Posted by: peterhact | October 3, 2011

Technology and the “Field Sales Person”

I was reading an article today that talked about the dwindling requirement of the Field Sales Representative. In some industries this is probably true. In the ICT industry, nothing could be further from the truth. End users need engagement with a representative when negotiating the licensing minefield. They need someone who can reduce the stress of refreshing their technology and making the purchases worthwhile. By worthwhile I don’t mean the fastest, but the equipment that meets their needs for the present and the immediate future.

How many people have bought a computer with a promise of it being able to be upgraded when their needs change? Have they upgraded it? Most may increase the ram in the system to allow new programs to run, but that is usually the extent of their upgrade requirements. Why?

Because their needs change after buying the computer. It becomes a part of the business / home environment, and they choose to use it as it is. There is no need to upgrade if it is working fine, is there?

There are many stories about users with very old computers that chug away, meeting their needs, and only surfacing after the computer breaks. Time to get it fixed, it meets my needs, why change just yet?

Why do most users keep older computers that the new breed of salespeople look at and scoff?

The new salespeople are about the now. Not the tomorrow or the next 5 or 6 years. They see the immediate sale, but don’t think about the future for the client. the older salespeople see the benefits of a client being helped to achieve their needs. What defines a new salesperson?

A new salesperson is someone who thinks that they know everything. they have no time for advice from older salespeople, they think of themselves and not the client’s needs, they aim their sights on the big deals, the big clients and they don’t see the big picture a small client might have.

Sorry, off topic a bit there.

What does a field sales person bring to a client? Well, they are there to provide advice, information and turn the sales discussion from a focus about the price to a solution for a client that meets several key criteria.

The criteria (as I see it) for all clients is:

1. Existing technology – what does the client already have? is it able to be supported right now and in the future ? can the client survive and perform essential tasks without changing the equipment they already have?

2. Business direction – where is the business headed? do they want to enter the world of social media? Do they want to have an online presence? What does the business owner feel are the areas that need to be improved?

3. Future plans – Where does the business want to be in 5 years? 10 Years? Have they the time to think about it? How can time be set aside to assist them in their planning?

4. Budget – If they want to change their ICT equipment, how can they do it? How much can they change, and in what timeframe?

5. New technology – have they seen new products that they need to consider? who was responsible for the idea to change? Do they really need to make changes right now?

These questions aren’t usually written down. Most older field reps have them in their heads, and they ask the clients a combination of the questions listed, usually not all of them, but enough to gain an understanding of the environment and the demands placed on the organisation by their requirements.

When I first started in sales, properly, with assistance from older salespeople, I had a qualification list. Through discussions with my elder peers, and I had some statesmen of the industry to draw my knowledge from, I created my list of all the things that I needed to learn from the client. Every meeting I attended, I wrote on my list and gleaned all the information i needed. Over the years, the list disappeared from paper and reappeared in my head. I use it today. I have conditioned myself to have it in my head, and I raise the comments in discussions with clients.

How does this benefit both me and the client? In gaining an understanding of the client’s requirements, I change the relationship from aggressive seller to business partner. Every business has many contacts a month from reps. They get calls about their phones, their printers, their faxes, their computers and marketing. I know they do. So do I.

The key point here is to become a differentiator. If you strip away the marketing, the veneer of the company promoted images, every ICT business is exactly the same. They have a sales team, a support team and upper management. What makes each company succeed if they are basically the same is the differentiation that they can bring to a client. This is based on the skill and ability of the sales person, not the company.

Tools that a company provides to a sales person allow them to achieve and perform at their best. The tools that every sales person has access to may include technology, but this is purely a mechanism to deliver the real tools, the documents that allow a client to see the solution that has been discussed, the proposals, quotations and scopes of work.

Documentation that is used by a salesperson may make or break their approach to a client. Using older templates without refreshing them can change an attitude about the company, as it may mean that the the information is skewed to a specific focus, a prior campaign. A good proposal has several things in it, and these are based on personal preference, so I won’t expand on what I do.

The advent of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software system has been a boon for Field Sales people. Now, where before there were several notebooks filled with information about clients, it can be centralised, allowing other staff in a company to know what exactly a sales person is doing, where they are working, what meetings they have had and are having, and the results of those meetings. This, of course, creates a new requirement of a sales person.

Record keeping. Why is it that so many sales people go white when this is mentioned? what is the fear that sales people have for recording information about their clients? Simply, this is derived from the older sales days. Any sales people who worked in the retail sector have an innate fear of client loss. Why?

Well, if you had a day off, and your client came in to see you, chances are that you would lose the sale. If you consider that retail reps work on a shift based system, it becomes clear. If you work on a weekend, your “weekend” will be during the week. I know that retailers claim this isn’t the case, but it happens so often that team spirit is usually crushed, and descends into everyone for themselves. Again, if you have a rapport with your client, they would usually know when you were or weren’t in the store, and would aim to visit when you were.

Back to CRM. Going off topic a bit here. Whew!

CRM allows me to map all of the clients I speak to, capture every email, phone call, meeting and discussion with other staff about the client. If I am on leave, one of my colleagues can see exactly where I was up to. If the client needs information whilst I am away, it can be provided to them. (as long as it is also included in the CRM system) When I return to work, one check of the CRM system brings me up to speed. I know who spoke to the clients, what was discussed and whether I need to follow up on any of the tasks created. No more emails, phone calls or face to face discussions with workmates to see what has happened. Effectively, this changes the abilities every sales person has to manage their clients.

The biggest winner in the equation is the client. The company appears as a well oiled machine. No explaining where the sales person was up to with them, no re-hashing the requirements to someone new, chasing up requests, ETAs, or Proof of Delivery information.

Technology changes every day. Some times it is for the benefit of the client, other times for the reps. The overall message is that if the client needs to find out about technology, with a limitation on their time, why do the searching themselves? why not approach their sales rep, or find one to deal with that will take the task on for them?

It may well be the start of a beautiful partnership…


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