Recently there was some chatter dealing with the notion that the 18 million sales people in the USA today will shrink down to about 3 million by the year 2020. Let’s assume that you buy into this, and let’s not bicker how many of these are B2B vs. B2C sales people. Think for a minute what that transformation would mean, in fact think if it is truly viable?
First, think of the impact on the economy; imagine how it would shrink along with the numbers in sales. If it doesn’t shrink in proportion to the dwindling sales professionals, it will mean that the remaining 3 million will be filthy rich, as those left will be the most proactive, talented and skilled. I believe the concept was that much of the reduction in the number of sales people would be due to technology and automation, and the continued empowerment of the buyer.
I for one do not foresee B2B sales becoming almost entirely self-serve, which is the implication in the above suggests. While technology and automation will continue to grow in importance and function, and may push the weakest of the heard to a career in hospitality, that will represent a small part of the 18 million, it may slow the growth but not reduce it by the scale suggested.
The reality is that much of the automation has had its greatest impact among those already “in the market” or those considering a move to the market in the coming months. At best, this represents maybe 30% – 35% of the potential market. This still leaves some 65% to 70% of potential buyers uninvolved. Yet it is in this large pool that most proactive sales professionals have their greatest success. If this portion of the market was left to its own, most companies would not survive.
Yes it is true that automation will help companies maximize the 30% of “declared” or “semi-declared” buyers, but it takes more than that to engage those most would describe as being in the “status quo”, the remaining 70%. The conventional thinking to date has been to perceive this group as happy with their current state, hence the label status quo. But if you have spent time prospecting and selling to this group successfully over time you will understand that they are not necessarily happy with their current state, but in fact it is more accurate to say that they do not perceive a solution to their requirements, and until they do they will not take action. This is why abandoning them to automation will not bring the success level experienced with the “declared/semi-declared” group where automation does bring value and results.
Unfortunately, the only way to understand this is to experience it. If you fear to venture into the dark jungle of the status quo, whether it is because you lack the skills or are soft, and would rather hunt at the peripheral, waiting for the odd prospect to poke his head out in curiosity, you will be limited to what comes your way. If however you develop your skills, understand the aspirations, requirements and habits of potential buyers, and utilize all tools available, including automation, you will always be more successful than sellers praying on those in or near the market.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a knock against automation, or the companies that provide it, after all there seems to be a host of willing buyers. Companies who have seen their sales teams spend all their time being reactive, waiting, waiting for buyers to declare their intent or for events beyond their control initiate action. Once in play these sellers do great, unfortunately it would appear that there are some 15 million doing the same thing at the same time with a small number of buyers. The other 3 million spend their time where the real opportunities are, and I suspect will be in 2020 and beyond, where technology is key but not a replacement for real sales people.
For more around this subject, I will be involved in a Top Sales World Roundtable this Wednesday, entitled “Is Selling Going Soft?“, along with Jeb Brooks, Anthony Iannarino, Dan Waldschmidt, moderated by Jonathan Farrington. I will also be posting a recent Top Sales Hard Talk segment on the topic Wednesday. As well on Thursday, I will be part of a webinar looking at a proactive approach to Triggers in sales.
What’s in Your Pipeline?