6 Strategies for Managing a Field Sales Team
Businesses are adapting to an increasingly efficient sales culture and must respond to customer demands in new ways, especially as digital transformation shifts the landscape across multiple industries. Field sales teams aim to bolster better client relationships, better demonstrate complex products, and nurture their high-value prospects.
But to get it right, they need support from strong managers who leverage sophisticated strategies. While effective field sales can offer several advantages over an inside sales model, managing a team in today’s transforming business environment is a complex task.
To overcome challenges associated with increasing customer demand and an ever-expanding competitive landscape, management needs to adopt robust strategies to properly track, organize, and communicate with their field sales teams.
What is a Field Sales Team?
Field sales (also called outside sales) is an approach to selling that focuses on in-person, face-to-face interactions with customers. It requires reps to travel—from customer sites, to trade shows, to conferences and other events—to complete their work. Unlike inside sales representatives, field sales reps work independently and often manage their own daily schedules. They’re typically tasked with some common duties, including:
- Tracking and managing sales leads – Field sales reps are assigned leads based on account size and customer expectations. They must carefully track and manage the details associated with each lead, including where it came from, where they’re at in the pipeline, and which actions have been taken to move them forward.
- Qualifying sales prospects – Not every sales lead is a qualified prospect, so field reps must work to determine whether or not each potential client aligns with their ideal customer profile or risk wasting their time chasing dead ends. The lead must have the proper level of interest, budget, pain points, intended outcomes, and more.
- Following up with clients – Only 2% of sales are closed during the first point of contact; and for 80% of leads, it takes five-to-twelve points of contact before they actually make a decision. Field reps must employ a strong follow up process to move qualified prospects through the buying journey in a timely manner.
- Making outside sales runs – A significant portion of field reps’ time is spent interacting with their customers in person. Their sales rely heavily on their ability to travel to where their prospects and customers are in order to demonstrate products, connect with multiple stakeholders at once, and build authentic client relationships.
- Managing active accounts – Field sales reps typically target a small number of higher-value accounts which require a fair amount of nurturing. Their active accounts usually consist of large, enterprise-level deals that they must take careful consideration in managing and cultivating to ensure high levels of customer retention.
The Challenges of Managing Field Sales Reps
Field sales offers a clear opportunity for reaching potential customers (and the appropriate decision makers) at a critical moment. But effective management requires a level of optimization that’s difficult to achieve for many leaders—especially those whose teams face a variety of common challenges.
- Poor cross communication – Managers and staff schedulers need reliable, instant communication with reps in the field, but—more often than not—outside sales teams rely on several disparate tools (e.g. Slack, text messages, emails, phone calls) to communicate. This slows them down and leads to issues of miscommunication and key details falling through the cracks, which in turn negatively impacts customer satisfaction, rep engagement, and, ultimately, revenue.
- Last minute schedule changes – Field reps’ schedules are hardly ever set in stone. Customers cancel, reschedule, or book appointments at the last minute, and without sophisticated tools that can adapt and accommodate those changes, reps’ efficiency goes off the rails.
- Tracking KPIs – It’s nearly impossible for leaders and managers to understand rep performance and progress if they don’t have robust tools for tracking and measuring relevant metrics. They might notice that a particular field rep isn’t reaching their quota, but how can they determine what’s contributing to their shortcomings? Without a contextual understanding of KPIs like time to first contact, travel time, time spent on a job, arrival time, and daily idle time, they can’t make the proper adjustments to boost that rep’s performance moving forward.
- High travel costs – Every moment a field sales rep spends on the road costs money in the form of vehicle wear and tear, fuel, depreciation, and time spent away from the actual job site. Optimizing travel time can help mitigate these expenses, but that’s difficult to do if managers and staff schedulers don’t have complete visibility into field operations.
- Lack of integration – As they strive to digitally transform, many organizations have adopted various new tools that promise greater workforce productivity, better customer management, easier payroll processes, and more. But if those systems aren’t integrated, the data they generate and store lives in silos that are likely slowing operations down, hindering rep efficiency, and making it difficult to identify areas for improvement.
- Ensuring accountability of sales reps – Because field sales reps don’t spend the entire work day in a traditional, desk-based office setting, their managers often struggle to understand or measure their day-to-day performance. Supervisors have little to no visibility into what reps have completed, how long it took them, or whether or not they were properly prepared. Without the right tools for real-time field data capture, these details can be easily lost or altered (either accidentally or on purpose), which means managers aren’t getting the accurate picture of rep progress or performance required to ensure accountability.
6 Strategies for Managing a Field Sales Team
To overcome the obstacles of managing a field sales team, organizations need to implement strong strategies that take into account current and shifting business environments. These six robust strategies can empower managers to better support their field reps for a more productive, efficient, and effective team:
1. Use AI-powered scheduling
Scheduling can be a nightmare for sales teams who lack the adequate tools for support. Spreadsheets, online calendars, and whiteboards simply aren’t dynamic enough to accommodate the ever-changing details of field sales scheduling. These manual scheduling methods are time-consuming, error-prone, and repetitive for already-busy teams. Details are forgotten, appointments are canceled, or employees call in sick, and modifying the schedule slows everyone down and negatively impacts customer perceptions.
And although digital transformation has become a top priority for many businesses across every industry, scheduling is often discounted as a critical factor in their strategies. This opens the door for a clear competitive advantage for those who implement powerful, automated scheduling tools as part of their larger transformation initiatives.
AI-powered automated scheduling technology eliminates scheduling bottlenecks and eases the burden of updating schedules, locating reps, and identifying the right person for each appointment. Plus, it reduces the risk for a lost sale due to customer drop-off after first contact.
Let’s say, for instance, a field rep for a residential solar provider who’s stationed at their company’s kiosk in a big-box store interacts with a potential customer who’s interested in an in-home consultation. Instead of marking down the customer’s contact information, entering those details into a centralized system once they return to the office, and waiting for a staff scheduler to reach out to the client to book an appointment, the field rep can instantly schedule a consultation on the spot.
Before the customer even leaves the store, the field sales rep uses their automated, mobile-first scheduling tool to capture that customer’s details, quickly select the right worker for the job (based on location, availability, qualifications, etc.), and reduce the risk of losing the sale. This type of seamless, optimized scheduling allows staff schedulers to focus on higher-value tasks and enables reps to close deals more efficiently while focusing on what really matters: their customers.
2. Utilize data and analytics
Data is the backbone of any successful organization, but capturing the right data (and enough of it) to gain an accurate picture of field sales operations can be challenging. This is especially true if your field sales team still relies on manual processes, which make data around scheduling, jobs, customers, and outcomes stale and inadequate.
For example, if a residential internet service provider manually creates field reps’ and technicians’ schedules and requires those deskless workers to collect job and customer data on paper (then re-enter those details into a digital system), then how can the company understand and improve upon its operations in real time?
Data around mileage and travel reimbursements, job check-in and check-out times, billable time, services provided (and requested) on-site, customer signatures and photos, and more can easily be lost, duplicated, or mis-entered into the system. Insufficient or missing data leads to a complete lack of understanding about what’s happening in the field and how that’s contributing to the sales team’s success or failure.
To gain a complete view of their operations and pinpoint what’s working and what’s not, managers should arm their field reps with mobile-first tools that help them instantly capture data offline in the field. That way, nothing is lost in the shuffle, and managers and leaders can accurately analyze and understand progress and performance at a moment’s notice, based on the most up-to-date information possible.
3. Use route optimization software
For field reps, more time spent on the road translates directly to less time spent with customers. Since reps spend just over a third of their time (35.2%) actually selling, travel time wastes precious minutes or hours that they don’t have to spare. Unlike internal sales teams, field reps face external factors that threaten their ability to maximize their time spent with customers, including unexpected traffic, bad weather, and highway construction.
Inadequate scheduling tools only exacerbate routing issues, as most organizations don’t have technologies that optimize reps’ schedule for greater efficiency throughout the work day. In fact, 72% of executives say that worker productivity is negatively impacted by their existing technologies. Inefficient, inflexible scheduling tools create inadequate routing practices—particularly as changes occur—and cause field reps to miss their appointments, arrive late to customer sites, and incur unnecessary travel expenses.
By leveraging route optimization software, field sales managers maximize the value of their reps’ time by reducing their time spent on the road. The right software helps teams easily schedule customer appointments that are in close proximity to one another, so reps don’t waste time traveling from one side of time to the other to interact with customers.
They generate routes that optimize working hours for more efficient reps and lower travel and operating costs for the business. Rather than toggling between various routing apps to get from one customer to the next, field sales reps can instantly access their schedules and optimized routes, send and receive key updates, and perform their sales tasks on a single, secure platform. This leads to a happier, more productive team that’s ready to deliver excellent customer experiences as efficiently as possible.
4. Assign reps to leads based on skill level
Customers want to make purchases from reps who demonstrate their in-depth knowledge around the products and services they’re selling. They also want to interact with a sales rep who understands their own unique pain points, constraints, and objectives, so it’s essential to match each lead with a rep who has prior experience working with similar customers.
A B2B technology solutions provider who acquires a lead in the healthcare sector, for example, should assign to that lead a field rep who has intimate knowledge and experience working with customers in that industry. A field sales rep who has worked exclusively with customers in the finance sector thoroughly understands how the company’s technology solutions can benefit that type of client, but will likely find it difficult to apply those advantages to the nuances of healthcare. And if this prospective healthcare client is a large enterprise, the solutions provider should match them with a rep who is skilful in interacting with several stakeholders and decision-makers across a client’s organization.
But keeping track of details around field reps’ skill level, previous experience, and customer history is a complicated task if your team isn’t using sophisticated tools to do so. As your company scales, assigning leads based on these details becomes an even more complex feat.
The right software centralizes all of this information and instantly matches the right rep to the right customer, based on previous experience, skill set, location, and more. That way, the customer is always met with a field rep who’s fully prepared to answer key questions, illustrate their own knowledge, and seamlessly move the deal forward.
5. Integrate your software
Field sales teams use a variety of tools to complete their daily work. Many organizations have adopted a whole slew of technologies (like a CRM, productivity apps, collaboration tools, finance and HR systems, etc.) to better empower their employees.
But if those systems don’t talk to one another, field reps likely don’t have the seamless access they need to maintain their productivity or ensure excellent customer service. Disparate systems also increase the risk for duplicate or missing data, which—ultimately—lead to missed deals.
By integrating your software, your organization can create a single source of truth, which allows field reps to easily find and update customer information, access and modify schedules, and collaborate with their colleagues. Instead of fumbling around looking for the most up-to-date version of any previous meeting notes, marketing interactions, sales checklists, or guides, reps have all relevant details (from multiple sources) readily available.
When a field sales rep books a customer appointment, they already have all of that client’s history and information at their fingertips, which gives them everything they need to answer key questions, build trust, and foster a stronger customer relationship.
6. Use sales forecasting tools
Traditional tools and software don’t enable accurate forecasting of customer demand or help sales teams anticipate client needs. Peak or slow sales periods can throw a wrench in productivity and operations if the team isn’t prepared to accommodate them; so investing in the right forecasting tools is a must.
Modern tools make the most of your team’s workforce data by generating robust reports based on historical and real-time information. They help sales managers better understand and plan for the availability and capacity of their reps versus actual customer demand, so the entire team’s time is maximized.
A residential solar provider, for example, uses their forecasting tools for pipeline analysis and prediction. They know (based on their historical data) that customer demand for residential solar installation significantly drops in certain sales regions during cold winter months, then rises again in the spring. Armed with this information, they can more accurately plan, schedule, and dispatch the right amount of field sales reps to specific big-box stores at the right time for fewer wasted resources and greater revenue.
Powerful Tools for Effective Field Sales Management
Managing a field sales team certainly does not come without its challenges. Ever-evolving business objectives, worker schedules, and customer demand can threaten a team’s ability to remain productive, efficient, and profitable. But by investing in the right strategies and tools, field sales managers can empower their reps to boost both performance and the company’s bottom line.
Skedulo’s mobile-first deskless productivity cloud integrates with field sales teams’ existing systems and offers automated scheduling, optimized routing, intelligent job matching, seamless data collection and analysis, and more. With Skedulo, field sales teams can gain complete visibility into their operations for a more effective and competitive workforce.