I read a blog post on Forrester's website recently about the "Death of a B2B Salesman." The argument the author makes is that the rising popularity of self-service portals will render business-to-business (B2B) salespeople irrelevant. It isn't the first time I've heard the argument that automation is taking jobs, nor is sales the only industry that this logic is being applied to.
A report from the World Economic Forum anticipated that 7.1 million jobs would be lost to robots in the next five years. The problem with this theory should be obvious to anyone who has ever worked in any kind of enterprise sales: it's not about efficiently following orders...it's about customer engagement.
Robots (in the form of self-service portals) are doubtless very adept at logging customer details and even prompting users with relevant information, but when it comes to actively drawing buyers in, human interaction is key. Salespeople's most valuable asset is also the most human: their ability to communicate.
To understand the impact that those real, person-to-person interactions can make on a company's pipeline, my company, Velocify, produced a study that investigated different ways salespeople successfully engage with their customers. The Ultimate Contact Strategy found that across a range of channels, sales communications can be massively effective for driving new business.
Phone: One of the biggest mistakes sales reps make is that they wait to pick up the phone until they have established some level of interest from the prospect via email or social media. Huge mistake. In fact, calling a lead quickly is the single largest driver of conversion. The key to a good call strategy is to build a sequenced approach that keeps the company present in the buyer's mind.
In fact, the study found that 95 percent of converted leads are reached by the sixth call attempt, yet many buyers give up after just one to two calls. Additionally, salespeople shouldn't be afraid to layer in voicemail; leaving two voicemails on six missed calls is the best practice. Making those six calls and leaving two messages is important because it gives the salesperson an opportunity to answer questions, convey value, and connect with the buyer on a human level. If the number of calls exceeds six, however, it might end up being a waste of that salesperson's time. At that point, it might make sense to put the prospect into a marketing nurture path until they show signs of interest again.
Email: Automation exists for a reason. Human salespeople are certainly capable of far more complex engagement than machines, so their time is extremely valuable. That means that every interaction has to matter. The Ultimate Contact Strategy found that prospects who receive emails in addition to calls have a 16 percent higher chance of picking up the phone when a salesperson calls. So if sales organizations want to set their reps up for success and make the most of their time, the best thing to do is set up a tiered approach that includes a combination of both calls and email.
Social: The final way that salespeople interact with their customers is also the most interpersonal: social media. If there were ever a question about the value of human connection in sales, it should be answered with this statistic: 73 percent of salespeople using social media as a part of the sales process outperformed their peers. It seems pretty clear that the more closely sales reps can connect with their customers, the more effective they will be. Building those relationships is a unique skill that ends up being incredibly valuable.
All this makes it clear that reports of the B2B salesperson's death have been greatly exaggerated. The same blog post I cited at the beginning of this article later explains that delivering more personalized and digitalized sales experiences enables sales organizations to extend their value beyond the self-service portal. I believe this is correct. By embracing more advanced sales strategies and select automation technology, salespeople can drive more value than robots, or traditional sales methods, could ever achieve. This isn't the death of the B2B salesman...it's the rebirth.