Digital Disruption Hits Sales: the Rise of the ‘Hybrid Seller’

December 8, 2017 - 8 Comments

As a leader at Cisco in the virtual sales space, I have a front row seat to the fast pace of disruption and change that is hitting the industry. Digital disruption is one of the most often used phrases in business over the last couple of years.  And rightly so, because the disruption is real.

It is hard to think of an industry that has not been changed by the unstoppable march of technology. Brand new business models have emerged. Decades old companies have been left behind or failed spectacularly because they missed the market transition or were unable to keep up with fast pace of change.

Technology is playing such a pivotal role in commerce and society, and is showing no signs of abating. In fact, today’s version of the industrial tech revolution sees the rise of machines and the impact of automation and artificial intelligence. It makes me think about how digitization, AI and the data tsunami is impacting the role of sales?

Changes are happening quickly and the business of sales has not been immune to the impact of digitization. There are millions of people who make their living in sales, and in the IT industry alone, the dazzling array of new technologies means the role of the sales person is probably more critical than ever. The customer will always need help to decode things and navigate complexity. However, things are changing. An abundance of online content means that anywhere north of 70% of all B2B sales cycles start online with research and comparison before a sales person is in any way engaged by the potential buyer. This puts power into the hands of the customer, who is now more informed than ever.

There is an upside for the seller in all of this. If information is everywhere, so are the customer’s digital footprints. The ability to profile your prospect’s company, their individual interests and issues is now possible. You can track what prospects are looking at on your website, and which competitor they are engaging with. By overlaying this information with available data relating to purchase history you can identify refresh or cross-sell opportunities. These data-led insights are like magic and if you use them correctly it can accelerate the sales process. In the near future, qualification and pre-sales will get even easier and faster via AI.

Having the right tools in place and using data to its full capability in a surgical way can curate rich insights about your customer over time.

Digitization has made our life easier in so many ways, information and commerce is at your fingertips every day every moment. What does that mean? It means we want solutions right away. Instant results. Making buying easier is a requirement these days. Ecommerce is not a new concept but its impact in B2B markets is transformational. Why do you need to speak to someone to buy a standard SaaS solution when you can purchase it on your credit card for a small monthly fee? Increasing numbers of low touch sales will happen without a customer ever having to talk to a human being. Virtual contact will become more and more the norm.  In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, 85% of all B2B customer engagement will happen virtually. It’s up to IT vendors to fully enable that.

So if these are the main requirements that will determine success in the era of digital, who is doing it well today?

This is where millennials are winning hands down. Digital natives are comfortable with adapting new technologies and tools to help sell. Keeping up with the constant change feeds into their insatiable curiosity to learn and further develop themselves. Trying out new ways to sell and making things simple is second nature. The virtual sellers at Cisco are reacting intuitively and leveraging the blueprint described above. The reality is that the future sales force is already here and it is flourishing. That means that digital disruption has now morphed into digital empowerment, and that is great news for everyone. The opportunities are endless, so fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be an action-packed ride!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the future of sales. What features do you think are most critical?

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  1. Great article Kim, the sale role has really changed in the last few years and we need to adapt to the new digital tools, video, social networks…to be able to innovate and impact. The future is here and it's virtual!

  2. Great post Kim, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, they are really inspiring!

  3. Agree that the B2B engagement/selling methodology will exceed to 85%+ in this new digitized world. Will it not encourage broader offerings within the portfolio and more diverse skillsets required through business partners for valued added services?

  4. Great article Kim and very well articulated. In my personal opinion one of the key skills needed in this digital virtual world will be the time to respond and the medium used to convey the message. To keep up with the pace of rapid external and internal changes there will be need to innovate and experiment everytime.

  5. Great post Kim, thank you! I totally agree that the way Millennials relate and adapt to new technologies and tools will digitally empower them to sell better and faster, and together – through team collaboration, enhanced platforms, processes and tools – Sellers will be even more prepared to deliver instant value to rise to the digital challenge and achieve customer success.

  6. Great article Kim, subscription offers will continue to drive business growth and that's where AI will play a key role in the future. Especially in the small business space where customers are looking for faster ROI hence can't afford a long sales cycle, they want on the fly purchase and deployment which only an intelligent bot can pull through. While in the enterprise space a bot can play as a sales assistant providing real-time insights on the customer inventory and usage thereby enabling meaningful & productive conversations with the customers. I recently attended an AI conference where a dutch bank presented how they are leveraging bots to engage with their premium customers. Then there was this airline using chat-bots to interact with their passengers real time and at times able to sell/upsell value-added services.

  7. Digital disruption is real. I have experienced it first-hand owning an Advertising agency. Being a digital native is not exclusive to millennials. I'm a serial digital native having gone through about two or three generations of digital disruption. However, what gets missed in the rush to push everything online are the soft skills and professionalism needed to connect with the customer. Customer insights inform branding decisions, while branding influences customer insights. It's a two-way street, which trumps all in the long run.

    • Timothy, totally agree on the soft skills aspect. Actually this is a major focus area that we spend time training our graduates in the CSAP program on. Timely follow up with the correct service level makes a huge difference! Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment.