This week I read that Wendy’s has ordered 1,000 Kiosks to replace workers at 1,000 of its store locations. Lowes building supply stores have been trialing customer service robots since 2014 and now are rolling out LoweBots in California to handle simple customer requests and provide real-time inventory monitoring. This made me think; if retailers are replacing their customer-facing sales teams, what is the future of sales representatives to industrial buyers? The more I research, the more I realize the future is grim for the old-style sales person.
To challenge my thinking, I asked a group of purchasing professionals in the electronics industry their thoughts on the topic and the results are not surprising. Many said that they have little time to devote to meeting sales people and they feel no need to spend time and effort on a conversation about products that they can see and evaluate online.
Forrester research forecasts over 1 million salespeople involved in business to business transactions will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by the year 2020. The procurement professionals I polled would rather research and buy online than through a sales representative. Many are demanding that their suppliers improve and automate the sales/purchasing process. No doubt this is a reflection of how we’ve been spoiled as consumers by the instant gratification of online buying with same or next day delivery.
There is hope for the sales representatives if they can become consultative, offering solutions that provide information and value. This requires the representatives get new training, understand the technical aspects of their products, innovate, solve problems and bring solutions that add value to the customer. Another essential element is that the sales people become a trusted advisor working with the customer’s organization as a quasi-team member rather than an external, uninformed contact person.
This is a tall order for most old-style sales representatives and, unfortunately, many won’t make the grade. The days of shooting the breeze to gain a relationship, golfing and lunches are long gone. Most procurement pros have limited time, increased requirements for revenue generation, speed to market, cost and value improvement, scarce resources and a global footprint. Time management is critical with no time to waste.
Are the days numbered for the traditional sales representative?