Another huge shift in recent years in the UK has been the growth of marketing in the UK. On a Facebook post I came across recently, a marketeer was propounding the idea that the salesman was no longer necessary at all, with marketing capable of totally replacing them. Interesting concept.
I spend much of my time helping SMEs with sales, be it through coaching, looking at processes or directly teaching staff. I continually hear business owners repeat this theory, telling me how they are putting their whole focus and investment into marketing. When I ask about the sales department, they are vague at best, and often dismissive, assuring me it is marketing that matters.
The irony is that in the same breath, these owners and managers then tell me they are worried about their company’s sales. They will cite that the place everything goes wrong is the conversion of enquiry to order. They will tell me they suffer from feast and famine sales. They point to huge piles of enquiries that have never been followed up, telling me how well marketing have done to get them, but at the same time admitting they have no resources to follow the enquiries up. And yet they seem blind to the obvious conclusions.
Part of this springs from a genuine lack of sales knowledge. Some business courses have dropped sales as part of training altogether. There is also an issue with the image of sales and sales people, especially in the UK. It is not a profession that has had great press. For many, the concept of a sales person starts and ends with intrusive PPI calls. And within the UK, sales has often been seen to be a less than gentlemanly profession.
There is a real shortage of good sales people. Women, particularly, are rarely attracted to front-line sales and, as a result, there are still low percentages of women in business development or in higher-level sales roles. One reason is the wages. There is a shocking pay gap in these sort of sales jobs, as demonstrated in the GEO figures. In account and business development roles, women are paid an appalling 14.2 per cent less than their male equivalent. Small wonder that half the workforce are not jumping up and down to grab that opportunity. Many prefer to see themselves as helping people in customer service where they have a risk-free, non-commission income.
Having avoided working in sales, female entrepreneurs are too often lacking in real knowledge and respect for sales. Business owners, male and female, for all these different reasons, are therefore extremely receptive to the concept of a higher importance of marketing.
Sales and marketing has been changing fast too. Millennials respond to very different sales processes. Thanks to technology, they are a great deal better informed about their choice of product and service prior to purchase. They will not succumb to the charm of a salesman’s patter in the way that previous generations might have done, and are often very vocal about their rejection of any idea of being “sold to”.
However, while they might do their research online, plenty of product testing goes on within retail stores. When they get there, they want to see the sales people not as someone selling them something, but as highly-informed customer service people. The emphasis is all on service, a service that should be available to the highest standards and available 24/7. The adage that, within the sales process, we should always be closing has changed to one that within the sales process we should always be collaborating.
But just because sales are being presented to the customers in different terms, the bottom line has not changed, and companies still need to maximise sales, and sales people are still there to deliver that, whatever the style of selling currently in vogue.
Marketing‘s increased accuracy, which is now able to bring in super-targeted leads, should be seen as a huge asset to sales. Undoubtedly, it makes sales people’s lives easier to have a better quality leads. But, for many genres, marketing should be that asset, not a replacement.
For some totally internet-reliant businesses, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate the sales team. These kind companies can capitalise by training customer service teams in the rudiments of sales – as these departments will replace sales as the human face of the company.
Other businesses still rely on sales people. These can increase sales dramatically by using proactive sales methods, especially, but far from exclusively, in B2B. Sales people and sound sales processes can make the difference between success and failure, and downgrading them is simply weakening the business. As it is taught less, understood less, frowned on more and generally under pressure from the marketers, it is a profession under siege.
I recently saw a survey of the jobs that would still be alive in ten years time. I was relieved to see that sales people were still there, albeit reduced by about half. It is not time for the death of a salesman yet and, for the sake of the strength of our businesses, nor should it be.