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Sustainability: Moving from Common Sense to Common Practice
2016 International Conference
Leesburg, VA - National Conference Center

September 18th - 21st

The Death of Field Sales

Justin Roff-Marsh - Founder Ballistix

The truth is, field sales is dead already. It’s had been ailing for so long that no one noticed its actual time of passing!

Pretty much everyone knows (intuitively, at least) that field sales is dead. But no one’s prepared to acknowledge it.

Not surprisingly, denial is not a winning strategy. Salespeople have adapted to this new reality to the extent that they absolutely must – but few organizations are prepared to explicitly recognize that times have changed and, consequently, few are exploiting the enormous upside that our new reality presents.

Let this article be a stake in the ground!

It’s time to face this new reality and reengineer our sales environments to exploit it. (And it’s probably best we do so before our competitors do.)

The modern salesperson still feels that the field is their rightful place of battle.

However, as each year passes, they spend less time there. And, when they do gear-up and venture forth, increasingly it’s to perform customer-service activities.

The modern salesperson spends the greater proportion of their selling time on the phone, not in the field. It’s frustrating – and a source of great embarrassment – but there’s nothing the salesperson can do about it.

There are two powerful forces that collude to keep salespeople away from their company cars:

  1. Salespeople are significantly more efficient when they are inside
  2. Customers don’t want a salesperson to come visiting unless they conclude that a face-to-face visit is absolutely critical (and they rarely do)

These two forces have converted most field salespeople into reluctant inside salespeople (who venture out only occasionally).

Because they are not excited about working inside, they are happy to be distracted from telephone sales by customer-service and administrative activities – meaning that not a lot of selling actually gets done.

And because they spend so little time selling face to face, many salespeople are either out of practice or simply lacking in skills that they have had little cause to develop.

Sales used to be something that happened out there: in the field.

And there’s good reason for that.

Fifty years ago, when the modern sales function evolved, customers were out there: in the field. This is before PBXs, fax machines, cell phones, websites, email, instant messaging and web conferencing.

If an organization wanted to sell something, it had to send salespeople to where customers were: in the field.

And if potential customers wanted information to assist in their quest for new products and services, they had to request that a salesperson bring that information to where they were: in the field.

So, in addition to selling, salespeople were an information conduit. They added significant value by ferrying information back and forth between the organization (inside) and its customers (who were most definitely outside).

Times, of course, have changed.

Today, we have PBXs that allow customers to dial direct to one of our team member’s desks. And if they can’t reach them there, they will most certainly reach that person on their cell phone or via email. And if our customer wants to consume information privately, they can do that to. They can browse our websites and our competitors’ websites too, and those of impartial (or, sometimes less than impartial) industry commentators.

Our customers (and potential customers) are no longer out there. The effect of modern technology has to been to break-down the divide and invite our customers into our organizations. And this is an invitation our customers have been happy to accept.

Once inside, our customers have discovered that they no longer need to consume information via just one conduit. They can interact with multiple people in our organization, via multiple channels. And they like it this way!

Furthermore, customers are no longer dependent upon field salespeople for transactions. They have choices. If they want to purchase, they can do so by phone or online. And woe betide anyone who thinks that they can force customers to transact with salespeople. Increasingly, customers are as loyal to the channel as they are to the brand!

Because our environment, today, is so very different from the environment in which the sales function evolved, a radical redesign is required.

And when we build this new sales function we need to build it from the inside out. Not from the outside in. This is in keeping with how our customers like to buy.

Consider yourself, by way of example.

If you need to make a purchase – any purchase – my guess is that your general preference is to buy online (with no human contact whatsoever). And, if this isn’t practical, you’ll probably seek help from a person via online chat or over the telephone.

Even if you are making a large purchase, I doubt your first instinct is to call and request that a salesperson come visit you in your home or place of business. It’s likely that you’ll do as much research as you can before agreeing to a face-to-face meeting with a salesperson (if, in fact, you do). And if a salesperson does come visit with you, it’s likely that this visit is after quite a number of email and telephone conversations.

If this is how customers buy – and it surely is – then this is how we must sell.

An inside-out approach means that we start with an inside nucleus – as close to operations as possible – and then add additional layers only when they are absolutely required.

The nucleus consists of your website and your customer service team. Your website should allow those customers who are so inclined to serve themselves: to consume information and to transact. (These customers, it should go without saying, are your very best customers, so it makes sense to look after them.)

Your customer service team is an extension of your web presence. Think of it as a concierge service that site on top of your website. Regardless of what you sell (dog whistles or sub-assemblies for aircraft carriers), your customer service team should be responsible for processing simple transactions (those where customers know pretty much what they want), generating quotes and handling issues.

Once you have customer service looking after simple transactions, your next step should be to add sales. But your first sales layer should be an inside one.

Your inside salespeople should have skills and knowledge equivalent (or superior) to your competitors’ field salespeople. But, because your inside salespeople are inside specialists, they will each have 30 meaningful selling interactions a day.

And, as a part of your inside sales team, you’ll need a promotions machine. I say machine because those 30 interactions a day will result in an insatiable hunger for sales opportunities. You will need to generate 10 to 20 sales opportunities a day to keep each inside salesperson busy.

Field sales

As you start to scale inside sales, you will experience an increasing requirement for field visits. After all, there are still some activities that genuinely do need to be performed outside.

At this point, it will be tempting to recruit a team of traditional salespeople. But a modicum of caution is advised!

If you examine those activities that genuinely do need to be performed in the field you’ll see that they fall naturally into two categories:

  • Technical activities (e.g. technical requirement discovery and demonstrations)
  • Enterprise sales activities (e.g. running discovery workshops and presenting to executive teams)
You’ll also discover, in most all environments, that the greatest preponderance of activities lands in that first category. This should give you pause.

Turns out, in most organizations, your initial field hires should be technical specialists (with some sales sensibilities), as opposed to archetypal salespeople. These field specialists will be an invaluable resource for your core inside sales team. When inside salespeople discover a requirement for a field activity, they can push it to a field specialist, who can perform the necessary activity and report back to the inside salesperson who (hopefully) can proceed to finalize the sale.

You will discover that you can build quite a significant sales team before you have a requirement to add true enterprise-class salespeople. In fact, if your organization is generating less than $10m a year in sales, it’s unlikely that you can really justify such a hire. You’ll be better-off focusing on building-out your core team and pushing enterprise-type activities to your senior executives.

When you can justify your first enterprise sales hire, it’s wise to make two hires. In addition to the salesperson, employ an executive assistant. The executive assistant can take responsibility for the essential inside activities, leaving your (expensive) new enterprise salesperson free to spend 100% of their time in the field. With this configuration, an enterprise salesperson can easily perform 3-4 field meetings a day – which is about ten-times the volume of work that they could handle if they worked alone.

You’ll discover that this inside-out approach results in vastly superior interface between you and your customers. And that’s nice. But the better news is that this model is easy – and inexpensive – to scale. Because almost all of your marketing and sales activity is performed by an inside team, you don’t need regional sales offices, you don’t need layers of management and you don’t need a team of operations people to process expense reports and adjudicate border skirmishes between over-caffeinated commissioned salespeople.

The death of field sales does not mark the end of field salespeople. They still exist and they always will. What it does mark is the beginning of a new era, where sales is essentially an inside function.

You’ll come to discover that the inside-out sales model results in happier customers, a lower average cost of sale and a faster-growing business. It’s time to be done with the grieving so we can knuckle down and exploit this exciting new reality.

Watch the short 5 minute video now

Justin Roff-Marsh - For 20 years, Justin Roff-Marsh’s deep thinking and writing on the subject of sales process engineering has blazed a trail for others to follow.

Justin is the author of The Machine: A Radical Approach to the Design of the Sales Function.

He’s the developer of Sales Process Engineering (SPE) a TOC application for Sales Management.

And, he’s is the founder of Ballistix—a consultancy with operations in the USA, the UK and Australia.

Although Justin was a science nut as a child (and still is today), he commenced his career in sales. He sold insurance and then progressed to manage a team of 100 salespeople. He then co-founded a firm that sold financial education and quickly discovered that his product lacked the margins required to sustain a typical field-based sales force. He developed his approach to sales process engineering in response to this challenge.

Justin’s approach to the sales process is as revolutionary as Deming’s was to manufacturing. He argues passionately that the application of scientific management principles to the sales process is the next great uncharted frontier for industry. His message is always controversial, but he never fails to delight audiences with his fast-paced presentation style and his encyclopedic knowledge of business.


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