The growth of Amazon and eBay illustrates that businesses and consumers alike are willing to purchase what they need online rather than from a salesperson.
That trend toward online buying will continue, according to Gerhard Gschwandtner, publisher of Selling Power magazine, and host of the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston on July 14, 2014. "The integration of Artificial Intelligence into such websites increase the products and services that can be purchased online," he explains.
Gschwandtner estimates that within 10 years, as much as 80 percent of the sales situations currently handled by salespeople will be handled automatically. He also believes, however, that there will continue to be a need for salespeople in the three following situations:
- The customer cannot diagnose his own problem. For example, a company might be experiencing manufacturing delays that are the result of multiple factors, none of which seems obvious from the inside. In this case, the customer will turn to an outside consultant (salesperson) to diagnose the problem.
- The customer cannot define a solution. For example, a company might understand that it's experiencing manufacturing delays and know exactly where those delays are taking place, but lack the expertise to change the process or technology in order to reduce or eliminate those delays. In this case, the customer will turn to a salesperson to define and propose a solution.
- The customer cannot calculate the ROI. For example, a company's executives may intuitively understand that purchasing a system to make manufacturing run more efficiently would be a wise investment, but still not be able to calculate whether the ROI of an in-house system would be greater than one that was outsourced. In this case, the customer will turn to a salesperson to help create a business case for purchasing the solution.
These scenarios are important to entrepreneurs because it will be within those 20 percent of sales situations (i.e., the ones in which salespeople are required) where small companies are most likely to be profitable.
The reason is simple: Products and services that can be purchased online are always subject to price wars, which favor large companies that have economy of scale. However, economy of scale doesn't apply when the sales situations involve personal relationships, trust, and mutual problem solving.
Just as important, entrepreneurs need to know that the salespeople who will be handing those situations will be worlds apart from the glad-handing stereotypes of the past. "The salesperson of the future will be highly knowledgeable and highly educated because only then can they provide a level of service that can't be automated," Gschwandtner explains.
This is not to say that these supersalespeople won't use technology. On the contrary, like the salespeople of today, they'll embrace any technology that helps them help their customers.
In other words, sales technology will proceed down two very different paths. On the one hand, the software that makes purchasing things online easier will continue to become more intelligent, eliminating the need for salespeople in more product and service categories.
On the other hand, the software that helps supersalespeople sell customized solutions (aka Sales 2.0) will become easier to use and more powerful, which is why small companies must keep abreast of new developments.
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