Will content marketing ever eliminate the need for salespeople?

It seems like every disruptive Internet trend leads to predictions of the death of an old trend. Print is dead. Cold calls are dead. SEO is dead. 

Now with the rise of content marketing, we’re wondering if salespeople will be replaced—or, in other words, will we be able to automate marketing processes to the point where we can lead people all the way through their buying journey, eliminating the need for sales reps? 

It’s true that a sales rep’s approach may be changing in line with today’s buyer journey, and ideally marketing has replaced some of the prospecting at the top of the funnel. And the result may be that we need fewer sales reps, meaning we have to focus on hiring the really qualified, well-trained, consultative sales person that truly helps prospects diagnose their real problems. 

For example, a few months ago, I had a health issue, and it was a little bit of a scare—I had some abdominal pain and my doctor decided to order a CT scan and a colonoscopy. 

Because I’m an Internet guy, what do you think I did as soon as I got home? 

Of course I turned on my computer, went straight to Google, and started typing in “CT scan,” “colonoscopy,” and “abdominal pain.” 

30 minutes later, I’m convinced I’m dying of colon cancer!

As soon as I got the results back and talked to my doctor, he figured out what was really wrong, and it turned out to be something very minor. But I scared myself because I’m not a good doctor. I’m not good at diagnosing my own health issues. 

But I still felt compelled to hop on WebMD and use the symptom checker to try to figure it out myself, even though I’m not qualified.

There are great tools on the Web with endless blogs and discussions of people talking about their symptoms (type in “symptoms of cancer,” and it’s endless, and it can scare you really quickly!)—but they are unhelpful, even dangerous, if you don’t know what you’re doing! 

I still required my doctor to give me the correct diagnosis—and I think it’s the same in B2B sales. 

When our prospects are in pain, their first tendency is not to pick up the phone and call a sales rep, because they know that he or she has a vested interest in trying to sell them something. 

So what do they do? They hop on the Web and start typing symptoms and self-diagnose the problems in their business—and more often than not, they’re wrong, just like I was. 

They end up buying a piece of software that they think will solve their problems, but it doesn’t. It turns out that they needed process redefinition, more staff and more data to make that software work. 

The need for professionally trained sales reps that can behave like doctors and truly diagnose what’s wrong is critical in today’s world of content abundance. 

It does place a higher level of expectation and ethics on salespeople today—to be that consultative professional and diagnose the problem. But it also puts a burden on us as content marketers as well—we need to put good, responsible tools in front of prospects to help them come to the right conclusion. 

Our job as marketers in most complex B2B situations is to create the awareness, develop the top-of-funnel engagement around what the high probability pains are, and then create an engagement that naturally refers to a professional B2B sales rep who can correctly diagnose the problems and provide genuinely useful solutions.

Take a look at the infographic below to see how content marketing should complement the complex B2B sales cycle.

B2B Marketing Zone