The 'New' Sales

It was not long ago, experts announced the 'death' of sales function. Well, not that many businesses will buy that idea, but with the advent of Internet, consumer empowerment and abundance of information, sales seemed to be a redundant function. Or, its effectiveness was assumed to have greatly diminished.

In the sales-less world, of course, Branding reigned. The trust that people endowed a salesman was supposed to have been replaced by the trust on a symbol - a brand - and this was assumed to be the 'final solution' in the cluttered marketplace.

The point, of course, is that this is too good to be true. Instead of making products rise above the clutter, branding itself created the clutter, bringing to fore meaningless differentiation and assuming the know-all stance that every consumer always hated in a salesman. The other problem was that brands intended to be everything to everyone, that street-corner salesman at least had occassional anger and disappointment, but brands instead were perfect chameleon, spawning out line extensions at a dizzying rate and losing all appetite to represent any single notion.

Of course, I generalize. Isn't that the nature of a theory? The text book distinction of marketing and sales wouldn't last its first 30 seconds of reality in the commercial world. But the idea is not whether there is a difference, but that there should be a difference. This is the reason why marketers should have a glass office, whereas their poor salesmen cousins should not even be given a chair, lest they sit down a moment to think! The marketers are supposed to be about analysis and getting the customer to come to us, whereas the salesmen should run around and get the customer.

And, obviously, in the new world of Internet and customer empowerment, it was marketers who were supposed to keep their jobs. After all, they were mostly MBAs, whereas the salesmen did not know what's happening.

It is, however, rather sad that the opposite is happening. In fact, the opposite is happening in a dizzying pace. The real world's boom-bust cycles are very effective BS killer - so the current downturn will nail marketing to where it belongs: In front of the customer.

So much for the theory and corner offices, and of running away from accountability and wearing the creative smoke! Internet empowered the consumers to pierce through the information shield and figure out what's really important for them. Comparison sites bringing loads of information together, and weeding out the inefficient and the unneccessary. Branding faces a serious challenge in the mind of an increasing eco-ethics aware consumer. Regulation and Preferences are driving more disclosure - of a product's feature, origin, carbon footprint etc - and all that makes the logo look smaller, not just physically. The increasing fragmentation of TV is driving the favourite child of mass media era - 30 second spot - to oblivion. [Read Joseph Joffe's Life after 30 Second Spot] What marketing can do to the product is becoming limited in scope.

But this also heralds the return of the salesman. Not the salesman as the order taker - he died long back - but the salesman as the strategic relationship builder, salesman as the market researcher, salesman as the last mile connect with the increasingly volatile customer. In a tough, competitive world, everyone sells - but it is the salesman who holds it together, keeps it focused. He can now rightfully claim that glass office and respect from the other, cerebral, colleagues. The small firms always knew this, but I guess the tough times make it so obvious that even the academics can see it.

Arise, new sales!

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