Despite Digital Age, Sales Staff Remain Important

April 25, 2012

The Internet has been a boon for consumers. It allows online shoppers to compare prices, order direct from the manufacturer or a discount site, and enjoy the convenience of shopping anytime, anywhere from the comfort of one’s Internet device. This is great for consumers looking for a deal, but what about the salesmen and women who focus on personal interaction as a way to drive sales?

Given the Internet’s prominence, sales folks have seen heavy layoffs in some industries. Yet, not all companies have followed the same path towards achieving leaner operations and meeting tougher competition. For some businesses, sales people have never been more important. While the Internet may offer consumers cheaper prices, there is no substitute for personal relationships and interaction, which can be just as powerful motivators for consumers.

To discuss how direct sales and staff are impacting entrepreneurship and small business, both in America and abroad, the National Chamber Foundation (NCF) is hosting a May 2nd CEO Leadership Series luncheon featuring Steve Van Andel, chairman of Amway Company and former Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Amway, one of the largest direct selling businesses, boasts 20,000 employees and a 3 million-strong distributor network operating in more than 80 countries and territories around the world. Van Andel will talk about the challenges facing today’s businesses and the commonsense solutions that can boost the U.S. economy and foster long-term job growth and prosperity.

In sales, the Internet has simultaneously offered opportunities and threats. Businesses can use the Internet to reach new consumers, but with price increasingly becoming the all-important factor for savvy Internet shoppers, some companies have sacrificed sales staff for online efforts and retail distributors. One long-term result of this approach can be seen in the example of Fuller Brush Co., the cleaning-products maker that has long been a hallmark of American door-to-door sales. While the company, now in Chapter 11, maintains 10,000 independent salespeople, it has also become increasingly reliant on other sales channels, namely the Internet and retailers. This is part of a wider trend of downsizing sales staff.  The Economist reports:

Drug firms cut their salesforces by a whopping 30% between 2006 and 2011, according to ZS Associates, a consultancy that specialises in sales. Many "field" or travelling salesmen have been replaced by cheaper telephone salespeople. American retailers have cut sales staff to the point where they are probably missing out on business.

Amway, however, with its dedicated sales team and global distribution network, has seen sales growth in 11 of the past 12 years and in 9 out of its top 10 markets, where they drive significant entrepreneurship.  In these markets, personal relationships are important commerce drivers, which is why Amway’s reliance on direct sales has proven so effective there. It would seem then that while some businesses have embraced the Internet as a sales tool (sometimes to the detriment of sales staff), other businesses continue to rely on personal relationships and human interaction.

Join us for this important discussion with Steve Van Andel on U.S. economic growth and sales. You can register for the event online, and be sure to check back with NCF for updates on this valuable and informative program.