Inc. Magazine recently ran an article titled “Selling Face to Face is Almost Obsolete.” In it, the author cites a study by Dr. James Oldroyd that compares the growth rates of hiring for inside selling positions to that for outside sales roles. Hiring for inside positions, according to the article, is growing at a rate 15 times faster than for outside roles.
There’s no question that the economic downturn caused companies to ration their travel budget and keep their employees, sales or otherwise, closer to home. Multiple studies have also documented, as Dr. Oldroyd does, that even those in outside sales roles are spending less time in front of customers than they traditionally have.
The challenge for sales leaders is that while inside sales roles generally cost much less in both compensation and expense budgets, less time with suppliers is the opposite of what many customers say they want. Indeed, the findings from the voice of the customer interviews our clients conduct with their customers routinely highlight a desire for more interaction, better communication, and a more consistent and visible presence from a key supplier’s personnel.
Of course, buyers don’t want your salespeople to just be wandering their hallways in search of the next deal. What they do want is the specialized knowledge and advice that their suppliers can provide.
Three key findings from a recent project with one of our food industry clients illustrate the point:
- When asked to identify their preferred source for learning about new solutions and industry trends, the number one response from customers was “Information from suppliers.”
- Of the various improvement suggestions made by their customer contacts, the single most common request was for more market, industry, and consumer trend information to be shared by our client.
- Also high on the wish list of improvement areas was establishing more relationships inside the customer organization, particularly with people in research and development and other technical functions.
So, while the temptation to reduce the cost of selling is not likely to ever go away, the complexity of business and the ongoing need for knowledge will keep customers asking for the sort of interaction that only happens when your people can sit across the table from their people.