In this context, the “sales person” may be purely focused on sales, or they may just be the person engaged in the selling process by dint of being customer facing and whose prime role is actually engineer, consultant, account manager etc.
So yes the sales person is just as relevant today as they were 10, 20, 30, 50 years ago. Why?
Selling, especially in a B2B environment, is about human interaction and it requires one-to-one engagement in small simple situations, through to potentially many-to-many over long periods in large complex situations. The process of finding the right people to speak to and initiating the communication process is surely helped and supported by LinkedIn and other “e” tools but eventually the parties have to actually talk to each other.
For many years the communication process was initiated literally by knocking on the door. Then came; the telephone, mailshots, fax machine, e-mail, physical networking and now social networking in all its forms. All of these tools from door knocking through to social networking serve the same purpose; to initiate communication between a supplier and a prospective customer. However, to convert the prospect into a user and then a customer requires human interaction which means talking to each other and in most cases meeting each other. So, who does this for the supplier; the people engaged in the selling process.
A key point being made by James in his piece is that LinkedIn is a tool and the results you get depend entirely on how well you use it; how well trained you are and how experienced. He lists several other tools some of which are as “modern” as LinkedIn while others go way back in the history of business communications. The other key point he makes is that LinkedIn can only ever be a part of the solution.
You can use LinkedIn to research a specific prospect, their co-workers and their company, but you then need to look wider to the company website, and the results of searches for company or personal news items. All of this “desk” activity provides an excellent starting point, but before the first conversation is held, whether by phone or face-to-face, the messaging must be crafted to be relevant to the needs of the prospect rather than being just a list of supplier features. As illustrated in a recent LinkedIn thread, first impressions count, so if email is used, the subject line must be of sufficient relevance and interest to encourage further reading.
People still buy from people
For a prospect to become a user and then a customer for a service or product a number of things must happen. They must believe in, trust and respect the supplier, but they will not be able to satisfy such deep emotional needs by interacting with a brand, they will need to communicate with the people that represent the brand – the sales people.
The sales person also needs to be aware that if they have looked at a prospect’s profile, then it is possible the prospect will return the favour – so profile and associated company pages need to reflect information consistent with the messages being crafted by the sales people.
In today’s economy, many companies are running lean and may not have dedicated sales people but someone will be performing the role. Someone has to represent the supplier, helping the prospect to become a user then a customer. It is now common that the selling role will be done, for example, by delivery staff, systems engineers, project managers or account managers. It is a tough ask for these people to undertake the selling role when another important responsibility is their key role, discipline and interest, they will need help to be successful in their selling role. LinkedIn and other similar tools and information available through “e” will help these people who only wear the selling hat part of the time. But like all sales people they need a good method, robust processes and appropriate skills training if they are to be effective and consistently successful in the later stages of the selling cycle when they are in meetings with the prospect.
In summary “e” has made no difference to the relevance of the sales person in modern business but it has provided them with a powerful tool.
Automated quotes rarely reflect an accurate picture
One final thought; perhaps “e” has made the sales person even more relevant. The world for buyers has been changed by “e” as they often believe they can find out everything they need to know, relevant to a potential purchase, on-line. The issue with this belief is that none of us know what we don’t know. The only way to see the complete picture, embracing everything that is important to the decision making process, is to engage in an interactive process of questions and answers which means human to human. It is dangerous to make decisions based on incomplete information because the typical result of incomplete information is imperfect opinions and decisions.