Forrester Predicts the Death of 1 Million Salesmen by 2020: Henry Schuck Disagrees

By 2020, the B2B SALESMAN WILL BE DEAD. Or at least that’s what a recent report by Forrester Research, an independent and leading research company in the marketing and technology space, has predicted.

The author, Andy Hoar, outlines the following as major contributors to this demise:

  1. B2B buyer preferences have fundamentally shifted from speaking with a sales rep 1-on-1 to a self-education ecommerce type model for purchasing.
  2. B2B seller activity remains 1-on-1 focused with forced interactions with sales reps while B2B consumer behavior has shifted to a self-service model.
  3. Ecommerce systems will eliminate 1 million B2B sales jobs by 2020 due to the shift to self-service platforms.
  4. B2B companies must respond by implementing digitally-enabled selling models and they must think beyond the front line of sales representatives and create solutions for call center agents, inside sales reps, and the rest of the sales engine network.


The crux of Mr. Hoar’s thesis is that people prefer buying online vs. from a person.

The first presumption underlying this theory is that people can first of all obtain, and second of all truly understand, the breadth and depth of B2B offerings by doing online research. Anyone who has sold a B2B software or hardware product knows that the nuances in one software versus another are vast, requiring more education that can be gleaned from an eBook or datasheet download.

Hoar states,

“The days of flipping through a B2B catalog or talking to a B2B company sales or call center representative to learn about a particular product or service are over. Now B2B buyers educate themselves online throughout most of the buying process, often wherever they find the highest-quality information and have the best browsing experience.”

The second presumption underlying this is the idea that buyers KNOW exactly what they want, which is simply impossible in a digital world where new technologies and solutions are popping up every day. Buyers are consistently inundated with products, technologies and solutions.

Consider Marketing Technology vendors and their target audience: marketers. Looking at this study of available MarTech solutions, ( ) the number of technologies between 2011 and 2015 grew more than 18x – between 2014 and 2015 the numbered doubled.

DiscoverOrg CEO Responds to Forrester's Death of the Salesman reportDiscoverOrg CEO Responds to Forrester's Death of the B2B Salesman Report

(Source: )

(Here is a link to the Supergraphic that will let you zoom to see all of the companies in 2015:

You’d have to be delusional to think that the modern marketer (the buyer in this scenario) has any idea what all these technologies are – and if they don’t know WHAT they are, then they simply can’t be researching them online and doing “pre-purchase research.” You can’t research what you don’t know exists.

And THAT is why there will be no death of a B2B Salesperson – there may be a rejiggering of them – to focus on adding consultative value and EDUCATING the buyer about what their solution set does and what it offers, but they will not die.  That is a fundamentally mistaken point. Besides, we are talking about salesmen here. Do you really think they won’t be able to sell their way out of this?

But for those of you who are on the front-lines, what do you think? What changes have you seen that affect your ability as a real-live person to sell products and services? Has the digital revolution had a positive or negative impact on your sales cycle?

Henry has over 11 years of experience managing the sales and marketing activities of fast growing information more

  • Robert

    Thanks for sharing your insights Henry. I’d add to it that first-time CEOs, especially in the SaaS startup space, do well to recognize the value an experienced sales team brings to their company. Something that automation will not replace – certainly not with a complex product.

    Beyond buyers downloading datasheets and case studies, we – as sales professionals – connect the dots for the B2B buyer. We make sense, for their unique situation, of what can be an overwhelming amount of research.

    While I’ve witnessed first-hand the “pre-purchase research” era in which we now sell, it serves for a more informed conversation at the outset. Embrace it.

    The best sales people remain the best story tellers. They not only relive the past experiences of current customers (whether or not they personally closed them), but also describe their new prospect as the protagonist of their own story. To involve the buyer, they co-write the chapters based on buyer goals and the ability of the seller’s product to meet them.

    And take heart, there are many companies that followed the DIY model of in-house development. They arrive at the realization that this approach does not scale (lack of resources, key engineer turnover, ROI, etc.) and look to outside vendors with specific domain expertise (Marketing Automation, etc). Those conversations, which can span many months and various teams, require the expertise of a sales professional.

    Contrary to this prediction, In 2020 all of the best story tellers will still have their own campfire.

  • Nicholas Maskal

    While sales in the Hadoop ecosystem may be a tad more complicated than some other enterprise software environments, it seems highly unlikely that companies will be flipping through catalogs and picking clusters out of a book anytime soon. The fact of the matter is organizations are too inexperienced with such a disruptive software to purchase this type of platform without some level of handholding, and there will always be new and disruptive software that requires the empathy and wisdom of human interaction to sell.

  • Scott Shy

    Though I respect Forrester, I also disagree. The “salesman” may be dead in 2020, but top “sales professionals” will always be in demand. The self-service model works as it pertains to replacing a clerk with a machine, but it inherently lacks meaningful, consultative, two-way dialog.

    A week, or even a month of online “learning” cannot replace the value presented by a trusted professional; someone who has dedicated years to learning their products, solutions, and how they can best benefit every individual client. I have often seen where new-found “knowledge” causes more confusion and misunderstanding than good.

    What I see in the marketplace today, is that if you are going to be successful in any sales career, mediocrity will no longer suffice. This is especially true with respect to lead generation. If you cannot quickly and succinctly distinguish your value from the myriad of others who are competing for the business, you are not likely to have sustained success.

    The self-serve model may work for buying canned goods, but it will never be a replacement for a highly-trained, ethical, and trusted advisor – someone who puts the client`s needs ahead of their own.

    • Theresa Potratz

      I love this response and I agree wholeheartedly

      • Scott Shy

        Thank you Theresa!

  • Mike Udasin

    I agree with Robert that as salesmen, we “connect the dots for the B2B buyer.” The best way to sell and connect to buyers, as Henry mention, is to educate and add value beyond just selling a product. We must provide solutions and inform business users/owners about their options.

  • andy

    Completely agree. B2B sales isnt going anywhere. Its just changing and that means that sales people need to change with it. It really should be “the death of the bad salesmen”

  • Kiel Werner

    tactics will change, but I agree the bad sales men is the one who is going to be “dying”

  • Jack Curatolo

    The forrester article should be titled, “Only closers will remain” The top of the funnel is being taken over by marketing. Digital Marketing, combined with the presiding consensus that everything should be automated, allows marketers to get a potential customer from thin air, to an MQL, to SQL, without talking to a sales person. Getting the correct content in front of the right person is getting easier and easier, educating the buyer is getting easier and easier. That being said, if your marketing team knew how to close deals, they would be on your sales team. Closers will always be in demand.

    • Theresa Potratz

      I like that! “Only closers will remain.”

  • Liz

    I think the right B2B sales people will still around, but the future will weed out the cold callers that don’t want to research their accounts and really get engrossed in how they can help their customers

  • cntactmax

    I agree with Robert, ” In 2020 all of the best story tellers will still have their own campfire”

  • Leslie

    I think if companies adapt to the changes and technologies and properly train their sales team to use these tools the Salesman will not die. I do feel the focus will be more on closing than the entire Sales Process.