Not everyone sees the value in an outside sales force, but many see it as synonymous with “service.”
An outside sales force is a valuable thing. Potential—or even existing—customers aren’t always going to seek out a company. To get customers’ attention, salespeople have to go and talk to them. This doesn’t mean getting in the customer’s way or being pushy. It doesn’t mean showing up unannounced with a box of bagels, hanging out with the receptionist, and talking about the weather. It means being strategic—being in the right place at the right time, whether it’s at a customer’s air conditioned and comfortable office or at a hot and dirty jobsite. It means being more than an order taker, but rather someone who can provide answers to questions and solutions to problems—or direct the customer to someone who can.
Effective outside salespeople take the time to train and be trained. They have above-average knowledge of one or more of the major disciplines within the industry, which allows them to be the anchor to an account that will keep the competition at bay. Good salespeople bring something to the table that makes them indispensable to their customers—who are ultimately looking for a partner with whom to ally.
An outside sales force must be backed by an inside team to create a total package; together they are arguably the most essential factors required for achieving success. Providing the right tools, communicating with the right people, and granting access to up-to-date technology will also empower success.
Just as the customer is looking to develop a team, an outside sales force must be a team within itself to guarantee the greatest success. Taking the time and the opportunity to share knowledge and experience to create solutions and best practices is invaluable. Good leadership/management can make this happen and will inspire camaraderie within a highly competitive environment. In addition, the productivity of an outside sales force must be monitored constantly. Strengths and weaknesses must be ad dressed. Accounts may need to be moved around so as not to stalemate.
Finally, when monitoring the outside sales force, identify company objectives and check that they are being met. Does the compensation package line up with sales goals? Is the company getting what the salesperson is incentivizing for? Increased sales without gross profit dollars means that it’s time to develop a plan for change.
Just as real estate is “location, location, location,” successful electrical distribution is “relationships, relationships, relationships.” Create them. Pros don’t hand out tickets to the game; they take a customer to games and share the experience. Fish, golf, hunt, go out to eat, go to concerts—even spend a little vacation time with customers. The result is often securing not only long-time customers, but also some great friendships.