Management of the sales force has a fundamental role in the results that they will be able to bring to the company. For sales managers, creating and shaping a close-knit, up-to-date and competent team is the biggest challenge of their assignment, but at the same time also the most stimulating and the one most directly linked to the results to be achieved. An efficient management of the sales force is divided into various activities, including the correct understanding of the ability of the sellers, the definition of personalized objectives that are both stimulating and achievable, excellent communication skills towards the team, the possibility of providing consultancy based on the difficulties encountered by individual sellers and, above all, continuous training.
By sales force we mean the group of sellers, consultants, etc., whose task is to sell the products or services of their company by visiting or calling customers and potential customers. Furthermore, the sales force plays the role of liaison between the company and the customer, as well as of representation: the salespeople, in fact, are almost always closer to the customers than anyone else in the company, and are therefore able to first measure”the temperature” of a customer or of the market in general, providing valuable feedback to the company. The sales network is then provided with suitable products and sales management software to allow them to be more effective and productive during the meeting with the customer and to support him in his purchasing process.
A sales network can be direct or indirect, depending on whether the salespeople are direct employees of the company or whether they work as agents or brokers on behalf of the company itself. Each of the two structures has its advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of the direct sales force lies in being able to control the market trend more effectively thanks to direct control over the salespeople. In addition, training and information distribution activities are more effective, in addition to the fact that it is possible to increase the loyalty of sales representatives, thus reducing turnover.
Investing in training is fundamental, and it is no coincidence that – in the United States alone – companies invest around 15 billion dollars a year in training their sales force (source: Linkedin State of Sales 2018). It is also important that training is not limited to onboarding, when the salesperson must necessarily acquire crucial information about the company, its mission, the values and the products it will offer on the market. Training must be continuous because the market changes at a whirlwind pace and the seller is the first to have direct contact with it. If the methods of communication and the speed of access to information change, it is essential that the relationship between buyer and seller changes accordingly, rendering the possibility of a more aggressive and updated competitors muscling in less likely. Not only this, products change, their positioning can change, and the needs they meet and their peculiarities can change as well. The salesman cannot afford to be out of the continuous training game, and obviously neither can his sales manager.
Despite its absolute centrality for the purposes of concrete results, the training of the sales force is never easy. Working on the territory, it is not easy for salespeople to give up their core time to devote to training, which is also considered a theoretical activity by some experienced salespeople. Moreover, sometimes this activity does not even meet the favor of management and the managers of the sales force. In a world that runs at a very high speed, dedicating time to training – for oneself or for others – means adopting a strategic approach that not everyone has in their DNA. On the other hand, while still resisting the cliché of the solitary salesman who conquers customers with interpersonal skills, today’s market is so subject to change that only the constant updating of customers, products, services, management techniques and IT skills can really make a difference.
Today, training for the sales network is provided on-site during periodic alignment meetings, but also through external courses varying durations. There is also the so-called training on the job, perfect for those who have yet to learn the secrets of the profession. Finally, there is the mare magnum of distance learning, which if at the level of sharing, communication and teamwork still has some limits compared to traditional methods, it also has an infinite number of practical advantages and deserves to be carefully evaluated. On the other hand, today the web is everywhere and mobile connections are increasingly performant (just think of the recent launch of 5G): there is no longer any reason – for those who manage sales – to request travel costs and time, increasing company costs and losing precious productive time when it is not strictly necessary.
As well as the entire sales process, training has also been digitized. Today, the delivery methods are different: on the market there are e-learning platforms, webinars, videos, collaboration tools and many other methods. What they all have in common is the ability to transmit knowledge to salespeople, ensuring that they are always up to date without having to abandon their main activity, which is meeting with the customer. Compared to the traditional approach, the cost benefits are enormous and easily quantifiable. On the other hand, it is more difficult to measure the increase in productivity due to constant updates, which concern on the one hand the product, services and techniques, and on the other hand the market and the methods of relating with the potential customer. Comparing two different periods, the benefits will still be evident to all.
In any small or large company, the salesman is a key figure for his close connection with the customer. By working closely with the customer, the salesman has the role of acting as a trait d’union between the company and the customer, putting in place the sales strategies on which he has been trained, will have to guide leads in their purchasing process until they become customers, to then support them in the after-sales and ensure that they are loyal. But not only. It is important to value the salesperson also for the feedback, which is extremely precious for the company, which the latter can obtain from its customers. Knowing a customer’s degree of satisfaction, his expectations or knowing why he preferred us to the competition are fundamental information for marketing to understand if the strategies adopted are correct, or if the market is changing and it is therefore necessary to adopt new ones. This is all information that only those who work “in the field” can obtain clearly.
In addition to managing the active sales cycle, the recent digital platforms dedicated to sales automation allow the company (in particular, marketing) to provide sellers with materials that are always updated on the products. From presentations in line with the mission to updated catalogs, perhaps passing through customized videos according to the needs of a specific industry or a specific customer. Since these are online tools, the seller does not need to request new content because their constant updating is an integral part of the platform. In addition, these tools can also host training videos, multimedia educational content and even full courses, on which alignment meetings can then be organized.
Simply put, with just one tool – which usually takes the guise of an app for mobile devices – the seller has a fundamental tool for managing the sale and also for his own continuous training. All in a smartphone, a tablet or at most in a notebook, because training can be both useful and light.