Death for the Traveling Salesman
Cloud technologies and other Internet-based tech will make it unnecessary for sales reps to visit buyers for product demos and pitches. Pro or con?
Pro: Time Is Money
"Time is money." That aphorism is truer than ever—and is the biggest single reason traditional sales are dying.
With restricted budgets and extended sales cycles, the idea of selling over an afternoon round of golf and a three-martini lunch seems quaint to most modern professionals, like smoking jackets and finned automobiles. Successful businesses are those that cut costs and increase productivity, and technology has always been the path to that goal.
To that point, the traveling salesperson now looks more like a shut-in as businesses find new ways to sell products virtually, and themselves, reducing the often costly and time-consuming product trials and demo stages of the sales process. Consider what WebEx did for conference calls and product demos—many technology sales professionals today consciously minimize drive time and flight time, preferring Skype video conferences and webinars.
Now the same is being done for sales engineers via a new class of cloud technologies focused on IT as a service. Using the cloud for easy product demos, proof of concepts, and training, sales engineers radically increase productivity with cooperation from us prospective buyers—better an hour spent trying the product virtually than sitting through an in-person sales pitch on vaporware.
Combine the brutal, raw facts of today’s economic climate with the increasing sophistication of buyers, availability of comparative information on the Internet, and social tendencies toward a desire for immediate gratification on all fronts, and the demise of traditional sales seems clear. Long live virtual try and buy, because golf and sell is dead.
Con: Customers Buy Trust, Not Just Products
There will always be a place for the traditional, in-person sales call. It just looks a lot different today.
In this challenging economic climate, salespeople are pressured to close deals quickly, and competition is fierce. I know from my own experiences that the larger the customer investment, the more trust comes into play. And trust is still earned face-to-face.
What has changed is the nature of the in-person sales meeting. Given today’s premium on efficiency, both parties want to keep meetings focused and productive rather than linger over a long lunch. Today’s cloud-based technology and mobile devices are making these meetings more productive than ever by automating meeting preparation activities and the delivery of sale information to the customer in a compelling manner. The fact that sales people can still meet face-to-face but at the same time make the meeting an efficient one gives companies a distinct competitive advantage.
When meeting with a prospect, a salesperson no longer wants to waste time firing up his or her laptop and fiddling with the projector to give a canned PowerPoint presentation that could have been given just as effectively over a Web meeting system such as WebEx. Instead, the salesperson might pull out an iPad (AAPL) and using cloud-based technology, present a pitch using an interactive sales aid that is loaded with product information, demos, images, and videos that he or she can navigate through based on the conversation flow or even sign a contract on the spot using digital signature capture technology.
Companies know that customers are worth investing in, and that means face time. With the increased productivity made possible today by technological advancements, there is no reason to give up tried-and-true sales tactics and the personal touch for cost reasons. And in the end, you might still have time to squeeze in a quick round of golf.