B2B sales: Fix the Basics of Direct Sales ForceWritten by Manolis Lekkas
B2B Distributors and Wholesalers are in an monumental transition. Those that want to lead the future, must have strong value propositions and cutting edge digital capabilities. Emerging Marketplaces will shake the established way of operating. However, before adapting to the future, they must ensure that their sales forces, still the core of the customer experience, are extremely effective and efficient. This is the first part of a series of three articles of today and tomorrow of B2B Sales.
In order to Fix the Basics, here are the 3 key areas to check.
1) Know the products and how they add value to customers’ business
In a research conducted by Distribution Strategy Group in 2021, in the USA, for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, the most important factor for a distributor/wholesaler (WS/DT) to become more important to a manufacturer was to: improve customer facing employees understanding about products. 96% declared that as extremely important/important.
As product portfolios expand, sales forces have increasingly more difficulties in knowing well the products. Available training time for each product line decreases. Employee turnover makes things even more dramatic.
When manufacturers rely on a network of regional DT/WSs, the low sales force capabilities of some partners is a major disadvantage.
Developing a concise, practical product training, for each major product line, geared for field sales reps (SR) can make a huge difference. These modules could be part of a complete Sales Academy library, which can be translated in each language and cascaded vertically to all the organization and horizontally all over the world.
Such a training should include: how to prepare for the sell of this product, how to conduct the sale and how to follow up. For that particular product line!!
2) Elevate the quality of the sales skills of each SR
Each DT/WS has a different product portfolio and value propositions. The process of opening a new account, preparing for a visit to a regular customer using the available resources and executing the visit itself is also industry specific.
Both manufacturers and their DT/WS partners will benefit tremendously if they cooperate to create such skills training modules for SRs, also as part of a Sales Academy.
They should clearly state the value proposition of the manufacturer and of the DT/WS.
In his latest article at Harvard Business Review, Scott Edinger wrote: "It is far more difficult to do well in selling solutions than most realize. It takes considerable effort and commitment to move beyond pitching and closing towards successfully executing a strategic sales process.
How you sell can be as differentiating as What you sell" (read the article at HBR here)
3) Use data effectively to steer customer portfolio and SR efforts.
As available data increase, and reports multiply, sales leaders have difficulty to focus on the essential. Time is wasted to explain variances from target and not in actions to reach the targets.
All companies swim in a sea of data but few know how to harness their power. As iPhone showed the power of an effective interface, so DT/WSs should seek the tools and processes which focus efforts on what matters. There are so many inefficiencies in lack of KPIs, target setting, journey planning, and bonus structures.
As the tsunami of digitalization hits sales departments worldwide, in the same way as it hit marketing departments five years ago, distributors and wholesalers should review the basics of steering their field sales forces. Unless sales leaders adjust to the new circumstances, these inefficiencies will drag their organizations to the bottom of the river.
Successful manufacturers partner with distributors and wholesalers, using experts to implement best class practices to elevate the capabilities of their sales teams. It is remarkable that marketing departments always use the help of marketing agencies to boost their marketing capabilities while sales departments try alone (yes, occasionally they use outside training, but that is comparably little, considering the level of change currently taking place)!
Sales leaders should fix the basics with their direct sales force before strengthening the next two pillars which are digitalization and strategic approach of marketplaces. (watch out for the upcoming two articles on the topic)