The “sales” population is shrinking fast, or at least what has been labelled sales over the past 50 to 60 years. Most sales roles are really generalist roles, encompassing account servicing, customer service, administration and troubleshooting. Lots of stuff, that is not really sales.
If you are in any doubt about this here’s a sobering statistic: 9 out of 10 applicants from any well-known jobs board would not qualify – even for a screening call – for most roles involving new business development for example.
Many of these generalist sales roles have either been re-labelled to reflect the real work, eliminated or replaced. For example, all of us at this stage are getting used to having our queries handled by chatbots and it’s clear that we only get to speak with a human as a last resort. Chatbots are wage-free, borderless and less prone to mistakes.
Probably the most common type of sales role is the account manager role, particularly where account management is really a form of customer service and in particular as a last line of defence for troubleshooting. (Most of us have been a victim of let the salesperson deal with that, I don’t know the customer, pass-the-buck culture). Process Automation (increasingly using robotics) and the ability to track and manage service levels is replacing a lot of these so-called sales roles, more effectively and cheaply.
Where does all this leave sales. What is a sales role?
Sales is becoming more a senior – and respected – business function, that requires not just carrying a target, but providing the market with valuable advice and guidance. That’s why the growth sector in sales is business development rather than traditional personality-based relationship building. Building relationships in a sales context today, means the following:
1 Providing subject matter expertise and advice that is of strategic value (as opposed to being an expensive human brochure).
2 Representing and translating the company’s value proposition for prospects, and bringing new customers and advocates into the market.
3 Orchestrating company resources to the benefit of the customer, making the company market-driven and teaching internal stakeholders about the realities and demands of an indifferent marketplace.
Of course the more traditional “sales” skills of hunting, prospecting, positioning, pitching, competing, handling obstacles, negotiating and so on, are now also even more important as companies are valued more on the scale of their customer base than on product or service differentiation. It’s why the real sales population, while small will grow exponentially in the coming decade.
A Big Lesson for the Sales Population
It used to be easy to get into sales. If you could talk reasonably well and were seen as outgoing, you were hired. If you want to stay in – real – sales, today you will have to operate at a much higher standard, a professional standard that has nothing to do with your personality and that is bigger than “experience”. More about that in some upcoming blogs.
P.S. If you are interested in exploring how your (sales) role might be affected (and possibly replaced) by a combination of technology, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and robotics, a recommended and timely read is The Globotics Upheaval by Richard Baldwin.