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The Death Of Selling—Deja Vu All Over Again

by David Brock on December 16th, 2010

“Tis the season to be talking about the “Death Of Sales.” which I’ll shamelessly exploit.  As the year ends, I’m seeing a lot of blogs forecasting the death of sales.   However, it seems that we’ve had the discussion, over and over and over…..  Other than being great blog fodder, I sometimes wonder why we continually speculate about the death of sales and selling.  Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on the part of the poor victims of sales people.

The profession of selling can be traced back millenniums.  It’s closely related to the second oldest profession, I’m sure at the time, there were lots of folks predicting or wishing for the death of sales.  More recently, we can probably find someone proclaiming the death of sales with major technology and social transitions.  I’m sure when the car displaced the horse and carriage, the demise of the traveling sales person was predicted.  After all, in one day, a person could call on more customers, fewer sales people were needed……  Or with the invention of the telephone—a sales person could now call customers, they would travel less, fewer face to face meetings…… Or the rise of modern advertising and commercials, or direct marketing, or voicemail, or PC’s, or email, or social media and social networking.  I’m certain without a whole lot of research at each of these and other major social and technological transitions, we will have found dire predictions about the death of sales.

Why are we so focused on talking about the death of sales, shouldn’t the conversation really be about the transformation of professional selling?  That’s what happens with other jobs and positions.  I’m sure the creation of things like FASB rules and other accounting standards didn’t cause accountants to talk about the death of accounting, but rather the transformation of their profession.  With the rise of computing, software tools, simulation and so forth, engineers focused more on how these tools would change the practice of engineering.  And with the legal profession…….  well maybe more talk about the death of the legal profession is merited.

Progress and growth is about change.  Change is about transformation and adaptation.  Not too many years ago, there was no such thing as “inside sales.”  Today, inside sales represents a major means of reaching, engaging and supporting customers.  The rise of inside selling created new roles, jobs and opportunities for sales professionals.  As customers change the way they buy, as social networking and social selling rise, there are tremendous opportunities for selling.  There will be new roles, new jobs, new opportunities for those of us engaged in professional selling.  Sure there may be a shift in the types of sales jobs, perhaps in the number (though I tend to think it’s a growing profession).  I’m certain, if not on an absolute basis, certainly on a percentage basis, the number of door to door sales people is far less than 60 years ago.  However, in the same time span, the growth of other sales functions has skyrocketed (take my example of inside sales during the same period).

Talking about the death of a profession is fun and provocative.  And there are far too many cheering the projected demise of professional selling.   Like the dinosaurs, if we don’t transform and change, we will become extinct.  However, the more difficult and challenging conversation is not about the death of selling but of the transformation of selling.  The profession of selling will continue to grow and thrive.  How we sell, how we engage our customers in different ways, how we eliminated the boundaries between marketing and selling, how we create value for both our customers and our own organization, the role of the sales person in growing business and helping customers manage changing their own businesses are elements of the conversation we need to be having.

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  1. You have masterfully pinpointed the “now therefore” discussion in this debate and brilliantly redirected the focus from drama to helping our customers be better.

    There is weight to the banner cry for the death of sales.

    Selling “as we knew it” is dead.

    But then so are a lot of other things that we know. TV, magazines, newspapers, bike riding — they all had to evolve over time.

    The fundamental problem with the sales evolution is that while our ACTIONS tend to appear to evolve at a respectably comparable rate to social developments, our ATTITUDES tend to trail that evolution considerably. If ever catching up at all…

    We are intellectual Neanderthals crudely pounding away at the sales cycle with any sense of self.

    While we are doing similar activities (phone calling, email messaging, social media, etc…) the means (intent, strategy, attitude…) behind those activities is mostly selfish and destructive. Perhaps unintentionally.

    Selfish attitudes, and self-limiting activities KILL the person employing them. Sometimes literally. But they also have an effect on everybody around them.

    When those selfish sales activities demonstrate short term returns (and usually always do), legions of observers take that as a sign from above that “this is working…” and are quick to jump on the bandwagon.

    That spiral has only accelerated as technology allows us to socially broadcast to an unprecedented numbers of “friends”….

    You are right that as long as there are buyers, there will be sellers.

    And as we’ve seen over the years, even without the buyers, there are still a healthy lot of sellers trying to change that trend.

    That still does not change the tantamount issue of “attitude”.

    If you’re a “trickster” at cold calling, you’ll be a “trickster” on Twitter or the next big sales evolution.

    And that lack of concern about “who we are” instead of “what we do” is a cancer that is slowly, but most definitely, killing us.

    We can no longer ignore it.

    Sure we can spend this coming year pretending that on the outside everything looks good. But without the proper attention, these bad attitudes and selfish intentions are stealing every dream we have for ourself.

    Not today. Maybe not even tomorrow.

    But someday when we really want it the most, we’ll find ourself too unhealthy to claim our destiny.

    Dan Waldschmidt

    • Daniel, I really wish you would come out of your shell and not be so shy in expressing yourself! 😉 Motives and intent are always a double edged sword. They can be used to accomplish great and noble things, or they could be used to be very destructive, deceitful and manipulative. One of the “trigger” words in selling is persuasion—we use it well and very positively–peope don’t feel they are being persuaded, we use it manipulatively and the mention of the word brings out the most negative of reactions.

      What’s unfortunate in every major transition or technology change is those that seek to manipulate, deceive, and destroy seem to be early adopters—tainting or creating resistance to the adoption by others. We’ve seen that with telesales, direct marketing (junk mail), email, and now all the social media channels.

      The one area where I might challenge you is in the area of “selfishness.” It is human nature to be selfish or self interested. We cannot avoid “WIIFM,” The secret in selling is is alignment of self interest. Those that can align the self interests of their customers with their own, can create great value — we should have a discussion and publish it.

      As usual, Dan, your comments are thought provoking. Thanks for contributing to the discussion.

  2. i equate sales with communications. Is communications dead? People are always selling whether it is a direct sale to a consumer or business, or internally their ideas to other parts of the company. Its just that the word “sales” has become a dirty word. Even sales experts have phrases like “don’t make it sound to salesy”. So long as one person has an idea which he/she feels is beneficial to someone else there will be sales. Have a Happy Holiday.

    • Great comment and analogy Allan. Communications has and will change and evolve over time, it will never go away. Sales has and will evolve over time, the profession will grow–hopefully for the better. Thanks for joining the discussion.

  3. Hi Dave

    According to a recent Focus Expert Webinar, B2B inside sales teams grew on average from 4 people to 12 people in 2010, expected growth for 2011 is predicted to be 120% or more. In a statement made in 2008, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that “Overall employment of advertising, marketing, promotions, public relations, and sales managers is expected to increase by 13 percent through 2018. Right now, a search on for sales jobs within a 20 mile radius of Boston MA, produces 829 results.

    Clearly, unless some shadowy catastophic event is about to occur and has eluded the gaze of analysts, somebody’s makin’ stuff up!

    As you, Dan and Allen have pointed out: sales is here to stay, but because selling has everything to do with culture, the role is changing all the time. There are enduring principles for success in sales which you’ve spoken of time and again in your blog, but the future of selling is not yet written. That’s what’s exciting about it! It will canonize around what WE make it; you, me, Dan, Allen and roughly 10 to 30% of the headcount of all the other businesses out there. So if we don’t like it, guess who’s job it is to change it; yup – it’s up to us.

    Really looking forward to the coming year’s thoughts on your blog,

    Don F Perkins

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