Death of the Salesman

Welcome to a new edition of the P4Digital rotating round tables.

Our special guest this week is an expert in sales, and how new technologies are changing how they are being conducted in both corporate and retail locations.

Curious about the future of sales? Well, stay tuned and enjoy.

Stay tuned and enjoy


Amanda: We are P4Digital, and we are all about the digital revolution. This week we are joined by special guest and general manager for Planet4IT, Ed Johnson. The salesman is dying out – what new speciality is rising up to replace him? We investigate the future of sales in this week’s round table discussion. 

Andrew: Andrew Carlson – Digital recruiter.

Jim: Jim Carlson, partner in the firm.

Ed: Ed Johnson, partner and General Manager of Planet4IT.

Jim: Today’s topic is about sales in the digital world.

Andrew: Yeah, so we’ll come at it from three angles: what is a digital sale, how do you the sales person have to adapt to exist in the digital world, and take a look at what it means for us, P4Digital as well.

Ed: And in addition, we talk to companies and individuals all the time, so we’ll talk a little bit about strategies for identifying top-notch people in this space as well as if you’re a candidate in this space, what you might look for in a company.

Jim: The greatest change of selling over the past two decades has gone from the briefcase in hand to the tap of a keyboard. So the physical into the digital world is how sales people prospect; how they qualify. I’m still not convinced the close has gone into the tap; I believe that is still a physical element of selling.

Andrew: What about automated sales? So, I go on to a major retailer and I buy something directly off their website, no sales guy needed what-so-ever.

Jim: Arguably, when’s the last time you’ve seen a sales clerk in a major mall, or department store, or even in a medium-sized retail store? If I go into one of the electronic stores known over the last 20 years, I by and large do my brand shopping by myself; buy a new flat screen TV. The only time I ever see a sales person, which I believe is more a floor clerk then sales, is for them to get the item out of storage and deliver it to my car. So I don’t believe that’s selling. I believe selling is in the corporate world.

Andrew: But you would acknowledge that used to exist? Like if he’s going to Best Buy, they actually still have sales people. So it’s changed over time being the point – because now they do more electronic digital sales.

Jim: Correct, but I’m saying to you that it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Best Buy and seen a true sales person.

Andrew: Right so?

Jim: But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking retail sales, I’m talking corporate sales.

Andrew: Well and so, what the difference here is product versus service is another way to look at it too.  And the question is now that products have become mostly digital, and I would make the guess that I think service is going that way as well.

Jim: Ah, sure. Again, you’re in the retail world, I’m in the corporate world.

Andrew: No no, I’m saying in the corporate world. I’m saying in that in the public world, it’s gone digital a long time ago. And I think in the corporate world you’re starting to see that change now as well. B2B digital sales are way up across the board.

Jim: Unquestionably, yeah the business to business sales are way up, but are you talking about ordering cartons of printed materials like corporate brochures, or are you talking about a systems integration project worth 22.5 million dollars?

Ed: Clearly, if you get into the bigger ticket sales you’re looking at more complex strategy and it’s still going to rely on a number of those elements that have always been there: building good relationships, understanding where the client is in their buying process, and the client understanding what are the elements that make up their decision. One of the differences now is that clients who used to rely heavily on the sales people and the vendor to supply the information, but now they can do all their research independently and online, and most of that information they gather on their own – so it relies even more heavily on the confidence they have in the people they’re talking too, and the ability for that organization to convince the buyer that they have a solution that is viable and that they’re trustworthy to delivery it and bring it in on time and under budget.

Jim: And that to me is where we are now, and kind of real sales is at that level. Death of a Salesman was written by Arthur Miller 60 years ago, and that was basically noting the death of the travelling salesman. Which is, you can see similar to what we talked earlier with retail and those sort of things. Your high value sales still have a physical element of face to face, and is it one time buying or is it continuous buying which requires a service element; a relationship manager if you will.

Andrew: What about Skype? So does that count as face to face?

Jim: Yes.

Andrew: Absolutely? Never actually meeting face to face – never actually sitting down with the person?

Jim: Absolutely.

Andrew: Interesting.

Ed: It’s far more efficient to be able to cover a lot more ground that way. Once again, it kind of depends on the size and scope of the sale. The other part here is with companies all doing this type of research, there’s tons of information for them to go and access digitally and online, they’re also creating data that can be collected and analyzed by the vendors, because the whole objective of the vendor is trying to get in front of the right person at the right time. Earlier in the process their percentage of winning the deal goes way up.

Andrew: That’s a great point! So right off the top we said we’d talk about the evolution of the salesman and the saleswoman themselves, and I think that piece there – that ability to use digital information to your advantage, to be able to leverage that information is a key skill we’re seeing in the evolution of the salesperson.

Ed: Another part here is the message. In the past it was much more reliant on a message coming from the salesperson or the immediate team. But now in this age you really need to have a very consistent story that is presented across multiple platforms: social media, the physical environment where you walk in to talk to someone whether it’s a retail environment or whatever, the message coming out in marketing information, the website, and of course the message directed by the salespeople. So all of these things have to come with the same story so there’s a constant message across these platforms because it will be double checked.

Andrew: People will do their research before buying now.

Ed: Oh, absolutely.

Jim: More importantly, when people hear about something, the first thing they do, even if they’re in conversation with you, is pull up your website. And that’s what Ed was alluding to with the consistency of the platform. It’s got to be there – it has to be there.

Ed: And the social media, and how they look at you on LinkedIn, look at you on Facebook-

Jim: Yeah, and whatever new properties are springing up so, when we talk about evolution of sales, we’ve covered maybe just kind of current events evolution. What’s the future? The future obviously is coming through on some of the 3D imaging, on those sort of things. The stories that are coming out of industry 4.0, which is now an integrated supply chain which means you have one shot, one shot only to become part of that integrated supply chain – if not, you’re shut out potentially forever. So, how do you get yourself into that supply chain? Industry 4.0 has got to be absolutely nerve-racking for most organizations that require salespeople.

Ed: And your point earlier about Skype, well – Skype is more like an individual phone call, but so many of the decision makers are spread all over the place in larger enterprises, so they only meet themselves by electronic meetings, and so being able to get in touch and work with all these different players that might be involved in a decision process, there has to be that kind of a concerted digital effort on the part of the vendor.

Andrew: Do we ever get to a point where there’s so much information out there-you can do your research so well, that sales actually doesn’t exist?

Jim: Yes.

Andrew: You think we do get to that point?

Jim: We could. Absolutely.

Andrew: It’s interesting, right? Because you’re collecting 44 zettabytes of information will be created in the very near future, which is the equivalent of 1.9 billion hours of video. Crazy amounts of information, right?

Jim: Well yeah, and in the making of something like that is you throw an A.I component on it to parse it down.

Andrew: Right, and it says this is exactly what I’m looking for, this is the service that provides it, I’m going to buy it and it all happens electronically.

Jim: Unbelievable yes. And, the next question is when?

Andrew: And what does it mean for sales people today? How do you train yourself? What skills are you going to need to have in the future?

Jim: Great point – what are those skills? A you’ve got to be absolutely an intelligent facilitator.

Ed: You still have the core skill sets of understanding your client, being able to listen effectively, knowing how to separate and qualify the real buyers from the ones that aren’t going to be buyers, and then being able to close. These are key things, but you layer it over a whole suite of tools to try to get further into the line, deal with more clients over a shorter period of time, and thereby end up with better results.

Jim: And that kind of goes in the P4Digital analytics engine right there is how do you distinguish or differentiate between window shoppers, decision influencers, decision makers and process of decision. And analytics can show you that spot in time, but the predictive nature is quite interesting to study that as well in the sales cycle.

Ed: And there have now been a number of new products that are emerging called sales accelerators that are software tools to help use that data to try and accelerate that process and more you further down that chain.

Jim: Correct.

Andrew: Yeah, and those tools – what’s interesting is that they exist in house at some major online retailers already as well, called recommendation engines. It’s the exact same too, but it’s been re-purposed for the consumer or the company.

Jim: So, in terms of where are we in digital sales – the evolution and the people who will populate that, I think we’ve just broached the subject and we look very forward to your comments. Thank you.

Amanda: Amanda: That was the P4Digital executive talking about the death and rebirth of the salesman. Want to know more? Check out our website at or follow us on Twitter @pfourdigital. Thanks and see you next time. 

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