A half century ago, Arthur Miller reimagined a defining archetype of the American economy in his most famous play ‘Death of a Salesman,’ crafting an allegory which compared the twilight years of a languishing middle-aged man with the declining role of business trips and face-to-face marketing in an age when TV was quickly becoming the darling of advertisers around the country.
Never before had it been easier for businesses to make an impact on consumers without any cold calls, magazine folds or clever wordplay with distributors. Arguably, the crew cut briefcase carrying gentlemen of the roaring 20s found themselves suddenly obsolete in a world that had moved past their utility in business.
Or so it seemed. Looking back seventy years later, we know that Miller’s prophecy had left something out: companies quickly learned how to incorporate the old with emergent technologies and lifted the moratorium on its “dying” sales teams to create a thriving business culture explored in popular media like Mad Men and The Intern.
As the 2010s come to a close, the world of business is struggling to define itself with new narratives. “Sales is dead” is the mantra of a digital marketers who prioritize personalization, consumer choice, and automated advertising over cold calling or mass media marketing. On a surface level, there is some truth to that statement. But history always repeats itself, and today – as before – there is every reason to believe that sales is far from obsolete.
There is no denying that sales has undergone a tremendous shift in the past two decades. In 2018, Microsoft will follow industry trends by laying off 4,000 sales personnel to refocus on big data and machine intelligence. More and more companies are reorienting their efforts to reach customers and clients towards inbound marketing, a method that prioritizes organic reach and a “consumer initiates contact” mentality.
Studies suggest that millennials will spell the death of cold calls. Organizations like Hubspot opportunely declare that field sales are over. On the sales ladder, car salespeople were once viewed as one of life’s ugly necessities, but even they are beginning to suffer consequences. All of this has the smell of the apocalypse, and that is understandable.
The Internet has revolutionized everything. Apple and Samsung have put a phone in the pocket of almost every customer in America. Targeted advertising and big data have made it possible to reach the most viable prospects with minimal investment, and content marketing has allowed large businesses to build influence in niche communities without ever haggling over prices or value prospects.
Something isn’t quite right about all this. There are just a few numbers that don’t stack up. Consider the following:
- Door-to-door marketing is booming. Last year, the industry performed better than it has in years directly contradicting predictions from the U.S Bureau of Labor made in 2010.
- Cold-calls are holding a conversion rate of about 6.3% which absolutely dwarfs email click-through rates. For this reason, companies aren’t getting rid of their cold-call teams.
- The biggest spender in TV advertising continues to be Hollywood, even as some other industries are dropping out. TV remains very effective at bringing movies to viewers around the country and the world.
- 91% of customers with 10 or more employees have CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software, and the majority of these companies also have a sales team.
It’s clear there’s a rift between reality and our expectations, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Millennials might have preferred privacy, but Gen-Z is fatigued by it, and prefers personal encounters. The sales team has changed, but it really isn’t dead yet. Anyone who thinks so is ignoring reality.
So what’s really going on?
Following the philosopher Hegel, the poet William Blake is famous for his central theme of reconciling opposites. According to Hegel, history flows from thesis (one extreme) to antithesis (the opposite extreme) to synthesis (the reconciliation). According to Blake, individuals experience this flow as innocence, experience and higher innocence.
Prior to digital marketing, big data, personalization and targeted advertising, we may say that sales was in the innocent stage. In the past decade, it reached the experience stage when marketers began to realize that pushiness and hard-ball pitches can never be as effective as letting the customer come to the business.
But now sales has reached its higher innocence stage. We often hear leaders discuss the difference between inbound and outbound marketing which involves the central forces of push and pull – but good businesses today use both techniques.
Today, the essential difference isn’t between inbound and outbound: it’s between a business pushing its own agenda, and a business that orients itself to customer needs. Disney decided to air an ad for Black Panther during the NBA finals because it knew that’s what its market would be watching. That’s the beauty of outbound methods combined with inbound analytics.
CRM and The Future of Service
The apocalypse of sales is not here yet – it’s not dead, and it’s still thriving. But maybe, just maybe the “eschaton” of sales is here: the end game. The final goal. Software and data have managed to unify projects, goals and teams together so every initiative can be pursued with common cause.
Whether that’s a field agent chasing a lead, an internal representative nurturing a lead, a phone dialer with a headset or a content marketing team: all play a vital part in an increasingly balanced marketplace that brings together human needs, automated processes and the spirit of marketing into one place.
The salesman is still alive. Welcome to the future.
Rainmaker is a leader in cloud technology enablement, partnering with companies to accelerate growth, overcome challenges, and achieve success. Since 2002, we have expertly completed over 1,800 Salesforce.com implementations in organizations varying from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses. Our process-driven approach delivers innovative, clear solutions that can be used to transform business as you know it. Contact us today!