March 27, 2013 | By Charles West | Back to blog

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 15 million people currently make their living in sales. Yet, as published in Selling Power, Gartner Research estimates that only four million sales people will be similarly employed by the year 2020—that’s only seven years away. Why the dramatic shift?

The Internet has clearly changed the buyer-seller relationship. Today’s tech-savvy consumers are more comfortable making keystrokes than trips to the mall. You need only look at what Amazon did to Borders to get the idea. And this trend goes beyond consumer purchases. The July-August 2012 HBR article “The End of Solution Sales” by Adamson, Dixon, and Toman makes the point that 60% of all complex B2B sales take place without a sales person’s involvement.

So, is the sales department fading? No. I believe a whole new generation of sales professionals will emerge.

Here’s what sales will look like in 2020. Future sales professionals will bring new ideas that directly and positively impact client business goals. Here’s roughly how the new sales professional will operate: 1) Conduct extensive research to identify key client goals and challenges, 2) Develop creative concepts that will enable the clients to achieve their goals (through our products and services, of course), and 3) Present the concept to a high-level client decision maker. Client contact will be fast and efficient. Sales forces will be smaller and infinitely more cost effective to the company. A whole new breed of business professionals will emerge. In the future, corporations will hire sales people who are first and foremost “good, savvy business people.” They will have an abundance of research skills, business acumen, intelligence, creativity, and personal credibility. The new breed will be sought after, well paid…and worth it.

Can corporations change how they sell? History argues against it—remember Borders. However, the incentive is great and these changes will not happen overnight. Therein lies the great opportunity. Corporations that find the will and the way to make the appropriate sales force changes will grab a competitive advantage and have a significant head start on communicating “value” in the Internet era.


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