As long as there has been commerce, salespeople have been the engine of every business both big and small. From Phoenicians to Bedouins, if you had a product or service, you had sales people in your organization. When cars first hit the roads, it was a sales person who talked you into the brand, options and upgrades. When the first business mainframe computers were introduced in the 1950’s, it was the black suit, white shirt, blue tie, IBM salesman that talked you into it.
Sales jobs have always been some of the most plentiful and some of the most coveted jobs in business.
In sales, one can start with no experience, a little tenacity and an outgoing personality. A sales person could go from nothing, to the highest paid person in an organization; all gleaned from limitless commissions. In tough times you might see an organization cut a salesperson for non-performance, but if you are making sales for your company, your job is the safest, even in a downturn economy. In many instances, that CEO you see heading a multi-national corporation probably started out in sales. Lee lacocca, the famed CEO that saved Chrysler, worked his way up through the sales department at Ford Motor Company.
In many industries the need for salespeople is still the norm, but there are cracks forming.
Take Tesla Motors. To the chagrin and protest of auto dealers, Tesla has instituted a direct to consumer online sales model that bypasses the need for large dealer lots, inventory and sales people. Ordering a Tesla automobile online is as simple as ordering toppings on a pizza. Auto dealers have taken notice. Many have gone from that hard sell, confrontational sales negotiator, to a fixed price selling model, freeing up sales people to be more like educators and confidants.
Retail has seen a big shift as well.
Amazon has changed how you buy all sorts of merchandise. From hardware to swimsuits, consumers now read reviews and self-service buy online. Even small boutiques with a small store presence and a sales person or two, are starting to sell more online than in the stores. The public’s comfort with self-service and the limitless product information online has freed consumers from high pressure and time sucking sales people. Major department stores such as Macy’s, have taken notice with the public's adoption of self- service and has made a titanic shift away from sales associates to more customer service personnel behind registers to ring up sales.
Nothing has changed more than advertising.
Since the time of the Romans, sales executives have traveled to businesses and tried to talk owners into placing advertising for everything from billboards to print ads. The 1940’s through 1990’s was when radio and television gave rise to the Madison Avenue sales executive. Today, most advertising is booked self-service online. Small companies also go online to choose where they want to spend their advertising dollar. Large organizations are using computer algorithm bidding for ad space on web sites. Business owners and their marketing teams are logging on to sites like Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn to purchase key words, banners and display ads. The role of the Ad Executive could now be a young computer programmer who is deciding at which instant to place that Coca Cola ad for the optimum exposure to its target audience.
Consumer finance and banking are not immune.
Rarely does someone walk into a bank and talk to a loan officer. From credit cards to mortgages, borrowers are bypassing sales people and self-serving online. Where a bank officer would take days to get all your information in front of a loan committee, online results come back in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. Sites like Quicken Mortgage, Chase Visa and upstart FinTech’s like Lending Club and Kabbage.com can all give you tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars with one self-service click. No salesperson needed.
Self-service is now spreading to even larger business loans.
American Express can approve what it calls a P-card for business, with a credit limit as high as $500,000 with an easy online application. AeroPay Express, a new FinTech company, can auto approve a vendor procurement credit line from $100,000 up to $5 million dollars by just entering basic business information on its web site. Technology has allowed the use of those credit lines to be safely used for any vendor purchase worldwide.
Have sales people become obsolete? ... Maybe not yet.
The comfort, ease, adoption and embrace by the public for online self-service has sure put a dent in what was once the most plentiful and high paying jobs in the world.