Has The Internet Made The Sales Professional An Endangered Species?

I had a conversation last week and a fellow sales professional stated that we're becoming commoditized. With the internet providing much of the content our customers need, it's only a matter of time before the manufacturer's sales professional is extinct. (When I asked what he thought about the integrators, he didn't really have an answer.)

What do you think?


I think a big factor is the size of sale.

In smaller dollar purchases (hundreds or thousands of dollars), eliminating the cost of a sales force and taking orders directly over the Internet provides a substantial cost advantage that a traditional sales based organization cannot match. One example is IPVM vs the traditional market research firms. A big reason we are so much less expensive and have 10x/20x more customers is because of this.

However, in larger dollar purchases ($50k, $100k, more), the competitive advantage and economics clearly favor the use of professional sales people.

The Internet may give you information but a lot of products / services are fairly similiar, or, at least appear to be so from public information available. I think it's here where the top sales pro can swing a deal, based on their persuasion, support, charisma, etc. And those deals are big enough that you can justify paying a sales person $200k a year because of the incremental revenue s/he generates.

Didn't you once tell me off for self advertising Jon and removed my post !

I see it's ok for you to have a little plug! ;-)

but.....

you are right

as a legacy dome manufacturer, we noticed that with the influx of (really quite decent) Far East products coming into Europe via the internet and smaller distributors, our margins were squeezed more and more, forcing us to rethink our product portfolio and diversify.

the products we now make are specialist and niche - more on technology than cost - but nonetheless, there is no way our kit could really be purchase due solely via the internet

also, whilst the shift to IP is high, substantiating a more internet biased purchase, there is still an experience shortage with the installer - yes, the purchase could be made online but the subsequent support really needs that personal approach!

In many instances, there is no need for a sales person. They are simply an impediment to to end user who knows what they want from doing their own research. However, when people are in charge of spending their organizations money on something they don't know much about, the sales professional (integrator in my case) is theier first, last and best hope for success. We are quite simply more invested in the success of their project than anyone.

When my customers get to know me and learn how committed I am to taking away their technology pains, they realize that it is like having a 'getout of jail free' card. Eventually I become the trusted problem solver and then we become friends. Learning the details in all dark corners of our industry is what helps me keep my customers happy. They talk about that to their associates and people in their profession. Referals are a way I measure my success which has only increased over time.

A sales professional is the way to create a relationship. The relationship paves the way to repeat sales with the same customers. Repeat sales are more effiecient sales and drive market presence and public opinion.

Are salespeople needed like before? No. There are many instances where it simply isnt justified. Amazon seems to have done nicely without sales people. But very specialized gear such as the things we sell need expertise in the offer, execution and support.

David, good points. I wanted to expand on one comment you made at the end:

"But very specialized gear such as the things we sell need expertise in the offer, execution and support."

Today, in 2014, what is very specialized gear? Is it 8 MP cameras and a recorder? I think that would have been specialized 7 years ago but today?

That said, I agree, in general, that the bigger the system, the more complex the requirements are, the more sales / system engineering matters in closing deals.

Hi John, thanks. You are right. The mega pixel camea and simple NVR are professional gear which can be bought by the consumer. Good interface and decent descriptions. I think I was referring to more complex systems like enterprise level ONSSI, or integration of acces and video in a county wide deployment for Genetec or even multi-school planning in a gov't IT managed system.

Fully understanding the differences between the offerings of all the Axis cameras can be daunting for the un-initiated as well. The boot camp for certification can really make a difference.

Many/most purchasers or project managers (if left to their own devices) would make all buildings have (4) PTZ cameras on the corners outside and some complex VMS with no idea of follow-on costs. Then they would become gradually frustrated with poor system performance, poor integration, poor network performance, and less than optimal security coverage; all while totally blowing the budget. They end up learning the hard way- why they are in trouble for buying expensive cameras that don't adequately cover the building property well enough. (I think this is a current IPVM discussion). The integrator knows better how to plan coverage and would probably have chosen multiple stationary cams instead of the PTZ's.

The integrator should know all the potential pitfalls, maintenece cost projections, staged integration reasons, support requirements and during that whole time be building a solid relationship with that customer. We arent about money where I work, but, I'll say that I have made much more money from the repeat customer than I ever made on a single sale. If I sell anything for $30K, that is only the first $30K. We will transact (4) times that amount in the coming years.

I think that the average buyer, project manager, security manager/director beleives that the expertise is what they are paying me for. Nobody wants to be on the hook for bad purchases especially at the $20k + level. If they can get a higher chance of success with me, plus state that they did due diligence by comparing us to our competitors; it seems like an easy descisionto me.

In my opinion, creating a relationship with a caring, conscientious professional saleperson/integrator is a good thing for buyers and end users of mid- to complex systems.

Thanks

"Are salespeople needed like before? No." Honest and good point David - thank you.

One of the needs that have grown recently is the filtering of information. Our customers have so much information at their fingertips that they can't figure out what is accurate or right for their problem. Sales pros can help filter the info. If done correctly (meaning truthfully and not always biased toward their product), the sale pro will become the trusted advisor.

John – I think your site proves that a camera isn’t just a camera and a recorder isn’t just a recorder. How does the customer know what they are buying if not for a manufactures representative or salesman? Sure, if they are savvy enough, they can do the research or pay for a service like this. But your site illustrates that features and functionality are drastically different between the various manufactures.

For example, I am working with a property management company. They have no idea what solutions will work in their bandwidth starved complex of buildings. I bring mesh to the table and all of a sudden, they have some viable options. Now we can start talking about the ROI of mesh when compared to what they are paying an ISP to deliver them a crappy T1 connection.

Also, I believe that the number of manufactures and cameras is overwhelming to the average property manager or IT professional. They almost need someone to point them in the right direction.

Pricing and margins though… if you’re not negotiating directly with an owner, there is no way you can make any decent margins. Owner direct negotiated work is hard work to find and develop and there are still no guarantees that you can even get choice margins.

Mike, I agree with the example you give but I'd emphasize 2 qualifications:

  • A property management company with a 'complex of building' is going to be a fairly big project / sale, justifying expenditure on a sales person.
  • The type of sales person you need here is likely more technical than would have been acceptable years ago, ergo the 'relationship guy' featured in this discussion.

John - you should create a user called Relationship Guy and give him an avatar. Respond to random discussions as the typical relationship guy typically would respond. That would be a lot of fun.

I will be sad to see some manufacturer's reps go. They're the ones who actually bring some value to the table- the ones who can answer questions about the product, who can suggest the best product to use in an application, who can help with a tricky problem, who can get us in touch with tech support.

The ones who just take orders and give me inventory levels over the phone can be replaced with a simple ecommerce website. That will probably lower prices and I can place an order online faster than I can over the phone.

Salesperson as trusted advisor?

What do security consultants think about that concept?

If you're interested in this topic in general ( not specific to security industry) Daniel Pink's book To Sell is Human is worth a look.

Jim

Chris Peterson has it right. I just left a sales call this morning where the customer simply had too much information. Without realizing it, what she really needed was someone to tell her the truth, and filter out the information she gets off the internet.

I am not saying it is all lies, but a lot of the internet information is terribly misleading. As IP becomes more of a factor in security, there is so much more you must know. I have never seen a listing of what products cannot do in a products literature; or limitations, or the impact of your bandwidth on your expectations, and so on. Sales people can and should be honest with the customers and tell the the pros and cons. They should also listen and develop a set of realistic expectations. The internet cannot do that.

Systems integration speaks for itself. The internet cannot do that either. Repairs, programming, unruffling feathers...

The internet does treat our industry and our equipment as if they were/are toasters. It is up to us to prove otherwise.

"I just left a sales call this morning where the customer simply had too much information."

Mark, can you elaborate? Did she cite vendor websites or print outs of articles or?

The internet does treat our industry and our equipment as if they were/are toasters. It is up to us to prove otherwise.

Agree to a degree, since dealing with unique requirements and doing custom installs requires an undeniable talent and a wealth of expertise that a customer does not have and will not likely acquire from the internet. In these situations the 'old rules' still apply, the customer either pays (you) now or he pays (someone else) later.

Disagree though also, since cameras are also becoming more toaster-like everyday. As new home construction provides more built-in security wiring and even rough-ins for cameras, these questions can largely be answered by one security expert for one thousand homes (ones with same plans, lots) at once. People will come to expect that every new home comes with a fitted doorcam/intercom, almost as surely as they expect a toaster to have a setting for bagels. But that does not reduce the overall demand for the custom install, it just increases total number of all kinds of systems...

Anecdotal appliance evidence: A ham and swiss sandwich placed between two axis 4 channel encoders 30 minutes before lunch will actually be quite toasty by breaktime... :)

Vendors, no. Technology yes. IP cameras with audio. But her business has a standard internet connection. The upload speeds won't match the download speeds. She simply will not be able to install 7, 8, or 9 cameras with audio at her office and get a stable, on-demand signal.

Customers typically just buy an interent signal from vendor X, be it AT&T, Windstream or whomever. The buy it based on affordability with no thought or knowledge put into what their demands will be. Then they attach a POS system to it, a router, a pc to it, maybe some free wifi for their customers, then they want to attach a security sytem (not a huge demand) but then they want to install remote video and often, audio (two way even). They treat their bandwidth like just any other commodity as if it has no limits. When we cannot meet expectations, they get upset at us, don't believe us or some other emotion creeps in. That is when they typically punt.

Sometimes I feel like I am in Mexico. They just dump everything on the net with no regard to speed or security. I love everything about Mexico, but I understand it is a third world county.

Customers see commercials, print adds or videos on YouTube without enough technical background to understand what is going on behind the curtain. But I will not sell a system that I know will not perform. It always pays (one way or another) to be honest.

Most customers do not have an IT department to fall back on. That is where we have to have a come to Jesus meeting, and that will continue to plauge integrators and installers. But it is also an opportunity to separate yourself from the competition.