Lately, distributors tend to have less trouble finding leads than the manpower to capture them. For the fourth quarter of 2021, 65% of business economists reported an increase in sales, but 57% reported experiencing labor shortages, according to the National Association for Business Economics January 2022 Business Conditions Survey.
Why this imbalance? The Washington Post found that, while strong economic recovery drove up demand for workers in 2021, the labor force participation rate didn’t rise to meet that demand. Early retirement is largely to blame, as more than 1.5 million more people retired than anticipated in November 2021. But COVID-related issues, childcare challenges and a general disinterest in going back to work as usual have kept able individuals from entering the workforce. A large percentage of people also cite a mysterious “other” as their reason for not working.
People are also quitting at higher rates. For instance, in November 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a quit rate of 3.6% for trade, transportation and utilities industries, and a quit rate of 2.3% for manufacturing.
With conditions such as these, it’s no wonder distributor sales teams are seeing more opportunity than they have capacity to capture. Such a talent deficit doesn’t mean you should put a hold on growth. If you upgrade to a sales technology stack that supports automation and is powered by artificial intelligence, you don’t have to miss a beat in terms of productivity.
While you search for the next great team members, your existing salespeople can optimize their efforts, serving even more customers — better. That same technology will help you usher in new hires faster and more efficiently.
Power Up Your Existing Sales Team
In a labor shortage, it’s all about increasing productivity per person. Sales productivity isn’t a simple science — but you’re not making it any easier if you’re doing all the work by hand. Nothing is more counterproductive than manual, redundant processes that can be automated. What’s wrong with “how you’ve always done it”?
Spreadsheets and manual processes mean salespeople must (if they spend much time on it in the first place) tediously sort through data to find anything valuable to target the right customers with the right talking points and products. This is inefficient and wastes time — a precious commodity in a labor shortage.
Then, by the time salespeople identify opportunities and risks, the data has changed and may be irrelevant. For instance, a customer at risk of churn may have moved on to a new supplier before the salesperson even identified the red flag. As labor shortages endure, your staff will be forced to choose between spending time on administrative tasks and manual data collection or helping customers.
Each salesperson gets a substantial power up when you introduce better sales technology into the equation so they can sell smarter:
- The power of time: The time savings from using AI and automation are remarkable. How much time does your team spend on administrative tasks, such as data collection and preparation, reporting and communication, at your organization? Consider the potential if your finance and sales teams got that time back to dedicate to revenue-building activities, customer relationship building and sales. Would it relieve the pressure to find multiple new hires? Would it, in fact, improve productivity without adding more team members?
- The power of insight: The right technology can identify the most promising prospects from the data, identifying who a salesperson should call next and what to sell them based on behavior, segment and other factors. Such priority-based selling means salespeople will spend less time on low-quality leads and each call will be more meaningful — and successful.
- The power of oversight: Technology can also help short-staffed teams keep a pulse on the entire customer base. Salespeople can only nurture customer relationships one at a time. Technology can catch and flag key indicators of risk and opportunity in the customer data, alerting your team as needed. Sales teams save time on analyzing the data and they are alerted in time to be proactive and prevent losses.
Give New Hires a Fast Pass to Productivity
In this market, sales leaders are thinking outside of the box for recruitment. They’re hiring more entry-level salespeople, as well as experienced individuals from other unrelated markets and verticals. This can be scary in the face of high demand and plentiful opportunity. However, if your technology supports rapid onboarding and is easy to understand and use, you can reduce onboarding time from up to a year to a matter of months or even weeks. With the right technology in hand, sales reps can offer relevant products and services while still familiarizing themselves your business.
When you are successful in your search for new hires – whether you’re hiring two new reps or a fleet of 100 — having a technology stack that is intuitive and elevates their capabilities and customer knowledge out of the gate makes a big difference. It reduces your time to success and improve outcomes, increasing the speed of onboarding and making more effective salespeople right away. Automation will help them be more productive with their time, eliminating redundant administrative tasks.
Labor Challenges Don’t Have to Stop the Clock
Technology is giving distributors the ability to drive sales productivity like never before – and overcome headwinds such as the loss of knowledge that comes with retiring pros, the steep learning curves of entry-level hires, slim pickings in the labor market and high customer expectations.
Implementing technology that reduces redundant work and delivers relevant insights is key to achieving growth with limited resources. If you’re dealing with staff shortages, or if you’ve gained customers faster than you can expand your team, you need to optimize employees’ time and empower salespeople to sell smarter. You want to provide them the tools to be efficient and productive, letting automation handle those tasks that don’t contribute to revenue growth. You also need to enable your sales teams make the most of each call.
Kevin McGirl has 40 years’ experience delivering software solutions to the manufacturing and distribution sectors. As President and Co-Founder of sales-i, the leading sales enablement technology, he is passionate about helping salespeople leverage customer data to maximize performance in challenging markets. Kevin has experience working with sales leaders of Fortune 500 organizations and progressive independents to establish the role of AI/Machine Learning in the future sales model. Reach out at sales-i.com.