Death of B2B Sales

The Death of B2B Sales is Greatly Exaggerated

There are many industry gurus out there proclaiming the death of the B2B sales profession. Forrester Research predicted that 1 million B2B sales jobs would be lost between 2017 and 2020 (something I haven’t seen). The basic premise is that today’s marketing automation and sales systems, content rich websites and e-commerce platforms, make the B2B sales role somewhat redundant. This is not my view but I will explore both sides of the argument.

Just how many B2B salespeople are there? While it is hard to come up with a precise number, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15.8 million individuals work in sales occupations in the U.S., making it the largest single employment category.  This number includes a large number of sub-categories, including retail clerks, cashiers, real estate brokers, telemarketers, etc. Of the total, perhaps 2-3 million individuals are involved in B2B sales on more than an order-taker basis – the subject of this article.

As one who has been part of the B2B marketing and sales landscape for quite some time (my first job in the software industry dealt with mainframe computers!), I have been deeply involved in the transition from an era where virtually everything happened via mail, telephone, or face-to-face, to where huge portions of business is now conducted entirely online. The in-person meeting has been partially replaced by tools like Skype, WebEx or join.me. At Fusion Marketing Partners, we have had several clients, domestic and international, that we have never met in person. I bet this is also the case for many of you reading this article.

Yes, the B2B Sales Profession is Dying

Here are a few of the arguments of those that predict the death of the B2B sales profession:

  1. The prospective buyer can do all of his or her research and comparison online and complete the transaction without the need for sales intervention.
  2. Many individuals prefer to buy online – some actually dread working with salespeople.
  3. Prospects prefer to do their research on their own time and not depend on the timing (often interruptions) of the sales rep.
  4. Sales reps add cost and needless complexity to the buying process.
  5. There is no limit to what can be purchased online. To test this out I searched: “10 most expensive items you can buy on Amazon.” My favorite, and far from the most expensive, was the autographed set of Mickey Mantle baseball cards that can be had for only $83,500.

No, the B2B Sales Profession is Alive and Well

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I’m sure you’ve heard several of these arguments but let’s explore the other side of the question – how B2B reps can survive, and even flourish, in the new digital environment. Here are five reasons for optimism:

  1. Information overload and too many choices cause prospects to freeze and often leads to a no-decision. To put this another way, in a world of complexity, the salesperson becomes the “sense-maker”.
  2. Reps with deep domain expertise can educate prospects in a highly-personalized way. They become the conduits between customer pain points and the right solution.
  3. The fresh perspective of an outside professional can prevent prospects from making costly mistakes. The loyalty that this engenders can have great implications for years to come.
  4. Sales reps can prevent prospects from making costly mistakes, benefiting both the company and individuals.
  5. Sales reps can bring that much needed human touch to the impersonal digital process. We can all use a bit more of this.

For an extra perspective, David Brock’s excellent article titled, Do We Need Sales People Any Longer? contains some great points about how the sales profession is transitioning – and still very valuable.

To summarize, the B2B sales profession is certainly not dead and individuals who make their living in this way have a lot of runway to flourish. However, this is only true if they decide that they are no longer interested in being order takers, directors, objection handlers or closers. Rather they choose to be guides, coaches, facilitators, educators, and relationship builders.

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Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan has 25 years of marketing, technology, revenue growth experience. As both a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.
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