B2B field sales force numbers to halve

What will sales teams look like over the next five to ten years? How will we sell to and service our clients? Will our businesses actually require field sales representatives at all?

With “Field Sales Force Numbers to Halve” voted the sixth most important sales trend for 2012 from The 12 Sales Trends of 2012 by our readers, these are critical questions business and sales leaders need to ask themselves if they want to have an effective sales effort.


With access to so much information available and a plethora of Me2 products to choose from, buyers have grown more sophisticated and better informed as consumers, especially in the B2B (business to business) space. The savvy business person knows that many of those commodity purchases they have traditionally made face-to-face with a sales representative can now be made online or via telephone sales service centres, thus saving them valuable time and money.

With the growth in client sophistication and the commoditisation of products themselves, we are seeing the beginning of a massive restructure of sales forces as clients go online, and ditch the ‘order taker’ who adds no value. Smart sales leaders know this sacred cow is not long for this world. Seeing no real return in transactional field sales teams, many companies are now looking at either a major restructuring of their sales effort or major re-education of their sales teams.

Some companies have already begun planning for a major transition into the blended world of online and personal selling. Looking at their offerings, their clients’ buying preferences and the total cost of sale, these sales leaders are having to make strategic business decisions about whether they:

  • Choose to be in transactional, low-margin business where products act as commodities and clients can be serviced via online and call centres with no or some minimal field representation at major account level; or
  • Choose to be in complex offering and invest in field sales forces that add real value to clients beyond the product itself and work in partnership educating clients on how to run a better business and achieve better results as the value moves from product to the value of intellectual property and ideas.

If businesses choose field force representation, the changes required in field sales force capability are monumental as we now require salespeople to evolve into business people who can sell. Field sales forces will only remain relevant by working in the complex, unique solution space where their business acumen combined with a range of professional capabilities, such as teacher and facilitator, consultant, problem solver and preventer, financial manager, diplomat, and so on will be of real value to their clients.

Clients/buyers will only want to see and work with people who are willing to work in a collaborative manner with clear mandates and transparent practices. Trust will feature highly in these relationships as will continuous education and learning enabled by these more enriching and evolving relationships. This is where real relationships will be forged, based on substance and integrity and where a fair exchange of real value can flourish.

Those businesses that choose the transactional model need to make sure that they are easy to do business with; that purchases are uncomplicated; and when clients ask questions they should get answers easily – no run-around, no fuss, streamlined and efficient.

As we transition into a more complex world the decisions we make about the business of our business will affect, positively or negatively, our future relevance and success.

Choose wisely because the middle ground is fast disappearing.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

PS: We have some very exciting news coming soon! In the meantime, it would be great if you could help us by completing this five minute survey. Should sales be studied at degree level at university? Thank you!

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au


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