Death of a Salesman – Fact or Fiction?

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Death of a Salesman

No, this isn’t an article about Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning play about Willy Loman. Instead, I want to address one of the three big myths that were debunked at the recent SiriusDecisions Sales and Marketing Summit last week in Nashville.

They reported that popular metrics indicate that buyers are 57% of the way through their purchase process before they engage a sales rep. They also mentioned that Forrester forecasts a 22% decline in the number of B2B sales over the next 5 years, which totals about 1 million sales reps that would possibly to lose their jobs.

That simply doesn’t live up to the research that SiriusDecisions found when they surveyed 1,000 B2B executives who were involved in significant purchase decisions. Their research found that B2B buyers interact with sales reps at every stage of the buyer’s journey. They also found that more than half the time rep involvement starts at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, and for more complex purchases that involvement is about two-thirds of the time.

So what that tells us is that buyers still need the help of salespeople, especially in the early process of a complex sale, in order to help them understand their own problem better and how they would go about solving it. This education stage of the buying process is actually one of the most important phases of the sales person’s relationship with the buyer. Also, this is clearly the phase of the buying process that has the greatest impact on the purchasing decision. Those sales people who can get in early and help the buyer create the scope of the problem, and how to solve it, have a better chance of directing the purchase outcome. More importantly, it is in this phase that they are the most value to the buyer.

Often time buyers are what I like to refer to as “unconscious incompetent” which simply means that they don’t even know that they don’t know! Sales people help them discover those things they don’t know about their own problem and raise their level of consciousness. It is at this stage where the sales rep adds a great deal of value to the buyer and their team that buyer’s simply can’t get through internet web pages.

Social networks do help buyers, but the process is disconnected. So, I agree with SiriusDecisions findings that the idea and concept that sales people, at least those that sell complex solutions, are a dying breed. Sales people can bring additional resources, information and value to the table when they work with buyers that far exceed what they might get on their own from just the internet, making the death of the salesman not a fact but fiction. At least that’s the way I see it, what say you?


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