Selling while social distancing will certainly require changes for your field sales teams. A bigger change for some more than others. There are a number of issues to focus on in the near term, but it isn’t too early to start thinking about what will happen when things return to the new normal.

Your field sellers are certainly not strangers to phone or web meetings, but until we’re clear of CoVid-10, that’s ALL they can do to continue selling. Does that mean your entire sales organization just shifted to an inside sales model? What happens when all this clears up?


Near-Term Realities: Consider the Choice Customers Have in Front of Them


For customers with historical buying patterns that don’t fit the stereotypical inside sales model, what are they are to do if their office is in mandatory work from home lock-down? They essentially have two choices:


  1. Defer purchasing until they can get the face to face demo, discussion, or meeting they are accustomed to. Customers that choose this option likely lacked a compelling event to begin with, or the event itself is as much on hold as the office water cooler talk.
  2. Transition to purchase virtually because it’s mission-critical, and they can’t afford to wait. The calendar is still progressing, agreements are expiring, and some things simply have to be addressed whether people can get together in an office or not.


If your field reps have not already, the first order of business should be to quickly determine which category each opportunity in their active pipeline falls into. Given the market uncertainty, reps are naturally prioritizing driving active pipeline to closure over building new pipeline. Quickly identifying opportunities that can still be driven to closure will ensure their time is spent on where it can move the needle the most in this environment.


Not all ‘Field reps’ are created equal: this will be a bigger change for some more than others.


We use the term ‘Field reps’ to distinguish from the very distinct Inside Sales motion, but let’s not pretend field reps have never sold over the phone or are unfamiliar with collaborating over the web. Many already conduct most of their function virtually, and reserve face to face meetings for when the customer requests it, or they view it as essential for success. The near-term change for these field reps will not be that drastic, by definition, you’ve already invested in the processes and capabilities necessary for them to operate virtually vs. in-person.


For field reps that are NOT accustomed to selling virtually, the biggest changes in the near term will likely be in two general phases of the sales process:


  • Providing demos, collaborating and participating in more complex discussions virtually


We established earlier that given the uncertainty in the business environment, in the near-term most reps are naturally going to focus on in-flight opportunities in their active pipeline and not necessarily pipe building activities. Therefore, successfully executing the middle at late stages of your sales process virtually may expose some gaps in your capabilities, and perhaps necessitate some training.


Recommended action: Ensure your teams (including client-facing SME’s, presales engineers, etc.) have an adequate technology solution for conducting demos/meeting online.


  • Getting the buyer’s agreement in a manner that complies with your order acceptance/bookings governance policies.


If your organization has already invested in and rolled out an E-signature capability, this issue will be moot. However, if your organization has not, there are several actions you should take:


Recommended actions: Deploying a new E-signature capability takes time, so the first action should be to examine your Order acceptance/Booking governance policies and understand the implications for reps that can no longer get a physically signed contract. Second, work with legal and finance to determine if modifications can be made temporarily. E.g., if your circumstances are such that legal and finance will accept an emailed scanned image of an agreement given the circumstances, the policies need to be updated. The new guidance should be communicated immediately, so there is no ambiguity for sales reps nearing a signing date.


For a broader discussion of the ramifications for selling virtually, another valuable resource for you is Virtual Selling: A New Era is Upon Us.


Longer-Term Implications


What happens when we’re past CoVid-19, and things return to some semblance of normal?


First, the measures put in place to continue conducting business while social distancing may have served another purpose: to validate or disprove assumptions your sales reps and their customers previously held around the necessity of face to face interactions. When social distancing is no longer necessary, buying journeys that can most benefit from face to face meetings will clearly return based on customer requests, preferences. However, a subset of your customers may find that conducting the buying/selling process virtually posed no hinderance, so why not continue to go with what works?


Recommended action: Identify the customers and transactions most impacted by going 100% virtual, and proactively solicit feedback around the buying experience.


If field reps can continue to sell virtually longer term, does that make them ‘inside sales’ reps now?


When you consider that social distancing can also impact Inside Sales teams normally working out of the same office to distance from each other, the lines couldn’t get blurrier between ‘field’ sales reps and ‘inside’ sales reps if both were selling from their homes. However, there is a distinction between ‘virtual selling’ and ‘inside selling.’ Hence, the short answer is: No, a field rep selling without a face to face meeting doesn’t become an ‘Inside Sales Rep’ as the term has come to be used.


Let’s Remember What Differentiates Inside Sales From Field Sales


Though we commonly bifurcate sales organizations with “Field Sales Reps” vs. “Inside Sales Reps” due to organizational structures and compensation plans, it’s an oversimplification to take a binary view. In reality, it is the complexity of navigating the buyer through their journey that distinguished inside sales from field sales. For customers and transactions that can be made standardized and repeatable, we’ve simply taken the next logical step and deployed the roles remotely and specialized the role in order to maximize repeatability and velocity.


We’ve all fallen into the trap of using shorthand and differentiating between inside sales and field sales based on the ability to sell remotely. However, as online collaboration continues to increase in prevalence, a requirement that a rep meets face to face may no longer serve as a valid proxy for complexity, or sales expertise required for the buyer’s journey. Ask yourself this question: with social distancing in place due to CoVid-19, are more or less selling skills required to marshal your highest value and most complex opportunities to closure while conducting the entire process virtually? Few, if any, would answer less to that question. Hence, it is worth noting that the reason we typically compensate field rep positions more than inside positions is due to the skill required to get the deals to closure, not a reward for traveling to meet face to face with customers.


Why Does This Distinction Matter?


Given the constant cost pressures affecting sales organizations, you can bet that a natural impulse for some will be to jump at the chance to shift customers to an ‘inside’ model if social distancing demonstrates customers will buy through a virtual process. That could be the wrong move if interacting virtually, with no other change to selling requirements, is misinterpreted as a signal to shift to a different selling motion or type of sales resource for coverage. Therefore, distinguishing between what truly constitutes an ‘inside sales’ model vs. not can be the difference between sharpening the pencil and creating a customer experience and sales disaster.


Actions You Should Prepare When Social Distancing Is No Longer Required:


  • Do NOT rush immediately to move the customers to an inside sales team or re-categorize the existing sales reps as inside sales reps

Experienced reps are likely to have an allergic reaction to the term Inside Sales Rep. To identify any cases where customers can truly be shifted to an inside sales model, examine the velocity and complexity of the sales process NOT simply a willingness to purchase virtually

  • Monitor the travel requirements of your field reps to recalibrate your account coverage or deal capacity expectations.

As we discussed earlier, the perception (either by the rep or the buyer) of how much can be accomplished virtually that doesn’t require the social distancing experiences of CoVid-19 may impact face to face logistics. Whereas selling virtually, in and of itself, does not simplify a buying journey to enable a shift to an inside sales model. It still saves time and money, and you absolutely want to determine how many additional customers a field rep can cover

  • Expand their territory size relative based on the new go-forward view of their time availability (with no driving/flying, a rep should be able to cover more customers)


SBI’s CoVid-19 Action Plan provides a step-by-step framework with detailed instructions and a timeline to follow as you help your sales teams navigate this new normal.


Download the CoVid-19 Action Plan Here


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