5 Ways to Improve Sales Productivity

Written by Mike Marks on Thursday, 03 May 2018. Posted in Sales Management, Distribution

Your outside sales reps are your most expensive resource. But their role is not what it used to be, thanks to the rise of digital platforms and fast-changing customer expectations in the buying process.

Here are five ways to ensure a strong return on your sales investment in this evolving market.

  1. Leave transactional tasks to other departments.

If your outside sales rep is doing much more than focusing on landing new business – writing up quotes, managing returns and handling supplier issues for existing customers, for example – their time would be better spent growing wallet share with existing customers and intercepting new business from competitors. Shift more of these maintenance tasks to a lower-cost function such as inside sales, customer service or even an automated system to free up sales reps' valuable time.

  1. Build a team-based approach to selling.

Many traditional sales reps are accustomed to working independently. But wallet share grows faster when there are as many relationships between the two companies as possible. It may be against the salesperson's nature to work collaboratively, but bringing inside salespeople, customer service reps, project managers, technical specialists and others into the relationship will bring about faster account growth. Remind reps of this, and if needed, make adjustments to your compensation plan to support the results you're looking for.

  1. View technology as an opportunity, not a threat.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed or intimidated when competitors implement new technology. And it's true that implementing new technology takes time and money, so many distributors hesitate. But modern ecommerce is a much-needed opportunity to boost margins by cutting operating costs through the automation of tasks previously performed by your sales reps and other team members. It also offers the opportunity to sell more to your customers. New technology has really come down in price in recent years, and thanks to the cloud, it’s typically easier to implement than you might expect.

  1. Bring marketing in.

Many prospects today are nearly two-thirds of the way toward making a decision before they even talk to a salesperson. Savvy distributors will capitalize on this trend by providing prospects with the information they're looking for via case studies, website content and other resources. Once the initial investment in producing these resources is over, ongoing maintenance is minimal, saving sales reps the time they would otherwise spend on repeating the same information to new customers. The marketing team can also save reps time by researching and prequalifying leads before they're handed off to sales.

  1. Transition to a management-directed sales force.

Historically, sales has been largely self-directed, which can result in sales reps calling too frequently on customers with low growth potential. Strong sales managers will take a closer look at how reps are spending their time. Taking into account geography, market segment, market potential, service output and so on, they can then redirect reps to higher-potential activities and opportunities, using a strategically designed sales incentive plan as reinforcement.

For more ways to help your sales team work smarter instead of harder, consider utilizing Indian River Consulting Group's strategic business advisory services. Our professional consultants have helped past clients increase sales productivity by more than 30%; see that client success story and other industry case studies here.

About the Author

Mike Marks

Mike Marks

Mike Marks co-founded IRCG in April 1987. He began his consulting practice after working in distribution management for more than 20 years. Over the years, his narrow focus in B2B channel-driven markets has created an extensive number of deep executive relationships within virtually every business vertical in construction, industrial, OEM, agricultural, and healthcare.

Mike has led project teams that improve market access by aligning resources to growth opportunities serving manufacturers, dealers, and distributors. Clients have ranged from small privately owned firms to many of the industry’s market share leaders. Ownership structures have included owner-operators, private equity, ESOPs, and publically traded firms. Mike is proud of the teams work and the confidence clients have shown with additional project work.

He has written extensively, and is frequently quoted on many industry issues. He has substantial board experience on both public and private distribution firms. His contributions to the field include serving multiple terms as a Research Fellow with the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, permanent faculty at Purdue University’s University of Industrial Distribution, eight years as Graduate Adjunct Faculty in the Industrial Distribution Program at Texas A & M University, and rendering several precedent-setting expert opinions in contract disputes between manufacturers and distributors.

Prior to forming IRCG, Mike held the position of Executive Vice President at Lex Electronics, an $800 million vertically integrated electronics distributor in Stamford, CT. Mike’s path to management in his early career was through increasing responsibilities in sales and sales management. He also completed a tour of duty as a manufacturer’s representative.