The ISR Evolution
Though their role and scope of work have changed, inside sales reps remain a critical part of the sales team’s relationship with veterinary clinics.
The role of the inside sales rep has changed dramatically over the years. Technology has allowed the job to evolve from an order taker to an educated consultant with answers at their fingertips meant to guide and assist customers with everything from daily needs to big-ticket purchases.
As an inside rep in animal health, you must learn to own the very important role that you play in the connection between the customer and the company. Guiding your customers through the evolution of our industry is perfectly suited for the inside sales team. The most successful inside reps have figured out how to take that consultative role and turn themselves into a valued resource/guide for their loyal customer base.
We have seen many companies in the B2B (Business to Business) selling space turn more towards the inside sales force rather than continuing to expand their outside sales force.
Evaluating strengths and limitations
Both inside and outside sales teams have their own strengths and their own limitations. The efficiencies that are gained by transferring more of the sales process to the inside sales staff have become a key focus for companies experiencing competitive pressure to decrease costs.
B2B customers are becoming more comfortable using methods of purchasing that do not necessarily require a face-to-face meeting. The convenience of not scheduling a meeting with a rep or allowing the customer to manage their practice product needs, when it is convenient for them to do so, is an almost immeasurable benefit for the customer.
This is not to say that the role of the outside sales rep is obsolete, or a thing of the past. The benefits associated with face-to-face meetings and the connection that comes with person-to-person contact are hard to beat. In many cases, it’s necessary to physically meet with a client for things like product demonstrations, staff training, or just showing customer appreciation. Finding the best blend between the outside and inside sales teams is a hot topic for many B2B selling organizations.
Let’s not forget the recent onset of technology-based purchasing. Customers are using more and more self-guided e-commerce platforms to handle some of their basic daily needs. Many animal health distribution companies have been striving for more and more self-guided interaction from customers over the last few years. Many of those companies have also noticed that they do not have the same ability to easily influence and/or educate a customer when there is no human interaction present. If the automated technologies are not easily navigated, or there are not clinic specific recommendations curated and delivered in real time to the customer, these systems can actually cause a slight disruption in the connectivity between the customer and the company.
A few years ago, one the largest fears of most inside sales reps was that they were going to be replaced by technologies and online ordering platforms. While there are such platforms that exist – and with AI and predictive selling technologies rapidly improving – it is still very important to have human to human contact. Using technology to your advantage is an important part of being a successful inside rep. Embracing technology components that allow your customer more freedom, but also support your connectivity with them, is the blend that you must find for each customer that you serve.
Consulting with your customers on how to incorporate some of these technologies, while positioning yourself as the partner who has their best interest at heart, is the best approach to guiding your clients through the many ways they can connect with your company. Partnering with your outside rep to assist them with their growing territories and keeping them abreast of your mutual customers’ needs is very important.
This is where a skilled inside rep can become the anchor that ties the role of the outside rep, the technology platforms, and their personal interaction together so well that the customer feels secure, empowered, understood, and appreciated. They will not want to do business elsewhere unless it is absolutely necessary.
Many distributors in animal health have felt the frustrations associated with some platforms in our industry that simply show the customers’ price comparisons amongst competing distributors. Combating this type of platform has recently become more of a focus for many distributors who want to efficiently increase the interaction with their customers. The inside sales team is the primary team for these increases in customer interaction. One reason is their ability to contact customers more frequently and provide the customer with access to a more readily available contact. Their access to libraries of instant answers, recommendations, and real-time connectivity to the company systems defines why the ISRs have become increasingly more vital in the pursuit of customer connectivity and efficiencies.
Changing marketplace dynamics
We are in a constant state of evolution in animal health. There are so many competing name-brand products in any given category. Generic products are increasing in availability and continually gaining more momentum. Animal health is not yet on par with human health in regards to generic adoption, but it is still steadily increasing. The way that pet parents interact with their animal health providers is also changing. Your customers have incorporated online scheduling for appointments, e-commerce platforms, and prescription refill and management sites. These are all ways that the veterinarian of today must compete with their local competitors and the ever-growing multitude of online retailers offering pet pharmacies. The days of veterinarians offering telemedicine in some way shape or form does not seem to be that far away.
Your customers are no longer looking past technology solutions for their interactions with their own customers. They are beginning to adopt them more readily. You should be prepared to assist them with their choices while recommending the best mix for them to do business with you and your company.
Change is constant. Navigating change can be difficult. Change is always easier to navigate when you have the help of a guide. Guiding your customer to their own success will make you a true partner and a successful inside rep. Success is not always measured monetarily. Having someone’s trust and loyalty cannot be measured in dollars and cents, yet has an enormous value to both parties.
What will you be able to offer them while maintaining the delicate balance of human interaction?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
President of Same Page Consulting Inc.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/tadamichi