Will Internet cause death of outside salesperson?
Pick up any trade journal or sales and marketing publication these days and chances are you'll run into some comments addressing that question. I rarely teach a seminar without that question popping up somewhere in course of day. Almost every sales manager, executive and sales person I know has pondered it recently.
So what's answer? Like most others, I have to admit that I don't know. It is certainly possible that some aspects of today's outside sales jobs will be replaced by point-and-click. But answer to big question remains unclear and a ways into future.
I am sure of one thing, however. The Internet, specifically, and computers in general can be powerful tools in hands of a capable salesperson, and those salespeople who take initiative to become automation-enabled will find themselves growing in importance to their customers and in value to their companies. Rather then wait fearfully for an answer to appear, wisest course for professional salesperson is to proactively make computerization work for him or her.
We all understand that computer technology, particularly on-line segment, is moving so rapidly that parts of this article my be obsolete by time it is printed. Keeping that perspective in mind, here are some ways that an Internet-enabled, computer- savvy outside salesperson can use this technology to excel.
How salespeople can use Internet
1. Qualify new prospects. Just because you have name of new prospect doesn't mean that it's worth your time to call on that prospect. Why not use Internet to qualify your prospects before you spend time trying to see them? Let's say you've developed a list of 25 new prospects in your territory, one of which is XYZ tool and die shop. Do a search for that XYZ tool and die through search engines and see what develops.
You may discover a website with a wealth of information about prospect. It wouldn't be unusual to find out names and titles of key people, key product lines or customers they serve, mission or vision statement of company, etc. You may also find company mentioned in a number of other ways. For example, you may find them mentioned in a press release by an association to which they belong. They may be a new member, or have been mentioned in an article in a trade journal, or listed as a customer by another vendor. The possibilities are endless. Every piece of information can be useful to you in determining whether or not to call on them, and, if so, how to approach them. And all that information may be available over Internet.
2. Email. This is clearly one of greatest advantages to Internet. Think of how many hours per week you spend on phone with all people in your own company. Now add hours spent on phone with customers, or more accurately, trying to reach customers. Suppose you could dramatically reduce that time by using email to communicate with your support people and your manager. And now, suppose that you could virtually eliminate voice mail frustrations by communicating via email to your customers. You could transform dozens of hours each week that are currently spent in frustrating and tedious tasks into productive sales time.
You could even go beyond using email for personal communications. It can also be a sales tool. Collect email addresses of those customers who agree to this, and then use mass email as a sales tool. Here's an example. Let's say you have 100 customers, and it takes two months to see all of them. You have a hot new product to tell all of them about. Why not mass email information overnight, and then visit first those who first expressed interest in it? You could dramatically reduce time it takes to turn that new product into sales dollars.
3. Contact management. Contact management software has been around so long, benefits so clearly established, and is so commonly used that I hesitate to even mention it. However, it's my personal experience that even today at least 50% of sales forces with which I have contact are not automated. There is no longer any excuse for this. You need to be using a laptop with a contact manager program to collect and record information customers, to record contacts and conversations, to create schedules and to do lists, to file quotes and record sales information. One of characteristics of turn-of-the- century marketplace is rapid increase in amount of information a salesperson must handle. Using a computer to assist in organization and processing of information is no longer optional. If you're not using a laptop daily in this manner, shame on you. You are behind.