Distributors are finding that their field sales teams are being forced to adapt their sales prospecting methods now that they cannot always just get in the car to visit in person.
These challenges are more real than ever. While conducting trainings with distributors, I’ve been helping sales teams adapt to this “new normal.”
The problem is, not everyone is adapting well.
Here’s how distribution sales teams are navigating these new waters.
The new fundamentals of sales prospecting
According to HubSpot, “Prospecting is the process of initiating and developing new business by searching for potential customers, clients or buyers for your products or services.” The objective? Converting prospects into customers.
Prospects may come from many sources. Sometimes you meet people who could turn into new business from your travels. Other times, they are the people who found your website and downloaded a piece of content. Or a lead reaches out to you directly; that’s a hot lead who needs engaging right away. How each lead will be approached requires both art and science.
These days, it is likely more effective and efficient if you can do some of the initial prospecting over the phone rather than driving a few hours for a possible meeting. And right now, many prospects aren’t interested in meeting you face to face anyway.
I often say that there is only one difference between inside sales teams and field sales teams. The first group uses the phone to reach leads and customers, while the second group uses a car. Field sales teams are often highly uncomfortable reaching out over the dreaded phone. They are simply not used to it, and most would prefer to drive to a prospect’s location to meet face to face. In some ways, they see using the phone as taking a step backward.
On the other hand, inside sales teams — who are used to working behind a desk — are not struggling nearly as much right now. They are much more comfortable picking up a phone.
The two methods are very different. In person, you have more time to make an impression as people are less likely to walk away. On the phone, you must use your voice as your instrument, focusing much more on presentation, knowing you only have a few seconds to capture that person’s attention.
Identifying and nurturing skill sets for prospecting
While inside sales and field sales are usually focused on different goals and accounts, they also often display different skill sets. This is more important than ever, as traditional field sales approaches are being challenged.
I like to break it down into hunters and farmers. The farmers are happiest tending to their existing accounts and growing wallet share by getting more business out of a base of accounts. They aren’t usually doing initial outreach with a prospect.
The hunters love to go out, meet new people and pursue new sales opportunities by converting leads into customers.
You can find both types in inside sales and field sales roles. Unfortunately, sales managers tend to expect their salespeople to be both hunters and farmers. The challenge: Farmers who are asked to be hunters are usually very unhappy. They might avoid calling customers altogether, or they’ll attempt a few, fail and then stop trying.
For these reasons, prospecting can be difficult. It’s not just that the task is being assigned to the wrong people, but that there’s often little to no accountability from management to help them succeed.
Distributors need to train sales reps to rethink how they are doing prospecting overall. Warm leads up with marketing offers and promotions. Handing off a “warm lead to a salesperson will be the most efficient and effective. Sales reps must also learn to reframe their process — such as with a sales call guide — and, truly, how to use the phone to create relationships and prospect from a distance.
Sales incentives and accountability
Even before the pandemic, distributors struggled to make sure that prospecting was happening — and that their team was doing it effectively. The stakes are even higher now. Part of adapting to the new normal is having sales managers incentivize their sales reps for the behaviors they want to see. What often happens is there’s no accountability or incentives, and it’s just easier for salespeople to focus on their account base.
This is part of a larger strategic move the distribution company must make. This may lead to some tough decisions on the part of the distribution leadership team. If field sales reps cannot adapt, and management teams cannot support them, then the company may risk being left behind as the world rapidly changes.
Let’s face it: No one expected everyone to suddenly start working from home, or for businesses to start shutting their doors to outsiders and focusing on digital in a time of social distancing. The keys to success are ensuring your salespeople are in the right roles for their skill sets, as well as providing training for those who need to adapt. The right technology, phone systems and CRM tools make a big difference, too.
This pandemic has pointedly shown us that we all need to adapt — and that this new way of prospecting just might be here to stay.
Want personalized direction and training for prospecting in the new normal? Reach out to schedule a conversation.