us. It will, most likely, unravel our entire capitalism-based economy. In the future, the majority of human beings will be unemployable. Automation and AI will do meaningful work instead of humans. Humans may only find meaningful work in activities of social unrest. Economies may no longer find it possible to be based on the upward mobility of the middle class. Unemployable people may demand socialistic or communistic approaches to the distribution of wealth.

In the meantime, today’s sales leaders must execute the following imperatives:

  1. Stop messing around with your CRM. Embrace it. Master it. Enhance it and use it to understand your most important customers.
  2. Acknowledge that “Thing-to-Thing” selling will completely replace order-taking salespeople as the Internet of Things matures and sellers’ devices transact and negotiate with buyers’ devices.
  3. Invest in mastering Human-to-Human Selling. Invest in your best salespeople. Develop them to become even greater strategic, critical, and creative thinkers. Encourage them to up the ante. Find new, unprecedented ways of creating value. Be committed to work with your customers who must also cope with the seismic shifts in our economy.

Adrian Davis is president of Whetstone, Inc, where he has worked with organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, KPMG, Motorola, PwC, Phonak, Aviva, and Dupont. His highly talented team has developed a reputation for leading organizations to innovative and practical solutions that enhance customer value and dramatically increase sales. Adrian is the author of Human to Human Selling: How to Sell Real and Lasting Value in an Increasingly Digital and Fast-Paced World, a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), a certified professional in Business Process Management (P.BPM) and a certified Competitive Intelligence Professional (CIP).

2 Replies to “Are You Ready for These Shocking Changes in the Sales Profession?”

  1. Automation and consultative, oh I could tell you some things you simply wouldn’t believe. I know several “salesmen” and even owners who are so far behind when it comes to selling in today’s digital world. No blogs, lame websites, the “shoestring” CRM, nothing more than old school. It baffles me why some don’t embrace technology and selling methods to “grow” their business.

    Your article here is on target.

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