Do Organisations Still need Two Sales models: Field Sales and Virtual (Inside) Sales

January 4, 2021

As companies step out of the lock-down periods enforced by many countries worldwide, there are several learnings and opportunities to rethink sales models, systems, and tools and go to market strategies.

In the world of selling, many will have gone through adapting and preparing their sales force to work virtually to sustain productivity and adjust to the knock-on effect to customer engagement models that instantly shifted to video/phone interactions.

For some companies, this adjustment to the Sales Process raises the question of the difference between Field Sales and Virtual (or Inside) Sales? In the past, these two sales “functions” were mainly differentiated by a simple single factor: Customer Interaction Type (Face to Face vs. non-Face to Face).

However, pre-Covid-19, those companies that optimally leveraged these two sales functions deployed them to serve the different types of customers that make up a holistic market penetration strategy.

While both are engaged in the act of selling, the two functions achieve sales in very different ways and use a different set of “tools” to reach their outcomes. When these two functions are deployed optimally, they run in parallel and in harmony with the engagement strategy designed to match the customers they serve. The two processes (beyond coverage models) optimize a company’s sales strategy by:

  • Field Sales engaging with a lower number of customers that have a longer sales cycle, buy more units per transaction and have a larger than average deal size
  • Virtual Sales engaging with a higher number of customers that have a shorter sales cycle, buy lower units per transaction, and have a smaller average deal size

The table below depicts this side-by-side comparison

Comparison to AverageField SalesVirtual Sales
Number of Managed CustomersLowerHigher
Sales CycleLongerShorter
Number of Units per TransactionHigherLower
Average Deal SizeHigherLower

The reality is that the deployment and mix of sales models used should be determined by more than a single factor of face to face vs. non-face to face. Instead, shaping your sales strategy through the lens of the customers you want to serve will yield better outcomes.

In the world of Field sales, the cost to acquire a transaction is typically higher. Generally, their transactions have more complex decision-making processes and customer requirements. Even without the face-to-face engagements, they will need to invest heavily in domain expertise, attend briefing sessions, leverage bid teams to develop a proposal, etc. They will also need to draw into their pitch a pool of resources to cover different requirements plus invest heavily in relationship building at various layers of an organisation to navigate the decision-making process successfully.

In the world of Virtual Sales, the cost to acquire a transaction has to be lower to match the customer spend. So they leverage a range of tools, are very process orientated, and rely heavily on programs to interact and attract many customers to a less complicated offering. 

The table, although not exhaustive, gives a quick side by side comparison of the typical transactions and tool usage for these two functions:

Transaction vs. AverageField SalesVirtual Sales
Cost to AcquireHigherLower
Complexity of Decision-MakingHigherLower
The complexity of Commercial OfferingHigherLower
Tools Needed  
Domain expertiseCriticalAdhoc
Attend briefing sessionsCriticalAdhoc
Bid teams to develop a proposalCriticalAdhoc
SMEs for varying requirementsCriticalAdhoc
Relationship buildingMulti-Layered1-2 Layers
Scaling ProcessesAdhocCritical
Power HoursAdhocCritical
Travel (Face to Face)PreferredAdhoc
Video ConferenceAdhocFrequent
Social MediaAdhocImportant

There is a stark difference between these two sales motions to drive success. Each requires a different set of tools to drive outcomes as well as various skills profiles.

With an optimal deployment, one discipline does not replace the other as they serve different customer types with varying buying attributes and require different “selling” investments. Put simply, would you invest the same amount in acquiring a $1m deal vs. a deal worth $20K? Probably not. Balancing between investing in-depth and programmatic to serve different customers will deliver a more favorable ROI.

During and after Covid-19, not much has changed in the sales process other than the medium to engage (excluding market factors). Pre-Covid-19, Field Sales were already “virtual.” A good portion of their engagements with their customers relied on phone and email as customers were traveling, and hard to pin down for a 100% face to face engagement. As part of the “New Norm,” Field Sales has had more frequent virtual meetings as customers are not traveling and adopting virtual engagements. However, this adaptation does not mean the sales process itself has changed. By the way check out our recommendations on how to manage workforce amid the COVID-19 outbreak here if you have not read them yet.

Net, Field, and Virtual Sales models should be viewed as customer engagement strategies developed to serve your customers.

The change in engagement media does not mean these sales models are merging. The merging of these models only makes sense when all your customers behave in the same way. The best strategy is to ensure these models you deploy match your customer to maximize your growth and ROI potential.

In the New Norm, the terms “Field Sales” and “Virtual/Inside Sales” are out of place, and both need a new name to match the world today. Perhaps Deep Sales and Agile Sales better describe these two functions in the New Norm.

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