How are you adapting to the changing sale landscape?

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It’s no secret, the evidence is everywhere.  Sales structure and process is continually changing to adapt to the evolution of the buyer decision making journey.  Do a quick internet search and you will be rewarded with a plethora of information from a myriad of sales experts on how things are changing and how companies are, or should be, adapting.  Based on my personal experience in both field and inside sales organizations, I find the continuing transition toward inside sales from field sales fascinating, and the reasons behind that transition even more so.

Recently, I came across an older article in the Harvard Business Journal, titled “The Trend That is Changing Sales”, which does a very nice job of explaining not only the trend but many of the reasons contributing to it.  Rather than rehashing what the article already does a great job explaining, I wanted to generate some food for thought for sales leaders and their current sales strategy. Hopefully you are already on the optimal path to maximizing sales revenue, but based on some of the comments associated with the mentioned article, and some of the struggles I personally face, maybe some objective soul searching will lead to instituting some strategy changes.

As part of the exercise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have the right sales structure? Based on many factors, including the complexity of your offering, your lifetime customer value, and your target market engagement preference, you may be in the perfect place or may consider a transition to an inside, outside, or hybrid model. Additionally, you may want to consider adding segmentation to your structure, which is also becoming a common structural change.
  • The concept of segmentation transitions nicely to the question around sales process. Ask yourself; considering my objectives, offering and market, am I employing the best sales process? It is obvious that prospects are changing the way they buy, and the sales process that has served you so well in the past may no longer yield the same results.
  • How am I adapting to the change in buyer decision making? Unless you are the thought/brand leader in your space, and your offering is currently generating huge interest with your target market, it is very likely that you are struggling with prospect engagement. In addition to the right structure and process, the change in buying behavior suggests that it is critical to have all possible mechanisms in place to engage with interested prospects as early as possible.

Hopefully, asking yourselves the above questions will help you in determining whether you are adapting to the changing sales landscape or if you need to adjust.  Since there are so many variables that need to be considered, the path you take will definitely vary based on your specific situation.

However, here are some general guidelines that I found helpful:

  • The complexity of your offering is a major consideration. If your sales cycle is measured by calendar year and requires many meetings across multiple client departments, a field presence may be warranted. However, if your sales cycle is measured in weeks and involves only a few meetings with one or two decision maker’s you might find yourself better served with an inside approach. Have both types of sales? Consider a hybrid.
  • Obviously the customer perception of your offering is as, if not more, important than yours. If your product or service has been commoditized by the market it becomes very difficult to escape the related pricing pressure and necessary volume increases. You may have to switch to a more transactional process which tends to favor an inside sales structure.
  • Revenue versus cost of sales is also an extremely important metric. In simplest terms, the price point you can establish on the value of your offering, combined with the number of units that can be reasonably sold, determines how much you can compensate your sales team. Even with a customer perceived high value, complex offering can end up presenting a challenge. Obviously cost of sales tends to be lower with an inside structure.

These are just three important factors in determining sales structure and process.  Sales talent, company stage, technology employed, and competitor actions should all be assessed as well.  Making a change to sales structure or process should never be taken lightly as the consequences of a mistake could be devastating.  Even making slight changes to an existing structure or process is often cumbersome and time consuming, and the disruption to the existing team can cause severe morale issues, so ensure you’ve carefully analyzed all the variables and have a workable strategy in place before moving forward.

On a personal note, having spent the majority of my career in a field sales environment, I hate to believe that the continuing transition of field to inside sales will be as drastic as many experts predict.  There is a great amount of value for both a prospect and a sales rep in conducting a face-to-face meeting that just can’t be achieved through technology.  In my opinion, the level of dialogue, credibility, trust, empathy and information that can be gained during a face-to-face interaction is far superior to what can take place over the phone or web.

At the same time, gaining that personal access to the economic decision maker continues to become more difficult.  While technology has opened the door to transitioning field to inside sales, it has also caused information overload on the part of the buyer, making it difficult to gain access, regardless of how beneficial the solution might be.  While having the correct sales structure and process in place may increase your likelihood of connecting with your market, there are many other areas within the changing sales landscape that need to be addressed as well.  However, that is a discussion for another time.