I was looking for something else in my drafts folder, and I found this older thing: Sales People: Do We No Longer Need Them?:

We all know that the internet, in particular, has made us – the customers - more savvy and more able to easily see when we're being “sold." Instead, many now believe traditional sales people should go the way of the dodo bird, and companies should offer something else — experience and customer service.

I think there is a kernel of truth here, but the argument goes too far with it. As in every market transition, there is a sieve effect at work. The good sales people were already operating in a way that is compatible with educated and demanding customers. This breed of sales person leads a diverse team and maintains the context, preventing discussions getting lost down rabbit holes. Bad sales people who rely on ill-informed customers and add no value will fail to make the transition – and indeed are already doing so. However, to bridge from the self-service check-out at the supermarket to the imminent extinction of car sales people – or enterprise sales teams – is too much of a stretch.

Example: my wife just bought a car, and sure, we had done our research, researched alternatives, built several configurations online, and she was pretty sure of what she wanted. She had narrowed it down to three alternatives, so we visited the three dealerships. Two of them had ignorant, pushy and unhelpful sales people - who did not get the sale. The third had a courteous, well-informed sales person who was passionate about his product, and helped us navigate the various finance options to get a deal that worked for everyone – including getting a notary to come to the dealership after hours so we could take advantage of a deal that was about to expire! That sales person earned his commission – and the sale.

Sales is definitely changing, but it's not going away. The only sales people who will lose their jobs are the ones who fail to adapt and evolve.

If this sounds familiar from similar screeds I have written about how AI and automation are not going to take away sysadmins’ jobs, you are exactly right. The fact that one task goes away is only a problem if that single task defined your entire job. Sure, it sucks if you’re a supermarket checkout person, because that automated checkout lane is definitely taking your job scanning barcodes by hand. On the other hand, the introduction of ATMs increased employment in banks for a long time (although it is now declining due to branch closures).

I would like to close from a quote that came up in conversation earlier today:

Ultimately, everyone’s job is sales – or we’re all out of a job.

Photo by Fredrick Kearney Jr on Unsplash