HARDISON’S TIPS – AUGUST 4, 2020 – ARE OUTSIDE SALES PROFESSIONALS STILL NEEDED?
1. Size of the Purchase
Specifically, where the purchase is a big-ticket item, the chances of the purchaser making that decision without a live relationship with the seller is less likely. Where the purchase decision is smaller, the likelihood of a salesperson-less decision is far greater.
Let me give you an example. I’ve done a lot of work in the woodworking equipment industry. I’ve worked with dozens of companies who sold sophisticated equipment that cut and drilled desktops, for example, and cost the purchaser hundreds of thousands of dollars. A manufacturer considering a $500,000 equipment purchase is going to continue to want to see and know – face-to-face – the person from whom he is considering buying.
On the other hand, if he is buying a $50 band saw blade by the dozen, he will have no interest in spending time with a visiting salesperson.
The issue here is the size of the purchase decision. For example, a manufacturer may decide to use a $2.00 component. But, if he signs a contract for one million of those over a two-year period, the buying decision is formidable.
2. Intricacy of the Sales Process
Where the sales process is involved and complex, the role of a live, outside salesperson will continue to be required. Where the sales process is simple and straightforward, field salespeople will not be necessary.
For example, automotive manufacture deciding on the vendor for a couple of components to a new automobile. Lots of engineers must sign off on the deal, as do multiple levels of purchasing people. It is an involved, heavily hands-on buying process. While the cost of the individual item may be pennies, the risk of making a mistake is huge, and purchasers reduce the risk with multiple layers of buying requirements.
3. Sophistication of the Customer
This one works in the opposite direction. Where the customer is sophisticated, the likelihood of them utilizing a vendor’s field salesperson is less likely. Where the customer is less sophisticated, the likelihood of a field salesperson being a necessary part of the buying decision is enhanced.
I have a number of clients in the building materials industry, for example. If the customer is a rural, mom and pop retail lumber yard, that customer will be more likely to favorably view live outside visits. If the buyer is a multi-state developer of new residential communities, and therefore much more sophisticated, the likelihood is they can get by just fine without a vendor’s field salesperson.
The bottom line is this: There are very few absolute answers. It is a matter of degree. The degree to which your field salesforce is obsolete depends on your customers.
So, if your customer is relatively unsophisticated, your product is relatively expensive, and your sales process more involved, your outside salespeople will probably only feel some pressure to do more of their work – rather than all of it – remotely.
If, however, your customer is relatively sophisticated, your product relatively inexpensive, and your sales process simpler, your traditional outside salespeople are probably obsolete.