Death of a Salesman – Version 2009


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I’m sure you know Arthur Miller’s “Death of a salesman” (1949).


“Customers don’t ask sales people any longer for their VALUED opinion. People check everything in the Internet and sales people are soooo misunderstood”… my car dealer tells me.

So what has changed between 2005 and 2009?


Customers never trusted sales people – not in the last 5,000 years but they dealt with them in a symbiotic way. It was basically “Educate me and I will work with you”. “Help me introduce me to your engineers or experts and I talk to you”. “Help me….

Customers – including you as a sales person – found a new more powerful way to get educated: The social web. We read blog posts, we participate in discussions, we talk to the customers who YOU MR. SALES MAN never allowed us to talk to – actually tried to avoid the conversation. We explore our social networks and find the real users, the real stories.
The next disaster has yet to strike: Executives will find the efficiency of social media so compelling that the “Hunters” “Killers” and all the old “Heros” will be in question in the next 5 years. —- Nooooo that never happens and in particular not to you…. right?

This my be true for XYC but not for ME
When I explore those situations, I hear Social media is good for consumers but not for B2B. Or it may be used in the high tech industry but not in ours. Or our company is not ready for that – actually that may be true.
BUT customers in all industries across all levels and all products leverage the connections, leverage the Internet to get the information they want – period.

Sales people need to rewrite their books – completely. No more tricks, no more hunting and killing. The prey has outgrown the predator. But still customers – and we are all customers of somebody else – will need helpful hands in the challenges we have every day. Sales need to HELP customers find all those details even faster. Sales need to overcome the old and clumpsy “reference selling model” and introduce a prospect to other customers before a sales process is even identified. Consultative selling is introductions to a vast ecosystem you need to know and understand. TRUST is the currency today but YOU Mr. Salesman are the only one who believes that your customers are trusting you.

Stop dreaming about the “low touch sales model”. Start ignoring the “sales processes” you have to follow, stop doing the 50 cold calls you have to do each day. Stop pumping out emails to your clients.

YES, you will get in trouble with your boss. So ask him how he deals with cold calls and which of the recent sales calls he received he found compelling. Ask him about a company he would invest part of his 401K based on their sales practices – not about the sales they report but the feedback from their customers.

But this is not just theory; I worked with a dozen of sales professionals to develop a new model. Check this white paper.
Now I’m really interested what your vision is how sales is conducted by 2012 or 2015


Axel Schultze
CEO of Society3. Our S3 Buzz technology is empowering business teams to create buzz campaigns and increase mentions and reach. S3 Buzz provides specific solutions for event buzz, products and brand buzz, partner buzz and talent acquisition buzz campaigns. We helped creating campaigns with up to 100 Million in reach. Silicon Valley entrepreneur, published author, frequent speaker, and winner of the 2008 SF Entrepreneur award. Former CEO of BlueRoads, Infinigate, Computer2000.


  1. Sales is really the oldest profession since the sale was made first;). The over hype of Social Media reminds me of a few “world changing” technologies Multi Media from the 90’s. The taken for granted land line phone, a major turning point for sales people. Remember the commercials from the 70’s by AT&T “Why didn’t you call?”. The last thing is watching Antique’s Roadshow when a woman had small working models that door to door and town to town salesmen used. All these where game changing events for sales people. Social Media will soon be taken for granted and people will stop saying “what’s twitter?” all things evolve.

    Many average to top performer sales people have made the leap. Others will follow and learn to use the web more and more effectively. Why? They are motivated or they don’t eat.

  2. Axel
    I’ve commented previously to you that I think your view of sales is extremely limited and reading this article only reinforces my perception – this is not helped by the fact you’ve never sought to clarify or explain your prejudice. If in fact you truly believe all sales organisations are useless dinosaurs that are soon to perish, then I’m waiting with anticipation for your corresponding articles on the Death of Marketing, the Death of PR, and the really important one – the Death of the Social Media expert…Or are you like many of the so called social media experts who seem to view social media/marketing as purely the domain of the mar/com/PR brethren?

    The useless dinosaur label you give sales is misleading. Maybe you should use some of your considerable social media skills to get out there and really understand how progressive, modern sales organisations work? Let me give you some examples of what organisations are doing…

    [*]Dell – In the B2C world Dell has done everything you’ve mentioned and much more. Dell is the standard for how companies can leverage web 2.0/social media tools to help them sell more product.
    [*]Oracle, Aramark Uniforms, or Cisco in the B2B world – These companies are modern, professional B2B sales organisations that again leverage web 2.0 tools and social media ideas to help them be different and relevant for their customers and prospects.
    [*]Neil Rackham – What about the work done by Neil Rackham? 30-odd years ago his research (conducted over decades and tens of thousands of companies) led to the definition of the customer buying cycle and the idea that organisations would communicate and collaborate with their communities in ways that were relevant based on where the buyer is in their cycle.
    [*]CSO Insights – Jim and Barry from CSO Insights have undertaken significant research and have been thought leaders in the Sales 2.0 space for at least 2 years.

    In all these examples companies and individuals are proving that a sales organisation can adapt, can evolve, and can find a place for themselves in the future of commerce.

    The white paper you reference is hardly groundbreaking. In fact, if you checked with Dave Stein (who you’ve exchanged comments with previously) he’d probably concur that most of the top sales methodology companies have been promoting the ideals you outlined in your checklists for many years. As I noted above, go and look into some of the work done by Neil Rackham.

    You make some good points Axel; I mean I agree with you that the idea of a car salesperson is dead. In the very near future, showrooms will exist primarily to allow the confirmation test drive prior to taking delivery of the vehicle that was researched, financed, and purchased solely from the web – but your singular view of sales is as ancient as Miller’s book.

    Mark Parker
    Smart Selling

  3. I appreciate the conversation/debate about new tools for sales, and also the evolving role of sales. I don’t think the sales function will disappear for many industries, but sales has to reflect how customers want to make purchasing decisions, whether it’s a new car or a complex suite of enterprise software. Smarter customers can mean that sales can jump right to helping customers select the best solutions (consultative selling). The Internet and social applications have pointed to many new ways to find and engage customers, as reflected in this post & comments – looking forward to the continued evolution.
    (Side note: Arthur Miller’s masterpiece for the theater addresses the inability of one sad man, who happens to be a salesman, to capture the American dream or even meaning in his life. Many consider this play a timeless classic.)
    — JB Hunt

  4. @Mark The most important skill nowadays sales people either lost or never developed are listening or reading skills. If you truly read the white paper you will see two things: some of the techniques were impossible a few years ago – and second the 10 aspects are some of the major changes in sales. The same with Arthur Millers plot – instead of doing a quick double check on Wikipedia and read the narrative – read the book. When Willy Lomans drove to the headquarter and was arguing with the young but much more successful sales people what they should and shouldn’t do based on his “experience” how to deal with customers. And that is what I am referring to.

    Now you mention Dell – did you hear about “Dell hell” – and why they fired their CMO?

    You mention Cisco and Oracle and Web 2.0 – all I can say” PLEASE talk to their sales organization”. THEN think about what you write here 😉

    You mention Neil Rackham – I couldn’t find him on linkedin. After some search I found a trainer who made his sales successes in the 70’s (40 years ago) – needless to dive deeper.

    And you digg up CSO Insight – 30 years sales experience – great – I don’t argue about experience – but I’m not so enthusiastic about their “expertise” in social media – simply because I couldn’t find anything.

    Mark – don’t take me wrong. And I hear the arguments about the old model and the social media “hype” literally every day. So keep holding on to it, some will adopt the social way of interacting with customers, others won’t. Only time will tell what is more successful.

    However, Mark, I do very much appreciate the ongoing dialog as it helps all of us to see the two sides of the coin.

    @Alanbr – good example – it’s a game changer and we will evolve as many game changing events appeared before that.

    @Julie – you are right sales will not disappear at all. I’m involved in a project where a company is actually hiring 120 additional sales people – but they are all social media focused. Their task is to socialize and better understand the companies eco-system, listen and learn and understand what people look for to be more successful in their career and role in the customers companies’. That new team will be the key guides in their customers’ purchase processes. After they are trained they conduct a whole new sales role – yet, they are still sales people. Their quota is based on social capital value development and their commission is based on advocacy development.

  5. Alex, Seeing that you are heavily involved with social media, I hope that some of my comments will not be taken as insulting.

    Recently I was asked to write an article on why salespeople were looked down upon by both management and customers. In addition, I was asked what I thought was the gensis if this negative attitude. The first part was easy to name a wide range of reasons mostly stemming from the way selling is taught today and/or what people read in books about selling. To many, those not really comforable with the idea that they might be selling, they are being asked to told to do something that borders on being unethical It may not be, but to them, it seems so and perception is reality.

    There are other reasons, but in the world of businesses being run by what one reads on a computer printout, salaries are seen as an expesnse rather than an asset or inventory that brings in more money that they cost. Hence, they are, if expenses need to be controlled, expendable either by less salespeople or less paid aka untrainded salespeople. The result is that salespeople are, to management, just numbers; to customers exasperating.

    As you wrote, the problem is not new. My conclusion of when this attitude started happpened with the Torjan Horse — that what was thought to be one thing turned out to be something quite different. This “what you see is not what you get” has been around for a long time. It has become moreso with the use of the Internet in that resources want a “pretty site) aka ego builder, web site designers design sites without ever being “behind the counter” and interfacing with customers eyeball to eyeball. Add to this that management believed that with a web site there was less need for salespeople or experienced salespeople . . . that the inefficies a less than desireable salesforce with the income generated by their web site. With the troubles many businesses with both a physical and web site stores, that thinking may be fuzzy logic.

    Now we have the “social networking” phenonemon which is, if one relates it to sales or selling is a misnomer, It is really business networking replacing the early morning business netwroking breakfasts and lunches. Yet, in my investigation, the same ills are evident in both formats. People attend or sign on to such programs to get business or leads yet few give leads or business to others. While my survey of those I know who partake in both, while some said they generated business by their participation due to their efforts, none said that they did business because others in their group asked “hired” them. It is a “want” and not “give’ business syndrome.

    The other thing that has been happening since there was a great increase in the use of the Internet for sales. That is it took the personality out of the salesperson/customer relationship. The “Press 1, Press 2 etc” took on a life that has invaded all aspect of busienss.

    When will it change, this negative attitude change? Hopefully, it will change when selling is defined as “asking others to do what you want them to do” and customers are those being asked to do what is wanted. Taking at test in schoool, asking a question, offering an idea or suggestion, setting a policy or inaugerating a new procedure, etc. are accepted as being forms of selling. Then everyone will see that selling is what they’ve been doing since they’ve been able to communcate with others. There will be no “death of a salesman” syndrome.

    Thanks for a very provocative article.


    Alan J. Zell, Ambassador of Selling
    Attitudes for Selling offers consulting, workshops and speaking on all business topics that affect sales. He can be reached at [email protected] or via

  6. We are all selling something, even if not on commission. On CustomerThink, for example, the various authors (including me) are selling their point of view. In every business, leaders do the same.

    Axel talks of the death of the salesman, but of course he is a salesperson himself. I’m certain that to start and run several businesses he had to convince investors to part with their money, employees to take the leap to a new venture, and customers to try an unproven solution.

    The social web does change the game, but I think it can be wonderful news for sales leaders. Social media gives top sales professionals another way to do what they do best: create and develop relationships.

    Every job is changing based on new technology and free flowing information. Sales reps must adapt or become obsolete, just like everyone else. However, this is not “death,” just capitalism at work.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  7. Hi Axel: I read, then re-read your blog. Highly thought provoking. Interesting points. Some I agree with. My initial impression was confirmed when I finished my second read. You direct your comments toward salespeople:

    (“Sales people need to rewrite their books.” . . . “YOU MR. SALES MAN”)

    I feel your pain. But it obscures the larger issue: The challenges we face in selling our products and services are bigger than just how salespeople behave toward customers or what salespeople think–much, much bigger.

    What you and many others see as undesirable in salespeople begins with the organizational culture in which they work. The senior executives who establish a company’s strategy and business plan. The managers who direct the activities of salespeople.

    Where you observe outdated, ineffective sales tactics, there’s an entire ecosystem of complicit people. They aren’t often talked about, but I wouldn’t think for a minute that there’s a CXO at a company who is utterly disconnected from the tactics used in the feeding frenzy that we euphemistically call revenue generation. The same CXO collaborated on a business plan that contained financial goals that included a cash flow projection, that translated to a revenue plan that yielded an international sales quota that was divided into region quotas, and on, and on, and on . . .

    Now, add the Vice Presidents, Senior Directors, Division Managers, who execute the strategy by setting MBO’s and policies (using spreadsheets to track the revenue), and you quickly get the picture that inpugning the salesperson for lacking wisdom might be the most visible place to start, but not necessarily the best place to attack the problems you describe.

    When it comes to changing sales strategies, a look at the larger picture would be healthy for the discussion. We’re entering a new era. To fix the problems with sales, wouldn’t Death of a CEO be more on target? After all, there’s plenty of financial wreckage today wrought by management who are static, bureaucratic and self-satisfied. If they don’t believe it, they can read their own financial statements for validation of their leadership problems. Start at the top. You’ll find it more fruitful than addressing a salesperson in the field.

  8. Hi Andrew – RIGHT ON. I think we are on the same page. I posted another post a few weeks ago: “Blame your CEO – not the economy”

    Now – this message may be a bid too late but I’d love to have you in our online presentation tomorrow:
    And if not – maybe we can have a chat anyway. You find all my connection details here: @AxelS


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