The future of sales in the digital marketplace

When I worked in sales (up until 2016) we admired salesmen who would drive to meet with a new prospect and return from that meeting having made a new friend. Some people are just great at making personal connections and in sales, that was king. Even today, when reading sales forums online, I see the same sentiment being heralded as the gold standard: “You should strive to connect, to build rapport and form a strong bond with the decision maker – that’s where it’s at, win over the person and you win the deal.”

Let me tell you a dark secret: I have never once met a salesperson who could actually deliver on this promise in real life.
Sure, I’ve met great people persons – but when all was said and done, all the values and USPs pitched, all the client’s needs worked out and addressed, objections of all sorts overcome, drinks had and baby pictures shown even the best among us would run into the reality of modern business: The prospect would review the offer, match it to current market standards as well as competing offers and choose the best package for their needs. Worst case, that was someone elses; best case, you had to match their price. Sure, there were times you got lucky – but luck is a poor substitute for strategy.

This may not be valid for every industry yet; lots of salespeople are still doing fine and will be for the near future. But eventually – and I’d say sooner rather than later – previously proven sales strategies will stumble on the threshold of total digitalisation: In a world where product reviews govern your clients’ choices on Amazon, Yelp reviews guide your customers in picking a restaurant and Google rankings pre-sort your prospects’ information sources – how does being a people person even begin to compete? And we haven’t even seen the Amazon of B2B platforms yet.

“In the old world, you devoted 30 percent of your time to building a great service and 70 percent of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.” -Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO

Customers today are more informed than ever and exert their new-found power to make sensible choices about spending their money. Gone are the times when loud marketing and a dominating distribution could turn mediocre products into bestsellers or keep outdated service models on top: Today, nothing short of product excellence will get you there. Your prospects see right through every part of your pitch with the help of nothing more than their cellphone – and they’re easier convinced to change providers than ever before if disappointed.

I choose to see this not as a crisis of sales but as a massive opportunity: Now is the time to reshape the way we think about sales and make it the perfect fit for delivering value in a digitised world.
A common thread about Amazon reviews, Yelp and Google rankings is that they’re peer-based: You take recommendations not from salespeople or a marketing brochure but from people who’ve been in your shoes and made the decision you’re faced with. What more do these services have in common? Off the top of my head:

  • They’re all platforms that live off user generated content,
  • they offer unprecedented transparency,
  • they all deliver their service online/independent of time and place,
  • they’re all designed with a strong focus on scalability,
  • they evolve and improve continuously and
  • they’re all free for the end user.

The vast majority of actual sales made, or revenue generated by these companies is a result of the pull exerted by the gravity of their product excellence and not pushed by salespeople.
When I compare my old job as a Key Account Manager, I don’t see much of what I did meeting those success factors for the modern economy. But I’m sure that sales has what it takes to figure out how it can tackle these challenges and contribute to product excellence – let’s talk more about it over lunch, the company will pick up the check!

5 thoughts on “The future of sales in the digital marketplace

  1. Well, I actually had to use such an AI service a couple of weeks ago – it behaved more like an ASS – Artificial and Stupid Software ;)

    I do agree AI could be useful. However, since Nerds are programming such sytems, they behave … like Nerds do. Let social human beings with empathy doing the programming and it’ll improve.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree in general.
    After visiting the Tesla web-site I even believe buying cars finally got to a stage with cheesy car dealers slowly becoming obsolete.

    At the other hand, if it comes to customer service I strongly insist to talk to a specific person KNOWING my case. Automated customer hot lines are f***ing bullshit if it comes to specific questions. They are costing so much time and there is always a different person on the line and they usually cannot answer the questions asked.
    I actually will now get out of a contract just because of this.

    However, most companies I know actually are not aware of the digital transformation of their business. And this includes sales.


    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      You make a good point: There’s stations in a customer journey where a little “human touch” does wonders for product/service experience. All the more reason to let human beings focus their efforts on steps where they actually add value for clients – instead of having them push redundant information.

      Regarding customer service, which I agree is extremely important: At yesterday’s founders meetup in Stuttgart there was someone from an AI startup working on automated insurance incident reporting – I can see a well-functioning AI being a step up from having to speak with a different human representative each time.


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