Automation is everywhere in the B2B world. Advances in technology can completely transform a business and drive increased efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. That same technology is evolving faster than most organizations can even adapt.
As technology and big data disrupt and threaten jobs across multiple industries, from fast food and retail to automotive manufacturing and healthcare, many fear that automation will eliminate the need for countless positions within their organization. Recent research shows that nearly half of US jobs today could be automated within the next 10 – 20 years. The big question is: Which half includes sales – are sales reps still relevant?
Will Sales Reps be Obsolete?
Some sales reps have a pitch that is, as Trish Bertuzzi of The Bridge Group says, “so canned, generic, and formulaic that it could just be an algorithm”. Don’t let that be the case, because if it is, then 1) you are missing out on key opportunities to add value to the customer experience, and 2) perhaps your reps should be replaced. But, long story short – no, sales reps will not become obsolete. While their jobs will certainly be affected, the impact will not be detrimental. Actually, technology will complement the activities of the sales force and represent an opportunity for sales organizations to maximize productivity and accelerate opportunities. Still not convinced technology won’t threaten your job? Read on to learn why sales reps are important to the sales process and what role automation should play within your organization.
1. Providing the Human Touch
People like to do business with people. In fact, 80% of consumers prefer brands that interact with them rather than just throwing information at them. Just think about how frustrated you get when you call a service line and get a robot or recording instead of a live person. A study discussed recently in The Economist and summarized by The Atlantic shows that “humans are, and will always be, superior at working with other humans”. Furthermore, many B2B sales are complex, costly, and collaborative. Customers are not one-size-fits-all, and decision makers are going to ask questions that can’t easily be predicted.
2. Developing the Customer Experience
As mentioned earlier, computers may be able to execute a pattern, but they can’t communicate with people on a personal level. Today’s B2B consumer demands a personalized brand experience, and the pressure is on for brands to deliver. For this reason, sales people need to actively engage in and guide the selling process. A McKinsey study found that ‘perceived sales experience’ was the second most important criteria among B2B buyers in determining the value of a vendor, and a CEB study reveals that the sales experience is worth 53% of the buyer’s likelihood to be a loyal customer and brand advocate, further cementing the importance of personalizing the customer experience.
3. Adding Value to the Conversation
Over half of buyers look for pricing, technical and product information, and industry / competitive comparisons before engaging in the purchase process, and they can easily find this information with a quick search. But while prospects can easily access information these days, they often still need somebody to explain it to them or add meaning. As referral selling expert Joanne Black tells us, “Buyers have all the information they want – what they don’t have are insights”. With regards to potential job displacement, automation can’t engage prospects and move the sales process forward the way that people can, and a computer can’t pick up on the nuances that alert a sales rep as to where he can add to the conversation. Reps must provide value at every stage of the sale and provide the additional content and insight necessary to progress the deal, guiding the conversation and challenging the buyer along the way.
4. Building Relationships
Potential customers expect a relationship, and this human touch can’t be replicated by a machine. Sales reps are able to maintain an engaging conversation and contribute relevant information, reinforcing their trustworthiness and credibility. A recent DemandGen report suggests, “Selling to modern and empowered customers requires a precise mix of technology, training, and human savvy…[and] trust, experience, and insight are key pillars upon which that customer trust is built”. In fact, the research reveals that buyers rate Trust as the most important factor when purchasing from vendors, ahead of both Experience and Cost. To earn buyer trust, sales reps must demonstrate high levels of knowledge about the products or services and about the buyer’s company.
How Can I Leverage Automation in My Organization?
Digital disruption is occurring in almost every industry and affects numerous business processes, but the traditional sales support tools (i.e. email and sales portals) just won’t cut it anymore. Instead of fighting technology, Fast Company suggests that sales reps should “use it to their advantage to improve customer relationships, streamline operations, and grow their business in the process”.
Sale force automation is not intended to replace salespeople’s jobs but rather to enhance the sales process and the customer experience. Using sales enablement technology to digitize processes helps the sales and marketing teams more efficiently and effectively do their jobs, as well as focus more on value-add activities and less on those rote activities. Organizations can also collect greater amounts of more meaningful data and feedback so that they understand what drives performance, optimizes the sales process, adds value, and helps the team make more informed decisions. See how you can leverage sales enablement tools in your organization:
- Enable your sales reps to effectively leverage technology, adding value to the sales process and helping them to become a trusted advisor and subject matter expert. Automation may not be able to answer every obscure question a prospect has, but it can help provide information about that persona (such as their unique preferences, goals, buying pains, and challenges) and recommend content that will help the rep to intelligently answer the question. By making it as easy as possible to access this information and content, sales reps are far more likely to use it.
- Some estimates show that sales people only spend about ¼ of their time engaging with prospects, with the rest of their time dedicated to administrative work. Increase sales productivity by using automation to streamline workflow and eliminate superfluous tasks. Sales enablement tools can have a significant impact on reducing the day-to-day ‘noise’ for sales reps, allowing them to allocate more of their time to core selling activities.
- Technology, such as sales enablement tools, uses real-time data to determine what content is most effective at progressing deals and generating the highest ROI. Help marketing support their decisions and optimize their efforts by using real-time analytics to give insight into what content is working, what is missing or needed, and how to focus efforts.
So what is the final verdict on whether sales reps are still relevant? Well, in our opinion, automation and technology will enhance the sales process, enabling sales reps to provide a greater customer experience and leading to improved conversion rates and ultimately revenue for the organization.