Sure Fire Ways to Build a Successful Sales Force – Part 3: Know the Sales Landscape

English navigator Henry Hudson learned the hard way in the 17th century what can happen when you don’t know a landscape well.

His ill-fated fourth voyage to the arctic ended when his ship became locked in ice for months. As supplies dwindled, the ship’s crew mutinied, casting out Hudson onto an ice floe…and that was the last time anyone saw him alive.

I’ve met plenty of sellers who have made that mistake. Sometimes more than once!

Your sales landscape is something you need to know intimately, such that you can plan carefully how you’re going to cover it thoroughly and not miss out on important opportunities within your market to sell more.

To be clear, the landscape I am talking about here is more than just geographic boundaries. It’s also defined by the measurable preferences and choices that your customers make on an ongoing basis, as well as important trends that you see your competitors embracing in the marketplace.

Developing a deep knowledge of your sales landscape helps you sell more in less time. Just as important, it is what can help you avoid the risk of getting caught unexpected like poor Henry Hudson did.

So far in this series on building your sales force, we’ve looked at how important it is to use data to help guide your decisions and to work smarter with people so that you get optimal performance from them. Both of those points feed into your sales landscape.

Your work doesn’t end there. Have a look at the sales structures you are using in your market and compare it to what others are doing. Consider separating the inside roles and the outside roles, adopting different management structures. Recently an industrial oil reseller client added an inside sales team to compliment their field. As a result they were able to engage with customers more often. Within 12 months their profit margin had increased 45% and their overall sales revenue 140% all in a market that is declining nationwide by 2% per year.

Consider separate channel and direct teams so you have one person selling directly, one person selling through a channel or a reseller. This way you eliminate conflict and serve the customer more closely. I also suggest integrating the hunter and the farmer roles into one person to have one seller in charge of building the relationship, closing the relationship and nurturing the relationship. Doing so allows that person to leverage the trust built during the initial sales process into massive incremental sales.

But, don’t just try new things for the sake of trying. Your sales landscape is not the place to “wing it!”. Go on a data mining expedition and see what it tells you about your sales landscape. Conduct research on how your market could respond to changes you make to your selling approach.

Here’s a good example to illustrate how this works. A client of mine here at Engage Selling in the paper business operates within a well-defined geographic area but they serve their customers via a sales force of reps who come from outside of that area. Their competition, on the other hand, was using an inside sales team. Did that give the others a competitive edge? We did some digging and looked at the data and the results were not what you might have expected. We conducted a survey and found that the client’s customers liked the way they were doing business. Not only that, they also said they’d like to see more of their outside-in approach, rather than choose what the competition was doing.

As a result, my client ended up winning more business and standing out in the marketplace, just by doing things differently. That started with knowing the sales landscape and being sure that their approach was best and making sure we didn’t just follow their lead.

Know your sales landscape and use what you know to create the right sales approach for your market. Be open to new approaches and be prepared to test and fine-tune your methods of connecting with customers in your market. As a result, you’ll lead with confidence knowing the land under your feet as well as what’s just over the horizon.