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"GRANDAD, What Was A 'Salesperson'?" - seeing how B2B sales has changed

4 Minute Read

Our Managing Director, Paul Tansey, is always very keen to share his thoughts about the business world through articles on LinkedIn. They always promote a lot of chatter and Paul seems to have a very good track record of predicting the direction of the industry.

So we thought - more people should read about this. Below, we have shared one of Paul's most recent articles about how the function of sales is changing in a business world that's developing faster than we can say "evolution."

The Article

I'm 50. I was in business long before the Internet. I've been in Sales & Marketing more than 30 years and it has changed a lot. That change is accelerating. For many of us, that's uncomfortable. Further to my previous blog about "When did 'Salesperson' become a toxic profession?", I imagined a conversation with my future grandson...

Grandad, I asked Dad what you did for a living and he said you were a 'Salesperson.'

Grandad, what was a 'Salesperson'?

Well, you see, my dear Grandson, you take the Internet for granted now but there was a time before the Internet and everything was different. Are you sitting comfortably? I’ll tell you all about it…

When I was a young man, I grew up as a businessman when there was very little information about anything available when you wanted it. In fact, nobody had much information about anything they wanted to buy, except the information sellers chose to give them. This made people who had information about products and services important. They knew stuff that buyers needed to know.

Buyers needed sales people to tell them about new things and relied on these "Sales people" to tell the truth about their options. Most salespeople would tell the truth but it was their own, slightly biased version of the truth. This made it confusing for buyers.

There were so many versions of the truth. In the end most buyers decided who they liked and trusted the most and went with their gut feeling. Genuine, likeable, expert sales people made a great living persuading people to buy their products or services.

I know it sounds strange, but back then I could phone people I didn’t even know on a telephone that had a cable, interrupt what they were doing, have conversations with them, tell them about interesting new stuff I sold and make appointments to go and see them in a car I drove myself.

It was called “cold calling”. It was hard work even back then because not everybody wanted to stop what they were doing so I could sell them something, but if I called enough people, it worked.

The world has now changed

Back then it was a seller’s world.

This is a buyer’s world.

I still love it. But it’s different now.

Really different.

Here’s why..

When the Internet came along it changed everything.

It made everything available to everybody. It made everything transparent. It connected everybody together. So they could share experiences. Suddenly, there was information everywhere and so many new ways to talk to each other.

With all this information around, buyers decided that being interrupted and sold to sucked. They decided they didn’t need sales people any more. They had the information now and they knew how to find lots of it when they needed it.

People trusted what other people said more than they trusted what sales people said about their version of the truth and now they could easily get lots of opinions from people they knew any time they needed them.

They didn’t need sales people to decide where to go on holiday, which hotel to stay in or where to rent a car. They didn’t need salespeople to tell them what new technology to buy at home, what software to buy for their business or what car to buy.

Instead, buyers could now discover what options were available online, watch videos and read about stuff and check out who provided those options, what those people said and if other people thought what they said was true or not.

They no longer had to decide who to trust, they read reviews to decide if what sellers said was true. In the end, buyers would narrow down the options available and they would decide if they spoke to the sellers or not before they bought anything. Sometimes they didn’t need to.

Sometimes buyers even held online auctions so sellers could bid at the lowest prices to supply them with what they wanted without talking to them at all.

Companies started to employ fewer and fewer salespeople. Instead of spending money on interrupting people and selling to them, they eventually realised that helping people by educating and informing them was more cost effective.

Instead of spending money on salespeople businesses began to work really hard at creating the content that buyers found most helpful. New systems were invented for making sure that when a buyer needed information and help, they could have it at just the right time, without needing humans to have to remember to do things.

The change was gradual at first. Some companies carried on trying to interrupt people and sell things but it got harder and harder. Eventually, they realised that making 99 people hate their brand by interrupting them so that they could find one person who might buy from them, was silly. So they stopped.

In the end, the Salespeople that were left stopped calling themselves salespeople at all. Everybody became more and more expert in something – usually a specific type of customer and their unique problems.

Some of the top guys became content producers, social media managers, community managers, product experts, ROI consultants, on-boarding specialists, or consultants specialising in cost-reduction and efficiency, project planning and implementation.

Those guys had learned that thinking about their customers’ problems really deeply and providing helpful, high quality information when the customer was looking for it was what people really wanted.

Sadly though, some never changed.  We called them digital dinosaurs and like the dinosaur, they eventually became extinct. It was horrible watching those who grew up in the age of the seller failing to adapt to the age of the buyer. Many good people and businesses went under.

I still feel bad about those we couldn’t help but you see, some just wouldn’t listen. You see, change isn’t easy and it makes people very uncomfortable.

Still, enough of this, Grandson, did I ever tell you about motorcycles that exploded petrol….? Well…

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Paul Tansey

Paul Tansey