Inc magazine has an interesting article on the future, or lack thereof, of Selling Face to Face. A few interesting claims are made:
"Corporate hiring for "outside" sales positions had leveled off at a measly 0.5 percent annual growth. By contrast, corporate hiring for "inside" sales positions was growing 15 times faster"
"More than two-fifths of all customer conversations conducted by "outside" salespeople are done over the phone."
"The shift away from face-to-face selling is driving many top companies to hire and cultivate people who can become subject-matter experts and communicate with customers with a combination of email, phone, texting, social media, and Web conferencing."
I think the evolution of the sales process will require a sales person to walk both sides of the street. Digital may get you the introduction, but once you're physically in the door, you'll need to deliver on the promise.
I won't say who (definitely not a company I work for) but was told by a good source with knowledge of the deal, that a major well known B2B technology brand opened a page on AmazonSupply and in the first month sold $5MM worth of gear. Now, someone could argue that those were already sold jobs procurred through another channel at lower margin, but I feel this is a trend that will keep growing. I think a hybrid digital/ face-to-face approach will be more critical moving forward. Especially, given the recent stat that today's buyers have 57% of buyers of their decision making process made up, before they open the door to a salesman.
Of course, a lot of this is applicable to new customer acquisition. Digital can, of course, be used to help maintain customers, and maintaining that long-term relationship is more face-to-face.
The continued commoditization of what were once high margin technical/engineered sales has resulted in the decision to reduce overhead. Outside sales people are considered by some idiotic management consultants to be "overhead".
In fact, without front line sales people, EVERTHING else becomes overhead. No sales, no production and vice versa. The sales person is both the egg and the chicken simultaneously.
There is a huge difference between order takers and order makers and bean counters (exactly WHO is overhead???) are too stupid to understand the difference.
If price is the ONLY differentiator then you should expect to make less and less money until you are out of business.
I am sure there are some people who think this - "Outside sales people are considered by some idiotic management consultants to be "overhead"." but I doubt it represents a common view.
The issue is that changes in technology make employees more productive remotely.
Let's look at it this way - imagine an outside sales person who in 2013 does not use email nor PDF proposals nor webinars, etc. They do everything in person, driving, flying and meeting face to face all the time.
The point is mixing in, an increasing greater amount, of virtual/remote tasks makes outside sales people more productive. Does anyone disagree with this?
It’s not hard to believe that the world is shifting to more of an electronic model. We have folks working from home, higher fuel costs, higher energy costs, the need to lower overhead, paperless transmissions etc.… who here can remember when you had to go to the construction site to physically review drawings (not me…but I hear that is how it was!) Sure, I can easily see this.
As a manufacture / integrator hybrid regional Sales Manager, I use a variety of tools to secure new business. Initially, it is all about getting the meeting. For me, face-time (not the app) is absolutely necessary at some stage in the cycle but typically not during the beginning stage. 99.9% of my prospecting is conducted with an email campaign or a cold call. Once I determine a need, it is absolutely necessary to visit that client and have those granular conversations / brainstorming discussions.