22 INDUSTRIAL DISTRIBUTION / January/February 2015 www.inddist.com
The Death of Field Sales?
Pretty much everyone knows (intuitively, at least) that field sales is dead. But no one’s
prepared to acknowledge it.
Not surprisingly, denial is not a winning
strategy. Salespeople have adapted to this new
reality to the extent that they absolutely must,
but few organizations are prepared to explic-
itly recognize that times have changed and,
consequently, few are exploiting the enormous
upside that our new reality presents. Well, it’s time to face this
new reality and re-engineer our sales environments to exploit it —
and it’s probably best we do so before our competitors do.
The modern salesperson still feels that the field is their rightful
place of battle. However, as each year passes, they spend less time
there. And, when they do gear-up and venture forth, increasingly
it’s to perform customer service activities.
The modern salesperson spends the greater portion of their
selling time on the phone, not in the field. It’s frustrating – and a
source of great embarrassment – but there’s nothing the salesperson can do about it. There are two powerful forces that collude to
keep salespeople away from their company cars:
1. Salespeople are significantly more efficient when they are
2. Customers don’t want a salesperson to visit unless they conclude that a face-to-face meeting is critical (and they rarely do).
These two forces have converted most field salespeople into
reluctant inside salespeople (who venture out only occasionally).
Because they are not excited about working inside, they are
happy to be distracted from telephone sales by customer service
and administrative activities — meaning that not a lot of selling
actually gets done.
And because they spend so little time selling face-to-face, many
salespeople are either out of practice or simply lacking in skills
that they have had little cause to develop.
Sales is No Longer an Outside Endeavor
Fifty years ago, when the modern sales function evolved, customers were out there: in the field. This is before PBXs, fax machines,
cell phones, websites, email, instant messaging, and web conferencing. If an organization wanted to sell something, it had to send
salespeople to where customers were: in the field.
And if potential customers wanted information to assist in their
quest for new products and services, they had to request that a
salesperson bring that information to where they were: in the
field. So, in addition to selling, salespeople were an information
conduit. They added significant value by ferrying information back
and forth between the organization (inside) and its customers
(who were most definitely outside).
Times, of course, have changed. Today, customers can dial direct
to one of our team member’s desks, cell phone or reach out via
email. And if our customer wants to consume information privately, they can do that too. They can browse our websites and our
competitors’ websites, and listen to those of impartial (or, sometimes less than impartial) industry commentators.
Our customers (and potential customers) are no longer out
there. The effect of modern technology has been to break down
the divide and invite our customers into our organizations. And
this is an invitation our customers have been happy to accept.
Once inside, our customers have discovered that they no longer
need to consume information via just one conduit. They can
interact with multiple people in our organization, via multiple
channels — and they like it this way. Furthermore, customers are
no longer dependent upon field salespeople for transactions. They
have choices. If they want to purchase, they can do so by phone or
The Inside-out Sales Function
Because our environment is so very different from the environment in which the sales function evolved, a radical redesign is
required — and when we build this new sales function, we need
to build it from the inside out. This is in keeping with how our