Field Sales for the Future

25 years ago

Reseller: “Hey Bob, what do you have for me today?”

Manufacturer: “A fantastic new product. Check it out!”

This process worked great when there were hundreds (if not thousands) of resellers, each possessing strong relationships with local office products buyers large and small. Back then, manufacturers had a strong upper hand as the economy was strong and resellers sought additional SKUs. Big Box retailers had not yet infiltrated the office product segment and inventories were not complex. Times were good. To support this fragmented and highly local dynamic, manufacturers and rep firms would set up regions and assign individuals to call on specified accounts to drive sales.

Key to success was a strong, personal relationship between the sales rep and the buyer. Diversification was not rampant, nor consolidation, technology, or home-offices. Channels were clearly demarcated, and the supply chain was firm.

Increasingly however, we now see that personal relationships alone are not enough. Channels have blurred, product offerings have exploded, workplaces have transformed. The old way of doing business no longer works. Today, resellers don’t need a broader product line. They need better data to enable better decisions. Those manufacturers not adapting to data-based decisions and analytics are falling by the wayside.

Fast-forward to Today

Reseller: “Hey Bob, what do you have for me today?”

Manufacturer: “Answers.”

Today, it’s less about reselling but applying retailing best practices. Big difference. Offices are smaller, denser, and far more dispersed as companies rely heavily on freelancers and home-offices. To support this transformed the workplace, local players and big boxes alike must now sell to consumers and corporate customers, each with wildly diverse needs, access, and sophistication. This means that the personal relationship paradigm won’t cut it. Today’s buyers are no longer old friends, but sophisticated business experts who now answer to Wall Street. “Trust me” is now “prove it.”

So how can you prove it? Don’t take a product approach, but a reseller’s approach. What do they need to succeed? Are they over-stocked on high-priced products that don’t turn? (Margins could be great, but dusty products create no cash flow and year-end inventory headaches). Be honest about how your products can help them succeed, and where to best market them. Share your data, overlay their data onto yours, isolate gaps, show opportunity. Building a partnership predicated on analytical success creates a new kind of relationship, one that is just as powerful and profitable as the one enjoyed by our predecessors 25 years ago.

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