Sales Essentials Blog

Buyer Behaviours, AI & the Future of Sales Roles

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According to Gartner Research, by 2020 85% of interactions between businesses will be executed without human interaction. [i]

Automation has already diminished the number of people required for blue collar manufacturing roles; however, with the advent of AI (artificial intelligence), big data and algorithms, we are beginning to see sweeping changes happening across the once untouchable white collar sector, including the very people-oriented roles of sales, as many buyers shift part or all of their buying journey on line. 

This is really worrying people and creating lots of uncertainty and the reality is that people are at risk of losing their current roles.

Digital is still human powered.

The irony is that everybody needs to know how to sell themselves to their colleagues, clients and suppliers. The skills excellent salespeople possess and cultivate are the very meta-skills everybody needs today.

However, we are seeing a polarising of sales roles and we need to be ready to adapt. 

When it comes to simple transactions buyers expect to be able to do this type of purchasing online, free from human contact. However, as soon as the sales becomes complex, or less straightforward, buyers want access to real humans.

When it comes to human to human interaction, whether it be B2C or B2B sales, buyers are expecting a much more sophisticated response from organisations’ sales and customer care people.

Buyers want to deal with Subject Matter Experts (SME), not salespeople. So salespeople need to become domain experts or work with their own SMEs to help buyers move forward toward their goal.

SMEs also need to learn how to sell. How do we make domain experts sales savvy? We need everyone to learn how to communicate and sell themselves effectively and ethically.

Let’s take a closer look at the trends and changes in the B2B and B2C channels.

Changes to the B2B Buying and Selling landscape

According to Andy Hoar at Forrester Research’s “Death of a (B2B) Salesman, April 2015”, 1 million salespeople (22%) will lose their jobs in the USA alone and one third of B2B order taking sales jobs will cease to exist worldwide.

B2B sales job losses predicted by 2020:

  • Order takers (transactional, socialiser, visitor): 33% job loss
  • Explainers (tactical, hunter, warrior): 25% job loss
  • Navigators (relationship, gatherer): 15% job loss
  • Consultants (trusted advisor, politically aligned, add compelling business value): 10% job gain

B2B salespeople must elevate to a higher plain if they are to survive. We are seeing a distinct shift away from generalist salespeople to salespeople becoming business and domain experts. Businesses are now needing their sales teams to transform into ‘Domain Experts’, or the hackneyed phrase ‘trusted advisor’, if they are to add any genuine value. This is now very evident across almost all types of business, having started with technical types companies first.

In B2B buying and selling situations, we are also seeing more and more stakeholders involved with the buying process which is adding more complexity and time to each sales process. Coupled with this, we are seeing buyers buying in smaller amounts adding further cost to the sales process and eroding margin. More has been written about this in Sales Trend 8.

The B2B Buying and Selling Paradox

  • Buyers have never been easier to identify but harder to engage and sell to
  • No one is lonely or bored, yet the value of genuine relationships is critical to effective buyer seller relationships
  • The average transaction is getting smaller but is taking longer to sell in
  • 82% of sellers fail to differentiate themselves

B2B buyers, like B2C buyers, are using omni-channels to research and make buying decisions. According to Forrester Research, 74% of business buyers conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase. However this does not mean they have not been in contact with salespeople or that they have made a purchasing decision, especially if that decision is complicated and involves a range of people or processes. This is where effective B2B Sales professionals can shine.

B2B salespeople need to learn how to anticipate buyers’ needs and move beyond product and service. Smart companies are investing in their B2B salespeople by helping them transition to human centred selling and business consulting.

Changes to the B2C Buying and Selling landscape

How are B2C buyers behaving?

British Telecom’s Head of Customer Insight & Futures BT Global Services Innovation Team, Dr Nicola J. Millard and her team, have been conducting extensive research over many years in B2C buyer behaviours and customer experience. Her latest findings reveal the following[ii]:

  • Making digital experiences easy for customers delivers business growth; move over Net Promoter Score (NPS) and bring on Net Easy Score (NES)
  • Businesses need to make it easier to do simple transactions but as soon as it gets complicated they need to give their customers someone competent to talk to; there should always be a phone number so people can speak to a human being
  • Interestingly, autonomous customers rely on other consumers – not brands – for product advice
  • Chatbots have appeal – but with human agents checking on more complicated responses
  • Proactive service expected by digital customers
  • Smartphones are becoming more important in digital experience
  • Providing security for phone transactions will drive revenue growth

But beware the omni-channel

  • Omni-channels shift human channels towards complexity
  • In times of flux people want simple, easy, straight forward. If it gets complicated they want to talk to a human being. Customers want “Immediate access to a well-trained employee e.g. someone to talk to on the phone or face to face ….” Especially if there is a crisis and you need a solution to a problem with a product or service.
  • Customers make decisions at each stage in the omni-channel journey based on their motivation, context and attitude.
  • In digital channels, it’s not so much about demographics anymore it’s about context

Finally, the phone is not dead

The telephone has been around since 1876, and is still as vital as ever. The telephone today supports the digital experience but it does need strategic attention.

When people cannot complete simple tasks online, when things get more complex, they want to talk to a person who doesn’t leave them stranded ‘on hold’ and has the smarts to be able to deal with their issues and questions. This is relevant for both B2B and B2C sales channels more than ever before.

The telephone teams needs to be staffed by Subject Matter Experts who are well paid and capable of ensuring buyers have a great experience with our businesses. No longer the graveyard for expired field salespeople or ‘pleasant’ customer service people, call centres are becoming ‘Expert Hubs’ working in concert with the field sales teams of domain experts and SMEs.

There is a great future for sales with selling moving to a high order function that involves all, and buyers will be getting what they want too.  Expert care and attention that builds trust and, hopefully, loyalty.

Smart companies will allow the buyer and selling pendulum to find its equilibrium. 

Author: Sue Barrett,





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