The job of a salesperson is one of the oldest job titles in modern business. It’s also a position that’s constantly changing due to technological innovations such as the Internet and e-commerce. While most changes happen slowly, such as the move away from printed catalogs to e-commerce, it’s only in retrospect that you notice the signs that were missed along the way.
The most recent threat to a salesperson’s job is automation and the bypassing of salespeople entirely to purchase directly from a company. This trend started some time ago when companies started to put their products online and discontinued sending salespeople door to door or mailing catalogs each year. I can still remember the excitement that my brother and I had the day the Sears and J.C. Penney catalogs were delivered in the mail. We would bookmark pages, circle what we wanted with markers, and talk about it for hours. Things sure have changed, and one of the companies that’s at the leading edge of the innovations is Amazon. Recently Amazon introduced Amazon Go, a new shopping concept that doesn’t include cash registers or checkout lines. Everything is done via the Amazon Go app, and as you pick up an item it gets added to your virtual shopping cart and you are charged for that item as you leave the store. No checkout line, no cashier, and no salesperson to assist in the process.
While many of cited Amazon Go as a job killer, in my mind it presents a valuable opportunity for Amazon that B2B companies might also want to take note of. Place an emphasis on automation of transactional purchases and focus your sales team on consultative sales.
Transactional vs. Consultative Selling
No one will argue that buying groceries is a simple transactional purchase. You choose the item, which may vary in brand, but a can of Coke is a can of Coke and you pay for it. A very simple transaction, and there is absolutely no need for a salesperson or a cashier to be involved.
Some transactions, even in B2B sales, don’t need a salesperson, so they should be conducted without a salesperson and with minimal interference. Purchasing a newspaper classified ad or buying new business cards for your company shouldn’t require any interaction with a salesperson. In fact, if you are like me, if you have to place a phone call or deal with a salesperson it actually makes the sale process worse, not better.
However, what about a new product that’s different than its competitors and needs some additional explanation as to why it’s a better value or buy? Or what about the product that costs substantially more but has a much better value proposition for the client? These types of products, in the grocery aisle and in B2B sales, could use the personal touch of a salesperson to assist with differentiating the product and helping the customer with their purchase.
When companies can segment their transactional products from their products that need further explanation, they are able to focus more time on up-selling and providing better solutions for a customer rather than wasting time on transactional sales that shouldn’t need any assistance from a salesperson or cashier.
Comparing buying groceries at the new Amazon Grocery store and B2B sales isn’t a perfect comparison by any means. But it does point to the fact that good salespeople who can actually analyze a situation and solve a client’s needs will ALWAYS be in demand. No computer or marketing automation software can take the place of a salesperson that can listen, analyze a situation, and make recommendations that are tailored to each client’s specific situation.
This is why it’s a sound strategy to push transactional sales that can be automated to the web while focusing your best salespeople on working with prospects to develop higher value, higher priced proposals that do more than create a transactional sale. I could see in the near future having salespeople on the floor of an Amazon Go type store—who very knowledgeable and can answer specific questions about various products. I would shop there all the time if I was able to skip the checkout lines but still received a high level of service during the actual shopping process.
This is true for B2B companies as well. If you can minimize the pain of transactional sales and make it easy for customers to buy from you, you can focus your energy on the customers that will want a more custom solution. Let’s face it, your best salespeople shouldn’t be focused on transactional sales and order taking, they should be focused on analyzing a prospect's situation and selling solutions that meet their needs. In the long run, letting the transactional sales be transactional and focusing on the high dollar, high value sales will be more profitable and will put your best assets where they should be, in front of clients.