One enticing benefit of the sales profession is the freedom and independence it offers. The rewards, of course, are reliant on how hard one works to be deserving of them. Reps that perform at or above the expected level are often left alone by their managers. Great performance invariably leads to corresponding degrees of support and enthusiasm. I can’t tell you how many times in my sales career I heard, “just keep hitting your numbers and no one will bug you.” Thankfully, I did, and they didn’t. Being left alone is one of the many perks that top performing reps have come to expect and indeed, demand.
The personality traits that make for a successful sales rep also play into and reinforce the need and desire for autonomy. Companies seek sales reps that can think and act on their own, epitomizing self-motivation and self-reliance. Reps need to be able to manage a large number of resources, activities, and accounts. Companies, for the most part, look for reps that don’t need a lot of babysitting or hand-holding. They want capable, creative, self-contained, revenue-generating dynamos. The need for autonomy has only strengthened in the recent decade as more and more reps work out of their homes, in the field, or in remote offices far away from prying eyes, and “meddlesome” managers.
Sales2.0 didn’t address or affect this aspect of selling. If anything, it only placed additional and more individualized responsibilities on reps through the use of smarter or more versatile technology (without requiring management participation or interference). Autonomy simply became more prevalent, flexible, and even appropriate within an ever-globalizing market environment.
The most basic definition of Sales2.0 selling is, “to use technologies like the ‘social web’ to discover and engage with prospects in a new way.”
This darwinian modification in the way reps sell was brought on by the transformation in not only how people buy, but when. Studies now reveal startling findings that you’ve surely heard by now “buyers conduct 75% of their research before talking to a vendor” and that “the majority of buyers claim they were the ones who found the vendor, not the other way around.” Sales2.0 is about using technologies and processes that adapt to this new selling paradigm—a paradigm brought on by the transfer of power from the rep to the buyer due to the vast amounts of information available on the Web. This new normal created smarter buyers demanding more control and power.
So what will Sales3.0 bring? I propose it will bring about a change in the very nature of what is expected from (even the highest-performing) sales reps. The map of sales objectives is about to be re-drawn (again). It will be nothing short of…
The end of the road for the autonomous sales rep
New applications that forward-thinking, evolution-driven vendors are bringing to the market, aimed squarely at the remote rep, make it possible (and reasonable) for managers to demand more frequent, virtual, and time-critical updates on account and activity status. With these new applications, and new platforms like the smartphone and tablets, we can and should question whether traditional apps, like CRM, are still the right tools for mobile reps.
Indeed, it is fair to wonder whether they were ever the right tools. For the most part, vendors have masqueraded “desktop applications” as mobile tools by reason that they are cloud-based, i.e. they are accessed remotely via the web. The logic has been that applications which are no longer tied to the desktop can be considered “mobile.” The logic works only if all that you require of a mobile app is for it to be “accessible remotely.” And that is setting the bar extremely low. If the fundamental tools, and their functionality, have not adapted to the new paradigm, they are doomed to extinction. While Salesforce, Microsoft and others now offer true mobile versions of their apps, there is still much room for altogether new technologies which are materializing.
Apps tailored to mobile reps from the start, impart much greater management visibility and obliterate the validity of any objection a rep might have to management “interference.” The new paradigm has created a template of stunning proportions and possibilities.
Here are a few examples of what is possible using a smartphone or a tablet, and new Sales3.0 applications (no “computer” needed):
Track work-day start and end times and tie it to geo-tracking for greater visibility into how diligently reps use their selling time. If a rep is falling behind on quota, it won’t be difficult to learn whether a lack of dedication or initiative is the problem. On the other-hand, if one rep is in the field less often than others, and yet they out-perform the others in quota achievement, you might investigate the causes of such efficiency.
Monitor your team’s field activities from the cloud. How many reps are out in the field at any particular moment, and where are they? This can provide great insight into the adequacy of territory and account coverage.
Collect crucial information needed to uncover trends in customer requirements, market perception, or competition, and re-calibrate your sales efforts and resources accordingly. Photo documentation and easy-entry forms are powerful research methods.
Use text messaging and collaboration solutions so salespeople have no justifiable reasons for not communicating with regularity. Stimulate and encourage the exchange of ideas and ‘out-of-the-box’ initiatives. Actively support the development of teamwork and solidarity to elevate the level of a ‘shared’ spirit of success across the board.
Give reps the ability to quickly enter client visit details at the conclusion of each call. I’m referring to easy and fast entry methods, not the laborious, efficiency-busting process of CRM entry.
Boost knowledge and reinforce the sales capabilities that matter most by having reps respond to short text- or video-based challenge scenarios pushed to their mobile device or CRM.
Along with those capabilities come faster pricing and product configuration, quicker order placements, accelerated response from the home-office, and easier presentation of catalog and product information, and all using a mobile device. Reps that strive for excellence should not view these changes with apprehension. In reality, being held to the highest standards of accountability can help them achieve the highest level of quota performance.
Reps will have to get used to the idea that it is not autonomy they should seek. They will have to recognize that in the end it will be collaboration, accountability, and communication that accelerates and ensures the highest level of success. Sales3.0 tools may signify a loss of autonomy, but the loss is in service of a higher goal—generating the most revenue for both the company and the rep.