Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Death of the Sales Force is Greatly Exaggerated

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In a recent post, I blogged about my problem's with Seth Godin's article, Death of the Sales Call. Yesterday, a friend mentioned that he viewed a presentation about the Death of the Sales Force. It appeared to be based on an article originally posted in the spring of 2006 by Dr. David McMahon on the Graziadio Business Report. As the saying goes, the reports of this death are premature and greatly exaggerated. The people that make these claims are usually not sales experts. And those who get on the band wagon, using excerpts or entire articles in their Blogs, often lack ideas of their own, choosing to make their Blogs carriers rather than originators. In my expert opinion, the only thing dead about selling is the concept that selling, sales forces and sales calls are dying. While transactional sales haven't depended on salespeople for years, salespeople can be used to decommoditize, differentiate and educate prospects with the goal of moving a corporate buyer to your product line or company. Then the multiple transactions that follow can be conducted via the phone or internet, using customer service people. The theory behind the demise of the sales force is that sales will be driven by buyers, not salespeople; that buyers will buy what they want, from whom they want, when they are ready. Now there's a news flash! How is that any different? Their theory has this process taking place without salespeople. But how does one determine what they really need? How does one learn what their real problem is? How does one figure out which company will really take better care of them? How will they come to know that one company has better expertise than another? Good salespeople, asking good, tough, timely questions, help buyers formulate these opinions. If your company has a complex sale, an expensive product, a long sell cycle, a design build component, an engineering function, a conceptual side, or a pioneering product with a story to tell, you can't wait for a buyer to figure everything out and call you. It must be sold. If you have products or services that people don't think they need or want, they must be sold or nobody would ever buy what you have or switch to your company. And most importantly, if you have a product that someone can easily purchase from any one of a dozen vendors, and yours isn't the low-price option, you have little chance of being selected unless you have some great salespeople differentiating your company from your competition. In this highly competitive business environment, good, strong, effective salespeople are more crucial then ever before. The only thing dead about the sales force is that ineffective salespeople will no longer be able to get by on relationships and luck. All salespeople will be required to justify their existence. It's not death of the sales call. It's not death of the sales force. It's sell or die.
(c) Copyright 2006 Objective Management Group, Inc.


At 7/20/2006 04:41:00 PM, Anonymous Kevin Hallenbeck said...

I agree very much with your comments, Dave. As someone who has been developing sales organizations for the past 12 years, I do believe that there are plenty if "traditional" salespeople and sales organizations who will go the way of the dinosaur. By traditional salespeople, I mean those who are all talk, who don't listen to client needs, and who are primarily dispensing information to their prospects. A lot of people were brought into sales by memorizing a presentation with lots of features and benefits, then going out into the world to preach their message to anyone who would listen.

The true modern salesperson is less the preacher and more the counselor. They ask great questions at the appropriate time and then really listen to the prospects' words, tone and even body language. This style of selling adds value by helping the client understand their needs.

Good Selling!

At 7/20/2006 05:09:00 PM, Anonymous Casey Coffman said...


I couldn't agree more... i believe Mr. Godin, a marketing guru by trade, tend to de-emphasize the less glamorous and potentially much more difficult segment of the food chain where selling and belly-to-belly negotiations have to happen to keep companies alive and growing. I admit marketing is more fun, but as the old saying goes, nothing happens until a sale is made. thanks for the great insights...

At 7/20/2006 05:33:00 PM, Anonymous Rick said...

I think everybody knows (even these marketing geniuses) that most people aren't gonna buy their cars on line. Or their houses. Or their hand-tailored suits. Or anything else that really matters. Something that we don't hear talked about a lot is selling to retail. Yes, somebody might walk into a department store and by a shirt and tie, but if I'm a buyer for that department store and I'm gonna buy 10,000 shirts and ties, you better send a damn salesman. Do doctors and hospital buyers decide which pharmaceuticals or medical equipment to use because of info on the website, in the literature, or because someone with some sales skills calls on them? People might be willing to buy Mr. Godin's $16 book with a click of their mouse because it's well marketed, but when he wants to sell his mansion, will he put it on ebay or call somebody who knows what they're doing?

At 7/20/2006 08:28:00 PM, Anonymous Beverely Jones said...

The only thing that is dead in the sales force is the ineffective, ill trained sales person. As a sales development expert we see this first hand every day of the working week. Look at what happened to IBM when they had their first ever accountant running the firm. He thought the sales force wasn’t needed and that their products were selling themselves. He cut back on the terrific sales culture for which IBM was renowned by decreasing sales incentives and cutting back on the sales force. The effects were disastrous. I read that IBM paid a consulting firm $US3 million to tell them that there problem was that they "didn’t have enough sales”. Whilst that CEO believed that their products had become so successful they were selling themselves, the competitors of course were still working hard “selling” their products through smart, well trained sales professionals and the rest is history. There are numerous companies out there trying to replace the sales force with software and processes but I reckon that as long as products are bought by humans, they will require humans to sell them!

At 7/20/2006 08:35:00 PM, Anonymous Dave Mantel said...


In order to get clarity on the subject, I did take the time to read the rather tedious article to which you refer. In it, it occurs to me these "10 Groups" of activities performed by salespeople do not seem to include anything that remotely suggests the identification of a problem on the part of a prospective client or helping to cause a first transaction as something salespeople do.

It would stand to reason that a retailer such as Wal-Mart would benefit greatly from a system such as "ECR" in that their system of purchasing would be consitent with their selling philosophy: Commodity. I'm curious to see a study on how a retail organization such as Norsdstrom would assess a system that bypasses maufacturer representation by anything or anyone less adept at the selling craft than their own highly skilled, highly trained and well-paid sales staff.

As you illustrate in your post... this article surveys only one extreme of the commodity / value spectrum.

I'm certain that a product like ECR has true value in the market place, but my questions would be these:

How does company management, not familiar with a product and process such as ECR, determine its implimentation as adding value to their business?

How does a CEO of a company like Wal-Mart (What's his name, again?) become convinced that he or she should be spending measurable time getting down deep into the implimentation process of anything besides creating strategy, providing vision and putting the right people in place to make it all happen?

I suppose an ECR door hanger or direct mail piece could have turned up at Wal-Mart headquarters and someone in the corporate mail room held it high in the air and proclaimed, "We've gotta do this!"

More than likely, the entire process was driven forward by one hell of an ECR salesperson. I'd like to talk with them to have them tell me how they did it. It sounds like a tough sell with great value to the buyer. I trust this person, or team of people, is highly compensated!

All in all, ECR could, in fact, be tough news for retail supply chain salespeople. They'll need to make some adjustments. But it sounds fantastic if you're an ECR salesperson.


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