Top Sales Reps can avoid obsolescence by evolving with the marketThis post is especially for HR Leaders and Business Partners in support of sales. Sales personnel will also benefit from the indicators of obsolescence.  These are available in the downloadable tool: The 13 Symptoms of Sales Rep Obsolescence.



The Problem:

The buying environment has dramatically changed.  Most sales forces, however, have failed to adapt – especially at the Rep level.  It may be 2 years, it may be 5 before they are unemployed. It will be because of obsolescence – a failure to evolve with the market. We always see some Reps get left behind because they didn’t evolve. It didn’t matter how much training or communication they received – they were simply “old dogs that couldn’t learn new tricks.”


The buyer environment has changed to be:


  • More social
  • More informed (meaning they already know about your solutions)
  • Needing different solutions because their consumers have changed
  • Coming from a new market segment that has not been a usual target


Many Sales Reps have continued to rely on:


  • Traditional relationships
  • Providing information (inward-out)
  • Not recognizing changes in their customers’ consumers’ patterns
  • Staying within their traditional comfort zone of target markets


The Solution:

Ask the question: “Will today’s Reps be the right Reps for tomorrow?” Then,


  • Assess your Reps to identify those that aren’t evolving
  • Either upgrade them or move them out


This is easiest to explain through a contrasting story.  It is about 2 sales reps: Rick and Domina.  


Rick is a 35-year veteran salesman.  Rick, a perennial sales star, will be in the top 5 this year, too. Rick is unaware of his need to save himself from obsolescence. 


Domina has been in sales for 12 years.  Domina was a top 5 performer for the past 4 of 5 years.  She will not be a top performer this year. 


If you just look at performance, you may miss the future consequences.  Look at this graph:


contrast of evolving vs soon-unemployed sales rep


You see that Rick will still bring in revenue using his traditional methods.  But this will soon fade away because their customer base has been changing.  Domina will have a decreased amount of sales for a year or so.  She is retooling herself to match the changing customer and market.  Once retooled, she will rocket to consistent star performance.


The Symptoms:

Now, let’s look at some of the indicators of obsolescence with these 2 Reps.  The full list is available in the downloadable tool here.


Sales Rep Obsolescence Symptoms (Sample)  Symptom Rick (soon obsolete) Domina (evolving) Social Network is challenged.  Has a hundred or so LinkedIn contacts, but rarely spends time there. Doesn’t even check messages on Linkedin or research prospects. Does not have a twitter account.  Built up a large 1000+ contact network over the years. Lately, however, has started to work her LinkedIn network better to focus on prospects.  LinkedIn is her first stop for prospect research. Recently switched her Tweets to be more valuable to prospects/clients than what she did before – tweet about her products and events. Lacks awareness of buyer personas.  Even though Marketing has provided some buyer persona research, he does not understand how to use it and doesn’t see the value in it. Thinks that the deal can get done through his own network of relationships and charm. Says “I don’t need this psychographic babble.”  Jumped in with both feet to try out buyer personas.  She has been a big help to refining the personas and has started to see greater success by leveraging the persona characteristics.  It has “changed the way I communicate with prospects.” Spends no or low effort in self improvement.  Has decided that he knows enough about the art of selling – he thinks he could even write a book about it.  Does not read books or blogs on trends in sales or his industry.  Relies on dialogue with his customers for info on trends.  She has read many recommended books on sales.  Also, she has perused over 100 sales and industry blogs before settling on the top 20 (which includes the Sales and Marketing Effectiveness blog by SBI.)  She has just started to volunteer time on sales force improvement or marketing projects to improve herself.


Next Steps:

This initiative works best if HR takes the responsibility.  Why? Most Sales Leaders are too busy to manage the long view.  They are focused on monthly and quarterly quotas, pending deals, and helping handle objections. HR, therefore, should take the lead to work with Sales leaders through these steps:


  1. Communicate unceasingly on the need to evolve to changing markets/customers
  2. Download this tool of sample obsolescence symptoms
  3. Assess Reps to see who is evolving or not
  4. Determine what competencies are needed for the future
  5. Devise development plans for those Reps that CAN evolve
  6. Reassign or release (at the right time) Reps that cannot or will not evolve


Start this now before the sales pipeline starts to decrease. 


Sales Reps – you’ve got 2 years to change your fate.  It’s better to go through change before you have to. Download the tool and start working on your evolution.




Photograph courtesy of –> winnond.


Steve Loftness

Helps sales and marketing leaders make the number through implementation and change management of proven and emerging effectiveness practices.

Steve leverages his Six Sigma Black Belt and change management expertise to help clients with innovative yet pragmatic solutions. His experience with clients in multiple industries gives him the ability to ensure that any solution designed will actually get adopted.


Prior to joining SBI, Steve was a partner at TDG and Sundoya, where he developed business and implemented improvements within engagements. He is also part of the international consulting community having lived and worked in Spain and Russia. And yes, he speaks both languages.

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