5 Reasons Not to Replace Your Sales Reps with Robots

Should American workers be frightened? According to Bank of America, robots are likely to be performing 45 percent of manufacturing tasks by 2025, and Oxford University predicts that nearly half of all U.S. jobs will be at high risk of being lost to computers. Not to mention that according to Time, Lyft and General Motors will look to offer driverless car services in approximately one year.

These dire predictions are troubling for the American worker but perhaps less so for sales professionals, who have become accustomed to hearing warnings about their job security for over a century. That’s correct; in 1916, the New York Times wrote an article asking, "Are salesmen needless?" In the article, a marketing expert explained why societal changes would render the door-to-door salesman obsolete: "Advertising is producing better results than the old method of personal solicitation."

Fears over technology stealing sales jobs took place following the advent of both the phone and Internet. Then, last year, Forrester Research predicted that 1 million B2B salespeople will become obsolete by 2020, lost to e-commerce.

As the CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, I've have seen firsthand an increase in the number of world-class companies seeking to hire top-performing B2B salespeople over the past five years.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Labor projects employment of sales managers will increase by 8 percent through 2022, and the 2016 Career Builder study predicts sales hiring will increase by 27 percent this year. 

How many dire predictions will it take over centuries before we accept that salespeople will always be critical drivers of business?  

Here are five reasons you may not be replacing your sales reps with robots anytime soon:

1. B2B buyer engagement is at an unprecedented low. While the benefits of inbound marketing are critical, we are also seeing periods of low buyer engagement. According to recent Gallup research, only 29 percent of B2B customers are engaged, while 60 percent are indifferent and 11 percent are actively disengaged. Revenue won't grow alongside those low levels of engagement; involving educated salespeople will improve these numbers.

2. Buyers want an educated salesperson for big expenditures or new products. Even with all the advances in technology, when buyers are about to spend their company's money, and consequently putting their jobs on the line, you can bet they'll want to speak to a salesperson. They will have questions and concerns, require customized solutions, want assurances, and will undoubtedly try to negotiate. New research from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) shows that 70 percent of B2B buyers want to engage with salespeople early in the sales process. ITSMA did the research with almost 300 senior executives who were buying complex solutions. In addition, while consumers may be buying well-known products like Tesla's online, they will want to speak to a human for newer products they are less familiar with. In larger companies, corporate buying committees will also typically request in-person meetings with sellers.

3. There's a growing need for customized solutions. Companies have traditionally structured sales teams to push a particular product or service. These sales pitches are heavily focused on features and benefits. However, with an unprecedented amount of information available through e-commerce, the wants and needs of customers has evolved. Today, there is a growing need for a consultative sales approach. Consultative salespeople do research, ask questions, and listen. They provide customized, not generic, solutions based on their findings and discussions. Consultative salespeople are selling a product or service, of course, but they are also developing a relationship. And the relationship is what ultimately affects the account's long-term health.

4. If you don't need sales reps, you are not innovating. Between 1995 and 2013, the top five pharmaceutical companies shed more than 55 percent of their salespeople in the U.S. However, in that same time period, new companies such as Google, Dell, and Facebook added salespeople, as did companies transitioning to cloud-based solutions. When it comes to familiar products, the need for salespeople may indeed decrease; however, when disruptive technologies or new products are introduced, salespeople are needed to educate, inform, and sell. As sales jobs in some sectors decline, they are growing in new areas.

5. Fortune 500 companies are increasing focus on aligning sales and marketing. According to the CSO Insights Sales Performance Optimization Study, only 1 in 2 companies say sales and marketing have a formal definition of a qualified lead. While content marketing, SEO, and lead generation are critical, good executives will use every cutting-edge tool at their disposal, and that includes charismatic salespeople. The companies that can perfect the buyer's transition from the marketing to the sales department will beat out their competitors. 

The bottom line is that technology will enhance and improve the sales process, but it will not replace the need for salespeople. Salespeople are becoming increasingly technologically savvy and learning to use Big Data and social media to win more business and service clients better, and this only makes them more crucial.

Eliot Burdett is an author, a sales recruiting expert, and the cofounder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company launched in 2006, with a wide-range of clients including boutique, midsize and world-class companies such as P&G, Gartner, Deloitte, Merck, Western Union, and others. Burdett has more than 30 years of success building companies, recruiting, and managing high performance sales teams and is a top 40 Under 40 winner. He has been widely featured in top publications including the New York TimesFortune, Forbes, Inc., Reuters, Yahoo!, Chief Executive, and CIO.

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