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Another huge shift in recent years in the UK has been the growth of marketing in the UK. This has often been at the cost of salespeople.

 I saw a post on Facebook recently, in which a marketeer was propounding the idea that salespeople were no longer necessary at all, with marketing being totally able to replace them.  Interesting concept.

I spend much of my time helping SME’s with their sales, be it through coaching, over-looking their processes, or directly teaching their staff.  I continually hear business owners repeat this theory, telling me how they are putting their whole focus and investment into marketing.  When I ask about the sales department, they are vague at best, and often dismissive, assuring me it is marketing that matters.

The irony is that in the same breath, these owners and managers then tell me they are worried about their company’s sales.  They will cite that the place everything goes wrong is the conversion of inquiry to order.   They will tell me they suffer from feast and famine sales.  They point to huge piles of inquiries that have never been followed up, telling me how well marketing has done to get them, but at the same time admitting that they have no resources to follow the inquiries up.  And yet they seem blind to the obvious conclusions.

Salespeople – a dire shortage

Part of this springs from a genuine lack of sales knowledge.  Some business courses have dropped sales as part of training courses altogether.  There is also an issue with the image of sales and salespeople, especially in the UK.  It is not a profession that has had a great press.  For many, the concept of a salesperson starts and ends with intrusive PPI calls.  And within the UK, sales have often been seen to be rather less than a gentlemanly profession.

There is a real shortage of good salespeople.  Women, particularly, are rarely attracted to front line sales, and, as a result, there are still low percentages of women in business development or in higher-level sales roles.   One reason is the salary levels.  There is a shocking pay gap in these sorts of sales jobs, as demonstrated in the GEO figures.  In account and business development roles, women are paid an appalling 14.2% less than their male equivalent.  Small wonder that half the workforce are not jumping up and down to grab that opportunity!  Many prefer to see themselves as helping people in customer service where they have a risk free, non-commission income.

Having avoided working in sales, female entrepreneurs especially are too often lacking in real knowledge and respect for sales.  Business owners, male and female, for all these different reasons, are therefore extremely receptive to the concept of higher importance of marketing.

Sales and marketing have been changing fast too.   Millennials respond to very different sales processes.   Thanks to technology, they are a great deal better informed about their choice of product and service prior to purchase.  They will not succumb to the charm of a salesman’s patter in the way that previous generations might have done, and are often very vocal about their rejection of any idea of being “sold to.

However, while they might do their research online, plenty of product testing goes on within retail stores.  When they get there, they want to see the salespeople not as selling them something, but as highly informed customer service people;  the emphasis is all on service, a service that should be available to the highest standards, 24/7.  The adage that within the sales process, we should always be closing has changed to one that within the sales process we should always be collaborating.

But just because sales are being presented to the customers in different terms, the bottom line has not changed, and companies still need to maximize their sales, and salespeople are still there to deliver that, whatever the style of selling currently in vogue.

Marketing ‘s increased accuracy bringing in super-targeted leads should be seen as a huge asset to sales.   Undoubtedly it makes sales people’s lives easier to have better quality leads.  But for many genres, marketing should be that asset, not a replacement.

For some, totally internet-reliant businesses, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate the sales team.  They can capitalize by training their customer service teams in the rudiments of sales as these departments will replace sales as the human face of the company.

Other businesses still rely on salespeople;  these can increase their sales dramatically by using pro-active sales methods, especially but far from exclusively, in B2B.  Salespeople and sound sales processes can make the difference between success and failure and downgrading them is simply weakening their businesses.   As it is taught less, understood less, frowned on more, and generally under pressure from the marketers, it is a profession under siege.

I recently saw a survey of the jobs that would still be alive in 10 years.  I was relieved to see that salespeople were still there, albeit reduced by about half.    

It is not yet time for the Death of a Salesman and the sake of the strength of our businesses, nor shouldn’t be any time soon.

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You might also like this on the advantages of sales and marketing working together.

Photo by Cytonn Photography on Unsplash