I wouldn’t say that field sales is dead but the pandemic has certainly brought into question the extent to which it’s still a valid approach.
The modern salesperson still feels that the field is their rightful place and yet, as each year passes, they spend less time there. And when they do gear up and venture forth, their efforts on that front are increasingly erring towards customer service activities.
They spend more of their selling time on the phone, not in the field. It’s frustrating — and a source of great embarrassment — but there’s nothing the salesperson can do about it.
Nowadays, salespeople are significantly more efficient when they are inside. And customers don’t want a salesperson to visit unless they conclude that a face-to-face visit is absolutely critical. These two facts of life have converted most field salespeople into reluctant inside salespeople who venture out only occasionally.
They’re not excited about working inside, so they are happy to be distracted from telephone sales by customer service and administrative activities — meaning not a lot of selling actually gets done. And since they spend so little time selling face-to-face, many salespeople are either out of practice or simply lacking in skills they’ve had little cause to develop.
Not surprisingly, denial is not a winning strategy. Salespeople have adapted to this new reality to the extent that they absolutely must, but few organisations are prepared to explicitly recognise that times have changed. They’re not taking advantage of the enormous upside that our new reality presents.
Why Inside Sales is Outpacing Field Sales
Sales used to be something that took place in the field. And there was good reason for that.
Fifty years ago, when the modern sales function evolved, customers were “out there.” This is before fax machines, mobile phones, websites, email, instant messaging, and web conferencing.
If an organisation wanted to sell something, it had to send salespeople to where customers were. And if potential customers wanted information to assist in their quest for new products and services, they had to request that a salesperson bring that information to where they were.
Times, of course, have changed.
Today, customers can easily reach a salesperson on their mobile phone or via email. And if our customer wants information privately, they can do that too. They can browse our websites, our competitors’ websites, and those of industry commentators. Our customers and prospects are no longer “out there.” Modern technology has broken down the divide and invited our customers into our organisations. And this is an invitation our customers have been happy to accept.
Furthermore, customers are no longer dependent upon field salespeople for transactions. They have choices. If they want to purchase, they can do so by phone or online. And woe betide anyone who thinks that they can force customers to transact with salespeople. Increasingly, customers are as loyal to the channel as they are to the brand.
The Inside-Out Sales Function
Because today’s environment is so very different from the environment in which the sales function evolved, a radical redesign is required. And when we build this new sales function we need to build it from the inside out — not from the outside in. This is in keeping with how our customers like to buy.
Consider yourself, by way of example. If you need to make a purchase, any purchase, my guess is that your general preference is to buy online (with no human contact whatsoever). And if that’s not practical, you’ll probably seek help from a person via online chat or over the telephone.
Even if you are making a large purchase, I doubt your first instinct is to call and request that a salesperson come visit you in your home or place of business. And if a salesperson does come visit you, it’s likely after several email and telephone conversations.
If this is how customers buy (and it surely is), then this is how we must sell.
Built to Scale
You’ll discover that this inside-out approach results in vastly superior interfacing between you and your customers. And that’s nice. But the better news is that this model is easy and inexpensive to scale.
Since almost all of your marketing and sales activity is performed by an inside team, you don’t need regional sales offices, layers of management, and a team of operations people to process expense reports and adjudicate border skirmishes between over-caffeinated commissioned salespeople.
Tips to Transitioning from Field Sales to Inside Sales
Any organisation intent on shifting from field to inside sales has to know if that transition will suit its market. If you’re weighing the idea of making the switch, consider adjusting the nature of your sales model on a segment by segment basis — changing or maintaining your operations for different accounts based on factors like location, account size, or stage of the customer engagement process.
Another part of the process would be adopting the aforementioned inside-out sales function or another hybrid inside-outside sales model. A successful transition won’t be abrupt. There’s bound to be some easing into your new normal.
You’ll also need to pay careful attention to your inside sales reps and manage them right. It can be difficult for managers to account for a remote team. The most crucial factor in managing remote sales teams is consistently finding time to interact with them personally.
And the growing pains and complications from the transition from field to inside sales aren’t specific to organisations as a whole. Individual sales reps will need to make adjustments and take some strides to better acclimate themselves to their new model.
Ultimately, while the transition might be difficult at times, it will be worth it.
The gradual death of field sales does not mark the end of field salespeople. They still exist, and they always will. What it does mark is the beginning of a new era, where sales is essentially an inside function.
You’ll come to discover that the inside-out sales model results in happier customers, a lower average cost of sale, and a faster-growing business. It’s time to be done with the grieving so we can knuckle down and exploit this exciting new reality.
Making the move isn’t easy, so if you;d like to talk through the challenges, then maybe we should talk.
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