As more companies head towards an e-commerce, self-service model (with both B2B and B2C customers increasingly expecting this as standard), can we expect the role of traditional sales to be diminished? After all, key parts of their function can now be automated with great efficiency. Some forecasts, including a well-reported piece of research from Forrester last year, indicate that many B2B sales jobs will be replaced in the efficiency-saving drive generated by the increased use of digital tools, automation and connected systems.
However, this change in approach is just as likely to change the role, or act as the catalyst for a shift in how the entire business operates, as it is to eliminate sales jobs. We are already beginning to see changes, with some companies experimenting to see what set-up will best help them to evolve. For example, Heineken recently created the role of chief commercial officer to merge sales and marketing which has led to major changes, if only at the executive level for now.
Sales - a vital cog in customer experience
The days when a salesperson's time was filled with telephone lists and order forms are, or ought to be, fading into a distant memory. In order to survive and bring their teams forward, sales will need to develop a range of new skills, and learn to apply their more traditional ones to new ways of working.
The new strategic salesperson rather than serving a purely transactional function, will become responsible for guiding customers through the digital sales process, offering insights and providing the support customers need to operate self-service systems.
Utilising the data captured via online channels, sales will play a vital role in ensuring that the offline customer experience is equally optimised, and enable them to focus on key account management to build relationships that last.
Sales can be a big part of making digital human, resolving any issues as they arise and smoothing the customer experience. In the same way that B2C salespeople may gain instant access to your purchase history and other pertinent details through an app on their handheld device, in the B2B world the CRM can be integrated with all of your other systems, to give a full view of the customer and their needs across the entire sales lifecycle.
Sales teams will be perfectly placed to gain vital information on the customer experience and can feed that back to marketing and technical teams to keep improving the digital platform. All of this means that a smart, tech-savvy sales department could leverage their salespeople to provide extremely valuable personalisation data that it may not be possible to gain in other ways.
In this way, salespeople can become responsible for strategically operating a channel all of its own, one driven by digital, but owned, managed and nurtured by the sales team.
Convergence of sales and marketing
One of the goals identified by many businesses is achieving greater synergy between sales and marketing. With the sheer amount of data now available from a wide range of platforms, and with more emphasis on account-based marketing, the potential for collaboration can only increase.
Just as marketers are expected to be multidisciplinary in order to move quickly and take advantage of opportunities as they arise, alongside working towards long-term goals, direct sales teams are starting to see the same, and can expect their role to become more varied and technical.
Combined with the prevailing trends of personalisation and hyperlocalisation, we could see even greater convergence of marketing, business development, account management and sales to become very closely aligned indeed.
Ultimately, what becomes of sales will depend on your business priorities and your digital strategy. Perhaps you will consolidate sales and marketing, or build a new, lean sales team that keeps the human touch while making full use of all the available tools.
Whichever approach you decide on, for companies with a strong digital platform and a roadmap in place, these changes can lead to both efficiency and growth, without losing the accumulated knowledge of the direct sales team.