By Larry Fleischman, Practice Director, Branding and Go-to-Market Strategies & Solutions, Televerde

I just spent two days at the Sales 2.0 conference in San Francisco with 400+ sales and marketing execs and about 25 vendors serving the various needs of the space. As with any conference, lots of sessions, plenty of networking, and access to a varied volume of ideas on how to optimize our roles, enrich our sales pipelines, and improve sales and marketing processes.

Dominating the conference were variations on a common theme – sales and marketing in the age of socialization and mobility. So much technology and so many integration opportunities but so little bandwidth to consume and adopt it. Over time though, much of it will weave its way into our ongoing sales and marketing methodologies, as it already has for many of the companies at this conference that are early adopters.

While the messages about the integration of social and mobility into our sales are loud and clear, at least to me there was another set of messages that were equally intriguing and at times a bit concerning. I’m referring to several messages I’ve heard about the diminished role of the sales professional as more companies evolve their web sites and other customer interaction portals to enable product and service orders without so much as even a phone conversation with a prospect. Think Amazon, as one of the conference speakers held out as an example of the non-human interaction sale.

For some companies, there really may not be a need for the human touch simply because the sales process doesn’t require it. That’s fine for those companies. But not so for those companies who jump to the conclusion that they too should try to convert their sales process to minimize – or even eliminate – human interaction.

A little context is necessary.  SiriusDecisions and other research firms are actively advising companies to optimize their web sites. We couldn’t agree more. While SiriusDecisions may or may not be 100% accurate in their prediction that 70% of a company’s leads will be solely sourced to their web site within the next three years, it’s worth thinking about and talking about. The web site as a key marketing influencer over the sales process is undeniable. But for companies to think that their web site can be a tool to extremely minimize or eliminate the human touch is not a notion we can logically support. At least not for many companies.

One of the Sales 2.0 conference speakers predicted that of the 20 million people in sales roles today (I didn’t hear the source of that figure referenced so I’m not saying it’s accurate), there will be only three million of those roles needed in 2020. A bold prediction. With all due respect to the speaker, I don’t believe it. Now, in the speaker’s defense, he also stated a prediction that the volume of people in the inside sales role will increase 15x over the same period of time, so there’s a little offset to the predicted gross loss. But I believe the message he was really delivering was that the new increased need for the inside sales role would be as far as the human interaction may need to go in a new social-centric, web-enabled sales and marketing environment.

Regardless of the accuracy of the current and predicted numbers, the real issue is whether or not the role of the sales professional will either diminish or increase. I think it will not, as the speaker predicted, diminish. On the contrary, I think it will increase. By 2020, there will be an exponentially larger number of products and services that need to be sold. Yes, some can sell themselves on a company’s web site. But I suspect that many products and services will still need to be represented and contextualized by a sales professional at some point in the process. I also think it’s fair to expect that as relationships deepen within ever-growing organizations, multiples of sales professionals will be needed to manage those relationships.

I could go on and on with more reasons why I think there will be a net increase in the need for sales professionals. Maybe it’s a mute point. Does it really matter? I think it does. Because if the sales profession is getting the message that the importance of and need for their role will diminish over the next 10 years, we may see a greater chasm between sales and marketing as sales moves to defending and validating their position. Do marketing and sales really need another reason to disagree or strongly defend their respective roles or move in opposite directions? Absolutely not!

Agree? Disagree? Thoughts? Comments?

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