As we close out 2018, let’s take a look at the path ahead for salespeople. I’ll knock some earlier predictions on their head, and make some of my own—and point out the challenges that sales must overcome if they’re to succeed in the coming year.
Sales Job Predictions
There have been some dire predictions in the last few years about sales, such as the one by Forrester forecasting the loss of one million sales jobs by the year 2020. There have been similar predictions by others along the same lines—that a majority of sales jobs would be replaced by automation and AI.
Where are these predictions coming from? Is this really our future?
Let’s take a look at another very similar prediction and see where that one ended up. 30 years ago, people forecasted that computer efficiency would lead to a brutal reduction in office staff. There were massive investments in data processing solutions and hardware. Where are we today? We have more efficient office and clerical workers than ever before. The actuality is complete opposite from the prediction.
Earlier in the 20th century, there was a very dire prediction for the film industry: that television would ultimately replace movies, and nobody would be going to the cinema anymore. That one glowing box in the living room would replace live box-office personnel, ticket takers, projectionists, ushers and people working the concession stands. The truth? Television certainly has proliferated—there are some homes that have a TV in every room. But has the number of movie theaters declined? Not a bit. In fact, given the multiplex theater model of today, there are probably more of them—all still staffed by all those people.
Let’s look at hospitals. 100 years ago the state of the art in a hospital didn’t yet include x-rays, let alone EKGs, electronic monitors for respiration and blood pressure, MRIs and the many other high-tech inventions in use. Did all the medical technology that we see today replace people? Hardly! Take a look at the skill level required to operate this technology, and the number of highly intelligent trained people needed.
So looking back at the “technology replacing people” prediction, in many areas each new technological innovation has brought about more employed humans, not reduced their number.
This has held true for sales as well. It’s true that some low-level positions have been replaced by automated solutions, but these are more like order clerks than salespeople. The moment there is just a bit of complexity in the transaction, human intervention is required. Just take a look at Apple stores. There are thousands of live salespeople employed there to assist buyers and users because this technology isn’t so simple. Note that this is B2C technology. When we get into B2B, it’s even more complex.
The prediction I have for sales employment is that we’ll continue to see an ever-expanding number of sophisticated sales jobs, and increasing numbers of well-educated salespeople will be required to fill them.
Now let’s take a look at sales challenges ahead for 2019.
Challenge 1: Data Quality
In today’s lightning-paced digital world, quality and precision of data is vital. This leads back to data entry—a job that’s been painful for everyone, including salespeople. The quality of data improves through the quality of data entry, integration of systems that automate tasks such as geolocation, deduplication, name checking, email checking, phone number checking, and voice control. Data entry should be perfect, and it should be easy.
Data entry shouldn’t have ever been a sales job, despite the fact that sales requires perfect data. Data entry has been why salespeople have despised CRM systems (which we’ll get into in the next article). But data quality is really needed for sales now, in order to create strong and long lasting relationships with buyers (more on that in a moment).
Challenge 2: Internal Processes
Today, most sales internal processes relates to performance and completion of tasks—what I call “cleaning my desk” activities. The person has sent so many emails, made so many calls, finished this task and that task. What needs to change is that salespeople (and companies) need to align all of these tasks to building up the relationship to the buyer. Each component in a process needs to lead to that, and salespeople need to align their thinking to it.
Challenge 3: Creation of Buyer Relationships
In 2019 (and onward from there), the challenge for sales will be to forge strong, long-lasting buyer relationships. Such relationships used to be created over different kinds of networks, such as on the golf course, or lunch or dinner meetings, but nobody has time for that anymore. Another challenge is the fact that the seller isn’t in touch with the buyer as often.
So how can we, within a society in which time is of the essence, value the time of the buyer and yet create strong ties with them? Creating that buyer relationship is another major challenge for 2019.
Challenge 4: Creating Urgency With the Buyer
Finally, the challenge for salespeople is to create a sense of urgency to purchase the seller’s products or services.
You might have recently heard of the 12 boys and their football coach who became trapped for two weeks within a cave in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province. If it had not been for some of the latest in technology, such as drones with thermal sensors, as well as highly trained divers with the latest skill in diving technology, the amazing rescue of those boys and their teacher might never have come off, or at least not as successfully.
While perhaps not as dramatic, technology and solutions are just as vital to success in business today. Everything is changing in this fantastic digital age. In order to create that sense of urgency, a salesperson must first meet Challenge #3 above (building a great relationship). If they don’t, the buyer will end up listening to what the salesperson says, and then answering, “Yeah, come back to me in 6 months.” The sense of urgency falls flat.
Bright Road Ahead
So I predict that 2019 will be a very bright year for sales indeed. We’ve already seen and will continue to see, the number of sales jobs continue to increase.
Challenges are in the area of perfection of data, aligning internal processes to buyer relationships, forging those buyer relationships, and then creating a sense of urgency within the buyer to get products and services sold. With those challenges met, it will be so bright we’ll indeed be wearing shades.