by Shamus Brown
With the dot.com revolution crushing once solid business models on an almost daily basis, the question surely crosses one's mind "am I next?".
Selling is one of the oldest professions on the planet. We get paid to have fun doing what others find difficult, confusing, or just plain hard. Everyday someone's life is being made easier by new a technological innovation. And everyday another company figures out how to sell its product directly to its customer's through a web browser. It's tempting for our minds to see this pace of innovation, and wonder if professional salespeople will be innovated out of their jobs. I assert that the answer to this lies within each individual salesperson. Because the answer to this question is both a challenging Yes and secure No.
The challenge is and has always come from new innovations. You will be challenged by more, new, and greater innovations coming at you and your customers everyday, every hour, and every minute. What was good enough to get you where you are today, is no longer enough to keep you there. There are things that you can be very secure in knowing. One thing is that everything is changing. Master that, and you have secured the future.
A salesperson serves two masters - the customer and the producer. Once we accept that things will always be changing as a constant in our lives, it is easy to see the constant need for professional salespeople. Our role in serving our dual masters is simple - create more value for them than can be provided through a web browser. And we will rightly get paid handsomely when we add significant value.
A salesperson has always played two primary roles that add tremendous value. One is convenience. Convenience for the customer is helping the customer get her exact needs met when she wants them. Taking all of the potential ways, ideas, options, components, products, services, or properties that could meet her needs, and showing her which ones will now. Convenience for the company is getting the 8, 27, or 335 customers that she needs that year to grow the business and make a profit for the owners and shareholders. If the owners were to wait for the phone to ring without a salesperson, the company would be out of business in a flash.
The other role that the professional salesperson has always played is that of an advisor, or a broker of expertise. Helping a customer to understand complex applications of new products, new technology, new business service models, cannot be easily communicated through text, pictures, audio, or video. It is rightly a relationship grounded in face-to-face human dialogue and interaction. It is a give and take of the needs and desires of the customer and the capabilities and products of the producer.
What we do then is provide value to our customers and producers by providing convenience and expertise. As long as there are complex products being dreamed up by bright-minded innovators, and human beings with needs whom make purchasing decisions, there will be professional salespeople.
So who's most at risk? Industries for which the information about a product is relatively known and stable have progressively seen the need for the professional salesperson disappear. Today you go buy your groceries at a large supermarket, or maybe you have them delivered by WebVan. Years ago you would have gone to a market or bazaar in the center of town and haggled over the price of a few eggs or chickens with owner selling them. Now many producers of products and services with a stable knowledge components are going delivering that knowledge directly to the buyer, and bypassing the salesperson. Car buying is a prime example. People have despised the process of buying cars for years. The whole caricature the car salesman in our society has created a burdensome image that the professional salesperson has had to bear in all his social dealings with others. The major car companies are already planning on new business models where you shop for your car on the web, pick colors, features, and negotiate a price and financing. The dealership of the tomorrow is simply a place for taking a test drive and later picking up the completed custom built vehicle. If your business has a stable knowledge component, it will go directly to the customer. The only question is, how soon?
Constant change is a major source of security for us then. If we master change, we are in a position to offer tremendous value to people. There will always be new ideas, new products, and new services. When ideas, products, and services are new, they are often raw or seemingly complex by their very nature. In this environment the professional salesperson can be a real hero.
What about face-to-face sales calls? Will broadband Internet capabilities eliminate the need to visit our customers or for our customers to visit us in person? Have you noticed that a dog knows when you are scared of him? If you act scared, a barking dog will become more aggressive towards you. If you act unfazed and unafraid of that barking dog he will most often try to intimidate you from a safe distance. 55% of all communication comes through in our physiology. How we breathe, gesture, sit, stand, move, twitch, and blink all serves to communicate to another person, or even an animal. 37% of our communication is in the tonality of our voice. How fast or slow you speak, the pitch of your voice, the volume….. You may notice that you can read this sentence aloud as a statement or as a question, can't you. And the tonality is different in either case, imparting a very understandable meaning to whom you are speaking with. The words that we choose to communicate with, represent only 7% of all communication. Only 7%. This is why many people have a difficult time with the traditional classroom based teaching style of the American school system. With 93% of human communication coming through nonverbal forms, can broadband eliminate the need for in-person meetings? (look at all of the dot.com entrepreneurs congregating along US 101 in Silicon Valley)
When we succeed in recreating the fine sensory awareness of human sight, hearing, feeling, smell, and taste, then we will no longer need to go anywhere to meet anyone. We will be able to stay plugged into in our little pods, providing resources for the machines to feed off of, like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Until that day humans have a high need to use their full sensory awareness, receiving and communicating 90%+ of their thoughts and emotions through nonverbal means.
We still have sales calls to make, and we still have customers who want us to make them. Just as the telephone made the job of selling easier, so will the Internet for those who learn how master it, and not let it master them.
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