Will Search Engines and Social Networks Replace Salespeople-
By Ron S. LaVine, MBA
Stephanie Losee, Managing Editor at Tech Page One, reported recently on a meeting of social media experts who gathered in San Francisco to discuss whether search engines and social networks are replacing salespeople. I don’t believe they are, and here’s why.
How can a buyer start their buying journey if they don’t know they have a certain type of problem occurring or about to occur- How can a buyer start their buying journey if they don’t know a new technology exists to solve their problems or potential problems-
In my humble opinion, what has to and is going to change is salespeople moving from being sellers to salespeople becoming educators. Search engines and social networks will never completely replace salespeople. Salespeople can and will prevent their replacement by learning how to sell differently.
I would be very careful about making an assertion that “Buyers are getting way further down their buyer journey before they’re willing to be engaged by sales” because, in my opinion, it is inaccurate. I’ve read statistics ranging from over 50% to 75% of buyers having completed most of their buying journey before engaging with salespeople.
Yes, it is true; buyers do have easy access to a lot more information than ever before. Do you think this means salespeople have become order-takers entering the sales cycle at the end to wrap things up- If so, then re-read my first two questions at the beginning of this post.
I think you’ll agree that salespeople are not being relegated to becoming order-takers and are still very much in demand. No one is going to revolt against someone educating them about something they don’t know or are not aware of, especially when the knowledge provided benefits them.
According to Julie Schwartz, SVP of Research and Thought Leadership at Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), when buyers were asked when it was most useful to engage with salespeople, “24 percent said during the epiphany stage when I haven’t yet recognized a definite need, but I am learning and exploring the possibilities. 23 percent said during the awareness stage when I have an identified need and I am clarifying my objectives and researching alternatives and 24 percent said during the interest stage, when I am identifying my shortlist.” Source: ITSMA, How B2B Buyers Consume Information, 2012. Although the study was done in 2012, I think the findings, while they maybe different in 2014, are still relevant today.
Search engines and social networks have an important part to play in the sales cycle, however they cannot fulfill the role of the salesperson in many circumstances. I do agree with Jill that salespeople will need to change the way they sell. I don’t believe there will be a buyer revolt when a buyer learns something they didn’t know. Salespeople will need to learn how to sell the way the buyer wants to buy, which may not be the way they want to sell.
Educating and building relationships is the new way of selling. To that degree, search engines and social networks will increase in their importance as tools for salespeople to use, as these tools increase the salesperson’s ability to disseminate information and educate buyers. However, to think these tools will replace salespeople is a fallacy.
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Ron LaVine, MBA, President, Founder and Editor
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