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Is the in-person sales rep actually dying? Or are they thriving?

Seems like we love to keep killing off elements of sales, claiming they’re dying or have years left or whatever the case may be. But what’s the research saying? Is any of this “sales is dying/sales is on its death bed” stuff actually true?

Not really, but we need a deeper look.

Here’s a new one, from Forrester Business Technographics Global Priorities and Journey Survey. A few bullet points of note:

  • In the Discover stage of the buyer’s journey for “Mobile Devices, Apps, Platforms, & Management Software” the sales-rep-in-person is the fifth most influential channel – behind Peers, Tech Analysts, IT Forums and Tech Pubs.
  • Even when the sales rep is more influential, digital channels usually prevail in the Discover stage. For “Storage” buying decisions, sales-rep-in-person ranks at #2, right after Vendor Websites.
  • And, when we go further into the process, at the Explore stage, we find that the sales-rep-in-person  is the most influential channel for some categories, such as “Business Intelligence and Analytics”.  But, for buyers of other categories, such as “Security Software” sales-rep-in-person is #6 on the list after Tech Info Websites, Tech Analysts, Vendor Websites, Peers, IT Forums.

Forrester is a respected brand, but largely disagree with this.

Last week we talked about the sales vs. marketing dichotomy in a lot of industries and within a lot of companies. That’s very real. When Forrester discusses how sales reps are “the No. 6 most influential” channel or whatever, they are typically saying marketers need to be higher — look at security software above. The channels above sales reps are tech info websites (which a good marketing department could influence with campaigns), tech analysts (ditto), vendor websites (also ditto), peers (ditto but less) and IT forums (ditto).

The buck is being passed to marketing.

The folly in that?

Look at this chart from the same article:

Only 1 in 5 tech companies — supposedly on the cutting edge of everything — is doing journey mapping, which is a relatively basic component of most marketing approaches. (You can also argue it’s a lot of process, but oftentimes marketing teams need to be organized around a singular goal.)

You have to understand, of course, that Forrester has a B2B marketing event coming up and they need to convince marketers to pay the price tag and attend. So there’s that.

But back to the original point.

Is the sales rep declining? Is in-person sales fading?

Absolutely not.

You will see this stat used a lot: 60% of the buyer journey is done pre-contact with a rep.

Think that’s total BS and would actually argue that as digital noise increases, we’re going to need more (and better!) in-person sales reps who know how to dictate the journey, cold call, email, build relationships, consult the buyer, and more. Buyers are going to want a person faster as opposed to being pitched another white paper.

Right now, if you need to buy virtually any product, you’ve got 30+ digital options. But you don’t necessarily know the ins and outs. You might be confused by some aspects. If it’s a B2B situation, you want to know the context for your specific business. You need answers. Your boss is on your a** about deliverables and you want to be able to provide answers.

In our humble opinion, you don’t get those from landing pages or automated programs or artificial intelligence. You get those from discussions with real individuals.

What’s your take on all this? Is the sales rep becoming less relevant with tech, or perhaps moreso as an antidote to tech?

Ted Bauer
About the author

I help companies to market their content in the most effective way.

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