This Is Not Your Father’s Sales World Anymore

Growing up, I remember when my dad decided to go to work for himself. He had been a sales executive at a manufacturing company, had a company car, and even had a telephone that worked in the car. I thought he had it made. When I asked him why he was making the change, he said he was tired of seeing self-employed reps making more money while experiencing less stress.

That being said, I owe a lot to my dad and his decision to become an independent sales representative. I credit that decision to my first visit to Wrigley Field and Churchill Downs, as well as the opportunity to play at some very fine golf clubs—highlights of my youth. Today, many of us with a career in sales are honored to follow in those salesman footsteps, although a lot has changed since those days.

Fortunately, in my role, I get to peek behind the curtain and engage with sales organizations from some of the best brands in the world. What is interesting is that so many of these companies share the same challenges, regardless of what they do or sell. All of them are trying to protect and grow their market share. In doing so, several are trying to develop better ways to serve their customers in the manner that those customers want to be served. No longer is just having a great relationship enough to protect your customer share—let alone enabling you to grow it.

Among the many different clients we support, I’ve been able to see firsthand sales leaders of this generation shifting away from independent reps or agent models to a dedicated team who prioritizes the interests of the business first. Often this involves the development of an inside sales solution or developing a new combination of field and inside sales. Market data provides us with some of the reasons these companies and others have decided to make this shift.

Not Enough Hours in the Day

Customers do not have time for non-value-added engagement. The days of doughnut drops and two-hour lunches are in the past. Everyone is doing more with less. According to an article (It’s 10 AM. Do you know what your sales reps are doing?) from the Harvard Business Review, less that 10% of the customers they surveyed preferred a face-to-face meeting. More than 90% stated their preferred method of engagement was through email and over the phone. While vital for more consultative and strategic engagements, field sales is the least efficient and most expensive form of customer engagement. Have you asked your customers lately how they would like to be supported? Do you know what they value?

The Omnichannel Movement

Today, companies can drive consistent customer engagement through many different forms of media. Yes, traditional methods are still effective but so is the use of social media channels, video technology, ecommerce, click-to-chat, etc. These methods enable them to not only track the activity they invest, but also measure the interaction they have with their customers. They get a holistic and objective view of how to be most effective in driving value and differentiation.

According to Forrester’s article, The Case for Omnichannel B2B, buyers who have multiple channels through which to engage with their suppliers not only buy incrementally more through the additional channels, but they don’t do it at the expense of traditional offline methods. Therefore, it is not an either-or situation; it becomes an “and” situation. The article also goes on to explain that sellers, who do not have multiple methods of engagement, are seeing their customers defect at record rates.

Held Hostage

Who owns the relationship with the customer? Who owns the client data? How is the data being used? How consistent is the customer experience? When companies rely on reps\agents\distributors to sell their products, they give up control.

Today, there are many effective sales enablement technologies that, if used properly, drive tremendous results. While developing an integrated solution of both field and inside sales allows them to retake control for the organization, it can be challenging, especially if you do not have an effective inside sales team. According to a SiriusDecisions research brief, Defining the Line Between Inside and Field Sales, the use of inside sales in now a given for sales leaders who need to effectively grow their business. This change requires sales leaders to create new rules that stretch the viability of old rules. When both field and inside sales work together, they create a synergy that allows businesses to maximize their opportunities for growth and know exactly who owns the relationship with the customer—the business.

While my father may not have liked the idea of this blog as it related to his decision thirty years ago, I know that prior to his retirement he was already seeing the writing on the wall. He knew that successful businesses evolve. I will always be grateful for all he provided for our family and for everything he taught me. I just hope my daughter has the same admiration for me in thirty years when she’s writing a blog about how artificial intelligence made me obsolete.

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