It was a Friday afternoon and the sales team, winding down a three day corporate sales meeting, restively awaited the final speaker, me. Heavy early weekend traffic slowed down my arrival and had me in a bit of a funk as I breathlessly arrived 30 minutes late.
I should have taken a short break to catch my breath, but recognizing that I had three dozen sales people ready to head home for the weekend, I proceeded to deliver what was supposed to be a positive state-of-the-market rouser guaranteed to have these reps outperform their monthly quotas.
Normally, I open such presentations on a light note with a laugh-generating anecdote. I don’t know what possessed me, except the lack of energy after a hard week of travel, but my opening remark was: “I’m glad I had this opportunity to meet with you today, because next year most of you will be gone, as the era of the machine tool salesman is over.”
Nervous laughter broke out as I continued, “Yes, most of you will be redundant, made so by the power of the Internet.” Now, sensing that I was not joking, I was bombarded by objections and then questions about my premise, which in essence was, buyers will get their machine information off the Web, analyze it and make a buying decision without your influence. The general objection was that the Web could not sell a machine tool. My counter was, people already buy their new cars off the Web, and many car dealers have an internal Web salesman just for that purpose.
These sales guys still thought I was joking, and I managed to leave on rather tenuous grounds, with a parting shot from the sales manger: “That will be the day,” he growled.
A few short years later, that day has arrived.
In his new book, Selling Change, 101+ Secrets for Growing Sales by Leading Change http://http://sellingchange.com/author/brett-clay/, Brett Clay says, “The trends of globalization and Internet empowered buyers are devaluing the roles traditionally filled by salespeople - to provide product information and take orders.”
In case you haven’t had the occasion to shop for a new machine tool on the Internet, trust me all you need to know is out there in Cyberspace. Retrieving this information is getting even easier as potential buyers realize the power of the Web and learn how to make it work for them. The marketplace has changed and, like others made inconsequential by the power of the Web, the salesman's denial was short lived.
I had occasion to see the sales manager of that company I spoke to, at a recent trade show, where he walked the floor as an independent sales rep. I was surprised when he went out of his way to greet me, thinking that he probably never forgave me for what I said. Instead, the subject never came up even though he told me he had recently been made redundant. I was glad we were still friends and I knew that his remaining productive years would not be bitter ones.