I recently had a conversation with a young man who is working for a large distributor of industrial products. He is hoping to be promoted to the sales force soon and we talked about what it takes to be successful in his newly chosen career. In this case, he is intelligent, has a university degree in history, is well spoken, articulate and would probably make a great choice for a sales position. It might be a mistake, however.
The company is firmly entrenched in the old economy. Sales people continue to make personal calls on busy purchasing agents. They are not given email addresses or even smart phones. The distributor has a catalog of 10's of thousands of products and they expect their sales people to learn, retain and regurgitate product knowledge that will result in ever-increasing sales. I'm not sure the purchaser has the time, or the patience, for this anymore. Most people searching for solutions to problems turn to the internet for answers - isn't that what you are doing now?
Here's what I know for sure - everything the internet touches, it changes. This includes sales training, product knowledge, solution selling, distribution, pricing - everything. I would be more excited about this young man's prospects if he were charged with spending his time creating relationships based on a willingness to provide solutions when something goes wrong. Something will always go wrong either with the customer's business, requiring a new product, service or idea. Something will always go wrong at the seller's end with delivery, product failure or technological change.
Spending our time as sales people, learning how to create relationships based on honesty, authenticity and integrity will result in more sales, more profits and more success over a longer period of time. Now, this also assumes that a sales person learns their product and service, the competition, how to respond to requests and problems, and how to interact in a highly interconnected world. People expect replies and solutions instantly and if they don't get them from you, there is someone else who is building a relationship with your client who is more than eager to supply the answers.
My suggestion to my young friend is to learn as much as possible about the industries his company services and become an expert in internet based communications, social networking, and so on. Post a profile on Linkedin, join some industry groups, and start a conversation that is professional and learn, learn, learn.