The Death of the Salesman


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As Mark Twain said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration”. The salesman is alive and well, but we are witnessing a transformation. This transformation is driven by the shift from a sales process to a buying process. The customer or prospect truly is king now. This trend is moving very fast and will change the way companies acquire new business. In the past, customers valued competent sales professionals as their main source of information about products and applications. Today, customers believe that source is the web. The majority believe the web is a more objective resource than product sales people. However, most web data is about an inch thick and even that’s often as promotional as informational.

Nonetheless, customers are pushing aside traditional sales people. Willy Loman, the central figure in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” said, “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.” Those days are gone. Sales people accustomed to providing input and assisting in product selection strategy now find their role often limited to price negotiations.

Outstanding sales reps are still penetrating organizations at the highest level and helping define purchase direction. But their numbers are plummeting. The vast majority of sales people find their role unclear and confusing at best, and to some outright depressing. Accepting the shift from a “selling process” to a “buying process” means accepting loss of control, which will have domino effects on companies’ overall approaches to marketing and sales both.

To be involved in the early stages of the buying process, most marketers will need to become a trusted source for information for prospects. This means informational content, as opposed to promotional messaging, will now be a key element in brandbuilding, especially on the B2B side and for consumer durables. And developing information content is hardly marketing’s sweet spot.

Lead generation tactics must change as well. Visiting social media sites such as Linkedin with B2B sales and marketing discussion groups reveals how much work (and talk) are going into determining the optimal LeadGen media, i.e. direct mail, telemarketing, social media, direct mail, tradeshows or events. But their single strengths aside, none of these channels can stand alone, and integrating media with strong nurturing components and comprehensive analytics will be critical to success. The days of relying on extensive direct mail and smiling and dialing are gone. Stand alone alternatives will not pass the ROI test. Not only will marketing need to meld the various media options but marketing and sales alike will have to take a long term view of managing sales pipelines. Recent studies including one by Aberdeen, have shown that sales lead generation that includes building a quality database, nurturing all prospects in the early stages of the buying cycle plus delivering a great message and offer generates three to five times the return oj just a great offer and message.

Willy Loman is dead, long live Willy Loman. But may his sales practices and traditional marketing support be as much a memory as Willy.

Joe Lethert
Joe Lethert Joe is the CEO of Performark Inc and recently was voted # 4 in the Sales Lead Management Association's "5 most influential". Joe founded Performark in 1984 and has a history of innovation and industry firsts in lead management systems and sales lead generation. For mor information please visit


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