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The State of Affairs and the Future Trends in the Sales Profession

The profession of selling has always been in the past for most sales people a default profession. I have seen estimates as high as 40% of college graduates first job is in some form or another in sales and marketing. Yet it would be a safe bet that less than 10% of those who entered sales did it as a premeditated choice. Until the last 10 years there were very few colleges that even offered sales as a major. Today there is somewhere around 52 that do so.

The sales profession has always fallen into the category of a fallback position, not unlike applying to Stanford and Cornell and having Ohio State as your fall back. College graduates with degrees in business, economics, finance and management become quickly disillusioned with the lack of entry-level positions in these fields and accidentally find themselves in the trenches of the sales profession.

However, this is all changing. A career in sales is quickly becoming a far more professional and demanding choice. It was recently ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the few growth professions in the current deep recession.

Not only is the profession gaining legitimacy, it is also moving out of the dark ages into a profession that demands a high level of intelligence, technical expertise and business acumen. In ancient times,10 years ago, any hard-working, motivated, persistent and friendly person could be reasonably successful. Those days are over. Those skill sets today will have you topping out on an income around $45,000 a year.

As products and services reach product parity in quality, and as companies are able to replicate their competitor's technology faster, the skill set for selling becomes more important. Also as globalization spreads, more countries like China and India are starting to make huge inroads into traditional commodity products that do not require skilled sales people to sell. It is glorified order taking.

The jobs of the future in sales, as in all other industries and professions, will require better trained, skilled and educated workers. The following are some of the future trends and changes that will affect our profession.

  1. Internet–Google and the Internet have virtually turned the world of sales upside down. In the past a sales person brought value to the table by being a resource for information. That has essentially been marginalized and neutralized by the Internet. Sales people can no longer afford to base their value by bringing information to the table, but rather by getting valuable information from their customers to build a business case for change. In today's market sales people are paid and rewarded for their questions, analytical skills and business acumen, not for their answers or product information. Customers perceive, rightly or wrongly, they can get this basic information from the net.
  2. Technological Barriers–With caller ID, electronics secretaries that announce callers, voice mail, email and the inability to walk in unannounced and without an appointment, make it all that more difficult for the traditional sales person who relies on sheer will, determination and persistence to break through initial walls of defense. Persistence once was a great equalizer...no longer. Sales people will have to rely on reengineering their persistence for the purpose of getting to customer's problems and knowing their business and operation.
  3. Social Media–I personally am not a big fan of social media so I am very biased. I feel it is silly and feeds narcissistic behavior. But nonetheless it is changing the way people make contacts and it can be used as an effective tool to make up for the technological barriers that are hampering sales people from contacting customers directly. Because it is so easy to use I believe it is abused by sales people, because it is certainly easier than picking up the phone to try to make an appointment in real time. So it will definitely be contributing to avoidance activity. Social media's greatest strength probably is with very personalized businesses that are B2B, and consumer and retail businesses that market to the consumer direct. It is also obviously a great tool for research and introductions.
  4. Buying Process–Customers are starting a lot earlier in the buying process to do their own homework before they even contact a sales person. In many cases they know more about your company when they meet you than you know about their company. This ultimately will impact margins as sales people are relied on less for their insight and expertise.
  5. Approval Cycle–No one will argue that the approval cycle is taking longer than ever. In some cases it is longer than the whole sales process of years past. Due to risk aversion, more decisions will be made at higher levels as we continue to bounce around on the bottom of the recovery.
  6. Direct Buying–The Walmart effect is making inroads into the general commercial marketplace where customers are buying direct to lower their costs because they do not see value in the added cost of seeing a sales person. More and more companies are cutting out the fat (middleman-sales person) in the buying process.
  7. Erosion of Training–More companies are getting rid of sales training programs for their people. In the old days small companies relied on hiring well-trained sales people from large companies. Today fewer and fewer sales people are being formally trained. Not a great tren for my business.
  8. Less Face Time–In the future there will be less face-to-face sales calls. Many companies are realizing that the road warrior is too expensive. Customers are less tolerant of seeing sales people as in the past. They do not feel the need to socialize and see more value in getting their information in real time.
  9. 80/20 Rule–According to Michael Bosworth there is a disturbing trend that is greatly impacting the tried-and-true 80/20 rule. Today 87% of sales revenues are driven by 13% of sales people. What this means is that for the average Joe on the street it will be harder and harder to make a living. Companies will also experience greater turnover because their sales force will not have the elite skill sets to be profitable and productive.
  10. Less Empathy–All reports and research show less empathy in the new generation. This will be a huge detriment to the sales profession because unless someone has the ability to see another in their world, they will not be viewed as a trusted advisor. In the old days you could get away without not a lot of empathy because you were a valuable resource for information. Question skills were not critical. Today that is no longer the case. Without empathy it is very difficult to ask questions, listen and put your customer's needs ahead of yours.
  11. Sales Degrees–This is a very positive trend for the industry. As mentioned earlier there is a growing need for formal education for sales people to fill the void of corporate sales training.
  12. More Inside Sales People–More companies will utilize inside sales people as the costs and effectiveness of outside sales people are continually scruitnized and questioned.
  13. Blogging–More sales people will try to draw customers to them thru industry expertise due to less marketing support and more difficulty getting customers to answer their phone or emails. More sales people will be involved in self-publishing and writing white papers. I have heard it said that a book is the new business card in the information economy. Sounds fancy! I doubt it!
  14. Fewer Lone Wolfs–It seems companies are trying to gain more control and the lone wolf sales person will not prosper or be tolerated as much in a more team oriented sales environment.
  15. Industry Experts–As customers demand more insight and expertise and less general product information there could be a shift to hiring sales people who have more vertical industry expertise.
  16. Resellers/Distributors/Representatives/Partners–There will be more emphasis on companies finding partners and channels to help sell their wares and reduce their costs to market.
  17. Fewer Sales Jobs–My guess is there will be fewer sales jobs in the future by 15-20%. I had heard that the Internet will extinquish the need for sales people by half in the future. No way Jose in my opinion.
Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com