I’m currently in the process of performing final edits to my book to ready it for publication. A big part of this process is modifying the manuscript to incorporate inside sales – which plays a much bigger role in SPE than it did when I started work on this book a few years ago. This chapter will probably end up being merged with the existing Chapter 3.
Introducing Inside Sales
This discussion is worthy of its own chapter for a couple of reasons.
First, as you’re about to discover, the odds are pretty good that you need an inside-sales team. And, what’s more, the creation of this team should probably take priority over whatever changes you plan to make to your outside sales activities.
And, second, our discussion of inside sales – is going to bring us face to face with a set of fundamental changes in the way most markets function. And that’s not a bad place to start.
The death of field sales
As I write this, The death of field sales is my most popular lecture topic. Most event organizers assume that I exaggerate in order to capture busy executives’ attention.
Well, it’s true that headlines often benefit from a little hyperbole, but there’s less exaggeration here than you might expect. In most markets, field sales is either dying, or its dead already!
Of course, I’m not heralding the end of field salespeople. There is a requirement for field salespeople in some (but definitely not all) markets now – and there will always be circumstances where face-to-face selling is indispensable.
What are on their way to extinction are environments where sales is essentially an outside activity. Even in engineer-to-order environments today (think JSG), only a tiny percentage of the total volume of activities required to originate and prosecute a sales opportunity are performed in the field. And those important field activities would simply not occur if it were not for the volume of work performed inside.
The fact is, sales today is an inside endeavor, supported, in some cases, with discrete field activities.
If you want proof, follow one of your field salespeople around for a week. What you’re likely to discover is that your field salesperson spends less than 10% of their time in the field. The balance of their time will be spent in an office of some kind (your head office, a branch office, a home office or a makeshift office in the backseat of a rental car!).
If my prediction is correct, your field salesperson is not really a field salesperson at all. They are an inside salesperson who performs occasional field activities.
There are still some markets where sales is essentially an outside activity. Trade tools, for example. Think of Snap‑on, whose operators pilot their white, red and black trucks direct to workshops and building sites and sell on the spot.
But, these markets are an exception, not the rule. It’s rare, today, to find customers who are happy for salespeople to drop-in, unannounced. Actually, in addition to making drop-ins impossible, most organizations go to quite some effort to rebuff even those salespeople who are polite enough to attempt to schedule a meeting in advance!
We have technology to blame for this disturbing state of affairs.
Fifty years ago, an organization’s (potential) customers were out there, in the field. Relative to today, they were isolated from their vendors. This is before fax machines and PBX’s were pervasive, and certainly before, email, websites and instant messaging. Salespeople bridged this geographic divide by visiting with customers in the field – and by ferrying information back and forth between their head offices and customers’ locations.
Today, customers are no longer isolated from their vendors. Vendors’ organizations are as close as the nearest web browser. And fax machines, private lines, email and instant messaging have made it easier for customers to communicate with representatives in organization’s head offices than it is to communicate with their salespeople!
That’s right, where field salespeople historically served to reduce the friction between vendors and their customers, today, it’s more likely that salespeople add friction! Certainly, it’s quite common to hear customers complaining that they can get better information and faster outcomes if they side-step salespeople and communicate direct with vendors’ head-office customer-service teams.
Salespeople have responded to this situation with a mixture of defiance and pragmatism. Continue reading “The Machine > Bonus chapter > The death of field sales” »