There has been a great deal of talk about how the role of the salesperson is changing. This includes the extreme proposal that salespeople are not needed at all. Being a salesperson at heart, I am unlikely to gravitate towards my own extinction. I do think the role is changing significantly from that of an augmentation of the product or service to that of an advisor supported by the Brand Promise.
Selling Was: Salespeople have historically been used to fill the inadequacies in the products or services made by their employers, and create relationships with customers. The result: customers feel connected to the salesperson, who is accountable for product or service performance, more than the company.
Selling Is Now: Through the success of Dell, Amazon, and Google, selling now often happens without the aid of a salesperson. The customer arrives at the purchase decision independent of the manufacturer or salesperson. In some cases, particularly when involving technical complexity or variable services, third party providers have emerged to help customers with the buying process. These VARs, consultants, and specialists advise the customer and charge for their time. Since they are not employed by the manufacturer (their business card has a different name on it), they are not identified with the success of the product or service or as accountable for outcomes.
Selling Will Be: Manufacturers will rely more heavily on the Brand Promise to frame the relationship with the customer. Salespeople will increasingly be outside the manufacturer and offering services to compliment the product -- often incorporating several products into a solution. Products will become increasingly standardized and manufacturers will have decreasing capacity (and inclination) to handle exceptions. This will turn the 80/20 rule up side down -- and customers will be served if they are a good fit, and the customers requiring an exception will go to different manufacturers catering to their profile.
The missing component: How do align these outside salespeople with the Brand Promise.