Take one look at any modern business model and you’ll notice a clear pattern forming: Marketing is moving from outbound to inbound and sales teams are coming home to roost. Yesterday’s expensive field sales organizations are being traded for lower-cost inside teams, even in the world of complex, high-consideration products and services.
The recent Bloomberg Businessweek article “Rebirth of a Salesman,” despite its cheerful title, paints a fairly bleak picture for the future of outside sales. Perhaps a better title would have been, “Death of a Sales Model”—because, everywhere you look, the field-centric model is in a state of decline.
Why? Because road warriors are expensive: travel, car allowances and fatter paychecks are just part of the cost. Selling in the field can also be less productive: when the deal doesn’t materialize, that onsite visit to Louisville is pure cost—in both expense and opportunity forgone.
But perhaps more importantly, sales models are changing because marketing models have changed. The rise of digital marketing has shifted the power to the consumer, who can navigate the front end of the sale cycle without the assistance of a sales rep. Search and social networks allow consumers to discover and validate options and alternatives before engaging with sales. And when they do, they’re further into the consideration phase and often ready to buy. An onsite visit becomes overkill. Inside sales becomes a better match for inbound business models.
We won’t get there overnight; but we’ll all get there over time, often as a matter of necessity.
But what about the most arcane products and services that require a PhD to understand? First, these products are losing the battle to simpler alternatives that embrace more consumer-oriented design principles and cloud-based delivery models. And, even when products and services are necessarily complex, they’re often repackaged to capitalize on this new dynamic. Freemium features allow customers to get a small sample of your value without the friction of cost. Same with open source models that unleash free IP toward the goal of commercializing something downstream. Of course, draw the lines between free and commercial incorrectly and you risk getting stuck in the tar pit of free stuff. A compelling up-sell is absolutely critical to making this work.
All of this is to say that the inbound/inside model is the future of modern business. But, you might ask: what about relationships? They’ll always be essential to effective selling. But the strongest relationships are based on empathy, which requires a deep appreciation for your counterpart’s desires and circumstances. Today, that often means grounding your fleet of pitchmen (and women) and letting customers come to you, on their terms.
The subtitle of the Businessweek article probably says it all: “The New Willy Loman Survives by Staying Home.”