The world of sales has changed dramatically over the past few years. Willy Loman, immortalized 65 years ago in Death of a Salesman, foretold the shifting sands of how successful salespeople would have to adapt their efforts to get customers to buy.
Over the past three decades, customer relationship management (CRM) tools revolutionized the way salespeople could track information, schedule appointments, keep notes in one place, and plan for regular follow-ups. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) put the same power and information in a palm-sized tool. This morphed into a Blackberry that had the ability to connect to your desk PC, send and receive email, phone calls, text messages, and much more.
Now of course you can accept credit cards, order products, display digital brochures, video and audio testimonials on your smart phone. What used to take a salesperson hours of time can be done in seconds.
This innovation creates higher expectations in the customer. They want instant information, customer reviews, technical specifications and the best price. In many fields, products have become commodities, because there is little difference between Company A or B’s toaster.
Innovative companies have made a fortune on the volume of sales they can make around the world using the Internet. In some cases, traditional salespeople have become more of a nuisance than an asset in the buying cycle, so they’ve been eliminated. Bar codes and on-line shopping carts have replaced order-takers or salespeople who add little or no value to the buying experience other than accepting their payment. And a good website is a lot less expensive than a salesperson, never mind a team of salespeople.
Is this the ‘death of the salesman?’ Not for the smart ones. While technology alters the buying experience, there is still a need for knowledgeable, innovative salespeople who can help customers to purchase the more complex, more expensive and more customized product at times when a mistake could be expensive or even fatal. Salespeople can demystify the product or make comparisons between products that help customers clarify their options and buy exactly the right product.
Innovation makes it easier to buy commodities. Salespeople can help customers to make more difficult decisions. As long as there are complex problems to solve or big purchases to be made, salespeople will continue to be relevant, but only if they adapt, become more knowledgeable than their customers, and use the many tools available to them to serve the customer better than their competitors.