We see the impact of technology every day from the most mundane to highly sophisticated tasks. I won’t recount them here….you already know how technology is rapidly changing the way that we live our lives. For the most part, technological improvements have significantly improved our lives. Conversely, there are situations where technology is not necessarily our friend. Personally, I have a concern about how technology is taking away middle class jobs at an unprecedented rate. The middle class has relied on these jobs for decades as the means by which to provide for their families. Today, the work that used to be done by 50 workers is done by robots and or other forms of automated production in “lights out” manufacturing sites. I will save my rant on this topic for another blog, but make no mistake, the impact of technology on the American worker is both a blessing and a curse. The socio-economic and emotional impact of these changes on middle class have yet to be fully calculated. And it isn’t a matter of veteran workers not adapting to new technology, it is a matter of there being enough jobs for those that want them. Yes, American workers are the most productive in the world because of technology. And also because of technology, there are fewer of them.
In the sales world, there are many forces at work serving to marginalize the role of the sales professional. In fact, Forrester Research predicts that there will be 1 million fewer B2B reps within 4 years. The Amazon influence on the B2B sales world is unmistakable, as its business model seeks to make each customer interaction a simple online transaction. If we allow customer interactions to simply become about merely placing an order, then we confirm that our products do not have any differentiating qualities, nor do you as a rep. And when this occurs, your products and you are now commodities, where margins continue to erode. Once margins erode to an unsustainable point, then companies will change their business model, thereby, requiring fewer feet on the street.
However, there is a way for reps to keep from becoming part of this statistic. Relationship and trust are effective forms of pushing back against the swelling tide of technology’s negative impact. But I continue to coach my clients on the notion that “relationship” alone is not a strategy. A strong relationship can only exist if you are deemed “safe” by your customers. If you have established yourself as a reliable and effective business partner, then you are “safe” to develop a business, and even personal, relationship with. Doing this takes time and consistency, but it can be lost in a flash. Customers that develop those relationships with you also count on you to continue to be best in class with ideas and solutions. They expect you to be on the cutting edge, perhaps even the bleeding edge of new ideas. The crazier, then the better. But relationship comes from performance and trust comes from consistency.
The beauty of this is that you control your destiny. Technology doesn’t have to “happen to you”, it can happen for you. Harnessing the power of technology and the data spun off is a great tool to have in your bag. Customers want you to challenge them and the status quo in hopes of identifying problems that they didn’t know existed. As sales professionals, we have the opportunity to become the partner that our customers want. Doing so staves off the grim reaper and, in fact, will re-energize your sales career.