When I got my 1st job in sales, I had a troublesome image in my head of a typical sales rep that I didn’t want to be tarred with: ‘Pulling up outside a corner shop in an Astra SRi (sales rep inside), suit jacket hanging in the back, a boot full of samples and the crumbs from a hastily wolfed Ginsters pasty making little oil stains on an ill-advised mustard-coloured shirt.’
It’s sad to say that a few weeks into the job, this was my new look. I marched into shop after shop with my oversized briefcase, my stock and order sheets and a variety of widgets and pens that did way more for my sales than my unconvincing sales patter. At the end of a long day, I got back to my lonely B&B and proceeded to spend the next 3 hours copy all of the orders I’d taken onto my tablet predecessor via the dial up.
So, have things moved on for the sales rep since my time at the wheel?
I’m not sure that the car, lunch and fashion choices have evolved significantly but the technology available to them has. Many companies are providing their reps with the latest hardware in the hope of improving order taking efficiency and two-way communication with the customers. With consumer communication media becoming increasingly disparate, the realisation is dawning on CP companies that the real battleground for influencing the shopper is at the point of purchase.
This rapid technology deployment, however, is in danger of creating a vicious circle. I’m all for increased efficiency and a professional look but this efficiency often leads to a desire to increase the number of calls per day or reduce headcount in order to reduce the cost per call. These are valid responses to the improved efficiency as sales forces are costly to run and quite rightly need to make a return on the investment. However, if this is the only response to efficiency savings, the next technological advance will lead to a further reduction in call times or sales reps and so on until the sales rep no longer has the time or ability to sell.
In sales, relationships are one of the keys to success
If you can build trust with your customer that you have their best interests at heart, it becomes easier to set up joint initiatives that grow sales for you and your customer. Sometimes this takes an investment of time or energy that is out of the normal run of a call. Investing the efficiency savings from technology in relationship building will give you an edge against your competition who will be reducing call time in their cost saving vicious circle.
Bring in the technology, bring on the efficiency savings but rather than pocketing them, reinvest them in customer relationships and see the impact on your top line.