Stormy weather: how outside sales teams have navigated 2020

Field sales during 2020

Annually, on National Salesperson Day, we celebrate the role outside salespeople play in business success. This year, our regional managers shared their observations from this unusual year, and the critical role they see outside sales teams play going forward.


Much has been said about how unusual this year has been, but let’s talk about things that that remained the same. Those things we cannot do without. The things we rely on even more when the economic environment becomes more difficult to read, and the future feels less certain than usual.


Methods changed and compromises needed to be made, but buying and selling needed to continue happening for businesses to grow and survive. Skynamo users depend on regular in-person interactions with their customers for buying and selling to continue happening.


This year, many sales teams had to find creative ways to remain top of mind with customers while lockdowns and other trade regulations restricted their movement and prevented them from doing regular visits. When they did these visits, they had to get the most out of them, strengthening relationships and obtaining valuable customer information.


Skynamo’s three regional managers, Stan Deak (US & Canada), Brian Howe (UK & Europe) and Amanda Mohr (Africa & ROW) share how they saw outside sales teams help businesses weather the economic slowdown and what sales teams will rely on moving forward in a changing economy.


In a time of economic slowdown and uncertainty, what did you find most encouraging about how our customers’ sales managers handled these pressures?


Amanda: Despite uncertainty, they made use of what they did know: their customers and what they needed. Our customers made use of business insights provided by Skynamo Analytics to make their decisions.


Brian: I saw a lot of resilience. Despite restrictions, most of them found ways to remain in constant communication with their customers to try and help one another to get by.


​Stan: They’ve shown a great deal of empathy to their fellow salespeople who have been furloughed or laid off during the difficult times. People in the industry came together in support of one another during this time.


Polls we ran suggested that most businesses with outside (field) sales teams will continue relying on outside salespeople and even grow their teams despite current restrictions on movement.


What would you ascribe this reliance on outside sales teams to, and why do you believe salespeople doing face-to-face customer visits will remain critical to business success for so many businesses?


Amanda: It’s very difficult to build or maintain relationships online. Even if you manage to do most of your selling via online channels, you need the occasional injection of face-to-face interaction. People prefer dealing with people in person over connecting with them through a screen.


Brian: Many of the industries we serve rely heavily on face-to-face interactions in order to sell. We found that the businesses who were best able to secure replenishment orders after lockdown periods were the ones who were out to greet their customers first once restrictions lifted. Their customers are busy, so an in-person visit by a salesperson allows them to complete a repeat order during the visit and remain well-stocked without much effort from their side. This is essential to their trading.


Stan: Competition is increasing every day, so it’s important to keep relationships strong and also keep track of a competitor’s presence within your account base. It is important to know when new competitors are entering the market and when existing competitors are making changes to their sales strategies and tactics. Visiting customers in person helps you do this.


Going into 2021, what will give outside sales teams an ‘unfair advantage’ over their competitors?


Amanda: Those who have been conscientious about keeping in touch with their customers throughout 2020 already have an advantage. Furthermore, if they’ve been keeping track of these engagements and have data through which to understand how their customers are coping and how their circumstances might have changed, they will be better able to respond to their needs. Don’t underestimate playing a supportive, caring role for your customers. It matters to them that you remember the conversation they had with you when times were tough for them. It matters that you know the state of their sales and their business.


The more customers you see, the more difficult it is to keep track and remember this information when you visit them on site. It’s worth investing in the right sales software that helps your team visit the right customers at the right time with the right information. This will ensure great customer service and getting the most value out of each face-to-face conversation that happens.


Brian: Relationships are key. A customer chooses who they want to deal with. If someone makes the effort to visit them face-to-face, their relationship gets prioritized. Nothing beats face-to-face sales!


Stan: Strong relationships are obviously important, but additionally, it is critical that a salesperson has the right information available to them to meet their specific needs on a call-to-call basis. One meeting might require detailed historical context from prior visits while the next meeting requires custom pricing for a marquis client. Having the right information available at the right time across many different scenarios is a key requirement for driving success. Make sure you find the right sales tools for your team to achieve these goals.


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