The Death of Selling as we Know It


What does LinkedIn know that we don't?

LinkedIn recently published their jobs on the rise report and there were some roles predicted to increase in demand for 2023 that I found curious. It makes sense that roles that require data analysis and building operational efficiencies would see increases.

What caught my attention was that there were positions like sales development representatives and customer success associates listed as roles that were expected to increase in demand. Why would that be surprising?

With the release of ChatGPT, along with a number of AI powered top-of-funnel tools already in the marketplace, entry level positions in general and entry level sales positions in particular, seem to be at high risk of being phased out over the next 10 years. Traditional sales outreach saw massive increases during Covid and at the same time customer response rates tanked.

It would be easy for sellers to believe that this would be a temporary shift.

While sellers were cranking up the volume of traditional outreach, buyers were radically shifting their buying approaches. Customers shifted priorities to a largely self-service and frictionless experience with most of the consideration process occurring outside the view of sellers. Additionally, buyers were emphasizing speed and ease of information access over in-person or high-contact approaches.

Gatekeeping in all it's forms seems to be pushing customers away as access to information became democratized.

These buyer behavior shifts are echoed by research form McKinsey which noted that speed, transparency, and expertise are what buyers are prioritizing. The McKinsey research also noted that organizations needed to emphasize smooth digital experiences that focused on shortening ordering processes and had a more on-demand focus. Both buyers and sellers noted that this digital first approach is the preferred approach going forward.

Based on these trends, it might seem reasonable that these are only applicable to B2C or D2C selling motions. The reality is that almost 70% of buyers would be fine in a completely digital buying process for purchases over and above 50K. In fact, almost a third of buyers expressed no issues with buying products in excess of 500K without an in-person meeting.

This all sounds like it should make selling easier so what's the catch?

Selling is about to get a whole lot more difficult.

There is a confluence of events and innovations that should worry every sales organization. The first, and I'm sure we have all noticed it, is the explosion of bot accounts and fake profiles that have popped up. According to LinkedIn's own estimates, there were almost 21 million fake accounts that were identified and purged in the first half of 2022. And while that purge might have been somewhat effective, there's no reason to believe that's it's not just a game of whack-a-mole that's happening.

What's particularly interesting about the proliferation of these bots is that they have been getting increasingly more effective in fooling the average user. These bot-driven outreaches will typically seek to take a user off platform as part of some crypto or other similar scam. LinkedIn has even noted that removing these profiles has become more difficult due to their complexity.

While this might seem more of an annoyance than a threat, there is an ever expanding list of AI-powered chatbots that are gaining ground in the marketplace. It won't be long before a startup integrates this AI chat technology into a fake profile designed to solve some top of funnel outreach challenges for sales orgs. It may seem far-fetched but with some current AI tools approaching the threshold of being able to beat the Turing Test. I could foresee a near future where all initial sales outreach could be completely automated.

So what would be the implications of such an event taking place? It's difficult to project but I would imagine that it would decimate what's now the SDR and BDR ranks. If most orgs are pushing volume, why not get a bot that can push volume 24 hours a day? In addition to SDRs and BDRs being at risk, certain AEs would be at risk as well. It's easy to imagine a scenario where most of the TOFU activities are taken over with AI and automation and mid-funnel activity is handled by a few senior reps.

Now more than ever, it's critical for sellers to adapt quickly to the changing buyer and technological landscapes.

Industries that rely on volume outreach and/or prompt their teams to constantly smile and dial are going to be the first ones to look at replacing their human reps. In order for reps to remain relevant and create a hedge against being replaced, reps should be looking at taking as personalized a GTM approach as possible. nicholas thickett of Alignd | recently posted about an Harvard Business Review article that provided a roadmap for one way of being high-touch and creating constant value in the buying process.

Whatever road you select as a seller, the one that's rooted in driving volume is going to be a dead end. Whether we care to admit it or not, the sales playbooks from the 1980s won't work. Hell, the sales playbooks from the 2000s aren't working. If you want to remain relevant as a seller, the focus needs to be on building your profile as an SME and driving that value to your customers.

The choices are simple and stark for sellers: adapt or die.

Current and Upcoming Events:

Cascading Leadership - Innovators and Disruptors feature on Ali Al Jabry, CEO of Kwema is out now. Jiquanda Nelson 's interview on Cascading Leadership drops 2/2 Talent Strategy 60 - Panel discussion: Building Equity for Black Women in Leadership (2/1 12:30 CST)


By Dr. Jim Kanichirayil

Keywords: Future of Work, Innovation, Sales

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