Managing outside sales reps can be a challenge -- some have compared it to herding cats. Whether they are locally-based or they work from remote locations, your outside sales team can be a powerful force for your business if it is managed properly. Managing with a balance between control and guidance can empower your team to achieve great results.
Structuring the Team
Managing the outside sales force begins with your decisions about structuring the sales team. Unless you promote from within, you should hire only experienced reps who can verify their past performance with W-2 forms. Only hire people you know or have been referred to you. Consider paying a base salary. Even the best sellers have off-months, and a rep cannot be effective if he is worrying about paying his mortgage. On the other hand, hold your reps accountable. Decide how many quarters they have to make their quotas, and replace them quickly they if they do not. It is better to cut losses than to drag out the inevitable. Be sure that the quotas and territories you establish are realistic.
Getting Off to a Good Start
If your outside sales reps get off to a good start when they join your company, then they will be easier to manage and more productive for you. How you structure their sales training will vary based on the nature of the sale and the size of the rep's territory. If the new outside rep has been promoted from an inside position, he already is familiar with the product or service, but if you hire from outside, the rep will need to learn your business for a week or so. Several weeks in the field with you and one of your senior reps can establish a mentoring relationship. Then, require your new rep to e-mail you daily with progress reports so that you can give support, answer questions and provide the guidance he needs for a successful career launch.
One of the biggest problems that outside sales reps experience is being out of touch with what is happening at the home office. You can bridge that gap in several ways. Communicating on a regular basis by e-mail will keep the team apprised of current events and developments. Of course, communication is more direct and personal if you need to address a problem or if the rep needs help with a sale. As business owner or sales manager, you should be proactive in gathering market intelligence from the outside sales reps, then consolidating it and sharing it with all.
Customer relationship management software, or CRM, is a valuable tool that you should definitely incorporate into your business operations. CRM integrates your customer service team with your inside and outside sales force to monitor the status of prospects and customers, with each member of your team being able to enter customer information and see the entries of the others. From the perspective of managing the outside sales reps, CRM allows you to monitor their activity -- whom they called on and what were the results -- without appearing to micromanage them. The key to successful use of CRM software is getting your sales reps to see the benefits to them. CRM software helps the reps with her record keeping and having access to all information about her accounts.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.