Teams of field sales people have had to adapt quickly to running meetings and chasing leads virtually rather than in person. But how does this change their roles and the skills required for the future? Richard Higham explains.
The challenges presented by coronavirus have severely curtailed the ability of field sales teams to visit prospective customers.
Video conferencing may have picked up the slack and enabled companies to continue to trade through the crisis, but organisations face the question of how to get the best out of their salesforce in the new normal.
The move to digitally-enabled “inside sales” provides a significant cost saving for the business.
Data from SalesLevers shows a typical sales visit in the UK costs between £80 and £140. A team of 10 who made 10 sales visits each before Covid-19 would save the business over £45,000 a month by meeting clients remotely.
The cost saving is often coupled with a rise in productivity. A study of sales appointments in the food manufacturing sector during the lockdown in April saw a 97% drop in the number of face-to-face appointments against the same period last year, while the number of digital sales meetings increased by 98%. The total number of meetings increased by 3.8%.
Adapt and flourish
As with many industries, Covid-19 has accelerated existing trends, and their impact will continue well past the end of lockdown.
Conversations with sales leaders over the past three years about the drivers for sales change have shown organisations need to adapt to flourish. Covid-19 has driven sales to change even faster and moved the issue to the top of the list.
The sales team of the future will see changed roles and capabilities. Inside sales teams will grow, and field-based staff are likely to take a more office-based strategic account management role.
Organisations that have been able to shift some aspects of field-based selling into inside roles have flourished in recent years. It may be that tomorrow’s salesforce looks less like a standing army and more like a military rapid reaction force, trained and available to respond to new situations. Salespeople who can adapt quickly in a changing market will be increasingly valuable.
Shifting the balance
Now is the time to shift coverage models. Increase inside sales to cover more significant deals and to work later into the buying cycle, while moving from territory-based coverage to segment-based.
Organisations will need to look at how the balance can be changed between relationship generalists and product or application specialists.
New capabilities and forms of development will be required. It will be worth identifying what the core sales skills are for your organisation for the future.
It will also be critically important to provide just-in-time top-up training to help apply these skills to new circumstances. Remote sessions, online learning and sales gamification will come even further to the fore.
Leadership too will need to change. Recent months have seen the best sales leaders adapt to remote management and coaching.
Frequency of contact has increased not decreased. There has been a new focus on the individual’s well-being and motivation. Coaching becomes increasingly important and is being underpinned by some remarkable AI coaching tools and by a greater application of data.
Importance of data
While some customer relationship management systems have proved their worth, others have required a shift to different ways of understanding and interpreting customer contact data.
Where these approaches have been applied well, there has been a positive impact on employee engagement and the sales result. These trends will continue into the new environment. Sales leaders and organisations who master them will reap the benefits.
These views of a changed sales future are based on some 30 years of working with sales organisations through good and bad times.
In these times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) there is a need to have a clear picture of the current strengths and weaknesses and a flexible plan for a future full of risks but also rich in opportunity.
There will likely need to be rebalancing across inside and field sales based on new roles and responsibilities, with recognition of the contribution to the sales journey.”
Remuneration and reward is also a key consideration. Traditionally, inside salespeople would earn 60% to 80% of their field sales peers.
There will likely need to be rebalancing across inside and field sales based on new roles and responsibilities, with recognition of the contribution to the sales journey.
Recent data from SalesGlobe suggests that around half of sales teams are adjusting quotas in response to Covid-19. While 36% are lowering compensation plan thresholds where variable rewards kick in.
Communication is a top priority. Anecdotally, I have spoken to the chief sales officer of a £100m business who has diarised 90 minutes every day to speak directly with his salespeople either individually or in groups.
To end on a positive note, there are tremendous opportunities to re-engineer the sales operation and create a flexible salesforce that is fit for the future.