I fully appreciate that there will always be those that are wedded – if not chained – to the status quo, fearful of change, because it is nice and cozy as it is thank you very much. But change is constant, and it is one of the few things that we really can rely on in life: If we accept that premise, then we have two choices – adapt and thrive, or resist and risk perishing.
Good chum Dave Stein of ESR said quite recently that the past three years have witnessed more changes in the sales environment than in the previous fifty, and he is right. But what is going to come in the next three is going to be even more disturbing or exciting – depending on where you are positioned.
This year, I anticipate we will see a reduction in external sales positions of around 20%: 10% will be lost for good, and the other 10% will move inside. I believe that this pattern will continue for the next three years, until we are left with less than 10% of the total sales population working externally.
The reasons for this are obvious: Advances in technology mean that we can communicate just as easily from our desks, using video conferencing etc. Why do we need an expensive outside sales force, with all of the huge financial investment that is required, when the task can be handled far more efficiently – and more profitably?
For years, an inside sales position has been considered as the bottom rung on the sales ladder – their immediate ambition to gain promotion to an outside sales job, with a car and an expense account: An obvious sign to their family and friends that they were “making it” in sales.
Not anymore. Today’s breed of inside sales professional is bright, qualified, and well rewarded. Inside sales is now a career, not a mere stepping stone. Their commercial bandwidth is much, much wider, and their skill-sets are at the very least, the equivalent of their “outdoor” colleagues.
How do they fit in with the new overall selling landscape? Actually, what will that landscape look like? What impact is all of this going to have on the 10% of external sales positions that survive?
To begin with, I think it is important we accept that virtually anything that can be purchased online with a credit card does not require the input from a salesman/saleswoman – these are the new “commodity sales” I appreciate that takes in so many products that in the past have been sold traditionally, for example, I.T. equipment, software, financial products, motor vehicles, clothes, food, etc. And thinking about retail, it is no coincidence that whilst profits on the high street are falling alarmingly, online retail figures are soaring!
As an example, I cannot remember the last time I encountered a petrol pump attendant; I haven’t been inside a bank for more than five years; I dispensed with my financial advisor more than three years ago; I buy clothes and shoes quite regularly, but I haven’t stepped into a clothes shop for at least four years; all of my I.T. solutions have been ordered online for a very long time … you get the picture?
I estimate that 80-90% of all B2B transactions will be conducted online within three years, including high-end solutions that require some level of consultation, which will be provided via video conferencing.
The remaining 10-20% external sales professionals that are left will become far more sophisticated – they will have to in order to survive. Their basic skills-set will include very high levels of commercial acumen, industry/sector/market knowledge. They will speak the language of the buyer. They will be a rare and highly valued commodity!
The knock-on effect of all of this will be that training organizations are going to have to re-think their strategies too. Not only should they accept that traditional classroom training methods are being consigned to the annals of history – as clients look to reduce costs and prefer short, sharp, dynamic online coaching – but they need to start concentrating on the “growth areas” and that means inside sales.
Clients and customers will also wake up to the fact that they are wasting money training salespeople to sell in a way that will be redundant in less than three years. They too will re-focus their efforts and their investment.
We are rapidly approaching a significant “inflection point” and I find it very exciting. I have been involved in sales for almost forty years, and I thought I had witnessed most things, but what is about to come next is off the scale in terms of the challenge that all of us in the sales space will face.
Are you geared up and ready?