ring bell

In the past year, you may have seen some doom and gloom headlines, including, but not limited to:

  • “Digital Marketing and Death of a B2B Salesman”
  • “Will Digital Cause the Death of the B2B Salesman?”
  • “1 Million B2B Sales Jobs Will Vanish by 2020”

These types of headlines aren’t unique to the sales profession, of course. They’re reminiscent of the “machines are replacing people” fears that do have some truth to them–whether it’s automated check-out lanes, self-driving cars or machine-run assembly lines.

Let’s get it out of the way: The headlines are real. But (and it’s a big but) it’s not all B2B salespeople’s jobs that are disappearing. Those million jobs in that headline may very well vanish by 2020, but there’s a group in B2B sales that’s set to grow simultaneously: Content Concierges.

Death of the Traditional Salesman

Of the 4.5 million B2B salespeople today, Forrester predicts that that there will be 1 million lost to self-service eCommerce. Those losses will extend to salespeople across many industries including Consumer Product Goods (CPG), equipment sales and other fields where the salesperson’s necessity and value is limited either by the simplicity of the product they’re selling or a straightforward buying environment. In other words, that subset of buyers won’t need them anymore.

The Forrester research article by Andy Hoarwhere the alarming million-salesman stat comes fromalso found that 93% of B2B buyers prefer buying online as opposed to talking to a salesperson after they’ve decided to buy, which shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. If someone has done their research, compared their options and come to a decision (all before talking to a salesperson), the role of the salesperson is essentially to complete a transaction. There’s value for the company selling the product or service if the salesperson upsells, but what’s the value for the customer?

This isn’t necessarily a battle of online vs offline. As brick-and-mortar B2C stores like Radioshack and Macy’s shutter many of their doors, online retailers like Birchbox and Amazon are actually moving into physical spaces. These retailers see an opportunity to provide a value beyond that which their websites do, and the data supports their decision: 85% of consumers prefer the experience of physical stores versus shopping online.

People don’t hate the sales experience or talking to a salesperson; they hate a bad sales experience with a bad or unnecessary salesperson. That doesn’t just mean the stereotypical pushy used-car salesman; it can mean anyone who doesn’t assist the purchasing process in a tangible way.

Good News for Sales Consultants

When there’s a complex product or service in a complicated buying environment with multiple stakeholders, salespeople are irreplaceable. That’s because they’re not just there to take someone’s order and fill out paperworkthey consult them throughout the entire sales process.

Forrester Analyst Peter O’Neill says these consultants will be “Content Concierges,” and though they’re currently the smallest category of B2B sales reps, they’re the only group set to grow–there are set to be 550,000 sales consultants by 2020.

Why Content Concierges?

Buyers will talk to B2B salespeople at various stages of interest. If they do so, modern buyers have an expectation that the salesperson won’t merely regurgitate the research they’ve already done, but will address business considerations of their project, and as a part of that, delivering contextual and relevant content to accelerate the sales process. Buyers are drawing a distinction between order takers and concierges, and they overwhelmingly want the latter.

To empower their sales reps as consultants, sales organizations will have to transform in the following ways:

  • Equip sales reps with an understanding of their customers’ life cycles and where a particular customer is in that cycle
  • Use social tools
  • Follow data insights about customers
  • Think about the buyer’s viewpoint, and not their own
  • Thoughtfully, and efficiently, distribute company contentwhether on a website, in person, via e-mail, etc.

Content Concierges will have to be “able to understand, and then spread and distribute online and printed content that you create in your company, but also content that may come from other source as well,” Mr. O’Neill said in a recent webinar.

If they step up to meet the changing landscape, “empowered salespeople in the future are really going to play out this role of being a Content Concierge.”

Stay tuned as we’ll be putting the rising class of sales consultants in the context of the other selling strategies, and how sales organizations can meet challenges head-on, no matter how they sell. Click below to learn how one of the world’s largest CPG companies has adapted to meet some of their own challenges.

Ring Bell for Service [Cropped] by Atomic Taco | CC By 2.0