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Think Robots Will Replace B2B Sales Reps?

Buyer 2.0 needs us more than ever. Eliot Burdett, CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, explains why in this month’s guest post.

Have B2B sales reps gone the way of CD players, the Rolodex, and analog radio—replaced by technology that gets the job done faster and better?

Not so long ago clients looked to salespeople for information about our companies and products. Now, with a quick Google search and a little time on our websites and social media, they can learn all about us. Before they make contact, prospects have usually checked us out, compared pricing, read a white paper or two, listened to a webinar, and/or viewed a demo. They’ve also researched what our competitors have to offer.

Some take this to mean that our prospects and clients don’t really need us anymore—that the automation of selling has made B2B sales reps irrelevant. Not so.

Eliot Burdett, CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, makes a clear and compelling business case (with data) in this month’s guest post:

“Why You Shouldn’t Replace Your Sales Reps with Robots”

According to a study by Bank of America, robots are likely to be performing 45 percent of manufacturing tasks by 2025. Meanwhile, Oxford University predicts that nearly half of all U.S. jobs will be at high risk of being lost to computers. Not to mention that according to Time, Lyft and General Motors plan to offer driverless car services in approximately one year.

These dire predictions can be troubling for the American worker, but perhaps less so for sales professionals who have become accustomed to hearing warnings about their job security for over a century. In 1916, The New York Times published an article that posed the question, “Are salesmen needless?” The article included a marketing expert’s explanation for why societal changes would render the door-to-door salesman obsolete: “Advertising is producing better results than the old method of personal solicitation.”

Fears also rose over technology stealing sales jobs following the advent of both the phone and internet. Then, last year, Forrester Research predicted that 1 million B2B salespeople will become obsolete by 2020, lost to e-commerce. Yet, as the CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, I have seen firsthand that a growing number of world-class companies are seeking to hire top-performing B2B salespeople, especially in the last five years.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Labor projects employment of sales managers will increase by 8 percent through 2022, and a 2016 CareerBuilder study predicts sales hiring will increase by 27 percent this year. How many decades of dire predictions will it take before we accept that salespeople are almost certain to be critical drivers of business?

Here are five reasons you will not be replacing your sales reps with robots anytime soon:

1. B2B buyer engagement is at an unprecedented low. 

While the benefits of inbound marketing are critical, we are also seeing periods of low buyer engagement. According to recent Gallup research, only 29 percent of B2B customers are engaged, while 60 percent are indifferent and 11 percent are actively disengaged. Revenue won’t grow alongside those low levels of engagement. Involving well-trained salespeople will improve these numbers.

2. Buyers want an educated salesperson for big spends or new products. 

Even with all the advances in technology, when buyers are about to spend their company’s money—consequently putting them on the line—you can bet they will look for someone to guide them through the process. They will have questions and concerns, will require customized solutions, and will want assurances and undoubtedly try to negotiate.

New research from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), shows that 70 percent of B2B buyers want to engage with salespeople early in the sales process. ITSMA’s research included almost 300 senior executives who were buying complex solutions. In addition, while consumers may be buying well-known products such as Teslas online, they will want to speak to a human for newer products they are less familiar with. In larger companies, corporate buying committees will also typically request in-person meetings with sellers.

3. There’s growing need for customized solutions. 

Companies have traditionally structured sales teams to push a particular product or service. These sales pitches are heavily focused on features and benefits. However, with an unprecedented amount of information available, the wants and needs of customers have evolved.

Today, there is a growing need for a consultative sales approach. Consultative salespeople do research, ask questions, and listen. They provide customized, not generic, solutions based on their findings and discussions. Consultative salespeople are selling a product or service, of course, but they are also developing a relationship. And the relationship is what ultimately affects the account’s long-term health.

4. If you don’t need sales reps, you’re not innovating. 

Between 1995 and 2013, the top five pharmaceutical companies shed more than 55 percent of their salespeople in the U.S. However, in that same time period, new companies such as Google, Dell, and Facebook added salespeople, as did companies transitioning to cloud-based solutions. When it comes to familiar, more commoditized products, the need for a salesperson may indeed decrease. However, when disruptive technologies or new products are introduced, salespeople are needed to educate, inform, and sell. As sales jobs in some sectors decline, they are growing in new areas.

5. Fortune 500 companies are increasing focus on aligning sales and marketing. 

According to the CSO Insights “2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study,” only one in two companies say sales and marketing have a formal definition of a qualified lead. While content marketing, SEO, and lead generation are critical, good executives will use every tool at their disposal, including charismatic salespeople. The companies that can perfect the buyer’s transition from marketing to sales interactions will beat out their competitors.

The bottom line is that technology will enhance and improve the sales process, but it will not replace the need for salespeople. Salespeople are becoming increasingly savvy about technology and learning to use data and social media to win more business and service clients better.

(Note: “Why You Shouldn’t Replace Your Sales Reps with Robotsoriginally appeared on SalesForce.com and has been reprinted with the author’s permission.)

eliot-burdett-business-headshot-peak-sales-recruiting-2-293x300About the Author

Eliot Burdett is an author and sales recruiting expert, and the co-founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a B2B sales recruiting company. Under his direction, the company leads the industry with a success rate 50 percent higher than the industry average, working with a wide range of boutique, midsize, and world-class company clients. These clients include P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, and Western Union. Burdett has more than 30 years of success building companies, recruiting, and managing high-performance sales teams, and is a top “40 Under 40” winner. He has been widely featured in top publications, including The New York Times, Fortune, and Forbes.

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2 Responses to Think Robots Will Replace B2B Sales Reps?

  1. Thank you for the post. Glad to hear that people still need people. Here at Leads Indeed, we want our sales reps to always remember that. Tools are great; we still need to touch base with the client to be sure they are working.

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