The Mandate for Hybrid Sales Models in Distribution

In this week’s MDM Podcast, Gartner’s Maria Boulden, Mike Marks of Indian River Consulting Group and Tom Gale tackle all things sales transformation: Massive shifts in customer buying behavior, digital-first go-to-market strategy, supplier partnerships and the new sales skills needed to compete, including situational awareness, data literacy and digital dexterity.
Sales Hybrid Mike Marks Maria Boulden

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little buzzed. Nothing to do with the fact that I live in Colorado, but by the all the hype and buzzwords around transformation. Pick your flavor — digital, sales — and we are as guilty as everyone else. It’s real, it’s critically important, but it’s also easy to lose meaning when a term gets overused.

So I was incredibly excited to have a conversation again with Maria Boulden, vice president, partner, sales at Gartner. She has an absolute gift for getting to the heart of the matter, which you’ll hear in this week’s podcast. Maria understands distribution channels well, following a 33-year career including sales leadership for several DuPont divisions and product categories with distribution as primary channels. She was the keynote speaker at our 2021 Sales GPS Conference, and I’m excited to have her return as a keynoter for our September transformation conference this year (see note at the end of this)!

Also joining me in this week’s podcast is Mike Marks, my co-host for the past five Sales GPS conferences and also our 2020 MDM LIVE weekly series. Mike also has a similar gift as Maria’s in cutting to the chase, while having a little fun on the way there. Too much sometimes, but that’s another story.

Here are a few key takeaways for the mandate to pursue a hybrid sales model, where digital channels are leading and supporting sales teams to do what they do best. To kick off our conversation, Maria recapped some Gartner research she covered at our November conference on how 44% of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free experience with their suppliers. And in a preview of the latest data Gartner is releasing this month, she shares that percentage has now moved into the mid-60s. Many distributors might say that doesn’t apply to their customer segments. I think that’s what Mike might term “a data-free conclusion.”

This is a true definition of transformation. It applies not only to the younger generation tiers; baby boomers have this growing preference. As we discuss, there is a widening gap in how customers want to engage with their suppliers and the degree that sellers are keeping up. “Buyers are going to do what they have to do to get what they need,” Boulden says. “But when they can execute on their preference for a rep-free sale, woe to the company that is not actively developing their virtual and digital engagement strategy for those clients. Because somebody else is, and they’re going to lose them.”

Here’s the good news: “That doesn’t mean field sales is dead,” Boulden says. “But is it is a very carefully deployed tool that is almost human-embedded in digital, so that you know your customer well enough to know when they’re going to need engagement with a person. That engagement might be how you and I are talking now. So we’re on screen with each other, or on some rare occasions, probably less than 30% of the time, it’ll involve sending somebody in person to visit an end user. But it’ll be rare.

“And we are seeing a lot more sophistication — not complexity — but sophistication with regard to harnessing digital, harnessing virtual and embedding people at the right places. Because you know your value chain and your buying behavior so well that you anticipate where they’re going to get stuck or find that friction; you know exactly how to make it go away.”

We touch on a number of other critical aspects of what a new hybrid sales model looks like — the reset on channel partnerships required as more manufacturers build direct selling channels to end-users, the difficulty in transitioning from traditional sales models, how distributors can help their teams move forward, and the new skills sellers need to create value for their customers. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did! 

Note on this very topic: We have rescheduled our June Sales Transformation Summit to integrate with our Digital & Analytics Summit Sept. 26-27. Save the date! Same powerful content and speakers, including Maria Boulden, Dirk Beveridge, Benj Cohen, my co-host Mike Marks and many others! Plus we’re expanding the conference with full content tracks on digital and data analytics. As we discuss in this podcast and all our platforms, every distribution company is in some degree of a business model transformation, which requires a hybrid sales model powered by digital and informed by data analytics. That’s our agenda for the September conference. Consider bringing your team to gain a shared vision for your journey. Stay tuned for more soon.

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