The death of the salesman? Really?

April 17, 2014

By: Trish Harriss

A recent edition of B2B Marketing magazine boldly sported the headline ‘Death of a Salesman’ on their front cover posing the question ‘Have empowered buyers and marketing tech killed sales?’ Although a contentious question to pose, undoubtedly the role of sales is a subject under discussion in most organisations as digitisation and buyer empowerment continue to have a huge impact on this role. Buyers are now completing 60-70% of the purchase decision BEFORE they come in contact with the brand. Buyers have x20 times the amount of information they had even only five years ago. 9 out of 10 buyers say when they are ready to buy, they will find you. Do we no longer therefore need salesmen to have a relationship with the customer?


According to a recent piece of research carried out by IDG Media, customer expectations from the sales function are actually higher than ever before. Buyers want the sales rep to help them make the right decision with ‘Rep highly knowledgeable’ ranking the highest of ‘key aspects of the sales communications process’. Unfortunately, this is only delivered in 16% of instances, with 60% of buyers indicating that sales people are poorly prepared for meetings and engagement (IDC).

The line between sales and marketing are undoubtedly blurring. Engaging the customer in an ongoing conversation is now more important than focusing on a hard sell. Sales priorities are changing and as customers self-serve information through the early stages of the buyer journey – up to 9 pieces of content consumed in 1000+ enterprises – the sales function needs to focus on the later stages of the journey.


So, is the sales team equipped to better manage the later stages of the buyer Journey? Seemingly not. According to research done by Jeff Ernst (The New Rules of Sales Engagement) sales reps claim to spend 30 hours per month making new assets as alternatives to the ones from marketing they won’t use and to spend only 35% of their time on actual selling.

As a consequence, decision makers regard only 1 in 7 of their meetings with sales people as ‘valuable’ (Forrester) and over 50% of apparently well-qualified B2B sales opportunities end in a decision to ‘do nothing’ (CSO Insights).

Yet sales experience really matters to B2B buyers, so why doesn’t 90% of what salesmen say and do shift the needle in the right direction?


If a sales rep is more comfortable talking at a feeds & speeds, price & delivery level then the role becomes no more than a brief taker with no value add being offered through the exchange. This is often where frustration occurs through the sales process as today’s B2B buyers place higher value on insight, unique perspectives, help in navigating alternatives and ongoing advice and consultation from their sales person interaction.

When the conversation becomes issues-led with insight, opinion and learnings being peppered into the conversation, then the sales role becomes that of a budget maker and shaper. Trust quickly builds and the whole sales exchange becomes more valuable and successful as the sales rep shows understanding of the customer’s business, their needs and objectives.


Marketing has a key role to play in enabling sales to hold a better quality of customer conversation. We need to rethink sales enablement as something other than a one-way deposit of sales tools in a portal and truly enable sales to have valuable conversations that advance buyers towards a deal through the delivery of the insights and knowledge.

This can be delivered by firstly helping your sales team to understand the sales 2.0 world, the evolution in buying behaviour and at what stage in the buyer’s journey they are picking up the conversation; and secondly through the delivery of content that is not simply regurgitated company collateral but is relevant to the sales person and their end-customer’s business needs and compelling enough to drive further engagement or a change in their selling behaviour.

Sales enablement must become a key component in any B2B marketer’s marketing mix and more time and energy needs to be invested in this space. Marketers need to take action now to help enable a sales team that can hold the right conversation and is therefore better positioned to succeed where others are failing. RIP the old way of selling, and let’s celebrate the arrival of an insight-led, solution selling approach that will lead to more valuable customer conversations and ultimately more deals being closed.

Click here for our ‘Enabling Sales Enablement’ slide deck.


About the author: Trish is joint MD of DirectionGroup, and specifically oversees the B2B side of the business. She is a passionate and results driven marketing and communications professional with over 20 years experience gained on both client and agency sides. Follow her here on Twitter.

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