Are Field Sales a Thing of the Past?
There was a time when networking and face-to-face meetings were considered to be the best means of securing sales and, certainly up until quite recently, field sales played a prominent part in the B2B purchase process.
But times are changing. The growth in digital channels has meant that buyers are now interacting with suppliers across many different channels and touchpoints. Decision-making is changing too. Whereas once it was possible to rely on building strong buyer-relationships to influence sales, nowadays there are far more stakeholders involved in the buying process, making the activity of selling far more fragmented.
And dare we even mention the events of 2020, which have not only restricted more traditional sales methods, but accelerated the need for, and acceptance of more digitally-focused sales?
Once the channel to sales acquisition, sales teams now find themselves more of a cog in a very large customer engagement machine. So, this leaves us asking the question: are field sales a thing of the past?
The future of field sales
By their very nature, field sales activities depend on face-to-face interactions. Even before the restrictions of the pandemic, Gartner research showed that B2B buyers typically spent just 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers when considering a purchase.
Add to that the results of the Sales Benchmark Index survey, which revealed that a massive 70% of customers interviewed didn’t even want an in-person meeting as part of their purchase process, and it starts to paint a very bleak picture for the future of field sales teams.
Is this the end of sales reps as we know them?
Well the short answer is no. At least not for the foreseeable future it seems. Whilst technology may appear to have reduced the need for sales meetings, the advent of sales automation, digitalisation and AI may have actually increased the need for human interaction. Forrester certainly believes this. In their predictions for 2020, they suggested that seller engagement would increase by 10%, even as more transactions close digitally.
This fact may seem counter-intuitive at face value, however, when you consider the wealth of high-quality content available online, and the increase in buying by consensus, it is no surprise that buyers soon become overwhelmed, leading to uncertainty and indecision.
Such high uncertainty matters tremendously, according to Gartner, corresponding to a 30% reduction in customers’ ability to reach a purchase decision at all, and a 42% reduction in the likelihood they purchase a more premium, more expensive, “high-quality deal”.
And this is where field sales teams come in. Understanding these complexities, identifying key points in the buyer journey where support is needed, and offering impartial advice and guidance, can boost a buyer’s confidence in their purchase decision, prompting a favourable sale. Those organisations who are able to blend technology with human interaction are therefore likely to come out on top.
Personalised virtual selling. Something technology alone cannot accomplish.
How can you ensure your field sales are future-ready?
This shift in role will see field sales teams going from sellers to impartial advisors, and from in-person representatives to virtual pre-sales support agents. It is not unreasonable to suggest therefore, that many team members will need additional training and tools to successfully adapt.
To ensure field sales professionals become a useful and integral part of this new purchase process, there are three key areas that sales leaders can focus on:
1. Technology and upskilling:
A move to virtual customer engagement will require investment in both the tools to provide this, (such as video conferencing software and sufficient bandwidth to support this) and the training to use it. However, this form of online selling is well-worth the low associated costs. It is not only a means of building customer purchase-confidence, but can also help overcome some of the hurdles faced with aligning an organisation’s stakeholders as part of the buying process – inevitably shortening the decision-making process
2. Understanding the ‘everywhere customer’:
Whilst the digital revolution has created a more complex buyer journey, it has also brought a greater amount of customer data that can be used to support the sales process. Helping sales colleagues understand the customer journey, trends in sales and best practice activity will undoubtedly ensure they are best placed to support the overall customer purchase process. Using a sales effectiveness AI solution such as CloudApps, which includes Sales Insights and Forecast Accuracy functionality, will help teams to analyse CRM data gathered on SalesForce and highlight the best opportunities to pursue, enabling them to better understand the ‘everywhere customer’, and when and where to best engage with them.
3. Sales enablement, motivation and coaching:
The pace of change to digital selling can be challenging and perhaps even daunting for many, so a key part of this team transformation will be sales motivation and coaching to ensure true sales effectiveness. Tracking winning sales behaviours through CRM data, and using them as the foundation for guided selling and coaching for the whole team will help ensure every team member is ready and equipped for today’s sales requirements.
So, are field sales a thing of the past? Well in the traditional sense perhaps, but even in this era of digital communication, human interaction, albeit virtual, is still an important part of the sales process. Blending a personal approach with a data-driven understanding of key sales touchpoints, interactions and trends will ensure that field teams are equipped to play their part in the sales acquisition process of the future.
Webinar: How to Manage and Motivate a Sales Force Remotely.
As many teams are forced to work remotely, the role of the sales leader has suddenly become even more complex. How can we successfully guide our now dispersed teams?
In this webinar, Clustre’s MD Robert Baldock and CloudApps’ Co-Founder Simon Wheeldon discuss the new ways to manage and motivate sellers through the use of behavioural science, gamification and artificial intelligence.