1. There will be fewer traditional salespeople. The market forces of digitization, mobilization and purchasing governance are going to dramatically change the ways in which buying and selling occur. This will transform the role of the traditional salesperson, and here’s why. There will be:
- Less direct prospecting based on lower yields to the point it becomes cost prohibitive;
- Fewer client meetings because they have less available time and interest in considering new vendors, especially through the traditional face-to-face presentations;
- More structured purchases as the procurement process, purchasing department and online auctions continue and expand;
- Disintermediation, where buyers will seek additional ways to go direct to providers and manufacturers, diminishing the need for manufacturer reps, dealers and distributors;
- A leveling of the playing field, where buyers will turn more former value-add items into minimum requirements, decreasing the need for involved explanations and comparative analysis.
2. The focus of buyers will finally shift from price to integrated outcomes.
- Competitive pricing exercises will squeeze out what is available in margin discounting, meaning more products and services will be treated as commodities;
- Commodities with a standardized cost of goods sold will be “traded,” not bought and sold, meaning “quoting” will replace needs assessment, solution matching and price justification done by the traditional salespeople;
- End-user comparisons will continue to trump all other value comparisons, like product demonstrations, white papers and samples; these will be secondary to the value of larger comparison tools such as Angie’s List.
3. The roles in the revenue generation chain will become more specialized.
- Traders. This will be the role of many people with sales titles, but their real role will be to facilitate quoting of commodities and near commodities under the titles of “Account Management,” “Inside Sales” or “Customer Service.”
- Designers. Solution architects will continue to be in high demand as customization and tailoring of pre-packaged and modular solutions will become the choice for companies that want to limit the risk and cost of completely built-from-scratch approaches.
- Project Management. This function of collaborative coordination between customers and providers, including supply chain management, enterprise resource planning and logistics, will grow in importance for the larger contracts.
- Lead generation. This area will continue to evolve as technologies adapt to the filters and barriers prospect companies put between buyers and revenue generators. Social media, outsourced meeting makers and earned media all have a singular purpose of getting higher up the food chain as a way to bypass the structured purchase.
4. Compensation for salespeople will change significantly. As the partitioning of the sales process and specialization of roles occurs, commission-based compensation will also change by creating a move toward less commission-only and high-commission models to more of a salary and bonus model, spreading compensation more broadly among all participants.
When I look at companies that are growing in the top 10% of their industries today, many of these changes have been implemented. Although the picture of the future is incomplete, it is not absolute; there will continue to be direct prospecting efforts and traditional sales approaches, just fewer of them.