Let’s face it: Self-directed sales teams are highly inefficient. Many field sales reps have been doing things the same way for decades, despite the forces of change in the distribution industry. The function has been largely self-directed, with salespeople typically making their own decisions about how and where they go to market.
When distributors are reluctant to change deeply rooted sales strategies, they miss out. Distributors need to be more selective in how they deploy their most powerful and expensive sales tool they have – their field sales reps.
Change can be scary, and the reasons for hesitating on sales transformation are numerous. But it’s no secret that distributors benefit financially and strategically when their engagement and support more closely align with what customers want.
Embrace change. Sales transformation will lead to success, especially in a world that’s as fast-paced and ever-changing as distribution.
When you start to consider sales transformation, the first step is to examine your old assumptions. You don’t want to make change-based decisions on assumptions that technically and substantively aren’t correct or profitable in today’s market, such as:
- Field sales reps are money-motivated.
- If a sales rep is in the office, they aren’t selling.
- Discussions around prospecting are unproductive.
Here’s another example: Some distributors still believe that removing a field salesperson from a territory leads to decreasing business volume in that area. However, based on research we’ve conducted over the years, we’ve found that 80% to 98% of a customer’s purchases are products they have bought before from the distributor. If the customer needs are met with an inside sales rep, why does a field rep need to be involved?
This means that the customer is in a comfortable routine of reordering that doesn’t depend on the salesperson. The customer is in this relationship now because they value the company as a whole; the salesperson has completed their job of securing the customer as a repeat buyer.
How to Plan a Sales Transformation
After you’ve identified your team’s assumptions and can ensure they don’t carry them into a new sales strategy, you’re ready to begin a sales transformation.
Assess your current state.
The goal of this step is to figure out whether you’re ahead or behind the curve. Research new hybrid sales models, which take the traditional sales roles and specialize them across outside and inside sales as well as customer service. Check out industry research on digital sales channels, and dive deep into your own company’s data, including available customer insights and purchasing behavior. Once you see what industry experts recommend and where everyone else is at – at least those distributors with the greatest success – you can better identify your strengths, as well as potential areas of improvement.
Rethink your process.
Armed with insight into your weak spots, pinpoint where you’re behind the most. Because sales transformation is a journey, you want to start small. Figure out what will have the least disruption on your business while providing the most impact.
Clearly map out your goals and create manageable, attainable steps to get there. Successful change occurs through incremental steps, such as pilot programs or projects that introduce change without causing major, company-wide disruption.
Implement the change.
Regardless of the size or scope of change, it will be met with resistance by some folks; it’s just human nature. The key here, much like with any business change, is to get your team onboard. Participation creates commitment.
Include your sales team in the mapping process so they can contribute insight and understand the reasons and benefits behind the change. Their involvement will lead to success for them and the company as a whole. When you engage the entire team on a change that will directly affect them, they’re more likely to take ownership and be invested in making the changes stick.