Death of the Salesman? – Part 2

Whether they are employed working for someone else, self employed, have their own business or just invest money in other enterprises everyone provides something that other people want or need.

You and I are in the business of providing – providing something, a product or service, that someone else wants or needs

And they, in return, will provide something that you and I need or want.

‘Back in the day’ this used to be quite simple.

I might keep chickens and provide you with foodstuffs in exchange for you providing me with cloth that you’d woven.

Or you might be a landowner and provide me with accommodation in return for labour.

You and I might go to ‘market’ and exchange one thing for another – and if I didn’t have anything that you wanted or needed I might give you ‘money’ (sometimes in the form of a small piece of ‘precious metal’) in exchange for your product that you might then use in the same way.

Just a few hundred years ago this all began to change.

Rather than exchanging the things they wanted between themselves, people started to use money not just as an intermediary exchange vehicle but as a measure of ‘value’ of what they were providing each other.

And instead of just exchanging the things we want and need with each other, you and I give each other money instead and this is where the concept of ‘selling’ starts.

As time progressed the process developed. The ‘distance’ between providers increased.

‘Businesses’ developed to produce and provide products and services, and as these grew they lost direct contact between themselves and the people they were servicing.

Peter Drucker said that the purpose of a business is to find and keep customers.

‘Customers’ being the people to whom they were providing, or hoped to provide, whatever it was that they produced.

The direct relationship between ‘providers’ that used to exist, the exchange mechanism, was lost.

Instead it became ‘all about money’.

And this is when the ‘salesman’ came into the picture.

Businesses employed people to ‘sell’ their products and services.

The business, the provider, lost contact with the people they were providing things to and instead employed an intermediary to ‘sell’ their product.

And the provider on the other side of the old equation became a ‘customer’ or a ‘consumer’ who had nothing, other than money, to provide in return.

The mutual provision relationship was lost and turned into a simple transaction.

Unfortunately, most businesses forgot about or ignored the second half of Drucker’s definition. They focused on finding customers and making sales.

They rewarded their sales staff for making sales and bringing in the cash. There were plenty of potential customers around, often referred to disparagingly as ‘prospects’ ‘punters’ or even ‘suckers’, so they (the salesmen) didn’t worry too much about maintaining, or even creating, a ‘relationship’ with these customers.

But the thing is – the companies forgot that the customers, and not the sales people, were actually the ones providing them with the money they need to maintain ad grow their businesses.

Only recently, in the last 20 years or so, has the tide begun to turn.

The ‘suckers’ are fighting back!

As ‘consumers’ you and I have a not so secret weapon to tackle the ‘hit and run’ transactional sales people.

That weapon is information.

Now, we no longer have to rely on a salesman to provide information about those things we want or need to be provided with.

You and I can make our own decisions about what we want to buy, who we want to buy it from and how much we want to pay.

The ‘buying decision’ has moved back in favour of the purchaser.

We’ve not yet been able to downgrade the importance of money as an exchange mechanism although there are signs that the old ‘barter’ or provider to provider system may be returning in some circumstances.

But you and I are now able to make our own decisions as to whom we want to provide with money in exchange for what we want from them.

In Part 3 I’ll discuss how and why this is different from the ‘old’ systems and how ‘the salesman’ is adapting to a new role.