To See Sales Trends in Action, Fly to LaGuardia

By Hope Eyre on Sep 30, 2013

“By 2020, 80% of business-to-business transactions will be automated. As a result … in the coming years we can expect the number of sales jobs to shrink from 15.5 million to just four or five million.”  -- Gerhard Gschwandtner, Founder and CEO of Selling Power. 

I was forwarded this statistic by our managing partner, possibly as an alert to raise my game, or else. It seems our customer base is about to shrink.

My first impulse was to scoff. My second impulse was to calculate the future value of my retirement account in 2020 using today’s interest rates.

Perhaps this 80% thing bears further scrutiny.

By coincidence, I was asked by a client to assist in establishing an inside sales organization to service customers via telesales and online ordering rather than using their direct sales force. The customers in question are non-strategic and the sales are not complex, so the move makes complete sense. Still, this seems to be a data point in the trend.

What’s difficult for me to imagine is the 80% prediction. I work with large selling organizations focused on big, complex deals. I’m also hard-wired to be attuned to the emotional and political dynamics of the sales process, particularly among the buyers.

In fact, we teach sellers how to analyze customer thinking preferences and then alter their language and behavior in order to obtain better results. So, I can’t conceive of a world where this human component, so pervasive in business, becomes a non-issue in 80% of future B2B sales. 

Then I picked up a client in Manhattan and began flying regularly to LaGuardia.If it’s been a while since you flew to LaGuardia, be aware that I’m about to reveal a spoiler alert on par with being told during the opening credits of The Sixth Sense that Bruce Willis is actually dead for the entire movie.  

Nearly every seat in both Delta terminals of LaGuardia is equipped with an iPad from which you can surf, check your flight status, or order food (and alcohol) from the restaurants, or even the convenience stores. During my first trip, I sat down in a restaurant and was annoyed at being forced to use the automated iPad system to order and prepay. It had been an incredibly long day and what I really wanted was a human being to come take care of me – at least as far as dinner was concerned. Now here I was, faced with this further erosion of travel civility, unable to ask for lemon with my diet coke. 

What if the service was terrible? I wouldn’t have the option of untipping the waiter.  What if I dropped a fork?  Needed extra ketchup?  Required dressing on the side? (10 hours in high heels tends to alter one’s capacity for tolerance.)

And then, out of nowhere a waitress materialized carrying a diet coke with a lemon wedge(!) perched on the rim of the glass. (I wondered if the NSA was really that good.)I decided this automated ordering thing wasn’t so bad. 

On my second trip I discovered that I could repeat this experience: surf, watch TV, order dinner from an iPad and have it magically materialize from any seat in the terminal! Do you have a burning desire for Snapple and pumpkins seeds while seated in the far corner of Gate 10? No problem. The wait staff knows where you are and they deliver.

Women in the tri-state area unable to locate their husbands would do well to check terminals C and D at LaGuardia.

A Forrester report on trends in eCommerce notes a “growing demand for B2C-like B2B eCommerce experiences.” This, I realized, was the key to the 80% prediction.

The Delta terminal design in LaGuardia delights because it solves a host of customer problems (crowded terminal, limited restaurant seating, cranky fliers with little to do while waiting for perpetually delayed flights) through automation that mimics the online experiences we’ve already been conditioned to use.

Feels like shopping; but it’s actually ordering dinner. Looks like surfing, but it’s actually getting updates on my departure time while staying contently occupied with the New York Times until boarding. I don’t have to get out of my chair to continually look at the board.

And while these are still B2C transactions, they are out of the norm of our typical airport experience. However it took exactly two visits for me to be conditioned (and then prefer) to use the self-serve technology.

And that’s what buyers in the B2B sales cycle, offered the right type of self-serve experience, will also do.

As technology advances, some parts of the complex sale will mimic B2C online experiences for buyers, while other parts will retain their very human political and emotional dynamic. As the march toward 2020 progresses, the B2C dimension of the sale will expand while the human dimension contracts.

I still can’t quite imagine what this will look like – what sellers will be doing to automate 80% of the sales process, particularly a large, complex sale being sold to a buying committee. But it’s no longer inconceivable. After all, I’ve just used the words “LaGuardia” and “delight” in the same sentence. 

To download a PDF of Forrester’s “Key Trends in B2B eCommerce for 2013” by Andy Hoar, follow this link:  http://www.forrester.com/pimages/rws/reprints/document/82102/oid/1-LJ14GU

Hope Eyre

Written by Hope Eyre

Hope Eyre is a sales effectiveness expert who takes a roll-up-the-sleeves approach to building winning sales organizations. She regularly works side by side with sales teams around account segmentation and planning and has helped numerous complex organizations rethink they way they serve their largest accounts. Hope’s specialties include sales transformation, sales capability development, leadership development/coaching and performance management. If “sticky” could be a word to describe a consultant, it would be a perfect descriptor for Hope, as clients like to keep her around.

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