As modern buyers have embraced self-service (via internet searches, social media and e-commerce platforms) for much of their buyer journey, the need for traditional sellers who provide product information — and even application insights — has dropped radically. Buyers complete 70 percent of their journey before they even engage with sellers. COVID-19 has accelerated the pressures to boost productivity and elevate sales teams’ value-add.

Distribution sales teams are evolving to better serve the modern buyer and improve sales performance while doing so. We’ve heard from a number of industry-leading distributors that are actively pursuing sales transformation as a priority heading in to 2021.

How should elite distributors restructure their sales teams to serve the modern buyer, while improving productivity and efficiency? What types of sellers do they need to attract, train, manage, coordinate, coach and support? How do they work together to unlock the efficiencies and benefits of specialization — to accelerate revenue production in the context of an evolved buyer? Distributors must take these fundamental questions into consideration as they build a sales system and adapt to the modern buyer’s journey.

Defining Your Sales System with Key Questions

To accelerate revenue and realign sales structure, market-leading distributors must ask these strategic questions that guide their rebuilding efforts:

  • Which are the markets we want to serve in the future?
  • What needs to change in our sales organization, and why?
  • What data help to frame the issues and potential solutions?
  • What are the most likely tactical initiatives that are likely to come out of this process?
  • What are the biggest challenges to overcome?

Once we’ve identified whom we wish to serve, we have to ask deeper questions. Who are the buyer personas we serve? What kind of sales resources do we need to serve them? What is our sales methodology? What is our sales process? How can we enable our team to be successful in each stage of the sales process? How do we migrate our sales teams from being order takers to strategic market makers?

As we gather answers to these questions, we can apply systems thinking to define roles, responsibilities and interdependencies. For many distributors, this produces a marked shift away from outside sales generalists in favor of larger teams of outbound calling, inside sales reps supported by a smaller number of outside account managers or technical resources. While dramatic shifts like these can be daunting, the cost structure, productivity and specialization of such teams show greater output at lower sales cost per revenue dollar — up to 50 percent.

Reducing Performance Variability

Once leading distributors define the sales structure and related processes, they move on to building the sales talent system that can execute the strategy. After all, the skill sets historically required to be a successful outside sales rep don’t necessarily align with those of the specialized sales roles many distributors are creating. Hiring, training and coaching are fundamental in building a high-performing sales organization.

With an understanding of the skills and competencies required to excel in each sales role, distributors can use talent analytics to identify and “clone” top performers by hiring those who fit the profile or training and coaching existing employees to build critical skill sets.

Many distributors are also recognizing that formal sales management and coaching is necessary to make these shifts and improve results while reducing variability. The dividends to be gained from reducing seller performance variability are enormous. Such are the outsized gains available to those who embrace sales systems thinking and align the talent selection and development processes to reduce variability.

The old ways of doing things are crumbling daily in the face of today’s changing buyer behaviors. New approaches and technologies that were emerging over the last five years have leapt forward exponentially. The evolving buyer behaviors and compelling economic conditions have created the perfect storm to drive the sales transformation needed to align with the value model for the future.

Are you considering changes within your sales organization? Be sure to register for this upcoming webinar where Ian Heller and I will dig deeper into some of the approaches industry-leading distributors are taking to accelerate sales performance and unlock productivity gains.