Salespeople vs. the Internet: Who Is Winning?
When the Internet exploded onto the scene in the late 20th century, we heard confident predictions from many experts that sales forces would soon become extinct. Buyers would no longer need (nor want) salespeople to educate and inform them — the Internet would perform these functions instead. And smart executives would not continue to employ these expensive order takers — online order forms would do that job just fine.
I guess those arguments made sense at the time, because other roles inside the corporation had already been automated or eliminated by technology. Factory workers, switchboard operators, bookkeepers, administrative pools — they’d all been replaced to some degree by automation. So it seemed completely reasonable that sales forces, too, would meet such a fate. Cost-cutting and headcount reductions would surely reach the sales team. It was just a matter of time.
Well, unfortunately for the doomsday prognosticators that hasn’t actually happened.
I was recently doing some research with the Sales Education Foundation, and I came across some interesting statistics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1999 there were 12,938,130 workers in sales and sales-related occupations the United States. Impressively, that number represented 10.2% of the total employed workforce.
In May of 2014 (the most recent data available), the BLS asserted that there were 14,248,470 such workers employed in the U.S. or 1,310,340 more than there were 15 years earlier. This total now accounts for 10.5% of the U.S. employed — a slight increase from 1999. Not only does the data not support a doomsday scenario for sales forces, salespeople are in fact holding their own in the workforce. So why has the Internet not replaced our salespeople?