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How COVID-19 Has Impacted Field Sales

Experienced sales leaders know the powerful impact in-person selling (referred to as “field sales” or “outside sales”) can have on performance, customer satisfaction, and overall business outcomes. 

The best sales professionals know this instinctively, but it’s also backed by data: research has found that field sales representatives are more than twice as likely to close a sale than their inside sales counterparts who are connecting mostly via phone, email, or other online communication. Similar sources show that companies with a majority of outside sales reps have a 30% higher close rate compared to those who don’t, and they also close, on average, over 130% larger deals. 

When it comes to relationship-building in sales, there simply is no substitute for face-to-face interactions.

And then, COVID-19… 

2020 introduced the world to the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus, turning the outside sales industry, along with everything else for that matter, on its ear practically overnight. Reps left the field. States went on lockdown. Customers suspended their budgets. And entire swaths of the economy grinded to a halt as markets waited to see when and how things would gradually re-open. 

But, as sales leaders and the general public realized that the fight against the virus is a marathon not a sprint, the priority shifted from total lockdown to finding safe and effective ways to resume business activities, outside sales included, in a COVID-19 world.

For most sales leaders, deciding who, when, and where to engage in face-to-face selling during a pandemic requires a level of decision-making and high-pressure strategic thinking that they have likely never encountered in their lifetime. It’s about more than quotas, growth, or close rates — the very health and well-being of their reps (and their reps’ families) and their customers are at stake now, and many leaders may be struggling to find the best data-driven strategy for re-activating their field teams during the worst public health crisis in more than a generation. 

Sales Partnerships, Inc. Founder and Chief Sales Officer Fred Kessler and Jay Graves, Founder and CEO of Pathfinder Business Associates and former VP of Sales for the US Roche Diabetes Care Division, have released new guidance that provides a strategic framework to sales leaders across all industries on how to safely and responsibly re-active their field sales teams amid COVID-19 and engage in face-to-face selling again while keeping reps, customers, and their communities as safe as possible. They also acknowledge that, depending on the amount of disease spread in a particular city or region, companies also need to have clear guidance in place for when to push pause on their field sales activities and safeguard their teams and customers until infection rates return to safer levels. 

So, until there is an effective and widely available vaccine or therapeutic that will allow for “normal” activity, here are a few things that all outside sales leaders should consider on an ongoing basis when making key decisions about how to safely their operate field sales teams during a pandemic:

Use Good Data

Understanding positivity rates and other key metrics around disease prevalence in your community is the first step in making any decision about your field sales activity. Our latest white paper provides a list of the best websites and sources to consult on a regular basis. The
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and the Harvard Global Health Institute are two stand-outs.

Look at Positivity Rates

Researchers, including the NIH, the CDC, and Harvard recommend a positivity rate of 3-5% in order to safely re-open markets. After over 20 years of field sales experience and having re-activated several of our own field sales teams in recent weeks, we generally recommend a positivity rate (the percentage of people who have tested positive out of the total number of people who have been tested) closer to 3% in order to safely deploy outside sales teams. 

Adopt a Strong Policy on Mask-Wearing

Proper mask usage is currently the single most defining factor in preventing the spread COVID-19, and we see these lower transmission rates across cities and regions that have had high adoption rates for mask wearing. Effective masks should be easily accessible to everyone on your field sales team at all times, and they should also be widely trained in proper mask usage, with resources and tips readily available.

Don’t Stop Monitoring Infection Rates

Disease spread of any kind, particularly of this virus, is a dynamic, ongoing challenge that affects different cities and regions in different ways each week. When you deploy your outside sales teams back into the field, you must continuously monitor things like trending infection rates, case counts, and positivity rates in order to ensure they are operating within the “safe zone,” lowering their risk for exposure, infection, and spread.

Hold Your Sales Outsourcing Partners to a High Standard

Your brand is your most valuable asset, and that is never more true than in times of volatility, uncertainty, or crisis when every move counts. If you work with a sales outsourcing company, remember that they will be viewed by your customers and by the public as an extension of your organization and your brand, so it is more important than ever to partner with field sales outsourcing companies who share your commitment to responsibly entering and working in the field.

And, sometimes, acting responsibly means making the tough call not to enter the field. A good external sales partner should take a diligent, data-driven approach to field sales operations, and they should be prepared to push pause on field sales activity, prioritizing the health and safety of your teams. If your outside sales partner is willing to send their reps into the field under any circumstance and regardless of the risk to the team or customers, then they are likely not acting with the same values and evidence-based approach that will align with and benefit your own brand.

At Sales Partnerships, Inc., we’ve had to make some of these difficult decisions in recent weeks and advise clients to hold off on field sales activity until conditions are more favorable in their communities or the proper precautions were in place to keep people safe. As the market leader in field sales outsourcing for Global 2000 companies, we set the standard for responsible, data-driven field sales re-entry that prioritizes the health and safety of our teams, our customers, the community, and your brand, while also creating safe, successful pathways for field re-activation and a return to the highly effective method of face-to-face customer engagement.

To learn more about our recommendations on when and how to safely re-enter the field and the strategic approach that we recommend, download the white paper here. 

Are you looking for guidance or to learn more about working with an external sales partner? Reach out to us here.