So it would appear that we’re finally losing the battle and being replaced by drones. It’s especially true if you’re a B2B salesperson, in light of Forrester’s recent “Death of a (B2B) Salesman” report.
It predicts 1 million salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service ecommerce by 2020. It is, of course, not just the ability to purchase online that’s driving this change; it’s the digitalization of the entire sales process from start to finish.
That 70% of buyer journeys happen before anyone directly contacts a brand is partly driven by the ability to access a plethora of digital information sources and partly by the fact that most people would rather eat a bucket of sand than actually speak to a salesperson. Inevitable as this shift may be, one question remains challenging: Will replacing people with technology improve things?
I look at this in two ways. Will it improve the experience for the buyer? Probably. The lack of sales conversations alone will be enough for most. But will it improve things for the seller--the brands that are digitalizing their customer journeys? The answer is: It depends.
Replacing poor salespeople with smart technology is an easy win. But I don’t think enough time or thought is being spent on replacing the good--or even excellent--salespeople (perhaps because they are so rare). As much as we try to avoid talking to salespeople at almost any cost, we’ve all also experienced the excellent ones--and good salespeople provide a lot more value than the right content at the right time to the right person.
My experience across brands of all shapes and sizes is that the automation of generic sales and marketing is happening, and on occasion in a fairly advanced way. The leaders in this field are the ones that are reading their customers' digital body language, identifying buyer personas, profiling progressively, and dynamically creating personalized experiences.
I work with several marketing organizations that do this well, but there still aren’t many of them in the world. This is quantified in the Digital Marketing Maturity Index, a global study of business marketers that Stein IAS is launching at the BMA conference in Chicago next week. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that the percentage of marketers ranked as “digital masters” is shockingly low; you could type it with a single keystroke!
But even for the best in the business, the predominant form of profiling and personalization is still behaviorally based. Even when attitudinal dimensions have managed to elbow their way into the personas, they rarely make their way into the actual customer experience.
I’ve seen some excellent examples of reading a customer’s digital body language to understand a prospective buyer, but it’s nothing that would come close to a truly great salesperson doing the real thing (i.e., in-person reading of a customer’s body language). Just think how powerful that could be if marketing automation systems could be taught to do it.
I believe this will be the next level of intelligent marketing to emerge after we’ve all made it past “automation”--which, if you think about it, isn’t really that high a standard to set.
To improve on what’s happening right now, it would be great to see more salespeople reinventing themselves as masters of digitizing the sales process to truly bring their expertise to bear on the world of marketing automation. It’s all about marketing at the moment, and many of the marketers, who are quick to point out the flaws of their sales organizations, are still not as expert as they need to be in the art and science of selling. This represents a huge opportunity for sales experts to not only survive the one-million-person-cull but to one day actually help design the intelligent marketing systems of the future.
If not, we’ll just have to wait for artificial intelligence to truly take over--and then we might all be at risk!