Is The End Nigh For Field Sales?

2017, going into 2018, feels different – the end is definitely nigh for the old style field sales person. I’ve been a new business field salesperson for 35 years and I still consider myself to be of that breed. However, times are definitely changing and field sales is dying out.
Why is it dying out? It’s dying out for a number of reasons. The first is that customers are doing a lot of their research online. What use is a traditional sales person in this environment? Partly it’s because customers are changing and what they are looking for in suppliers, is not what the traditional sales person can offer. If you cling to old beliefs that you, as a sales person, are valued because of what you are then you are almost certainly doomed. The third element is that sales people aren’t themselves adapting to the use of the internet as a sales tool. If you believe that using Linkedin , Twitter or Facebook are ways to generate leads, then you are even further behind than you think you are.
In order to recognise whether you, or indeed your sales teams are past their use by date then ask yourself a number of questions:

Do you subscribe to any of the following statements?
• Marketing should not try to generate leads, because they’re rubbish.
• The only good leads are ones I’ve dug up myself
• I don’t want to talk to a customer till they’re ready to buy
• Relationships are what matter and I’m good at relationships
• I like to get face to face with my customers as early as possible.
If you said yes to any of these statements, then you’re probably struggling right now.
The problem with all these statements is that they fly in the face of customer behaviour.
Let’s start with the last trait I talked about – the need for speed! If a customer downloads a piece of content that is about the industry or a specific problem then many sales people will want to know this and contact the customer straight away. Even although the customer is unlikely to be ready to buy, so why waste every one’s time? Salesmen have a need to get in their cars and visit clients, and any meeting is a good meeting, so why not?
Our view is simple. A downloading a piece of content is not an invitation to call. No, the sales person needs to be in touch with the customer when the customer is ready to buy – maybe when they’ve had a look at the price list or attended a webinar and expressed interest in a demo or a free trial. Even then, I seriously doubt that a sales person would or could add value. Customers are 80% through the sales cycle before they even think about approaching a sales person, and even then they do it with great trepidation.
How about ‘Relationships are what matter and I’m good at relationships’ The very bad news for adherents to the relationship myth, is that customers don’t value the relationship until much later in the process – ie when you’ve purchased, and even then, the relationship is more likely to be a company to company relationship. Indeed there is an argument that customers would prefer to be visited by technical people, because that’s who they really value.
The issue is that the world has gone Social. Customers now spend time more time on social media than us old lags want to believe. Here are some statistics:
• Social Media is used by well over 60% of 50-60 year olds.
• Facebook is used by over 60% of 50-64 year olds
• Linkedin is used by a quarter of all 30-65 year olds.
The stats go on and on – it really isn’t just about social media existing; the business world has gone social so we better get used to it.
So what’s to be done?
As Edmund Blackadder once said, “We’re in the stickiest situation since Sticky the stick insect got stuck on a sticky bun”.
I’m going to be blogging about this topic in the next few weeks, but let me just say a few things:
If the world’s gone social then surely it makes sense that sales people need to hit the social media bricks and quickly. Join Linkedin groups, use Facebook and blog. Add value to your customers by posting useful content – and become a trusted advisor, not a nuisance.
Find out who the influencers are and use them – join their groups and leverage their tags.
Use the website to capture names and email addresses, but use the information sparingly, don’t phone the customer unless they specifically allow you to call them.
That’s all I’ll say for now, but there’s a lot more to talk about – and I’m more than happy to receive your comments, because I know you want to argue – Hell, I’m arguing with myself as I write. No I’m not. Yes I am.
Benny Placido
Business Development Director