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The Decline of Direct Sales People to Scale up a Business

How Important is the Sales Person Today?

Everyone can sense that B2B selling is changing. The common misconception though is that this change has been brought about by the events of 2020 alone. That maybe we’d have been fine to continue as we were if not for the impact of COVID-19 on the global stage.  But this wouldn’t be accurate.

B2B selling has been changing for a long time. The writing has been on the wall for a while to show that businesses need to evolve, and the future was already on its way. COVID-19 just brought that evolution forward a few years.

An article written for Forbes back in September 2018 showed more than 50% of sales reps were missing quota. The reason pointed toward the changing expectations of buyers. A report published by Salesforce was used to support this theory where it was stated that 77% of business buyers felt that technology had changed their expectations around how companies should interact with them. This paints a very clear picture with many sales teams still relying on sales solutions that have been in operation for a decade or more. Yet three quarters of buyers have a different expectation around how they wanted to engage, courtesy of the technology now available.

In truth the numbers for sales teams have been declining for years. It now takes far more dials to connect with a potential prospect, and the satisfaction levels of prospects receiving cold calls is plummeting.

So, where does this leave the state of sales in 2020 and beyond?

The good news is that businesses will always need sales, and they will always need a team of professionals to deliver them. The challenge, however, is how many sales teams will be willing to let go of outdated techniques to embrace a new way?

Salespeople are not in control any more

Sales is one of the oldest professions around. So much has been written about the art of selling that there isn’t a great deal of new material that can be added. Which I appreciate may sound confusing, considering this article is all about how sales is evolving for the future.

The ultimate reason for sales needing to evolve is to fall in line with changes in human behaviour and the modern-day buying process. You may have heard the expression that it takes two to tango, and in sales it is no different. To complete a deal, you need a seller AND a buyer. As we’ve established above the expectation of the buyer has changed. Therefore, the service needs to change in line with that.

It’s a buyer’s market

This is contradictory to most sales training courses. For years and years sales professionals have been mentored to take control and be in the driving seat of the deal; taught that in any negotiation it is the one in control who wins, and at any point you relinquish your grip on the exchange you’re toast.

If you’ve worked in sales for any period of time, you’ll be aware of this thought process. However, it is not entirely accurate in B2B sales today. Today if you grip onto a deal too tightly to retain control, all you’ll actually do is crush it. Picture holding an origami model in the palm of your hand then holding onto it as another person tries to take it from you. As you release your grip afterwards, you’ll notice creases in the model where your grip tightened. If you fought for too long the model may even be damaged beyond repair. This is a metaphor for the modern-day sale where influence beats control, though a full discussion around how to influence the sales process will be saved for another article.

When wondering who is in control in the sales process, there is one simple way to confirm the answer. The answer is… the one who thinks they are. Right now, the buyer knows they are in control of the interaction; controlling how they engage; when they engage; and even if they engage at all, if they can help it. After all, the appetite for transactions to occur with minimal human contact is on the increase. Though don’t panic just yet, we don’t envisage a full sales process wit out sales professionals just yet.

Sales cycles are getting longer

  • More decision makers involved
  • More research happening
  • A lot of this sales cycle will occur BEFORE they enter a sales pipeline
  • Buyers want more information available online to satisfy their research (The Millennials Way)
  • This research will go beyond proposition, into the team via social profiles
  • Quick wins/sprint campaigns will become less and less effective

Sales people need to be comfortable with content

  • Salespeople need to be thought leaders, sharing content, getting in front of the camera, and be
  • comfortable with social selling, to attract/warm-up/engage prospects.
  • They must be open to learning new skills, and supported to do this.

Buyers want personalised pitches

  • The default presentation deck is not going to cut it anymore. (That should be available online anyway by now.)
  • They want to engage how THEY want to engage. Not in the environment that YOU would prefer.
  • Sales teams will need the skills and resources to deliver proposals and presentations in engaging ways

Sales will become a process of facilitation

  • Gradually we’ll see the decline of the sales superstar
  • With all the relevant assets in place, sales will become more of a process, rather than an individual skill


Whether it's 2020, or 2022, every business needs to re-evaluate their operations to ensure they can adopt Digital Selling and genuinely weather this current storm.  Will COVID blow over, possibly not, therefore not many B2B's have a choice. 

We are here to help, which is why so much content has been created and provided for free (i.e. without demanding an email address to give you access), therefore is you are a 'researching person', there's plenty for you to get your teeth in to.  If not, give us a call.

Go to our Digital Selling pages to see how you can change the way you work and scale up your business.

22 April 2024

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The author and founder of salesXchange, Nigel Maine is a B2B marketing and sales expert with a proven track record in scaling up growth for Technology, SaaS, and Professional Services organisations. With 30 years hands-on experience and unique approach, Nigel has developed an effective strategy that dramatically increases exposure and profitability for B2B organizations.

Nigel has founded multiple start-ups, is a published author, public speaker and hosts both a podcast and business live streaming show, broadcast on LinkedIn Live, YouTube & Facebook. He also has extensive knowledge of MarTech software, creative hardware and software, and A.I. prompting tools.  Contact: 0800 970 9751 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.