Over the last year, the Coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted how your field sales team normally operates, with very few in-person meetings able to happen. But, that doesn’t mean it will be a permanent change moving forward. Of course, there have been some benefits to field reps working remotely during the pandemic in a more inside sales-type role.
It has been shown that inside sales reps consistently make up to seven times more contacts in a day compared to outside sales. They also work through a shorter sales cycle and have a reduced cost-per-contact compared to outside sales.
But, does that really mean that outside sales is dying? Not so fast.
It comes down to the fact that face-to-face sales meetings build stronger, more profitable, and longer-lasting business relationships than any inside sales technology can begin to replicate.
There is nothing quite like demonstrating that you value a prospect or customer’s business by meeting with them face-to-face and allowing them to get to know you as a person, not just another sales rep on the phone.
In fact, nearly 100% of people surveyed confirm that in-person meetings are essential to forming strong long-term business relationships. Much of this comes down to building open communication and trust. This is something face-to-face interactions do better than anything else.
Customers are more likely to purchase from a company they actually know and can trust, especially when it comes to higher-ticket items or services.
Timing Will Matter More Than Ever
With the COVID-19 vaccine quickly becoming more readily available to larger numbers of people, it won’t be long before your team and many of your customers and prospects will be vaccinated. Once that happens and it is safe for outside sales reps to be out in the field again, time will be of the essence.
In many cases, it will be a situation of the first sales rep to get in front of the prospect and offer a valuable solution to their current needs is going to win the deal. If you aren’t going to do what you can to make sure it’s your reps who are first, your competitors will.
Some DO Believe That Outside Sales Is Dead
But, realistically, the question of if outside sales is dying is a valid one to consider. Based on impacts from the pandemic and the ever-evolving digital landscape of sales, some companies over the last year have taken a hard stance that outside sales is, in fact, dead.
Take for example Hubspot, who said that in today’s business environment “salespeople are significantly more efficient when they are inside”. Sure, they probably are getting more done if you look at the volume of activities. But, are they actually forming relationships and closing deals like outside sales reps can more consistently? Chances are they’re not. (More on that below)
Also, Inbound Seller referenced the rise of internet search and the availability of information as a reason that outside sales is dying. No amount of information that a prospect gathers on their own can replace the value of an outside sales rep. Not only will the rep be saving them time from researching, but also offering a personalized solution that meets the prospect’s individual needs and pain points.
Modern outside sales reps tailor and personalize their entire sales process to each prospect or customer's unique context. More importantly, they lead prospects through the emotional side of persuasion and buying that can most effectively be done in person.
Business relationships are formed, fostered, and preserved at a higher rate and for longer periods when they are done in person.
Why Outside Sales Isn’t Going Anywhere
The questions regarding the state of outside sales were starting to be fairly common even several years ago. But as you can see now, after experiencing the effects and changes to the sales environment during the pandemic, it’s more prevalent now than ever.
Even if it goes to a hybrid model, outside sales will never be able to fully be replaced by inside sales strategies. Outside sales is still highly valuable and supports companies in ways that digital interactions can’t. Here are 7 reasons why it should still be an essential piece of your company’s sales strategy:
Reason #1 - Fuels Stronger Human Connections
We’ve touched on this above, but a key part of outside sales job responsibilities is making connections. These reps have a unique opportunity to form a deep connection and cultivate a business relationship stronger than many other channels can provide.
Humans are inherently wired for connection with others and feeling like we belong and are appreciated. Outside sales reps can more easily and accurately pinpoint what makes their prospects and customers “tick” through in-person connections and observing body language. This information is then used to prioritize valued relationship-building tactics and close deals.
During the pandemic, everything went virtual and in-person communication quickly became impossible. After so many emails, phone calls, and Zoom meetings, people are on digital overload and will be craving in-person connections even more than before. Even customers or prospects who may not have been as receptive to a face-to-face meeting pre-pandemic.
Reason #2 - Employs a Stronger Sense of Credibility & Trust
People are more likely to buy from companies they know and trust. Without trust, there is no foundation to build a long-lasting business relationship. In-person sales allows a better opportunity for reps to gain the prospect’s trust, for the prospect to get to know the rep and the company, and for the rep to better understand the prospect’s true needs and wants.
The more your reps can learn about what prospects and customers need and the pain points they are trying to resolve, the better they will be able to serve them. This will often lead to a rise in customer retention and brand loyalty.
This is specifically important for field reps who will be meeting with C-suite executives. Once reps have developed and cultivated trust from these decision-makers, sitting down with them and developing combinations of strategic business solutions that will help their business will be much more effective than through a phone call.
Reason #3 - Higher Close Rate
Outside sales reps focus on a smaller number of leads and more personal attention on those leads. This relationship building through in-person communication brings a much higher measure of sales effectiveness, which means a higher close rate compared to inside sales.
Field sales teams close deals 40% of the time, while inside sales convert only 18%.
Reason #4 - Helps Cut Through the “Noise”
As the amount of readily accessible information at the click of a button increases, the digital “noise” increases. In many situations these days, there are dozens of options to choose from in a Google search for something the prospect may need. It can be even harder to differentiate the ins and outs of each option, quickly causing overwhelm and information overload.
This is where field sales reps step in, filter the options, and demonstrate in-person the best solution for prospects’ needs and pain points. This can be tough to do any other way than in-person in a real conversation.
Reason #5 - Eliminates Technical Difficulties & Miscommunication
Of course, in some ways, technology has increased the efficiency of sales communication. But in other instances, communication has been made worse by technology. A dropped call or frozen Zoom meeting is enough to wreck a sale.
Plus, miscommunication can happen very quickly when trying to converse through email or even over the phone.
In-person sales meetings eliminate the chance of your reps having to battle technical difficulties or decipher exactly what the prospect meant. They will also be able to use indicators from body language to more accurately gauge prospects’ reactions. Face-to-face, in-person communication allows your team to establish a deeper rapport with prospects and customers.
Reason #6 - Allows for Demonstrations of Complicated Products or Services
Especially in complex solution sales, customers are much more likely to purchase after seeing and trying the product or getting a feel for the service. Outside sales allows for opportunities to demonstrate your company’s product in-person, giving prospects the chance to truly learn how it will work best for them in their own environment.
Physically showing them this is a much more effective strategy than just trying to explain it over a call. In-person product or service demos bring to life how the product will help solve the prospect’s pain points, needs, and desires.
Reason #7 - Field Sales Is Essential in Specific Industries
Take the pharmaceutical or medical device sales world, for example. Physicians and surgeons will always want to see a medical device in person before they use it on a patient. They want to see it, touch it, and have the rep explain the technology behind it. More importantly, health care providers want field sales reps to demonstrate the true value it has to them and their patients.
In pharmaceutical sales, ideally, the sales rep understands the science, is truly interested in the patients that could be helped, and is capable of sitting down and having a meaningful discussion with the health care provider.
These are all things that cannot be as effectively done from an inside sales perspective.
How to Get Your Outside Sales Team Back Into the Field Safely & Successfully
Once more and more of your team has been vaccinated against the virus and more businesses are back open, it’ll be important to get your reps back in the field quickly. But, it’s even more important to take the steps to ensure they are doing so safely and are armed for success. These steps will revolve around two key areas: prioritizing safety and nurturing relationships.
Steps to Prioritize Safety
- Assess who is open: Your team needs to assess the status of your customers and new prospects. Some businesses may have closed permanently, some may still be closed temporarily, or some may only open for limited hours.
- Evaluate who will take appointments: After prioritizing the open businesses, reps need to find out who will be comfortable taking in-person appointments currently.
- Schedule appointments: To show respect and establish boundaries ahead of time, reps can’t just drop by. They need to schedule face-to-face meetings beforehand as much as possible.
- Text ahead: If a rep has extra time and is in the area of a customer or prospect that’s open, they need to send them a text or email to see if it would be okay to stop in.
- Continue to use PPE: Even if they have been vaccinated, supply your reps with appropriate protection, like masks and gloves, and encourage them to continue to use them as a symbol of respect to customers.
Taking the time to ensure that your team is following the steps to emphasize safety will show your customers and prospects that you respect their health and the health of those around them.
“The #1 mandate is safety... It’s all about making sure you have PPE and (are) setting up appointments. We have to respect (the customer’s) needs and their comfort.”
Steps to Nurture Valuable Relationships
- Retrain your team as needed: If your business plan or sales model has now changed to put more focus on cultivating deeper business relationships, retrain your team as needed. Reps need to be armed with the skills necessary to be a trusted advisor versus just another salesperson pitching a product.
- Prioritize opportunities that fit currently: Have your reps focus on customers or prospects that need your solutions the most and would be more likely to make purchases now. This list may not look the same as it did even a few months ago.
- Listen to customers: Reps need to take the time to ask deeper questions and truly hear how things are going for customers. This will uncover ways your business can meet new needs that may be present for your customers now.
- Restructure sales pitch as needed: Encourage your reps to adjust their messaging to meet any new customer needs. They can then highlight new products or services to cross-sell or upsell.
- Show your company cares: If reps can’t have an in-person visit with the customer yet, have them drop off a gift basket, branded merchandise, etc to keep your company top of mind.
Your outside sales reps need to focus on building and nurturing cohesive business relationships and position themselves as the provider of solutions and answers, ones that the internet can’t fully provide.
“We’ve been focusing a lot on customers where we already have that relationship… and try to get into some other areas where they may not already be purchasing.”
Track and Measure Activities
Another important part of your outside sales team being successful after returning to the field is tracking their activities. A common pain point when it comes to field sales is a lack of measurement in regards to sales metrics and KPIs, especially in comparison to inside sales.
For your outside sales team to truly be successful, tracking their activities will help drive and maintain a high level of productivity. With a tool like Map My Customers, you can track, measure, and correlate the data to the sales deals and revenue, allowing you and your team to proactively pivot where needed.
Continue to Utilize Outside Sales to Achieve Success
There’s no question, our world looks very different now than it did even six months ago. Up until recently, your outside sales team’s activities in the field may have been at a standstill. But, that does not mean that outside sales is dying off forever.
The value and benefits of outside sales outweigh the investment that goes into training, mobilizing, and equipping your face-to-face team. Your reps interacting with prospects and customers in an in-person setting is a completely different encounter than trying to nurture them over the phone or online. Face-to-face field sales allow your reps to understand customers in real-time, offer customized solutions, increase revenue, and create a long-lasting, personal connection.
So, follow the steps we covered above to prepare your outside sales team to return to the field safely and ready to continue to help grow your company.