Sales Reps – Who Are We?
If sales reps keep their customer’s best interest as priority No. 1, they will never be replaced as a confidant, sounding board, sympathetic ear, and friend.
We go by many names. Inside sales, customer service, product specialists, sales specialists, product sales and service representatives, customer care specialists, telesales representatives, account specialists… and the list goes on. Confusion about titles and roles occurs in business every day. I believe that it’s not what you call yourself that matters; it’s what you do and accomplish that’s important. Given the hierarchical nature of company structure, job titles indicate status. Many clients like to feel that they’re dealing with a person with status, power, control, influence, etc. Your title can denote this. Interestingly, what people call themselves can also influence their own behavior.
The telephone and its use as a sales tool created a need to distinguish between “inside” and “outside” sales. The term “inside sales” was created in the 1980s to differentiate telemarketing or telesales from face-to-face sales roles. Purchasing goods and services online or by phone is popular among consumers looking for ways to simplify their lives. Online purchasing is rapidly becoming the simpler, and in some cases, the more preferred transaction method.
Before the encroachment of the online transaction, the inside sales roles were preferred by many companies for many reasons. Outside sales staff became smaller and, in some cases, more specialized. Inside and outside sales are often paired for greater efficiency. They assist each other in tasks, such as lead generation, increasing sales, information follow-up for customers, and data collection. Details provided by inside sales personnel can be delivered at a significantly lower cost versus a field sales force. Information can be deployed and modified very rapidly. Inside sales reps provide a substantial reach, covering more than five times the number of practices a typical field rep can cover each month. Product and promotional messages can be adjusted quickly with little or no downtime based on live feedback and market changes. Valuable real-time provider data and intelligence is collected for analysis. Programs produce quantifiable results and positive ROI in shorter time frames.
It’s hard to discount the importance of the inside sales reps no matter what their title is within your organization. Outside sales reps were often saddled with all the sales responsibilities associated with their customer base. Back in the day, outside sales reps would often pull off the road to use a payphone to call the next client and then call in the orders from the previous client that they had just visited. Inside sales reps allowed outside sales reps to focus more on key areas. They also allowed companies to reduce the number of outside reps by allowing them to cover more territory. In contrast, the inside sales rep kept the regular customer contact in their absence.
In the beginning, it was true that an inside salesperson didn’t have the same initial impact on the customer as a face-to-face meeting with an outside rep. There is value in physically sitting down with someone, reading their body language, observing their surroundings, and interacting with clients and staff members. Those elements can be challenging to decipher over the phone. After the initial introduction, it became clear that the inside sales reps were forging solid and meaningful relationships with their customers. In companies where the inside and the outside reps worked in concert, they became a formidable force for competitors to combat.
The reality of today is that the role of the inside rep is being challenged by the proliferation of the internet and the sales tools, sales aids, sales portals, and dashboards that come with it. The internet is readily becoming available for every customer as an alternative for the inside sales rep. This is very reminiscent of the transition from the outside sales rep being a customer’s primary contact to the inside sales rep being their primary connection.
Primary customer connections
However, there is light at the end of this tunnel. I believe that no matter how advanced artificial intelligence becomes, it will be quite some time before it’s made to be the primary customer connection in our industry. AI has its own limitations regarding the knowledge of a customer and the ability to interact with them seamlessly. Many large companies have implemented AI call screening techniques as a cost-saving measure. These are companies that also use third-party providers for their inside sales/customer service departments. Often, the AI interface is used to collect information to simplify the job of the hired human customer service rep. To date, this seems like an inconvenience for the consumer and not a value add. The value is all for the company and not aimed at the customer, even though those companies will tell you differently.
Many animal health manufacturers and distributors use customer-facing dashboards, sales portals, and e-commerce platforms to assist with ease and convenience for their customers. None of those can replace the rapport that an inside sales rep can establish with a customer. Those internet-based tools can and should be used to augment the existing relationship for you and your customer to become more efficient. Learning how to assist your customers with their use of these tools is important and can be a new enhancement to the existing relationship.
Keep in mind, the outside sales reps of old that embraced the addition of inside sales reps became more successful than their counterparts that fought the inclusion of an inside rep. Be the best inside sales rep (or whatever your title is) that you can be with your customer’s best interest as priority No. 1. You will never be replaced as a confidant, sounding board, sympathetic ear, and friend. Determine what might make your customer’s lives easier and help them to adapt and use these tools to their advantage. Use this opportunity to solidify yourself as the person that your customer can relay and trust. The internet cannot live up to the level of service that you can provide.
About the author
President of Same Page Consulting Inc.
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