In many respects, the healthcare industry is hardly a business model to be emulated. But in one way they get it right: Think back to your last doctor's visit. Did your primary physician set up your appointment, check you in, take your blood pressure, process lab tests, code your bill and mail it to you? Of course not. In the healthcare industry, there is a different person for every function, with lower-paid workers performing the most menial tasks. This frees up the most expensive workers, the doctors, to perform the organization's most expensive function as cheaply as possible.
It should be the same in your business: Specialize. If a quote comes in requiring someone to look up 100 items, or there’s a question about order status, or returns that need to be managed, those tasks should be the job of a lower-paid customer service rep and not your highly-paid outside sales reps.
If your outside sales reps are doing a lot of market-serving – writing up quotes, providing product information, managing returns and handling supplier issues for existing customers —then they are not investing their time wisely.
Narrowing the role of your field sales rep to one that is focused on new business development and demand creation requires first taking a close look at your industry and your customers’ needs before shifting resources. But if you can free up your outside sales reps to do what they excel at – building relationships, anticipating customers’ needs and problem-solving – they can focus on market-making, and not market-serving.
To learn what customers really want, the conversation your field sales team should be having is not about, “What can I do to sell you stuff?” It’s about the issues customers are facing and how you can solve their problems. It’s never about you and what you’re selling.
The sales folks execute. They’re your company commanders. Protect your investment in them and give them the tools to make the best decisions and the freedom from other responsibilities to carry them out. CRM Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is one of the most effective tools that can help you do that.
Traditionally, salespeople have been self-directed independent operators, out in the field making calls and investment decisions with their valuable time. But do they have all the information they need to make the best decisions for your business? Chances are they don’t.
CRM doesn’t have to be a choke collar, but rather a tool that can be as useful to them as it is cost-effective for you. CRM delivers visibility to sales management and facilitates team communication and collaboration. You can also use it for accountability between the manager and the sales rep to communicate with that sales rep that she’s meeting expectations, exceeding them or not meeting them at all.
And, when you use it properly, CRM becomes an information clearinghouse, which makes it your best business development tool. In addition to basic customer data, you’ll find data collected from each sales call, as well as documentation of and details from each time a customer calls with questions. Sales management can use it to ensure that sales reps are investing their time in the accounts with the most potential.
In a distribution company, 20 percent of business development information comes from the salesperson and 80 percent from somewhere else. If there’s no way to deliver that 80 percent to your sales reps, you could be squandering one of your company’s most valuable resources.
Read more about the changing role of field sales and how your distribution company can support this shift in the MDM Special Report, The Sales Gorilla in the Room.
Mike Marks is managing partner of Indian River Consulting Group and specializes in helping distributors and manufacturers accurately diagnose problems and identify risk-bound alternatives, so they can take their next steps confidently. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 321-956-8617, or visit ircg.com.