How is the Internet Changing Sales? It's too Soon to Tell

Last Updated Sep 14, 2011 3:28 PM EDT

If you think you know how the Internet is changing your sales process, you're probably wrong.

For example, numerous pundits have pointed out that "customers are more informed" because of the Internet, and have used that "fact" to build a case for shifting sales resources from outbound to inbound. However, while it's true that customers have information at their fingertips, the Internet creates other conditions that make outbound sales even more important.

For example, the pressure of globalization (which is fueled by the Internet) has created a hyper-competitive environment for everybody. As a result, many customers don't have the time to do their own job, let alone learn about your product category.

It's ludicrous to believe that customers will have the time to become subject matter experts on everything they buy, which is why there's still plenty of demand for outbound sales.

Now, that's just one example. The truth is that we still don't know what changes the Internet will wreak, and we won't really know for at least a decade... or longer.
To understand why, you need to understand how corporate cultures absorb new technology. While there's been plenty written on this subject, it's fair to say that the process can be broken up into three distinct phases in terms of how the technology is viewed and used.
  • PHASE #1: ADOPTION. While the technology is being adopted, it is used in a manner that's compatible with whatever technology is already familiar. The telephone, for instance, was originally seen as a more convenient form of telegraphy. If an executive wanted to send a message to another executive, he would give the message to a clerk, who would call a clerk at the other company, who would write down the message, and then hand-carry it to the recipient.
  • PHASE #2: INTEGRATION. After the technology has been fully adopted, people begin experimenting with the tool in new ways. In the case of the telephone, it took several decades for businesses to figure out how to use it in new and different ways: negotiating, telesales, closing verbal contracts, and so forth. all the other elements of 20th century business telecommunications.
  • PHASE #3: INVISIBILITY. When the potentialities of a certain technology have been completely fulfilled, it becomes "invisible" -- an assumed part of every business environment. The telephone slipped into that state in the 1940s and has remained so (with a few changes, like teleconferencing) ever since.
A similar transformation took place with the personal computer. During Phase #1, the PC was widely viewed as a cheaper version of a word-processor. While it was capable of calculations (via spreadsheets), many executives considered it more a device intended for a secretary than for an executive. Even today there are CEOs inside highly traditional companies who believe that a PC on the desk demeans the status of a top executive. However, with the exception of these few holdouts, the PC is now in Phase #3, Everyone in the business world knows what a PC can do and there are unlikely to be many surprises.

The Internet is just entering Phase #2. For example, many corporate websites are simple "brochure-ware" - collections of data that previously would have been presented in hard-copy format. Many e-commerce sites are little more than online versions of mail-order catalogs, with the same presentation and same methods of ordering. In these cases, the Internet is still being used in exactly the same way as the old hard-copy technologies of the past.

As Phase #2 continues to unfold, businesses are learning to use the Internet in ways that are quite different than their pre-Internet counterparts. For example, Internet-connected tablets, and interactive apps, are quite different, in terms of usage patterns and application, than their hard-copy analogs, or indeed of their PC/browser analogs. Social networking, too, is something quite new and companies are still struggling to understand what role it should play.

In other words, you can expect nearly every aspect of your sales process to change in a variety of small and large ways. Furthermore, that process will accelerate as further technological advances inject even more innovation into an already rapidly evolving environment. As wild as the ride has been so far, what's going to take place over the next ten years will be even more dramatic, as corporate culture and sales organizations adapt.

Relative to this, I suppose I should mention that I'm currently working on a book entitled "The End of Sales As We Know It" with Howard Stevens, the CEO of Chally, which deals with these change.

If you're interested (and you ought to be), there's an early chapter that you can download as a special report. I'm not sure how long it's going to be available, so you may want to download it now for future reading. HERE IS THE LINK.
I truly believe that the chapter/special report contains information that's essential to anybody who plans on being in sales over the next ten years. It goes considerably deeper into the subject matter than is possible in a blog, and because Howard is involved, it based on some pretty hefty research.

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