Reports Of The Salesperson’s Demise Exaggerated

Gary Brighten, a GM engineer, logs onto the Williams Controls Web site and goes to the GM-secure area. He clicks to the file he has been working on all week, a CAD program that helps him design the farm equipment part he needs. He finishes the design and sends the program over to the sales department after filling out the online purchase order.

In four weeks, 278 GM farm equipment dealerships will receive a six-month supply of the part. He didn’t visit with one sales rep. He didn’t fax over a paper purchase order. He never talked with one human being. It didn’t even take a sales rep to get him to participate online.

So tell me, who needs a sales force? Why on earth are companies still hiring sales people?

Salespeople Still Wanted

An Industry Standard cover story recently asked this question with regard to auto sales people, those maligned troops of hearty souls who go in day after day to sell over 95 percent of the cars that get sold. They may be unfashionable in the cyber-world where one online car purchase makes headlines, but they’re still the driving force of the auto industry.

Sam Parker, co-founder of Justsell.com, a site for professional sales people, is very bullish on the future of sales people in the Net world. “All of these books at Amazon.com. They’re in stock because sales people called on Amazon.com,” said Parker.

To drive home his point, Parker cites a Justsell.com survey that resulted in 87 percent of sales people saying that the Net has had a positive impact on their sales career. “Even the most pure Web companies use sales professionals to generate revenue and service customers,” said Parker.

The Sky Isn’t Falling

The perception that corporate sales teams are headed the way of the dinosaur is reminiscent of the early fears about computer automation. It was once thought that computers were going to replace us all. As it turned out, according to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, the computer industry created a flood of new jobs and actually failed to provide any measure of corporate efficiency until just this year.

Take a look at the technical sales jobs listed on Monster.com and HotJobs.com and see if the demand for sales reps is diminishing. The Net may be putting a larger emphasis on the customer service side of the sales effort, but we’re not seeing any layoffs yet.

I asked Thomas Itin, chairman and CEO of Williams Control if his sales reps were still getting commissions when GM engineers log on and build their own parts. “Of course they’re still getting commissions,” he said. “Without our sales reps, we wouldn’t be in business. They still make the sale happen and they do the customer service follow-up.”

So not to worry, sales teams. If your company’s CEO forgets how important you are to the system, even a Net-based system, just check across the street at the competitor.

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