Death of a Salesman? Forrester says Yes (at least 1 in 5 at risk)!

Despite a growing economy, research indicates that there will be over 1 million less B2B sales reps employed in 2020 compared to today.

At the recent Forrester’s Sales Enablement Forum , a study by Andy Hoar, Principal Analyst at Forrester, was revealed showcasing this 22% expected decline over the next five years.

Based on what types of sales reps you have in your organization, this could mean guiding them to a new career and certainly retooling their skill set. Forrester outlined four archetypes, and which ones are at most risk:
  1. Order takers – transactional B2B sales reps are most at risk of being displaced by an online buying experience that makes it easy to obtain personalized recommendations, price / configure and purchase, often creating less friction in the buying process when compared to working with the Order Taker.
  2. Explainers – who have been leveraged in the past to convey information about various solutions, are next most at risk due to buyers being able to find this relevant content online more effectively in most cases than from the Explainer sales rep.
  3. Navigators – who are talented at helping buyers navigate the decision making journey and gaining consensus with larger buying committees, will still be relevant, but will see some shrinkage as well, as online self-service resources get smarter at helping buyers navigate the decision making journey.
  4. Consultants – who focus on buyer outcomes and value, are the only archetype expected to grow, adding ½ million to their ranks, as their insights and advice remain relevant and vital to their customers.
The main culprit for the decline is a move to self-service, moving more transactions to inside sales, and a perceived lack of sales reps focused on customer outcomes.

For the most successful sales reps, technology is being leveraged to create the “Bionic Sales Rep” as sales tools are used to enable non-selling time-savings, process guidance and more effective conversations, business cases and proposals. The best are leveraging sales tools to enable more selling time, be more even more consultative, and better communicate, quantify and deliver value.

The Bottom Line

Along with the research on the decline in number of sales reps, Forrester announced that next years’ event would be renamed from Sales Enablement to B2B Marketing. Another sign as to “The Death of a Salesman”? Certainly many in the audience took notice.

What do you think about the research and Forrester pronouncements?
What are you going to do differently to keep your sales reps relevant and valuable?


Chris Field said…
Yes, too much recent sales technique has been about being a better salesman, but has avoided asking the tricky question : what are you for, and what value do you provide?
Jakob Thusgaard said…
It's a little tricky to predict the future. It's a trick that has gone wrong for others before...

The game of selling and buying in B2B has so many variables and moving parts that it becomes impossible to provide an accurate estimate of where we're going.

The report notes that "consultants" will actually see job gains over the same period of time. It's likely that we'll see further development of current sales professionals towards the consultant role. Especially as order takers become extinct.

It's worth noting that part of the friction in the B2B buying process is often caused by buyers who insist on speaking to their supplier, demanding that human interaction before buying.

Sounds to me like nothing dramatic is going to happen. What's more likely is that Forrester has found a way to up the drama to sell more...

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