Before you start firing off your counter arguments, let me begin by saying that I’m not against the idea of companies pushing product. Informing and engaging customers in a meaningful manner will never go away. What I am saying, however, is that the a growing segment of consumers are looking for a different shopping experience, and will ultimately mean that the current role that sales people serve will inhibit new purchases – not foster them.
Here’s why. While my parents appreciate the help of an in-store person when they visit their local electronics, furniture or automotive dealerships to assist in the buying decision, Gen-X/Yers like me neither need nor desire to go through this process in the same way. Chances are we’ve already made up our minds on what product make, model, color and features we want before we even walk in, so are only reason for being there is to confirm the price, get the sensory experience and make the purchase.
That’s not to say that we don’t do our homework. In fact, we’ve most likely spent considerable time researching a company’s offering against the competition by visiting the manufacturer’s web site as well as various online, user-driven, product reviews and feedback discussion boards; all of this being done without any direct human interaction and largely outside of the company’s purview. What’s more, we’ll purposefully avoid interacting with sales people as we go about this; not only because is it not required, but also because any suggestion offered will be perceived as largely self-serving, and therefore viewed with a large degree to skepticism.
So while it’s not prudent for companies to get rid of their sales team right this minute, it does mean that organizations must leverage other tools to their maximum benefit, starting now. These include Gen-X and Gen-Y friendly mobile devices, social media, search engines, wikis and the like. In addition to being well received by these market segments, such technology is always on the job, never takes a vacation and never requires a costly health and retirement benefits package to employ.
As the majority of consumers become self-sufficient and information continues to be even more readily available and free, sales people, in the traditional sense, could wind up becoming more of a cost than a revenue generator unless they reconsider their role.
Salespeople need to consider themselves influencers who use the appropriate tools to reach prospects and shape opinion within their comfort zone or they need to be consultants who truly add value. And, by "adding value" I mean they have to provide such value to where a customer is actually willing to pay more.
This changes the financial picture for a company considerably; organizations that continue to rely on them will find that they will not only be outsold by their rivals, but out priced. Payroll remains the highest expense for most companies, but the absence of a sales force means competitors can realize adequate profit margins while charging less since their overhead will be lower.
The idea of an eventual world without sales people is a good one both for consumers and organizations who will want the same thing; the exchange of valued goods and services at acceptable price points. If companies truly have this as a part of their core mission, they will embrace this concept and therefore continue to hold great potential for long-term success.