A Very Cold Call
We Millennials are killing yet another industry, it appears. Recent trends show that business development and sales professionals are having a very hard time finding work with companies that are being started by millennials. This has been going on for a while, but people are only now starting to take notice. Companies that only sell products via their website (and maybe Amazon) have completely forgone hiring sales reps in favour of bringing on talented digital marketing and social media experts who can do a soft sell of their products online. The soft sell, or letting people discover you without badgering them via phone or email, is a form of inbound marketing and much preferred by people under 35.
This isn't a new phenomenon. As a generation raised on the internet, millennials are far more likely to do our own research into a product before showing up to buy it. Craig McDonald, a Car Sales Expert in Halifax, Nova Scotia said:
“It’s been a real adjustment. I came into the industry and a big part of the job was learning as much about each model as possible so you could sell it to prospective buyers. Now people come in knowing exactly what they want, and can’t be talked into buying anything else. Cheaper, more expensive. Extra warranty. Doesn’t matter. You could beg them! Doesn’t matter.”
The increase of “self-sufficient buyers” has lead to many retail companies cutting their sales staff, as well as a rise of “No Sales Pressure” companies. “There’s even auto sellers now that have no lots,” McDonald said, laughing, but clearly exasperated. “Just pictures of cars online. You pick the car, they drive it to you. If you like it, you buy it. It’s kind of completely breaking the business model.”
Car sales aren’t the only industry feeling the pinch though. Furniture sales are another big one. Instead of having a salesperson follow you around as you lay on a mattress, try out a new couch, or recline in a La-Z-Boy chair… you have stores like Ikea. No pressure sales, no commission sales reps, and no rush to get you out the door if you’re only looking to buy an ottoman. We saw a collapse in the traditional salesperson model with sister stores Best Buy and Future Shop. Whereas Future Shop (Where I once worked, full disclosure) used high-pressure sales tactics, with salespeople making most of their income from commission… Best Buy focused on customer service and product experts. Future Shop went out of business. Best Buy is alive and well.
As you can see, the trend is most obvious in retail sales, but it’s hitting other industries just as hard. New social media marketing companies are forgoing the use of business development altogether, instead choosing to use digital tactics to attract clients. Localized YouTube ads attached to videos giving small business advice. Engaging social media accounts that reach out to small businesses on a less formal level. Even handing out old fashion (but very fancy) flyers highlighting the URL to their ultra-modern, eye-catching websites.
This inbound marketing is proving to be much cheaper than old-school business development and immediately gives credibility to companies working in the digital space. After all, why should a company that specializes in digital marketing NEED a living, breathing business development representative? Online ads, social media, and their website should be more than enough. And, as it turns out, it is. These companies don’t go hiring business development people after the initial push. Instead, they focus on bringing on Digital Marketing Experts that can help grow their business, as well as work directly with clients once they're on board. There’s also a surge in hiring creative professionals (Copywriters, graphic designers, and video producers) to keep the inbound marketing fresh.
Personally — I’ve created inbound marketing campaigns for a swath of business types including dental offices, motivational speakers, beauty companies, government agencies, and even the aforementioned car dealerships. All the campaigns increased their top metrics (be they new sales, higher attendance, or new patients), and the companies never returned to hard-sale business development.
Jonathan Parsons, a hedge fund manager in Toronto was quick to say: “I won’t invest in any startup that has sales reps in their marketing plan.” He reasoned, “That’s not how sales happen anymore. Young people, say 45 and under, want to think it was their idea to buy something. Their idea to seek your company out. You can’t be pushy. That way of doing things, that generation, is dying off. I don’t want to see you trying to appeal to a way of doing business that’ll be dead in ten years.”
That doesn’t mean that salespeople and business development reps are going extinct, though. But they may be on the endangered species list. As more and more young people start businesses and want to avoid the pushy tactics of older generations, they’ll likely turn to inbound marketing to build up their client or customer base. It will take a while for more established companies to jump on board. Most companies are run by Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, after all. And they’ll likely grandfather in their sales and business development techniques for a while to come. But with the next generation of buyers and business owners being vehemently opposed to the old ways, the end of the hard sale may very well be inevitable.