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The role of the sales representative in the new normal

The Changing Commercial Landscape
If you consider which jobs were impacted heaviest by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the sales representative as “the travelling salesman” should probably be somewhere at the top of that list, no?
Travelling a thousand kilometers a week in the car, from one prospect to another, administering the CRM system on your laptop in the car, having lunch in the field … since March 2020, this has become the exception, rather than the norm.

All (if not most) of this typical field activity was replaced with online and telephone meetings where Skype is used as the meeting platform for customer A, WebEx for customer B, Zoom for customer C, and so forth … A typical day in the life of a sales rep has changed a lot. Where before one could visit on average 4 customers or prospects in a day, now one can have 8 online meetings instead. Where before one needed to live close to their customers, one can now perform online meetings wearing shorts or even while staying abroad, in sunnier environments. Less time is lost on the road and administration can be carried out ‘normally’ behind a desk ‘at home’.

From the customer’s perspective meanwhile, these online commercial contacts are often also seen to be more efficient: no need to walk up to the reception desk to pick up visitors, getting coffee, tea or water, trying to find an empty meeting room (or booking one in advance), …

In domains where the perceived value of repetitive commercial face-to-face meetings was already under pressure (in the healthcare and utilities sectors, for example), COVID will – most likely – have caused a real game changer.

Indeed, the first indications are there: large traditional sales forces are undergoing restructuring and downsizing. But what does this mean for the commercial agents who remain on board? How will their jobs change?

The New Normal
Face-to-face meetings will come back, that’s for sure, but to a lesser extent. In 2020 the use of e-mails, newsletters, blogs, LinkedIN connections & advertising exploded. Granted, not all of these communications may have been driven by an initial strong communication strategy, but nonetheless, with regards to the digitization of the commercial process, 2020 was a tipping point.

In this new era of omnichannel contacts, traditional sales force effectiveness metrics may no longer be accurate and new root-cause analyses will be required to find out which strategies are effective, and which aren’t.

For example, at CROPLAND, we notice that marketing & sales analysts are getting overwhelmed by tool-specific dashboards: MailChimp, Google Adwords, Google Analytics, LinkedIN (Sales Navigator), Pinterest etc …, and let’s not forget the obvious CRM and ERP systems. In some cases, marketing automation tools (e.g., Hubspot, Marketo, etc) or customer journey tools (e.g., Kitewheel, Thunderhead, etc) are used to create a bigger impact or to automate the marketing process. Though these tools are great for increasing efficiency, they give you no way to really measure the impact your marketing activities have on conversion, sales, loyalty (vs. churn) or any other version of commercial success.

In the pre-teleworking environment, a sales representative could always try to call a prospect’s reception desk and/or find a landline number to get in touch with a potential lead. When so many people have endorsed teleworking, or hybrid working, however, it has become almost impossible to find the right person just by connecting to the reception desk. Instead, Social Selling skills will be required, where sales reps know which communication channels to use and how to use them, in order to grasp that sales lead, who is waiting for the products and/or services you offer.

Enter… artificial intelligence!
This is where machine learning (a.k.a. Artificial Intelligence) enters the picture. For these advanced root-cause analyses, which use multiple data sources and have a large timespan, we use machine learning algorithms to find patterns in the data and predict the best course of action.

So, if you are a manager who’s keen to find out the root-cause of commercial success or failure, if you are a manager who wants to harness the full potential of your data and discover the power of Artificial Intelligence … then give us a call.

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