When I started in sales, my boss told me, "Your job is to get to know your customer and build a relationship. Nothing is more important than building a relationship.” The second most important thing was to make sure that the customer always won when we played golf.
While the relationship game still matters, it’s just table stakes compared to the other challenges now faced by modern salespeople. Among the biggest changes is that customers don't want to talk to us, meaning they now involve salespeople much later in the sales cycle. And by then, they are much more educated on what they're doing and what they're asking.
I’ve certainly experienced this as a consumer. Fifteen years ago, if I needed to buy a new dishwasher for my home, I would just head to my nearest appliance store, look at the dishwashers, and choose between the low-, medium-, or high-priced one. It was a pretty simple process.
Now I start with internet research and become an expert on dishwashers that I don't even care about. By the time it's all done, I know more than I ever needed to know for this one-time disposable transaction. While I am a more informed buyer, there’s less relationship selling, and it definitely slows down the sales cycle. In fact, B2B sales cycles have increased by over 20% in the last five years.
At the same time, there’s been a reduction in the number of salespeople needed. Forrester estimates that by 2020, 1 million B2B sellers in the U.S. are going to lose their jobs. Among the roles impacted are order takers. After all, we’ve got e-commerce to help us with that now. And we’re losing explainers. We’ve got great marketing departments to provide tools that do the explaining for us. And think about what YouTube has done for the consumer when it comes to product training.
This is not all bad news. These changes mean sales leaders can prioritize what should be most important: helping their modern sales teams focus on being consultative sellers.