Social Media And The Disintermediation Of Sales People


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Recently, I have been in many conversations with people claiming, social media reduces the need to have sales people.  Some going so far as to declare the extinction of the sales person.  I don’t buy this, in fact, I think it is just the opposite, I think it increases the need for strong sales people engaging their customers in new ways. 

Social media changes the role of the sales professional, it doesn’t eliminate it.  At least in B2B Sales, I believe the role of sales professionals is even more important.

Traditionally, sales people served a role of informing and educating customers about solutions.  Today, the customer gets much of that information from the web.  Some claim the sales person no longer needs to educate the customer.  I think that’s wrong, just because it’s on the web, doesn’t mean it’s accurate.  The sales person may have to spend a lot of time re-educating the customer, correcting misunderstandings.  Additionally, many of our solutions are very complex, so while the customer gets a lot of information from the web, they still need to solve THEIR problem.  The sales person still has the role of showing specifically how their solutions should be implemented to meet the customer’s specific situation.  They bridge the gap from the experience of others to the specific and unique needs and priorities of the customer.

The change in the sales person’s role goes far beyond this.  Some claim, with social media, the sales person gets involved later in the buying process than traditionally.  Some would way, the customer has already done their needs assessment, narrowed their solution alternatives and engage sales people for those solutions that have been “short-listed.”

I think this is dead wrong, bordering on dangerous!  This assumes the customer is perfectly knowledgeable about how to analyze their needs and narrow the solutions to those that best fit their needs.  It assumes the customer has taken the time to research alternatives and apply them to their own business improvement.

To be honest, customers are prisoners of their own experiences (we all are).  They will look at their business in a certain way—best on their own experience.  Research on the web may broaden that perspective, but it will not address their specific situation.  They still have to bridge that gap.  Additionally, solving problems with your business starts with asking the right questions—to make sure you are solving the right problems. 

Too often, because we are prisoners of our own experience, we may not be asking ourselves the right questions.  One of the great roles of the sales person is that because they see many other customers, they can ask different questions, they can help the customer to reconsider how they are viewing the problem. 

So far, we’ve focused on the role of the sales person in “the last mile,” the value they create by helping the customer understand solve problems or address opportunities the customer has already recognized.  Rather than educating the customer about their products, they focus on the application of the product to solving the customer problems (but I always thought that was what great sales professionals do).

I’ve always thought great sales people don’t just help their customers solve problems, they don’t wait until the customer has a problem then propose great solutions.  Great sales people help their customers consider new opportunities to grow their businesses, they help them understand new opportunities to improve performance.

Great sales people bridge the gap our marketing materials can never bridge.  They can bridge a gap, that social media has difficulty in addressing.  Great sales people know the customer’s specific strategies and priorities.  They know how the customer works, they know how to make things happen within the customer.  Knowing this, they are in a great position to go to their customer saying, “I’m seeing a lot of discussion about this…., have you ever considered what might happen if you tried doing this…. ?” 

Great sales people are constantly working on behalf of their customers, finding them ideas about how to improve their businesses.

This is why I think it’s so important for sales people to be engaged in social media.  As I’ve mentioned in other articles, I strongly believe sales people need to be listening—they need to see what their customers are doing, what their customers’ customers are doing, what their customers’ competitors are doing.  They need to use social media as a source of ideas, opportunities, and possibilities for the customer to improve their business.  They need to engage their customers before the customers are searching for solutions to help the customers understand new opportunities for their businesses.  It may be pointing them to provocative blogs or news articles on the web, it may be a quick phone conversation to alert them about new possibilities.

Social media is not disintermediating the great sales people.  It provides them the vehicle to be a more important contributor to their customers’ success.  It changes the role of the sales person.  Great sales people recognize this and are embracing it.  Are you?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave: two years ago, who would have thought “outstanding written communication skills” would emerge as a key attribute for salesforce effectiveness? But today, being part of online conversations requires that competency. Poor communication undermines everything an organization needs to do to sell productively. Based on what I’ve seen, we have a long way to go, and the gap seems to be growing.

    Social media experts have written that buyers have more information than ever and are waiting until later to get a salesperson involved (I question whether the latter is true). Unfortunately, these ideas perpetuate a common misunderstanding that speaks to your point about the ongoing value of salespeople: more information available to prospects translates to greater understanding. It doesn’t, even though people make that assumption. In many cases, more information only opens more opportunities for its misuse and/or buyer confusion.

    McKinsey released a survey in 2009 asking prospects what are the most destructive sales behaviors. A total of twenty-nine percent cited lack of product and industry knowledge. If salespeople indeed had a perfunctory role for buyers, that issue wouldn’t have made the list. This finding suggests that when it comes to providing useful and valuable insight for buyers, salespeople are vital.

  2. Andrew, thanks for the comment, you are right on target! More information doesn’t mean good or accurate information. The role of sales people in the world of social media has become even more important, but sales people need to be informed and to inform.

    Thanks for the great comment.

  3. It is said that digesting information from the internet is akin to sipping water from a fire hose. The sales position in that metric is to serve as the nozzle for the client. It is to educate and inform. Reference applicable information to the client.

    Now, for prospecting, predictive analytics serves performs a lot of that task then pushed out through a (hopefully) sophisticated multichannel marketing function knowing when to initiate the touch points.

    Communication skills, then, become critical. Few execs enjoy writing and fewer still enjoy writing under tight deadline in 700 word bursts framed while banging at the keyboard, such as this comment.

    So the writing value becomes critical. The executive communications function more varied to hit different mediums with the ability to also tailor the “voice” to the name on the byline. For sales it hits with recommended blurbs to both read and to “push” to the client to direct the so called fire hose.

    And it heightens the value of the consultative sales rep to have that knowledge and communication ability to guide the client.

    This link to a what is more a humor blog around non professional interests discusses some of the multihcannel marketing issues with reference to related submissions.

  4. Geoff, thanks for the comment. The importance of consultative selling and new/different means of communicating with customers has never been greater. I think social media profoundly changes the way sales people engage customers–both timing, type of engagement, quality, etc.

    For those that embrace it, it’s a great competitive edge. Thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

  5. I have been engaged in sales and marketing for what seems like 100 years or so and I have seen numerous technology avenues opening up. I am currently working on an article that discusses differnt levels of salesmanship required for the particular product (re: Amazon vs. Accenture) and believe that there are levels of salesmanship required based on the customer’s ability to do research prior to buying.

    But at the end of the day it comes down to relationship value. We needed a new washer and Consumer Reports made the product decision easy. However, I went to two stores and eventually bought from the one where I felt good about the relationship. It sort of blew my theory just a bit, but I think it makes your point.

    Selling isn’t dead, but it has matured and people engaged in the art and science need to keep growing their skills and knowledge in order to serve a more sophisticated audience…..

    I enjoy your writing……please keep up the “thoughtful” ideas…

  6. Todd: I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that social media has created a greater need for great sales professionals. Many of the characteristics, skills, disciplines, and capabilities we have developed will continue to serve us.

    What’s changed is our role and how we best support the customer through their buying process. As you suggest, I think very strong early engagement is more critical now than ever before. I think continued invovlement (along with marketing) is critical through their buying cycle.

    Thanks for the great comment (also the nice words about the writing!) Regards, Dave

  7. I completely agree with the point in the article that customers are getting a lot more intelligent. Most customers already know about your product before they EVER contact you. These customers ([url=]Customer 2.0[/url]) need to be handled much differently than customers from a few years ago. Sales people need to be taught the importance of using social media during their prospecting and sales cycles to drive these deals further.

  8. Sorry for the pun, couldn’t resist. There are so many powerful tools, like InsideView, that make the salesperson more informec and better capable of engaging their customers at the right time—sales people need to leverage these well. Just as customers leverage social media to tremendous benefit, so can sales!

  9. Sales people are never going to die but how sales people are used and what skills they will need to possess is going to be a constant juggling act. It is clear that customers are much more informed and that a sales person is really needed to add additional value and be listening to their customer in a much more ACTIVE manner. Social media tools, phones and email all have a play in this. Great post Dave and thanks for including InsideView.


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