Shed the Willy Loman in you and create a sales future

December 13, 2010
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Slate Magazine published an article by James Ledbetter about the ever-increasing number of disappearing salespeople. The headline read, “Death of a Salesman. Of Lots of Them, Actually. The troubling disappearance of salesmen and how it helps explain America's economic woes.”

Ledbetter claims that thousands of salespeople have lost their jobs to the Internet. And he is correct. He left out one word when describing these salespeople: “retail.”

The B2C sales marketplace is trending undeniably to the Internet. Black Friday now has a competitor: Cyber Monday. And Cyber Monday is winning the race.

Reality: Books, music, electronics, appliances, shoes, clothing, medical supplies, prescriptions, furniture and gifts of every type and description, from companies all over the world, are being bought online by the millions. Without salespeople.

People like you are buying more and more online. And that means fewer retail sales jobs. But … does that really impact the economy? No! I wonder if the editor of Slate Magazine who wrote the article has ever had a sales job. He’s definitely clever at creating titles and building a case for empty scenarios.

The bottom line is that, overall, sales are increasing, therefore the economy is the same (or better) with or without the retail salesperson that’s being displaced. Another word for that might be “progress.”

There are other salespeople on the list of diminishing numbers: automobile salespeople who are being challenged by 100 years of duping customers and the customer has finally had enough of them; pharmaceutical salespeople who are being legislated out of business for the lack of ability to build relationships with customers; and insurance salespeople, especially for lower-priced and commonly purchased policies (automobile being the best example).

And all this is exacerbated by online companies making news for their customer service prowess, Zappos and Amazon being the classic examples. Many companies now have both retail brick-and-mortar stores and online businesses. Ask any of their CEOs which they would rather have, and I guarantee you they would all say online.

The online retailer can sell cheaper because overhead is lower, and warehouse rent and warehouse employees are much less costly than retail space and retail salespeople.

It’s not necessarily bad news. It’s just news — and news that salespeople had better pay attention to. The economy is not being bludgeoned by a lack of salespeople. One only has to look to our glorious government to see who the real economic culprits are.

Now is the time for salespeople to study the marketplace, make an assessment of where they feel their best long-term opportunities lie, combine those opportunities with selecting something that they’re passionate about or would love to do, and dig in.

This is the season to be grateful and jolly — not the season to be grumbling, panicked, or remorseful. It’s the season to get your ass in gear and make plans for next year, and the next decade.

Sales jobs will grow wherever the economy dictates they grow. Health care is going to grow because the society is aging. Start there. Technology will expand and create tons of sales jobs. Take a look there.

And the Internet will create all kinds of jobs, especially sales jobs, based on its undeniable growth. The people who lost their jobs selling clothing should consider selling ad words for Google. Google is not a company; it’s a society and a culture.

Mr. Ledbetter concentrates his article on the retail sector, failing to address the larger, B2B sector. It’s true that some jobs will go away, but 10 times as many will be created in their wake.

The original “Death of a Salesman” by Henry Miller was published in 1949. The story is about a negative guy named Willy Loman who refused to change his ways as society grew and changed its ways. He eventually died a broke and broken man.

And so will you if you fail to recognize what’s happening.

Online business is both a revolution and an evolution. It’s not a job killer; it’s a job creator. And it allows you and I as consumers to click and buy without spending $3 a gallon on gasoline, or looking for a parking space that doesn’t exist during the holiday season.

And yes, there are the traditionalists, the people who love to go retail shopping in the stores, the people who would rather buy a hardbound book than an e-book, and the people who like to touch things before they buy them. But they (and I) are getting older.

People under the age of 20 know the Internet as their prime source of communication, purchase and download. Get used to it, get over it, understand the sales opportunity that it creates and take advantage of it. If you don’t, society will take advantage of you.

Jeffrey Gitomer can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail to salesman@gitomer.com

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