By the year 2020, 1 million sales reps will be out of a job.
That worrying prediction comes from an episode of the Forrester podcast, “What It Means,” that we came across the other day. (More upsetting was the title of the episode, “Death of a [B2B] salesman,” but we won’t dwell on that.)
Forrester cites technology as the root cause of the mass exodus, and the fact that 68% of B2B buyers would rather do business online than with a sales person.
But this isn’t all bad news for sales teams, particularly those who sell directly to the C-suite. As our client, Melissa Watts of Adobe put it, sales is a relationship business. That’s particularly true when you’re selling six-and-seven-figure deals to senior-level executives. You’re selling a software or service with transformational powers. That’s not the kind of thing you buy with a few clicks.
That doesn’t mean B2B sales teams can sit back and relax while technology takes aim at their non-C-suite selling counterparts. Forrester also found that, when B2B buyers do engage with sales, they’re looking for a consultative experience — a relationship that helps them solve problems rather than one that sells them a product or service. And SiriusDecisions (now part of Forrester) has found that decision makers value having business conversations four times more than product conversations.
For the most part, that approach appears to be lacking among sales teams. According to a separate Forrester study, executives say just 24% of the sales people they encounter understand their business issues.
That means 76% are going in blind.
All of it makes you wonder: Will sales people be phased out because technology is that much better, or is the root cause the fact that sales people are no longer giving customers and clients the experience they want? And as a sales professional, how do you shift your approach, if you haven’t already?
The short answer: Do your homework. Study up, not just on the people you meet with, but on their business strategy, their industries, the trends that impact what they do. You may get your foot in the door with something personal — a shared and unbridled passion for mountain biking, perhaps — but your knowledge and insight will keep you in the room.
One trick we come back to over and over again: Pay attention to direct quotes, snippets of what the person has actually said. We make a point to include them in each Executive Profile we produce, pulling them from quarterly earnings reports, news articles and speeches. We want you to know exactly what has this person talking and how they’re talking about it. Yes, we could provide a summary, but that wouldn’t offer the nuance of their exact words. The best way to learn how to speak C-suite is to immerse yourself in the language. That gives you an edge when you walk into a meeting with a C-level executive. You no longer sound like an outsider. You’re one of them.
Forrester predicted the demise of 1 million sales reps back in 2017, and it was just that, a prediction. There’s nothing to say we can’t change the future, if we’re willing to try.