At the 2011 Sales 2.0 Conference held recently in San Francisco, Gerhard Gschwandter, CEO of Selling Power Magazine predicted that of the 18 million salespeople currently in the U.S., fewer than 3 million will be needed by 2020. Think about that factoid for a minute, 15 of 18 sales jobs won’t be around in less than 9 years, seems impossible doesn’t it? It’s not only possible, it’s likely to happen quicker than most experts think.
Five Drivers to a World With Fewer Sales People
1. The creative-destruction powers of the Internet
2. Increasingly capable inside-sales teams
3. Marketing automation solutions
4. Always improving video communications technology
5. Continued explosion / evolution of social media
Many sales leaders reading this will scoff that you can never remove sales people from the sales process, which will remain true but in increasingly fewer cases. However, if you can reduce the time a sales person spends on non-qualified leads, only have them engage when a prospect is entering a buying phase, then engage the prospect via technology as much as possible, you can certainly see a future with less traditional sales people.
Reducing expensive sales resources chasing unqualified prospects not only reduces cost of sales but also improves margin and market competitiveness. CEO’s need to begin investing today in a future-state sales model to prepare for this coming sales transition. Below are a few examples for consideration:
A clear sales vision and selling culture must be established. Things must change to allow the company to flourish into the future. Organize the entire company around the concept of a changing sales structure and process. The ‘Old Way’ of doing things must fade away – even if that means making significant changes to your people line-up. Sales is a process not an art; implement a rigorous sales process and adhere to it always.
Establish an inside sales organization. Inside sales can fulfill dual roles of both selling and providing lead qualification for outside selling teams. Even companies with long, complex selling cycles find success with this approach and at a much lower cost than exclusively using outside sales people.
Embrace sales and marketing technology. Not using technology at every possible stage in your selling process? In the fast approaching sales future this not only puts you at a disadvantage it may force you out of business. The days of existing off PowerPoint presentations and brochure-ware are gone forever. Marketing automation, web-touch selling and social media platforms are new best practice tools that must be in your arsenal. Engaging sales targets through technology and social selling methodologies provides sales teams with meaningful insights about prospect behavior, even predicting when a prospect becomes sales ready. It’s also important to remember that decision makers continue getting younger and are very comfortable using technology in place of traditional interactions; use that to your advantage.
Planning For Your Sales Transition. While there may be fewer sales people in this future state model the need for sales leadership remains. Nothing replaces the wisdom and mentorship that a seasoned sales leader brings to the equation. The question for today’s CEO’s is can your current sales leader both embrace and lead effectively in this new model? Now is the time to begin that assessment.