How Many Salespeople Will Be Left by 2020?
At our last Sales 2.0 conference, I asked the audience members to raise their hands if they had ever purchased anything on Amazon.com. All hands went up. Then I asked, “How many of you have ever spoken to an Amazon.com salesperson?” Nobody! Amazon.com’s technology architecture has eliminated the need for salespeople. According to the Census Bureau, the amount of sales closed over the Internet through such e-commerce sites as Amazon exceeded $165.4 billion in 2010. According to Forrester Research, that number will grow to $250 billion in 2014.
As computing power accelerates, online interaction will become more customer friendly, and B2C online sales models will be adopted by B2B companies. Some software companies have already begun to sell their applications online. After the online sale, customer service representatives will stand by to help answer questions.
Technology is clearly transforming the profession of selling. IBM is currently working on the DeepQA project, which will allow question-answering technology to consistently outstrip the best human performance. IBM’s team has demonstrated that its processing computer called “Watson” can understand natural language and deliver a single and precise answer to a question asked on Jeopardy! IBM found that the average response time on the game show is 3.5 seconds. IBM’s team created a computer that allowed Watson to deliver the right response faster than the average contestant.
At the core of the transformation process is not the software application used, but the computing power that drives the application. For example, in 1992, many computers ran on the 66-MHz Intel chip 486DX. The speed of this chip was 54 MIPS (million instructions per second). Today’s Intel chip Core i7-990X Extreme Edition runs at 3.46 GHz, and it can perform 159,000 MIPS.
As the number of software applications is exploding and computing power is accelerating, we will see more sales tasks move online, requiring fewer salespeople. Gartner, a research organization, predicts that by 2020, 85 percent of interactions between businesses will be executed without human intervention. It is likely that of the 18 million salespeople in the United States, there will be only about 4 million left.
If today Watson can respond to complex questions in natural language with pinpoint accuracy and in fewer than three seconds, it is likely that 10 years from now, a Watson-like online sales avatar will answer all the questions customers need to ask in order to make a final purchasing decision. I see a clear trend: Outside sales will continue to shrink throughout this decade. Inside sales will grow at a 15 percent rate per year. Sales-support staff will increase over the next decade. New job titles such as chief listening officer, sales transformation manager, sales operations manager, and sales analyst will expand. If you want to stay in sales for the next decade, my advice is to become more efficient, more motivated, more solutions oriented, and more customer focused. The bottom line: If we don’t find and fill a need faster than a computer, we won’t be needed.
– Gerhard Gschwandtner
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