It’s The End of Selling As We Know It!

Peter Weedfald with New York radio personality Mark Simone

Well, collectively, we have done it. Those of us driving a new smart digital frontier of consumer sales in the cloud have done it. We have created a kinetic maelstrom in reduced physical store traffic shifting and motivating consumers from shopping malls, from big and small box retailers to the first inch of a mobile piece of glowing glass. The bulwark posture and sluggish tactics of brick retailers does not seem to be panning out as clearly expressed through the cold steel of reported P&L’s for the year. Retailers continue to defer or ignore words like showrooming, active retail apps, cloud advantaged competitors and much more. All while ShopperTrak reported once again in 2013 holiday shopping declines in mall formats and large retailer physical stores.

According to ShopperTrak, retailers had only half the holiday store traffic in 2013 than they did in 2011. The third party research company reported declines of approximately 28 percent for 2011, 16 percent for 2012 and 15 percent for 2013 while online sales rose by more than double the results of brick and mortar sales during our past 2013 holiday season. Clearly it is the end of selling as we know it and time to do something about it.

Based on our new market realities our ability to sell to brick and click retail merchants has emphatically hyper-evolved and changed forever. As we know, our new smart digital economy causes an even greater emphasis by all companies to focus heavily on optimizing return on sales and marketing investments. Retailers are aggressively changing, charging and marching across all consumer facing channels and social environments to re-torque, re-fuel, re-muscle their business and traffic models. Profitable manufacturer strategies in 2014 must include smart selling and product pulling aggregation inclusive to brick, click, organic, social, direct, mobile, SEO and indirect channels of opportunity. And these strategies must be backed by significant levels of personal pro-selling skills, aggressive digital marketing proposals, digital accounting practices, hyper-fast measurements and speedy course corrections.

Salespeople must be subject matter experts across all viable and available consumer brick, click, mobile, apps and tool touch points presenting just how, where and when the brand will live, evolve and promulgate into omni-channel retail traffic opportunities. Just how the brand will bravely motivate and reticulate omni-channel retail traffic. The question to ask yourself is whether your sales organization has been given the dignity of digital and social networking knowledge to best compete in our new fast paced smart economy: to effectively compete, to defeat competitive camps. Have we invested in our sales organization so they can smartly invest with retail merchants to create the art of the possible to sell successfully across our new smart Omni-channel market place?

Selling, especially in our new smart digital economy is not for the faint of heart. Selling at its core is the ability to persuade your brand promise, to prove your superior product pre-claims are actually and profitably out muscled by juxtaposed competitive results. It is of course market gains through planned-organized consumer and channel command that create long term shelf productivity, long term and mutual profit results. Having said this, I believe there is just too little appreciation for our hard working, hard traveling sales people, sales leaders and those sales driving team members. The art of traditional selling was formerly referred to as the art of the possible through smart persuasion. In today’s brick, cloud, social and steel knitted micro-second algorithms, the economics of hyper-fast measurable productivity milestones with respect to product sales is both friend and enemy.

Costly advertising, promotions, public relations, social networking and all disciplines within mobile and cloud data mining and marketing apps must be on the forefront of selling, not the backend. In essence, sales results today are measured in minutes no longer in monthly cycles. This rabid change in retail and cloud sell-through cyclonic measurements demands intense education. In essence, it’s the end of selling as we know it. And in our new smart economy, the omni-channel aggregated language of digital, mobile, social and brick disciplines in retailing auger the new role and responsibilities of traditional manufacturer sales people.

In this coming year, salespeople will need to change their skill sets and adjunct their roles into newly integrated and united retail-cloud merchant governance. In most retail organizations today, cloud and brick merchants remain separate in P&L, in merchandising selection, even in many cases price and availability. Respectfully, let me be the first to harbinger a disciplined “Omni” change for all merchants in 2014 and beyond. This change will unite brick and click merchants under one seamless merchandising organization, one traffic focused P&L umbrella (as opposed to today’s separate organizations) creating a smart digital matrix of omni-channel opportunity. My auger also portends and demands personal protraction of skill sets for all manufacturer sales representatives shedding less relevant brick-sales-mechanicals while adding smart digital persuasions and proposals for your brand, product and services. Creating a true omni-channel merchant and manufacturer brand trafficking command post. Here are a few of the many changes and differences for the manufacturer sales role for years to come:

1. Omni-channel merchants, omni-channel salespeople: As individual merchants become responsible for both brick and cloud traffic, buying and selling success your sales force will be expected, charged and forced to do the same. This means all manufacturers’ sales members must be trained and re-developed into savvy subject matter experts across all internet dynamics, digital marketing tools and apps, intercept promotions, mobile marketing tools e-commerce triggers and tools, social networking disciplines, digital price triggers: all retail merchandise Omni-channel disciplines and measurements.

2. Selling product commodities becomes all about omni-channel presence and pricing, not necessarily about best of breed selling skills. The dynamics of new smart selling needs to include a matrix-chess-board like approach to multi-modal push and pull in congress with relevant digital market drivers. Manufacturer sales organizations must become subject matter experts to sell their brands digital capabilities, to best exercise success even while competitive price dynamics threaten to tear down hard earned brand and product value.

3. Individual sales commission/bonuses will be replaced by broadly shared team bonuses: it takes a sales and marketing village to earn shelf space, it takes a sales and marketing village to ensure you earn and keep that same omni-channel shelf space through successful hour by hour pull-through sales.

4. Selling speed in congress with digital speed out muscles any traditional sales process: The internet is Darwin on speed. It offers the fastest unionization of push and pull on the planet. Omni-channel selling is all about capitalizing on the Darwinism of speed and productivity. Increases within the congress of brick and cloud Omni-channel productivity delivers increases in manufacturer and retail profitability. Manufacturer sales organizations founded, tuned and digitally advantaged for rapid merchant response to consumer demand and dynamics will gain brand, market and profit advantage.

5. Selling the value and investments of your brand and products: to any merchant starts with promoting your company presence across the internet, mobile devices, social networks, content apps, email marketing, brand apps and Omni-channel presence. Our sales teams need the overarching clarity and internal education of our brand and product pull power in this new smart digital market landscape. These are core articulating and pulsating sales tools and will become the standard bill of fare for manufacturer success in our new digitally enhanced omni-channel market.

Our new economic reality, across a multitude of digital apps and technologies designed to envelope and engage consumers home, business and mobile lives is smartly collapsing and merging physical retail with digital retail opportunities. Merchants are hyper-advancing, hyper-educating themselves in smart digital merchandising skills needed for successful omni-channel retail buying and selling. We must also docent and educationally prepare our most important manufacturer sales team members to advance in the same way. If not, our sales language, push and pull capabilities and merchant presentations will fall deaf against the mighty rule of retail Omni-channel change and union within our new smart digital economy.

Peter Weedfald is president of Gen One Ventures and author of Green Reign Leadership

Peter Weedfald is President of Gen One Ventures, a sales, marketing and brand-product consulting company. He has served as SVP, Chief Marketing Officer of Circuit City, SVP of Sales and Marketing in North America for Samsung, and SVP of global marketing and EEVP, GM & Chief Marketing Officer for ViewSonic.
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  • John Repie

    That is a pretty big prediction, that merchants across .com and stores will combine in the coming years. Should be very interesting and makes sense that greater and more profitable success can be gained under one team. I will ask merchants specifically if they agree and have such plans.

  • Steve Hickson


    Terrific observations and sage advice as always. Look no further than Best Buy, their sluggish holiday sales, and their corresponding 28% stock free fall. For many, the cloud has become the preferred method to transact to the point where FedEx and UPS could barely keep up this holiday season. Convenience, speed, superior online merchandising/support and customer satisfaction(which continues to improve each year) are all critical factors driving this monumental paradigm shift in the world of retail sales. Your omni channel recommendation is a must for those retailers who not only want to survive…but also thrive.

  • Bob P.

    Mammoth declines in retail store traffic is a much bigger issue and perhaps, perhaps Omni-channel focus can help sooth and course correct the great costs of each retail store versus the same sales and revenue related costs to sell the same on line. Although very quiet in the press, this is a huge concern and issue to be solved. Down sizing is no longer the way, most of that work is already done. Well done and thought out Peter. I agree with your future view.

  • Frances A

    Merchants on line have an enormous digital leg up over retail only brick merchants and your points are well taken and spot on. They should and will combine over time for speed and Omni-channel peak performance.

  • Carol Ciance

    I wonder what types of training and development program we should engage in to sharpen up selling skills on digital marketing?

  • Fred Towns

    This is a great article. It is, as you say, our responsibility to be experts and knowledgeable about all of the goods we sell. If it is not clear and simple to access, either by a sales representative or online tools, the customer will move on. This will be the table stakes for technology and the teams that drive this with a full online and in-store execution will win!

  • Salvatore Tofano

    I couldn’t help but hum the song, “It’s the End of the World As We Know it” by REM as I read your article! But I feel fine!

    Great article and very salient points and recommendations on the convergence of technology , digital and omnichannel strategies and changing dynamics of the retail sales funnel. While the decline of in store traffic and increase of on line sales is not surprising, it’s refreshing to know that many sales and marketing professionals will need to adapt and heighten their skills and navigate across digital, technology and multiple channels to stay competitive and maintain and bolster customer retention.

  • Al DiGuido

    Pete…You make many great points in your warning to those that own, run and/or manage retail businesses. What’s been lost is a focus on the customer. All of us have had a front row seat for the significant shift in consumer media consumption and commerce patterns. Many retailers and salespeople have been in a state of denial about the urgency required to become astute in this new way of engaging customers. Sadly…all of this delay has cost many jobs and businesses to be lost. Not sure why so many have waited SO long to heed your warnings. Not following your advice and stepping up to address this HUGE gap of knowledge and business acumen in 2014 will spell continued disaster for the legacy players. For those who embrace the new retailing reality..there will be a GREAT opportunity to gain market share, incremental profits and new customers. Good work.

  • MacgruberStl

    Great insight as always. Interestingly in large-screen TVs, on-line sales are barely up vs. LY and previous years. Trend has always been @ 10-12% of big box retailer weekly sales coming from .com and this year it has only increased to @ 15% thru mid-Jan. Cyber Monday saw double-digit increases but most other weeks are in the 2-3 pt. range.

  • Renee Azoulay

    Peter has once again hit the nail on the head in his ever so eloquent way! I agree 100% that the sales environment is significantly different now compared to 5 or even 3 years ago. The difference is so radical that it impacts people at all ends of the sales cycle. What is particularly important about what Peter brings forward is the need for top management to train sales teams for the new selling environment. Do many of these leaders really have any idea what is happening within their own sales teams? I seriously doubt it. For those, Peter’s article would come as a rude awakening.

  • Van Elsworth

    Along with subject matter experts, the concept I see that is lost and would win more brick and mortar retail customers is coupling being a SME with customer service skills. The perception is that retail hires "cheap" "young" "rude" labor. This is a lack of understanding in the marketplace that customers will return to brick and mortar if the "experience" is a helpful and positive one, think Starbucks. Offering better customer service training, higher wages and job stability to help end the churn and burn – combine "old school" retail atmosphere with "new school" tech and the customers will return. Agree with you Peter, but also believe retail needs to give consumers a greater reason to come to the store experience.

  • Tom Moch

    Great article Peter! It captures what was, what is and what is to come.

    Merchandising mimics cyclically driven phases of life, so it should not serve as an enormous mystery where we are arrived today. However, today’s routes to market (although broader and technically more interactive) are to me reminiscent of a time when Sears & Roebuck sold and delivered DIY home kits in the United States of America during the early to mid 1900’s through its printed catalog and innovative logistics. It was a game changer…

    Savvy sales representatives will carry on building and maintaining long-lasting relationships as well as developing expertly tuned skills i.e. prospecting, qualifying, gaining commitment, honing solution sales skill (how does this fit the consumer’s need) , competitive landscape depth , service level and passionately having fun in their role.

    Twenty years from now there will be a new emerging merchandizing means to market and those who recognize its opportunity will benefit and those who do not adapt cannot survive.

  • TJ Gillmore

    Peter, we need you to lead the charge not only in your writing voice, but also inside the hallways of our CE company. as you probably know, competition is tougher than ever and shelf space is getting harder and harder to gain and more costly. Your sales thinking is so smart and forward thinking. I will share with my colleagues and senior management. I hope they will want to discuss further with you for detailed insights. Thank you!

  • Randy Coor

    As a merchant these words and Peter’s advice ring very true. Regardless if I am responsible directly for .com, I must be very focused on learning and studying so many digital and social tools. So much to learn!

  • Gary Vosburgh

    Love Mark Simone, love your thinking and advice! Sharing!

  • Peter Goodnough

    Great analysis as always from Peter Weedfald – the ShopperTrak numbers from ’13 should be striking fear into the hearts of brick & mortar across the board, but al the more so in electronics. Between HH Gregg (down 11% for the holiday due to anemic promotion) to Best Buy (down 1% due to aggressive promotion) – there’s no "goldilocks" panacea to beating Amazon on price. Turning your cost structure into an advantage through the hybridization of a digital and physical retail approach is brilliant if it can be executed – who is in the best position to take up the challenge?

  • JZupnik

    Great article Peter. Retail had the opportunity to recognize many years ago the coming dynamic and change. The ability to create an Omni-Channel environment that allowed them to maximize the value of the space or right size the space should have begun many years ago. Ability to identify as early on when the tipping point was approaching on products and categories would be more convenient / comfort level reached to shop online (allowing to expand product assortments online and saving inventory and space in store for products that customers still want to touch and feel prior to purchase). Retail would have been ahead with the ability to continue to support the convenience of pickup in store, and handling that traffic opportunity appropriately. On-line is now trying to determine how to deliver same day (still not convenient for someone to rush home and try to be there in a window of time), or pickup locations. Interesting turn of events. Brick has not figured out their advantage with getting it right in the click world and having the best of both. The click has grown so large on click but running into issues with delivery and pickup. The base of it all was and will always be having as much of a pulse of the customer (end user, not want a vendor wants, not what a retail merchant / brand wants). Delivering on customer expectations will lead to the results we are looking for.

  • John Merrell

    There was a time when walking into a retail specialty store allowed you the chance to see both unique brands and "limited distribution" customized models.

    And almost always the top tier models were never found in "warehouse clubs’ or among the collective hive of trans-shippers. Think that time is over? Watch companies still hold pretty tightly to their distribution — at least in comparison to the CE world.

    I suspect as CE devices take on the humanistic interplay seen in the movie "Her" there will be more selective customization. And perhaps there will be some split once again between commodity products and those with higher margins and a protected image. Perhaps.

  • Mark S

    Yesterday I read various news articles regarding several big box retailers preparing to close stores and down size. Your article is very timely and surely more consolidation is coming in physical stores with expansion in .com ahead. And yes I agree merchants will be re-organized under one Omni team. I am going to email your article to several merchants for their thoughts. I am very sure they will agree and pass this article to others inside the building. Well done and said Peter.

  • mikepalazzolo

    Totally agree with the analysis in this article. Sales for both retailers as well as manufacturers has changed forever and is evolving at an incredible pace. Only those that react quickly and smartly will survive. This is an especially difficult challenge for large brick and mortar retailers who attempt to balance their online and in store sales. The high SG&A costs associated with having sometimes thousands of physical locations is going to be a bigger challenge every year going forward when competing against the low overhead .com business.

  • Dan Cole

    Sobering but all important for anyone involved in the sales process. Wait a minute. All of us, at all levels are involved in the sales process! So Peter’s words ring particularly true. The promise of Digital anything should unite us. Ignore digital realities and it will do nothing but divide us. Silos kill. All organizations need to jump aboard the digital bandwagon and pursue sales success together. Salespeople are merely the front line. They must defend that front line with every means possible, not just an analog orientation meeting

  • CathyHalligan

    Don’t disagree with any points. But, there are more powerful insights from the winners and actions to add to your list. Yes traffic to retailer locations is declining overall. But, there are winners in the sea of losers. There is too much clutter — too much retail square footage and too many products with increasing demands on all our time to sift through it all. Clarity of Purpose, delivering on a compelling market need, a crisp value proposition and clear customer communication consistently delivered along with the points you raise about omni channel, produce the winners. Who really is compelled to drive to, park and walk into a Sears, JC Penny, ToysRUs, or a host of other bland, uninspiring, poor service retailers? However, you see lines out the door, all times of the day (that move fast) for Apple, Trader Joe’s, Philz Coffee and In ‘N Out Burger.

  • Luis Basurto

    I agree with this deep analysis of how digital has become part of the selling process, we are witness of the rapid change in the sales business, it looks like digital sales are growing faster and I think for some products (specifically small products) digital sales can grow more in the near future and for other products sales will continue in a traditional way because humans need to see and touch before make a final decision, can you imagine when the deliveries through drones be real?, when at the final click on the digital sales process you can choose between, DHL, FedEx or Drones? I should call B2C 3.0..

  • Julie Bottoms, SPHR

    I’m working on a search for an oustanding retail VP of Marketing to lead us to the next level…

  • BIll C

    I totally agree with you Peter. We have always followed an Omni-channel structure. Our people who interface with shoppers seamlessly cross channels. As you suggest, our sales compensation plan is based on a team-orientation. Success is measured in customer care and not in dollar sales (or margin dollars). And, our support departments (merchandising, marketing and creative) are completely secular. For example, there is no web marketing department—just a marketing department. I agree about the speed and complexity of 21st century commerce. Well written, well said!