TALKING SALES 215: "How salespeople can avoid becoming obsolete"

John Smibert

"Contribute experience and insight and you will have a long sales career" - Joanne Black with John Smibert.

What do we need to do to future proof our sales career? Who will survive the change that is being driven by big data, technology, artificial Intelligence, robotics, and lots more.

Joanne Black

In this discussion I asked Joanne Black what the threat of AI and other technologies will be to our sales careers. She said where the product is low cost, and the sale is not complex, the salespeople have a lot to fear.

Yet Joanne emphasised that if the buying process is complex with a number of decision-makers and we are consistently bringing insight and experience to the customer conversation our career will not be at risk. That's because your customer will always  value your contribution to their buying process. They can access all the information they need however it is much harder to leverage experience and insight from the information

She went on to elaborate on the reasons why these salespeople will survive. I think you will find this valuable in helping you plan for your future sales career.

Read or view the full interview below to learn more

This is the 5th in a series of interviews with Joanne  - stay tuned for more.


Joanne Black, sales author and keynote speaker, is America's leading authority on referral selling. See Joanne's Website and Twitter account.

Subscribe to future videos           See previous 'TALKING SALES' videos here


John: Welcome back all my followers, the Strategic Selling Group particularly.  Glad to have you with us, and again we have Joanne Black - hello, Joanne!

Joanne: Hi, John!

John: Joanne, as you know by now, surely, is the foremost authority on referral selling, and I've got a curly question for her that's maybe or maybe not related to referral selling. I'm hearing a lot of people writing about how sales is changing. I know it's changing quite dramatically, but a lot of people are actually saying sales is going to become obsolete, salespeople particularly are going to be obsolete. There will be different approaches to selling that companies will use that, particularly in the B2B world that will eliminate salespeople. What do you think about that?

Joanne: If you sell a commodity and something very inexpensive then yes, you have a lot to fear. But those of us who focus on complex sales with multiple buyers, we have nothing to fear, because here's what happens. We know that our customers, our competitors, everybody researches us before they ever talk to us, right?

John: That's right.

Joanne: They get all this information, but that is knowledge, it's not experience and not insights. You only get insights and experience from having a conversation with a salesperson. Knowledge is the baseline, but it doesn't take us in a complex sale, we need to know way more than that. And people don't read or they just read headlines, so here's what's happened. Forrester did a report that said one million B2B sales jobs will be obsolete by 2020.

John: I read that report.

Joanne: You read it? What did you take away from it?

John: I took away that we all need to rethink a lot about the way in which we're selling, because if we are not creating value for our customers in the conversations we're having, independent of our product and company, then they won't want to talk with us, they get everything they need other than, as you say, the insight and the experience that we can bring to the table, the experience we've got with our other customers and so on, then we can put value on the table, so we need to change.

Obsolete 02 - robot pointsJoanne: I'm not so sure we need to change, because here's the other part of that report, hidden a little bit at the bottom. It said that salespeople who have complex sales, to your point, who add value, who have the right conversations, who deliver insights, those sales jobs will increase by 10%.


John: I think we're saying the same thing that yes, they will increase. For those that aren't doing that and they want to survive, they need to get in that camp.

Joanne: They do, or their jobs will be eliminated, and rightfully so. With all the technology we have, that's one of the reasons people say salespeople will be obsolete, because we have robotics, we have artificial intelligence, we have predictive analytics, and we need to rely on and believe all of that. Now, I do believe it, I do believe in predictive analytics - I was very questioning at first, but I've talked to a lot of people and heard them speak and read about it - those are just gems that we need to take advantage of. But then the question is what do we do with the data?

John: Yes. If we can't bring insight through that data, then we're not adding any value at all.

Joanne: Yes. It's about interpreting the data and knowing then what to do with it, and experienced salespeople who deliver insights will know what to do with that data.

John: And Joanne, in my experience going back 40-50 years, I'm showing my age, the really good salespeople did that even back then. They may not have had access to the level of data we've got, but they were able to bring insight and thinking to the customer about the customer's business and how the customer can improve the way they do business in the product they were selling, the product sort of came then through underneath all of that but they were creating value for the customer. The top salespeople, and to survive in the future the only salespeople, all need to do that.

Joanne: You're right, and I'll take you back as well when...

John: Don't take me back too far! [laughs]

Obsolete 03 back to the future -620x300

Joanne: I'll take you back in my life, as an account executive selling to named accounts my job was to get information. How did you do it? Well, there is only one way before the Internet, you called corporate communications and they actually mailed an annual report and that was it, which meant when you went in you needed to know the questions to ask. You never said, "What's keeping you awake at night?" dumb question, right, but you were able to have a conversation.

John: You were, and the other thing of course was you brought with you a depth of knowledge and experience from your experience with all your other customers. Most customers were facing similar challenges so you could see how somebody else addressed a challenge, so when you see that challenge - identified through an annual report or by talking to people in an organisation - you brought insight to the table and value, helped them through a thinking process that would help them address the challenges they've got, sold solutions for them and so on. That's what top salespeople need to do. You're not selling a product, you're not selling feature, function, benefit; you're creating value for your customer through the conversation you have with insight and experience.

Joanne: Also, I want to give you a simplistic example, it's about developing the relationship, developing that trust. Years ago, I'm going back even farther than I go back, my uncle was a pharmaceutical salesman calling on local pharmacies, and it was a small town, everybody knew everybody else. He spent maybe 25-40 minutes talking about how are the kids, what's going on, how's the fishing, all of that, and five minutes to write the order, but if he didn't have that relationship that never would have happened. With that solid relationship it's almost like an iron wall, your competition is not going to get through.

John: If you're liked, trusted and once you're in that sort of position, then obviously you do lock out the competition. Not too many people can have that relationship with a customer.

Joanne: Yes, that's right.

John: So, the answer to my question from what you've just said is there will be a lot of sales roles that do become obsolete. Any sales role that is not adding value to the customer by bringing insight and experience to the table and helping them through a thought process is probably going to become obsolete in the future, technology is going to take over and other processes are going to take over. If you want to survive as a salesperson you need to hear what we're saying here, and that is you need to bring yourself up to a new level of communicating and having conversations with insight and value through those conversations, or you'll become obsolete.

Joanne: Yes. And I say for sales leaders, what's really important is that they know to interpret the data to deliver to their salespeople, whether they do the research or not, because that is going to be critical, so they know how to go forward and how to have the conversation - that's key.

John: And they need to coach thoroughly on that, because it needs to become part of the understanding of the salespeople and their behaviour in the way they talk to customers.

Joanne: That's right.

John: It's a big change a lot of people need to go through.

Joanne: Or not. [laughs]

John: Or not, exactly. Thank you Joanne and thank you to the audience, hopefully you got lots of value out of that. I'm going to get Joanne back a few more times and we're really going to cover a number of subjects like this - I'm looking forward to it, Joanne!

Joanne: Thanks, John!


I invite you to view my previous discussions with Joanne Black: 



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