A recent survey of Ignites readers concluded that sales and marketing professionals are quickly headed for extinction due to technology, but is that really the case?
The short answer: No way.
The argument that technology will replace talent is a stretch at best. Sure, technology brings efficiencies, but that’s been happening for the past 100 years. At the end of the day, talent always trumps technology. What was the last great company that had terrific technology, but little or no sales and marketing expertise?
In my work in executive search across the investment industry, I see every day that having top sales and marketing talent on your team has never been more important. If anything, there is a talent shortage for world-class sales and marketing executives, and that dearth of talent is holding back many companies with hockey-stick like revenue plans.
Don’t Call the Undertaker
Rumors about the demise of sales and marketing talent in the investment industry are greatly exaggerated for several reasons.
First, great firms and great teams are the direct result of great people. Think about the impact that Jim Jessee or Carol Geremia have had with their clients at MFS or George Reidel as the Head of Financial Institutions at T. Rowe Price. Clients view sales and marketing executives as the face of the firm, whether in presentations, calls or meetings. Quite often in the investment industry, deals are sold – not bought, or negotiated – not purchased off the rack. Without sales and marketing people, transactions would never get off the ground. Could a cloud-based software platform talk through the objections of a skeptical CFO? Can a piece of technology hold the hand of a nervous Chief Marketing Officer?
Second, the current disintermediation of sales teams isn’t correlated to technology or “machines,” as the survey noted, nor the declining relevance of the sales function. Rather, firms are taking advantage of the current economic environment to top grade their workforce. This usually results in staff reductions of about 10%. For some firms, which realized they’ve over-expanded or over-channelized, cutbacks are designed to realign resources for growth. Some firms, such as Allianz, SSGA and PIMCO, have consolidated their many sales teams into one sales organization. The inevitable result is a duplication in leadership or in sales regions. In the short term, that spells pain in the form of layoffs, but in the long term, the re-allocation of resources translates into growth. Other firms are taking a red line to their most expensive talent, but at the same time, they are cross-training younger, less experienced, less costly sales talent for bigger roles. Whatever the reason, this cyclical or event-driven resource realignment does not spell the end of sales and marketing teams.
Third, the current transformation of sales and marketing roles is a positive reflection of the innovation desperately needed in a maturing industry. In today’s market, there is no room for individuals who aren’t championing new solutions and aren’t willing to adapt to new technology. Old-school sales professionals who aren’t keeping up with technology or have failed to mention that their company’s products or sales processes are outdated should be offered a way out. If you recognize a problem and aren’t part of the solution, you are the problem.
Finally, with regard to marketing professionals, there is simply no substitute for talented people who can identify new markets or new opportunities to deepen or retain relationships. Big data, marketing automation, CRM and other tools can help, but a marketing operation without strategic marketing leaders and supporting staff is a headless horseman. Marketing strategists and product experts see where the puck is headed from a buyer’s standpoint. Then their teams, including channel and digital experts, guide the messaging and product development. Technology is a tool to support marketing talent, not a replacement for it.
The Bottom Line
We have deep respect and admiration for our fellow Ignites readers, but from our vantage point, we’re not seeing the end of marketing and sales professionals as we know it. In fact, we can’t find enough of them to power the growth of companies starved for top-tier talent.