The Amazon Effect: How It’s Changing the Role of the Sales Professional

February 26, 2019

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You might recall sales industry experts arguing not too long ago about whether selling as a career option would be viable in the Amazon age. Some experts claimed that the internet would replace the role of the sales professional. After all, customers can make decisions now with all the information they have at their fingertips, so why would they need a sales rep to help them along?

According to this theory, most (if not all) products and services would be purchased online —with the customer driving the entire process from research to tracking to delivery at their doorstep. According to this theory, the only way a company could stand out in a crowded market would be to offer a lower price for a more desirable product.

It's true that in some industries, salespeople have disappeared. Let’s consider the travel agent. Certainly, they are no longer a primary means of selling airline tickets, but the profession still exists — abeit in a slightly different form.

The internet has forced travel agents to offer a more complex suite of services to a more complex customer. What has happened is that the travel agents who are still thriving have chosen specialization in order to serve complex customers.

In many B2B industries, a similar dynamic is taking place. What the internet is good at is replacing the need for less specialized sales functions, such as simply delivering product information. What salespeople are good at is helping buyers consider complex products and purchases. The best sales professionals create and sell packages to meet their customers’ often complicated needs.

Let’s look at a specific B2B industry where salespeople remain crucial and are perhaps more important than ever. In the technology sector, simple products, such as personal computers, became commodities, and are now sold online or at big box electronics stores.

But for complex software, for example, that has impact across an entire global enterprise, salespeople are essential. Decisions that were once made by a few decision makers are now made by an entire community. Buyers now shape what they need and get products and services to fit their unique needs. With this kind of buying process, there are additional levels of scrutiny and formal approval, so how do you move something through with multiple levels in the buying process? That’s where salespeople come int. They are expected to be more creative in crafting purchasing terms and are focused on streamlining the decision for buyers.

While the future of selling is changing for the better, despite the Amazon Effect on certain sectors, here are some ways for you and your organization to adapt to selling complex products:

  1. Have more than a few contacts in a company.
    You can’t rely on just one or two contacts to sell within a company anymore.
  2. Need to have more contacts and understand the driving factors for each.
    Just like the item above, your list of contacts at a company will become more diverse, and will likely stretch across departments, verticals, and levels. People used to be organized by verticals. Today, you’ll need to have sales pros who understand multiple aspects of a customer’s business and have the ability to speak across the value chain. Now, the buyer acts as the manager of the sales function.
  3. Understand the business first.
    Once you understand a prospect’s business, you’ll be better equipped to speak in outcomes. This is the shift from selling features and benefits to selling an outcome—a desired result that your customer is after. You’ll need to clearly articulate how your product or service delivers results for your prospect.

Because of this Amazonian shift in the business of selling, sales professionals have become more, not less, important for their ability to maneuver around the stakeholders within the organization.

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