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Adapting Field Sales to a Remote Selling Reality

Published Date: Thursday, May 18, 2023
Last Updated on: Wednesday, Sep 13, 2023

Remote selling has become the cornerstone of modern sales strategy.

It has enabled sales development representatives (SDRs) to sell more proactively and more closely align their efforts with modern buyer habits.

In fact, inside sales reps are hired over field sales reps by a ratio of 10:1 according to one SalesLoft study.

This transition does not equate to the demise of field sellers, but the transformation of buyer habits is undeniable. The new reality is that everyone involved in the sales pipeline has to change their approach to meet new demands and buyer expectations.

In this article, we explore the process of adapting to the modern sales landscape and the lessons that can be extracted from traditional sales practices.

What happened to field sales?

The slow phase-out of field sales reps isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been drawing out over the last decade as new technologies, digital communications and sales innovation continue to evolve. That being said, COVID accelerated this transformation to inside selling. 

With the shift to home working, the pandemic forced sales leaders to adopt a more remote methodology — allowing them to realize the full potential of inside sales and the valuable role it plays in the pipeline.

We now see organizations that have widely adopted outside sales approaches begin to lean toward 50/50 hybrid models, with many anticipating further investment into inside sales in the coming years.

This is a transition that should require little to no justification. Field selling just doesn’t align with new buyer expectations as closely as it once did. As on-demand e-commerce systems like Amazon become second nature, there’s an expectation for this to follow suit across B2B as well.

1. Change behaviors, not character

Charisma is embedded into the fabric of field selling. Big personalities can – and do – influence client decisions, the length of the contract and the deal value when selling face-to-face. The transition to remote selling doesn’t eliminate the value of character, charisma or personality. Instead, greater focus should be placed on adjusting the behaviors of the salesperson.

Remote sales success does not come about by abandoning the approaches that allowed sellers to grow their careers and become respected professionals in the first place. The role of the salesperson is essentially the same: Identify new markets, pitch to prospective customers and nurture incoming leads. For an effective transition, leaders should focus more closely on adjusting strategy, approach and behaviors, in line with the way buyers prefer to… buy. 

Personality matters

To instil confidence within those making the switch, they first need to understand the value in modifying their field selling behaviors. Remote selling doesn’t make the personality that would drive field success pointless. It just requires a different execution, using other forms of media and outreach. The importance of making a prospect feel engaged, interacted with, and valued as a buyer will always be relevant – it doesn’t just disappear overnight. 

Transitioning skill-sets

One of the biggest challenges newcomers to inside sales face is gaining those confident conversational qualities. Often, they can be so blinded by data research and pipeline theory that they sacrifice the value of simply being personable and selling on a human level. If sellers aren’t enthusiastic in their prospecting, how can they expect buyers to be enthusiastic in their purchasing? For this reason, inside sellers shouldn’t look at field selling as a “dead duck,” but instead reengineer these human-first qualities in their own practice. Buyers will always cherish human authenticity – that’s a given.

2. Understanding the tools

The biggest mistake sales leaders make is assuming that their field sales team will know how to use inside sales tools and technology. While most will grasp the basics of Salesforce and Office 365, it’s equally important to ensure they are able to make the most of the features and functionalities available to them.

Video conferencing

There’s almost an expectation for video conferencing software like Zoom and Google Meet to adapt seamlessly for transitioning field sellers. While many have seen success with this approach, there’s no guarantee for an easy win each time. Most video conferencing tools have already lost their sparkle in the market, as they have become an integral part of the B2B world. Field sellers should instead be encouraged to use tools that enable them to sell their message with a more targeted approach – one that speaks to the decision maker in a personalized, engaging and exciting way.

Channel variation

There are no limits to how prospects can be engaged remotely, besides the obvious face-to-face meeting. There’s real value in resourcing intelligently to identify and engage with prospects on a more personal level. Social selling, instant messaging, video prospecting – these channels can all be leveraged to hit targets and generate new leads using the skills and qualities that come naturally to the typical field seller. A manager that wants to make transitioning from field to inside sales easier for their sellers will need to make them feel confident that their outside qualities can make a difference.

3. Changing behaviors for better engagement

Where once field sellers would engage with prospects spontaneously, inside selling requires a far more prepared, in-depth research and development stage to understand the decision maker. 

There’s always potential for unexpected objections to stop a salesperson dead in their tracks, no matter how well prepared they are. Before engaging with prospective buyers, field sellers need to have a plan of action. They need to know which questions should be asked, and be able to anticipate the objections they may encounter. The confidence to handle a conversation off-the-cuff is still absolutely relevant. This quality can be found in top-ranking sellers across both inside and outside selling teams.

Top field sellers have a rich, innate understanding for handling objections on the fly, using their conversational confidence to flip the script and transform the unexpected into a reason to take an interest. There’s undeniable value in this human approach to engagement. Buyers will always appreciate the personal sell more than a hard sell.

4. Adjusting to a change in demand

According to a recent study, inside sales reps spend 35% of their week selling, compared to 22% for outside sales representatives. There are growing pains that come with adjusting to this newer demand.

Transitioning to remote sales is about changing tracks and setting targets for the salesperson based on a new set of metrics. Where once targets would be based on the amount of physical visits and appointments attended, this is no longer relevant. Internal sales teams aren’t required to travel to appointments or visit offices – sales leaders expect 60% more activity out of the salesperson because they’re no longer competing for 60% of their time against travel.

Consequently, field sellers need to understand that the goalposts have shifted. The model is no longer laser-focused on traveling three hours to meet two prospects a day – it’s more about meeting the activity expectations that come with increased time and extended reach. Leaders should expect it to take time for transitioning field sellers to fully acclimate to daily targets – not just periodical ones. 

5. Prepare for emotional challenges

It’s easy to overlook the fact that field sellers may not be entirely comfortable with the switch to the remote, four-walled environment. As a business, responding to these emotional challenges is critical.

Many field sellers are apprehensive to switch to remote selling because they feel like they simply can’t change. For a salesperson with 20+ years of experience selling in the field, switching away from something that has been a constant in their day-to-day life will naturally come with some anxieties. 

Breed confidence

Field salespeople should be made to feel confident in their ability to transition to a new selling reality. As an organization, you need to build confidence by first proving the value in the method, without making these individuals feel demoted, graded or demoralized.

Pay attention to morale

Equally, managers need to take the time to understand how this switch can affect motivation level, sales persona and engagement level. Overnight success shouldn’t be expected. It will take time for this transition to reap its full rewards.

Final thoughts

In this blog, we’ve explored five key considerations that sales teams need to have when transitioning to a new process, though it’s important to establish that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to engineering this transition. It should be carried out with the individual always in mind.

Rushing a transition to a new process can lead to B2B sales nightmares: internal pitfalls and unprepared salespeople desperately grappling to meet new metrics, quotas and targets. Companies need to be aware of the adjustment timescale and growing pains involved in reengineering sales practices. Businesses should focus on developing a culture of learning and cooperation between inside and outside sellers, rather than one of conflict or rivalry.

At Harte Hanks, our internal sales experts are experienced in delivering first-rate inside sales training. We can reduce the time, cost and emotional hazards associated with the switch to internal sales, helping your business deliver results from the get-go.