Are B2B sales reps going the way of CD players, the Rolodex, and analog radio—doomed to be replaced by technology that gets the job done faster and better? That’s what we’ve been hearing for years, but these predictions don’t tell the full story.

Sure, automation has made some sales jobs obsolete, and will continue to do so. According to Forrester’s report, “The Death of the B2B Salesman,” one million B2B sales jobs in the US will be lost to self-service eCommerce by 2020.  

However, these are order-taker sales jobs. Forrester’s research shows that consultative salespeople—those who take a strategic approach and operate in a more complex buyer dynamic—will increase by 10 percent in 2017 and beyond. These are people who understand how to interpret balance sheets, have strong analytical skills, and are technology and data savvy. And they won’t have to worry about losing their jobs. In fact, they will increasingly be in high demand as they land and expand their way to better results.

Yes, prospects still need consultative salespeople. It’s just that what they need from us has changed.

The Buyer Myth

Technology might not be replacing sales pros, but it’s certainly changed the sales process. Not so long ago, clients looked to experienced account-based sellers for information about their companies and products. Now, with a quick Google search and a little time on our websites and social media, they can learn all about us. Before they make contact, prospects have usually checked us out, compared pricing, read a whitepaper or two, listened to a webinar, and/or viewed a demo. They’ve also researched what our competitors have to offer.

They don’t need information from account-based sellers, but they do need insights.

When prospects come to us, they have problems that need to be solved—pain that needs addressing. They know it hurts, but they’re often unclear about exactly why and how to correct the problem. Even if they understand how our solutions work, they don’t always know exactly what they need from us or how to get it most efficiently and cost-effectively. They don’t know the traps to avoid and what doesn’t work. They usually don’t fully understand the commitment needed—from themselves and their teams—to implement solutions that guarantee knock-your-socks-off ROI.

But we do. We know our industries, our products, and (most importantly) our clients. With a little investigating, we can show them the source of their pain and offer customized solutions.

Your Goal for 2017

Stop believing everything you hear. Our buyers still need us, and they always will.

The key is to get in early, demonstrate expertise, and build relationships. And the best way to get in the door is with a referral introduction from someone the prospect knows and trusts.

Account-based sellers with named accounts have the best possible referral sources. After all, their current clients are their prospects’ colleagues. Yet, far too many reps are still cold calling or relying on automated lead generation.

Ready for a new approach? Use technology to do your research, analyze and interpret data, and identify how you’re connected to your prospects. Then focus on your relationships for lead generation. Make asking for referrals your #1 outbound prospecting approach. With this strategy, you’ll convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time.


Joanne Black is America’s leading authority on referral selling—the only business-development strategy proven to convert prospects into clients more than 50 percent of the time. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of NO MORE COLD CALLING™: The Breakthrough System That Will Leave Your Competition in the Dust and Pick Up the Damn Phone!: How People, Not Technology, Seal the Deal. To learn more, visit You can also follow Joanne on Google+ or Twitter @ReferralSales, or connect on LinkedIn and Facebook.