Sales people, you’re fired!


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There are many who look at social strategies as transforming a business to the point that it will no longer require traditional sales people. I disagree with these somewhat utopian views of the world but did want to take a moment to note a couple of very important points.

One recent post notes:

“Social businesses don’t have a role for a traditional salesforce anymore as the end-to-end process-driven model takes over. Today’s salesforces will be replaced by cadres of independent sales people that have only one purpose: relationship brokers.”

  • There will be a few businesses that transition deeply into this model. Real estate brokers, stock brokers, and the like, already follow this model, the good ones anyway. The strongest will survive, their relationship building behaviors will be replicated (as they already are).
  • Do not expect a wide-scale transformation across all industries and markets. The idea, while interesting, will not scale. Great sales people do much more than simply build relationships and they are not as commonplace as we would want.

The writer also notes:

“It becomes a win-win situation, one of the aims of a customer-centric model, where the customers get value from the products or services and the social business gets an even exchange of value in the form of money. In addition, these are the transactions that over time lead to emotional loyalty, the aim of a social business.”

This is critical in today’s business world, not just in tomorrow’s “social business”. Customers that do not receive value for their money will not be customers for long. It is an excellent point, however. You may make money selling inferior product services, for a time. If you want your business to survive for many years you need to get back to the basics:

  • Deliver a product or service that meets a true need.
  • Hire a great team.
  • Clearly communicate the company’s goals to employees, potential customers, and anyone else who will listen.
  • Develop strategies to achieve the goals you set forth.
  • Execute flawlessly.
  • Measure, adjust strategies and tactics based upon the results being achieved.
  • Hope for some luck. Having been through a few startups I can tell you that luck helps. Call it timing if you prefer, but great ideas, great execution, can sometimes fail if the idea is too early or you bring on the wrong board, the wrong management team, the wrong staff.

Sounds pretty simple, right. I guess we’ll need those sales people after all.



  1. I actually do agree to what you state in the first sentence” …”no longer require traditional sales people”. And the list you show is true – but for none of the items are sales people necessary.
    So can fire them all? Well, let’s see there are a few functions that need to be taken care of. But they are different today.
    – Sales processes need to change to match customer buying pattern
    – Sales behavior alignment with customer expectations
    – As a result sales compensation may need adjustment to drive behavioral changes
    Many of the hard core, cold calling, markets penetrating sales people who believe in the necessity of the “killer instinct” and what have you “selling refrigerators to Eskimos”… will have a hard time to survive.

    On Feb 11 we run an online presentation: Social Customer Relationship and social selling live.

    We all know the world has changed – and so must the people who sell into this new world.


  2. John and Axel, couldn’t agree with each of you more. The customer buying/sales process is changing (Axel, your post on this is great.), it demands new skills, behaviors, and activities from sales professionals.

    One of the good things about the social world is that it raiss the bar on sales performance and should shift the customer expectations higher. Sales people present little value regurgitating spec sheets and pitching products, they have to interact in a different way, focusing on the customer business. Those peddlers that don’t change their game deserve to be fired!

    Thanks for a great post and comment. Regards, Dave

  3. In many markets, the emergence of social media, and the broader shifting of information power from the seller to the buyer may well have the same effect on traditional “always be closing” sales techniques as an asteroid had on the dinosaurs.

    But I’m sure that there remains a continuing and important – in fact vital – role for sales people in any complex sales environment. It’s just that the nature of the sales role has already changed, and will continue to evolve. The bar is being raised, and an increasingly agile and intelligent approach is required.

    As Axel points out, the role of the sales person in complex purchasing decisions is evolving from driving the sale to facilitating the buying process. This new role requires that sales people help the prospect to solve problems, simplify complexity and manage change. Social media, networks and internet searching can certainly contribute mightily to the prospect’s knowledge.

    But I don’t believe there is an effective substitute for engaged dialogue, for provocative questioning, or for helping the prospect look at things from a fresh perspective. The brand values associated with vendors will continue to be heavily influenced by the interaction between prospects and sales people.

    I suggest that sales and marketing leadership has a critical role to play in recruiting, educating, equipping and empowering a new generation of sales people who are capable of building on the principles of consultative selling and elevating it to a new level.

    The alternative, of course, is remain fixed under the growing shadow and to ignore the whooshing sound coming from the sky above…

    Bob Apollo | Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners

  4. Thank you for the great comments, all the way around. I agree with Bob, in particular, when he writes:

    “I suggest that sales and marketing leadership has a critical role to play in recruiting, educating, equipping and empowering a new generation of sales people who are capable of building on the principles of consultative selling and elevating it to a new level.”

    This does not, of course, mean that sales techniques of the last 20 years are going to disappear, it simply means that they will be complemented by relationship building, old fashion sales will still live on.

    Social strategies will have the largest impact on customer services, marketing, and internal communications. Other aspects of the business, including sales, will be impacted, and therefore change, far more slowly.

    My point of disagreement, if there is disagreement, is on the meaning of “many” in “many markets”. 20 – 30% (made that up) will likely see major changes in sales approaches in the next couple of years. Over the course of the next 4 or 5 years, I would expect to see 50% of the markets changed in a meaningful manner due to social strategies. The remaining 50% will change far less, perhaps not at all. Keep in mind I am looking at this from world-wide level,if we change to a US-only view of the world the numbers will be a bit higher.

    John F Moore

    My Blog:
    Skype: cto.john.moore

  5. Bloggers and pundits have loudly proclaimed the end of the salesperson for years. I don’t understand why.

    The question isn’t “will social media make the sales role obsolete?” That’s not a productive debate.

    The questions should be “which forces will have the greatest impact on selling?” and “what do those forces mean for future sales strategies?”

  6. Technology affects the role of salespeople.


    True confessions – I just turned 56. And, in my short time here on earth, I have
    experienced a dozen technologies that forever changed the selling
    profession. Here’s a short list of game

    < ![if !supportLists]>§        
    < ![endif]>Fax
    – Pre 1984 sales people used to say, “I’ve got your quote
    ready. I’ll have it out in tomorrow’s
    mail.” Then they got busy and actually finished the quote.

    < ![if !supportLists]>§        
    < ![endif]>Cell
    – Pre 1989 salespeople returned calls – the next day and
    everything was fine.

    < ![if !supportLists]>§        
    < ![endif]>Email
    – Pre 1995 salespeople corresponded via fax or letter. No instant gratification.

    < ![if !supportLists]>§        
    < ![endif]>Internet
    – Remember how the internet was going to product “disintermediation” and
    obsolete the world of distribution?

    The good sellers recognized the value of each of these
    technologies, figured out how to put them to work in their own repertoire and
    moved on. The mediocre sales
    professionals; well they found new lines of work.


    Now Social Media and
    Web 2
    are about to change the rules of the selling game; does this mean the
    death of a profession? I don’t think
    so. But it does mean some members of the
    species will become extinct.


    Bear with me as I glaze into my own crystal ball (it may be
    the Tuscany Pizza I had for lunch); I think I see something.


    It’s cloudy but here’s a vision. Most salespeople will know more about their
    customers before they darken their doorstep.
    Good salespeople will already understand a little bit about the issues
    the customer faces in his own business.
    Great salespeople will already have a rough draft of the value they can
    provide sketched out in their minds.


    These new guys will raise the bar. Value (measured in that 5000 year old
    standard – Money) will be measured, explained and documented. The customer will see fewer pony shows and
    more economic reports. The good sales
    people will understand how to solve the customer’s issues. The great sales people will understand the
    impact to the customer’s bottom line.


    And finally, in my world (technology, automation, factory solutions) new salespeople will be hired not for
    their ability to kick down doors – but for their skills once the door is opened
    by these cool new tools.

  7. In my opinion, there’s a real bifurcation occurring right now in the sales field. Those sellers who fail to adjust to the changing market realities will soon find themselves out of a job.

    I love Frank’s comment re: salespeople learning “valuable lessons in downward mobility.” I see it all the time and honestly, it makes me sad.

    To maintain species viability In the emerging business environment, sellers will need to be businesspeople, first and foremost. They need to constantly be bringing their prospects fresh ideas, insights and information. They’ll need to be thinking ahead of their customers as opposed to responding to them.

    For sellers who embrace this new role will thrive while their non-evolving counterparts will be on the brink of extinction.

  8. Technology in general, social whatever, Frank’s list, certainly will have a roll in accelerating the evolution of the sales person. But, its not necessarily the technology that is the real driver. It is the ubiquitous availability of information available to the consumer today that has irreversably shifted the seller-buyer dynamic. Depending on how you define “traditional sales person”, that ship sailed a long time ago.

    Although for argument’s sake, lets assume Willy Loman still lives somewhere in some store front in Anytown USA. The consumer walking in the door, or in the B to B context, the executive across the desk, is far more educated about his needs and available products. So, the sales person needs to focus on creating value, more value than that buyer can realize without engaging the sales person, BEFORE the sale. Call it consultative sales, strategic sales, whatever. The fact is, if you’re not creating value (notice I didn’t say “adding value”) then you’re not even going to get the initial appointment or the next customer to walk in the door.

    For a peek into a view on changing buyer behavior, and to have a guy a heck of a lot smarter than me articulate it, check out this link to a recent McKinsey study on the subject.

    The Customer Decision Journey


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