Should American workers be frightened? According to the Bank of America, robots are likely to be performing 45 percent of manufacturing tasks by 2025; and Oxford University predicts that nearly half of all U.S. jobs will be at high risk of being lost to computers.
Not to mention that according to Time, Lyft and General Motors are looking to offer driverless car services in approximately one year -- though the recent fatality in a driverless car made by Tesla Motors probably leaves that one up in the air.
These dire predictions are troubling for the American worker but perhaps less so for sales professionals who have become accustomed to hearing warnings about their job security for over a century. That’s correct: In 1916, the New York Times headlined an article “Are salesmen needless?” and quoted a marketing expert explaining why societal changes would render the door-to-door salesman obsolete.
“Advertising is producing better results than the old method of personal solicitation,” this man said.
Fears over technology stealing sales jobs were expressed following the advent of both the phone and the internet. Then, last year, Forrester Research predicted that one million B2B salespeople would become obsolete by 2020, lost to ecommerce.
As the CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, I have seen firsthand, over the last five years, an increase in the number of world-class companies seeking to hire top-performing B2B salespeople.
Moreover, the U.S. Department of Labor projects that the employment of sales managers will increase by 8 percent through 2022; and the 2016 Career Builder study predicts sales hiring will increase by 27 percent this year.
How many dire predictions will it take before we accept that salespeople will always be critical drivers of business?
Here are five reasons you may not be replacing your sales reps with robots anytime soon:
1. B2B buyer engagement is at a low.
While the benefits of inbound marketing are critical, we are also seeing periods of low buyer engagement. According to recent Gallup research, only 29 percent of B2B customers are engaged, while 60 percent are indifferent and 11 percent are actively disengaged. Revenue won't grow alongside those low levels of engagement; and involving educated salespeople will improve those numbers.
2. Buyers want an educated salesperson.
Even with all the advances in technology, when a buyer is about to spend his or her company’s money, and consequently put a job on the line, you can bet that buyer will want to speak to a salesperson. Buyers have questions and concerns; they require customized solutions, want assurances and will undoubtedly try to negotiate -- all reasons to employ people, not robots.
New research from the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) also shows that 70 percent of B2B buyers want to engage with salespeople early in the sales process. ITSMA did the research with almost 300 senior executives who were buying complex solutions.
In addition, while consumers may be buying well-known products online, they will still want to speak to a human for newer products they are less familiar with. In larger companies, corporate buying committees will also typically request in-person meetings with sellers.
3. The need exists for customized solutions.
Companies have traditionally structured sales teams to push a particular product or service. Those sales pitches focus heavily on features and benefits. However, with an unprecedented amount of information available through ecommerce, the wants and needs of customers has evolved.
Today, there is a growing need for a consultative sales approach. Consultative salespeople do research, ask questions and listen. They provide customized, not generic, solutions based on their findings and discussions. Consultative salespeople are selling a product or service, of course, but they are also developing a relationship. And the relationship is what ultimately affects the account's long-term health.
4. Sales reps help you innovate.
Between 1995 and 2013, the top five pharmaceutical companies shed more than 55 percent of their salespeople in the United States. However, in that same time period, new companies such as Google, Dell and Facebook added salespeople, as did companies transitioning to cloud-based solutions.
When it comes to familiar products, the need for salespeople may indeed decrease; however, when disruptive technologies or new products are introduced, salespeople are needed to educate, inform and sell. Even as sales jobs decline in some older sectors, they are growing in newer ones.
5. Salespeople help align sales and marketing.
According to the CSO Insights Sales Performance Optimization study, only one in two companies surveyed said their sales and marketing departments had a formal definition of a qualified lead. While content marketing, SEO and lead generation are critical, good executives will use every cutting edge tool at their disposal, and that includes charismatic salespeople.
Those companies that can perfect the buyer’s transition from the marketing to the sales department will beat out their competitors.
The bottom line is that technology will enhance and improve the sales process, but it will not replace the need for salespeople. Salespeople are becoming increasingly technologically savvy and learning to use big data and social media to win more business and service clients better.
It's unlikely that robots can compete.