In 2015, Forrester predicted that one million of the 4.5 million B2B sales professionals in existence will be out of a job by 2020. The firm explained there are currently four types of B2B salespeople.
Order Takers: Reps who sell simple solutions in simple buying environments. According to Forrester, they’ll see a 37% decline, which translates to 600,000 jobs lost.
Explainers: Reps who sell more complex solutions in a relatively simple buying environment. They’ll see a 27% decline, or 400,000 jobs lost.
Navigators: Reps who sell fairly simple solutions in complex buying environments. They’ll see a 17% decline, or 150,000 jobs lost.
Consultants: Reps who sell complex products in complex buying environments. They’ll see a 10% increase, or 50,000 jobs gained.
Will these jobs vanish immediately? Not necessarily. Forrester Research principal analyst Mary Shea, PhD, argues that 62% of salespeople in 2020 will still be Order Takers or Explainers.
I agree, as the window of time is too narrow to see substantive swings. However, you will be hard-pressed to find an Order Taker, Explainer, or Navigator that doesn’t want to fight hand over fist for one of the 550,000 Consultant sales roles that are expected to exist by 2020. For those already sitting in the Consultant role, watch out -- you have a million people gunning for your job in the next few years.
But let’s back up for a minute. Before we get to the future, it’s instructive to examine the past events that led to this state of affairs.
In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google with the mission of “organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful.”
Google gave people the ability to find information on their own terms and on their own time. Marketers needed to win back the attention of the consumers flocking to Google (and abandoning more traditional marketing channels), so they turned to digital content marketing.
This shift didn’t happen overnight -- it was a radical change in the way the world consumed information. If you look at the trend line for the search term “Content Marketing” from 2004 to 2017, you’ll see it began taking off around 2012.
More interesting still, global spend on content marketing fully surpassed $100 billion globally in 2012. It sped up even more between 2012 and 2016, ballooning up to $200 billion.
Once search became the primary method people used to answer their questions, businesses had to stay relevant, helpful, and involved by making their websites and blogs their customers' primary resources -- not salespeople.
Today, content marketing supplants the need for Order taker, Explainer, and Navigator salespeople, which is why these jobs are on the decline.
These jobs aren’t gone quite yet; however, content marketing provides virtually endless access to information to buyers -- and simultaneously gives them the ability to ignore any information they want. In other words, most prospects no longer need a sales rep to make a buying decision.
We can see this behavior reflected by hundreds of metrics. Here are just five compelling statistics:
I can’t predict the future, but I can develop a few hypotheses of what will happen from here.
In the first scenario, companies develop a breakthrough technology that enables buyers to engage with them in the absence of a human. Some companies are already on, or headed down, this path. They offer chat platforms to businesses to communicate with their website visitors. Most company websites receive hundreds if not thousands of daily visitors -- but they don’t have anyone to engage these potential customers in real time.
This space already includes large and rapidly growing businesses (for example, Intercom has raised over $100 million from 29 investors). I think these companies can -- and likely will -- do more.