How much did lockdown and safety restrictions affect field sales teams?

female field sales manager strategizing with her team

Polls show the importance field sales teams attach to in-person selling, their reasons for employing outside sales teams, and how the pandemic affected the size of their sales teams.


Sales professionals who attended our Face-to-Face Selling During a Pandemic webinar shared some of their thoughts on the importance of field sales teams for business success, and how they plan to use these teams going forward.

We learned that businesses value the role of field sales teams and largely consider outside salespeople critical to long-term success. Our poll results suggest that most businesses made an early decision on the role outside sales teams must play in their sales approach, restructured accordingly, and continue to follow this approach as the COVID-19 economy unfolds.


1. Majority of customers prefer in-person supplier visits

Supplier-customer relationships are two-way streets. We often highlight the importance of maintaining relationships with our customers (see numbers 2 and 3 below) but it’s also necessary to be reminded that customers are often equally eager to maintain good relationships from their side.

Business owners like Fringe Sport CEO, Peter Keller, emphasize the importance of going out to meet certain suppliers face-to-face. This is a proactive way to make sure your business, as the customer, maintains a good relationship and therefore receives good service from a supplier.

Suppliers who do regular on-premise visits take care of this need on behalf of customers, for whom face-to-face meetings are important.


2. Nearly 75% say face-to-face meetings are critical to business success

Over two-thirds (71%) of webinar attendees considered face-to-face meetings with customers and prospects critical to business success. The remaining 29% agreed that employing an outside sales team to do regular customer visits would be beneficial.

Research suggests the benefits of face-to-face selling do outweigh the costs. In the US outside sales reps have a 29.6% higher quota on average than inside sales reps. Inside sales reps reach out to and connect with more leads annually by means of various media, but companies with the majority of their reps operating outside in the field, have a 30.2% higher close rate than companies with a majority of inside sales reps. Deals worked by field sales teams tended to be 130.2% bigger on average than those worked by inside sales teams.

This does not mean you should always opt for either outside or inside. Trends indicate that most companies are moving forward by blending the efforts of inside and outside sales teams and benefitting from how they work together.


3. Outside sales teams maintain relationships, increase sales in long run

The main reasons suppliers employ outside sales teams are to build and strengthen customer relationships (43%) and to increase their opportunity to upsell or cross-sell (21%). Other reasons include collecting market intelligence (14%), collecting customers’ information (7%), collecting competitive information (7%), and replenishing stock (7%).

Ironically, we’ve found that the reason the majority of field sales teams struggle with customer relationships and increasing sales is the lack of good data and the inability to capture and communicate information while visiting customers.

Download our Transparency Report to learn how the right field sales software addresses the problem of bad field sales data and consult The Field Sales Software Buyer’s Guide to help you choose the best field sales software for your business needs.


4. Most businesses will continue relying on outside sales teams

More than half (57%) of the sales teams who participated in the poll will continue to employ the same number of outside salespeople going forward, while 14% intend to hire more outside salespeople. And 29% have reduced the number of salespeople they employ.

Looking back at earlier polls we conducted,  predictions made at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be determining the extent to which businesses rely on outside sales teams going forward.

In a poll we held in May 2020, 62% of respondents expected business to return to ‘usual’ (similar to pre-COVID) towards the end of the year, while 29% believed things will never be ‘normal’ again and expected the way we do business to have changed forever. At the time, only 33% had seen their company’s sales teams reduce in size.

It is now six months later, and our recent poll suggests that it may be the same 29% who foresaw the way they do business changing forever, who restructured their approach to rely less on face-to-face selling.


Is an outside sales team, meeting customers face-to-face, critical to your business’s success? Which approach did your business choose?