Death of a Digital Salesman -- Technology, Change and the Hybrid Marketer

"The jungle is dark but full of diamonds, Willy." - Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

For those familiar with Arthur Miller's classic Death of a Salesman, the above statement is an apt way of describing the depth of the technology and digital landscape as we see it today and the role of the traditional digital salesman compared to the rise of the hybrid marketer -- confusion yet opportunity.

Death of a Salesman is not so much a story about the life of a traveling salesman as it is a story of the changing social and economic pressures on the nuclear family. The play's protagonist, Willy Loman, is a symbol of the past, and like the traditional media salesman, is at risk of becoming obsolete. The idea that a human being should become obsolete, that it is even possible, could be read as a social critique by Miller on the increasing mechanization synonymous with that era but also draw a parallel with the technological change in today's digital marketing ecosystem.

The rapid growth of search, online video, social media, content marketing and demand generation have driven the convergence of audiences across all online channels such that the relationship between buyers and sellers has become significantly more complex and, in many cases, automated.

Digital media, technology and marketing disciplines have converged and fueled a complete change in the behavior of consumer audiences -- from how they purchase products to how they engage with content -- and this change has had a significant knock on effect on the relationship between sales and marketing. The direct sales relationship of yesteryear has largely been disintermediated by hundreds of digital word of mouth networks.

Social media adoption and improvements in management and channel attribution technology highlight a pressing need to adapt the sales approach in order to compete effectively. Agencies, providers, and vendors now look to restructure and adapt sales and marketing strategies as a result.

Unless you are selling a commodity then the sales and "business development" process has become almost obscured by the depth, knowledge, and integrated marketing and technology expertise required. Sales people can no longer ignore the fact that they have to engage with new modes of customer interaction and engage prospects across multiple channels on a wholesale scale that replaces any traditional sales approaches.

Put simply, to keep selling, salespeople are going to have to develop marketing skills and cross channel product knowledge.

In light of the changes we see today, Miller's play strikes a timeless chord with the present. That Loman struggles to make an impact in his career as a traveling salesman is not simply a case of what literary critics might term as the character's "fatal flaw." In a very real way, Loman cannot keep up -- the pressures of his work and reflecting on the fate of Miller's salesman provides fertile ground for debate as to how the current stock of sales people can adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. Can we all be a sales people, marketers, online marketers, consultants and technologists at the same time?

The Wider Technology Talent Gap

Organizations, agencies and consultants can struggle to keep their skills, learning, and training up to date and in line with such a rapidly developing digital marketing ecosystem.

Two main changes that have impacted this shift in processes and knowledge in digital markets are;

1. Technology markets have fragmented -- vendors and platforms
2. Digital marketing disciplines and practices have changed and converged

(John Kuefler's visual on the change in media and technology landscape sheds more light into how digital media markets have changed over the last decade.)

2013 has seen huge strides taken into the relationship between social media and the knowledge graph with innovations such as Facebook Graph search and the rise in adoption of Google+.

In fact 90 percent of data produced in the world over the last two years has been as a result of the convergence of social, local and mobile data. In 2013 we will see more around social and TV, Mobile and TV, and now the Facebook phone. It is difficult to sell one without the other and it is difficult to pitch yourself across all disciplines.

"Willy Loman: I don't want change, I want Swiss cheese!" ― Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Adapting to a more holistic way of structuring how we present our products and services is no longer an "added value" service but a necessity.

For organizations reliant on digital sales, silo-based sales teams are no longer as efficient as cross-channel solutions. When we look at the online marketplace it is easy to see how the consolidation of relationships from digital, social, local, video and mobile data sets and databases have acted as a catalyst to growth -- the affiliate millionaires of search have been replaced by the appillonaires of mobile in just ten years. Similarly, the speed of growth in app users eclipses the rate of growth of even the fastest growing web based social networks. Their growth is incentive enough to register the need to adapt and learn "beyond" your discipline.

• Data marketers are now 'Big data' marketers
• Digital marketers are content marketing experts
• SEO's are marketing experts and content marketers
• Social media managers are community managers
• Outbound marketers are inbound marketers
• Traditional marketers are online marketers or content marketers
• PR people are SEO and content marketers
• Search marketers are big data analysts and display marketers
• Product managers are marketing directors
• Departments are now based on paid, owned or earned media
• Sales people are now developers, evangelists or consultants

The list goes on...

The Hybrid Digital Marketer

Marketing no longer just holds it's lion share at the beginning of a sales funnel. The convergence of media and social media adoption means that marketing operates at all stages of the funnel. Marketing is sales and sales is marketing in digiland.

Unfortunately for many becoming a hybrid marketer is not as easy as changing your title on LinkedIn.

Paul Roetzner quite rightly points out in the "Evolution of the Prototype Marketer -- The Hybrids are Coming" that modern marketing departments require hybrid professionals that can perform across multiple disciplines, such as email, mobile, analytics, social networking, web, search and content. Today's marketers are highly proficient writers, analytical and tech savvy, with strong competencies in business, IT and human behavior. The same now should be applied to Hybrid sales people.

Evolution of the Prototype Sales and Marketer -- The Hybrids are Coming

In addition, with a deluge of data at their fingertips, Hybrids are able to turn information into intelligence, and intelligence into action. Structural innovation can add accountability and address many of the changes, challenges and shifts from traditional sales to hybrid marketing approaches. For example, Chief Revenue Officers become accountable for all digital revenue and attribution and Chief Content Officers drive marketing strategy and accountability for content.

The Digital Salesman is a sales man no more. The most effective "salesman/person" sits between product, technology and marketing experts and builds new process with clients that drive sales less directly, more subtly, than there pre-convergence peers. As such, marketing and Sales should no longer be represented within a traditional funnel diagram and should be constructed in ways that better illustrate their reliance on each other and on other discipline in the wider yet related sphere of influence, such as a Venn's and circles. Who gets the sales order or the lion share of credit the technical contact; account director, sales representative or inbound marketer should be irrelevant.

Hybrid marketers are the key to success in this "new, new media landscape." Traditional sales skills complement and support this new discipline.

Maybe it's not so much as death of a salesman or a discipline but the death of the digital job title?

In today's complex and overlapping digital marketplace it is time to show more knowledge outside of you own field of expertise and realize that times are not "a-changing" -- they have completely changed. This rule applies not just to technology but also to the people who drive and promote digital business.