The Death of Field Sales?
When most people think of a salesperson, they think of a man going door-to-door, trying to persuade people to buy soap or people calling you up at unsocial times to see if you have miss-sold PPI. This sort of sales is known as field sales: a salesperson will go out into the world and interact with people, face to face. This is opposed to ‘inside sales’, which consisted of people sitting behind desks, doing paperwork and occasionally phoning people.
Technological advances have significantly blurred the line between the two. As Ken Krogue observed last year in a post in Forbes, if you were to phone any nominal ‘field’ salesperson, you would more often than not find them sitting in front of a computer, just as a nominal ‘inside salesperson’. Even if they were not, the ubiquity of the mobile phone means that every sort of salesperson effectively takes their office with them wherever they go.
When it comes to going door-to-door and trying to drum up interest in a product, the prevalence of field sales is dwindling. This is largely because it is no longer effective; telesales represent a far more cost-effective means of contacting people and trying to push a product, as it costs far less time and money to simply call someone – even if most of them immediately hang up.
There is one area, however, where field sales is still hugely important – and that is in the world of retail. Field sales still plays a vital role in the world of retail, since, no matter how far technology advances, the importance of interpersonal interaction remains paramount. Manufacturers still need to liaise with retailers and field sales remains the best way to do that.
What does a field salesperson do?
A good sales representative can do things that no website or telephone conversation can do. They can walk into a shop to meet someone face to face, with a strong knowledge of the product and good communication skills required to convey that knowledge. They put a human face to the manufacturer and build a rapport with the retailer – which is important in soliciting feedback identifying existing problems and anticipating new ones.
They can also advise retailers how best to push a product. In any given shop will be a multitude of competing products. A good rep will ensure the product is given a good position on the shop floor so as to maximise sales.
One of the best ways to stimulate increased sales in the short term is through the use of promotions. When doing the weekly shop, shoppers will occasionally have to make a decision between two or more products of similar price and quality. Let’s say, two cartons of yogurt. When retail shoppers are faced with such a dilemma, they invariably pick the one which is on offer. This is because it seems to be good value – even if it isn’t, really. Other incentives, such as a two-for-one or buy-one-get-one-free offer can also be effective.
Product sampling, as one might expect, is where free samples of a product are offered to customers on a trial basis. This represents a high cost, when compared with other forms of marketing, but it also yields a high conversion rate – particularly in instances where the benefits of conversion are immediately obvious. If the product is strong enough, then product sampling can be a powerful way of getting it into the public consciousness. There are many means by which a manufacturer can explore the benefits of product sampling. Agencies specialising in retail marketing may offer it as a service. In the case of large chains of supermarket, it is a means to market their own produce (for example, an in-store bakery). Where smaller manufacturers are concerned, this option becomes less practical – such manufacturers will need to outsource if they want to get their products out into the world.
The benefits of outsourcing
Smaller manufacturers will be tempted to outsource their field sales. They will not be as well-equipped as their larger competitors when it comes to being able to employ field sales teams. But doing so can be a scary thing, since the manufacturer will surrender a degree of control over how the product will be put across to the public. A good field sales agency will allay these fears and conduct their operations transparently and in close co-ordination with the manufacturer who employs them.
But the benefits are not only there for small start-up companies; long-standing household brands also employ field sales agencies, as they recognise the benefits that can be yielded through doing so.