Death Of The (Traditional) Salesman

Andy Hoar, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research spoke at Forrester’s Forum for Sales Enablement Professionals last week in Scottsdale, AZ. Ongoing research has shown that B2B buyers are depending less and less on meetings with direct salespeople. Across the entire B2B process, sales meetings are occurring very late in the buying journey because buyers believe that they can collect the required information from their social relationships, peers and other neutral, digital sources first.

What the new role is for field salespeople in B2B?

This question was the central topic of Mr. Hoar’s presentation. His answer was, to put it mildly, “jaw-dropping:

Of the 4.5 million B2B salespeople in existence today,we believe one million jobs will be net displaced by 2020,”

However, not all types of B2B salespeople will be impacted equally. Hoar shared four seller archetypes, listed in order of representation in the overall population:

According to Mr. Hoar, of these types, order takers are forecasted to be the most negatively impacted the most with respect to jobs lost.

Explainers are #2 at-risk group, due to advanced business websites. “If you look at the most compelling websites, they provide things like how-to videos, detailed facts, and user-generated content,” Hoar said. “So as technology gets better at explaining things, we don’t need humans to explain anymore.”

Navigators will take a small hit due to the rise of integrated procurement tools. While 91% of B2B buyers in a Forrester survey said they would like to interact with a salesperson on price negotiations, Hoar said he sees “a clear trend toward software and algorithms doing more of that.”

But there was one positive trend. According to Hoar, the consultant category is forecasted to grow. “Consultants are a qualitatively different bunch of people,” Hoar said. “They can explain abstract concepts; they can solution sell; they can build relationships. They’re true consultants.”

So while this research doesn’t spell the demise of all salespeople, it certainly puts a date on the death of the traditional salesman. What should companies do to mitigate the impact on their sales teams?

Recommendations from Andy Hoar

First, he proposed scaling back on field sales and focus on inside and online models, particularly in the “order taker” category. In addition to changing sales models, he also suggested analyzing current business models. Mr. Hoar said, “The reality is a lot of B2B companies we talk to are getting out of the product business entirely — they’re now doing services”. Finally he suggested that business organizations commit to technology and adopt new tools to dramatically change their sales operations.

As for individual sale executives, “Not everybody’s going to make it,” Hoar explained. While much of the burden of re-educating salespeople falls on companies by re-engineering their sales and marketing processes, salespeople would be wise in modifying their personal sales techniques now.

Now more than ever, traditional sales executives need to learn and practice social selling on social media.


It has been proven that the salesperson who is first to share a compelling value or insight on social media, wins the business. Social Selling is a strategic tool for sustaining B2B sale organization and sales professional with the digital buyer. In order to elevate the value of B2B salespeople must listen and engage with their prospects and clients on social media. It is not really about selling on social media, but taking a consultative approach that builds trusted relationships.