The Death of the Traditional Salesman

Evolution or Extinction

What image is conjured up in our minds when we hear the word “salesperson?” For many, the words “pushy,” “aggressive,” “obnoxious,” “loud,” and “annoying” might come to mind. For those who are old enough to remember the hit show, “WKRP in Cincinnati,” the fictional character of Herb Tarlek, who was the station sales manager, would certainly fit the description. Yet Herb, despite displaying all the above characteristics, and a few more to boot, was rarely successful. However, although Herb was a fictional comedic character, he did in fact bear some resemblance to what has been the accepted norm of a salesperson. We all know salespeople who have turned us off by their methods, tactics and attitudes. Yet with the emergence of social media the role of the salesperson is changing. The rapid growth of social media has given both businesses and consumers alike a glorious opportunity to change the traditional sales process, and benefit from that change. However, in order for this to be possible, businesses need to grasp what is happening and adapt. The salesperson must recognize the changing climate. If he is to survive he has to evolve and adapt, or he is in danger of becoming a dinosaur, a kind of brontosaurus of the business world exterminated as result of today’s version of the giant meteor that wiped out the original dinosaurs – the social media juggernaut! In particular, he has to understand how marketing in a social media world is changing consumers perceptions, preferences and attitudes.

Push vs Pull

Traditionally, businesses have used a “push” method of marketing their products, as opposed to the “pull’ marketing that is more commonly used by social media. In traditional marketing, businesses made potential customers aware of their products and services by “pushing” their messages in their direction. Radio, print, TV, and the once ubiquitous door to door salesman were the tools of choice. The messages were intended to tell potential customers what they needed and push them towards the products and services on offer. The marketing team and its sales force spent a lot of time talking, informing the consumer why they would be better off to buy the product they were offering. Social media, on the other hand, uses the “pull” method by interacting and engaging with consumers, determining their needs and wants, ultimately generating sales by brand building, buzz and word of mouth. Marketing teams that understand social media recognize that they must spend a lot of time involving their potential customers, listening to them and interacting with them by using the wide, and ever growing array of social media tools at their disposal.

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Changing Roles

So, what role should the salesperson have in the current age of social media? The direction of the sales process has changed. Jaques Werth thinks that most salespeople believe their primary function is to “persuade and convince” their prospective clients. But in the social media age, that is not the case. Rather than initiating and controlling the conversation as it flows from the salesperson to consumer, businesses and their salesperson must be brave enough to allow the conversation to flow in the other direction, from consumer to business. Doug Rice discovered that good salespeople “don’t push, they pull.” They ask questions, they listen, they engage and they succeed. Jaquelyn Smith points out that “getting to know your prospects and establishing relationships” is vitally important in generating sales today. Tools like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, to name but a few, allow the conversation to flow in both directions. They allow businesses and their sales teams to truly understand how their customers feel about their products, find out what they are thinking, and determine what they actually need.

Opportunity of a Lifetime

For some, the changes brought about by social media can be too difficult to accept. Unwilling to learn, understand, or change, they blindly carry on with their traditional methods until they hit the wall. For those who pay attention to what is happening in the world around them, a glorious opportunity awaits. Some might even say that the golden age of marketing is upon us. Businesses now have the potential to reach what were previously unimaginably large audiences. Marketing teams have the ability to understand, and connect with their audience like never before, while products can be sold around the world with the click of a mouse. For those who can grasp this, the salesperson doesn’t have to die, but he does have to evolve.

One thought on “The Death of the Traditional Salesman

  1. Great job, Ray!

    So many industries are being forced to adapt to social media. With sales, you’re 100% right. Think of social media as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. I remember one time, I was moving, and I posted on Twitter about the kind of misery that often comes with lugging a mattress up a flight of stairs. Next thing I know, a moving company messages me on Twitter asking me if I might need their service! How did they find me? Well, they were using Twitter to search key words that related to their industry/product/service and they reached out to me.

    Granted, I didn’t need the help. But it’s all to say that in sales…social media allows you to be so much more opportunistic than before. It’s great for businesses and sales people…and us customers? Well, we feel a little more special haha.

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