These days many companies face the situation that their field sales teams are restricted in visiting stores. Some companies have released their teams from their duties and send them home without any work to do, letting government pay part or all their salary. This plan, of course, saves cost to company in the short term, but in the long term, it can harm your business. Your competitors are not sleeping or being inactive during this lockdown period, they are planning their next move to steal market share and to increase their in-store and online presence. 

Why not take advantage of the situation and use the capabilities and competencies of the team to get the entire sales process aligned and streamlined – both in the physical stores and in the online channels? Here are some ideas as to what you may do to prepare yourself for the re-opening of your market – in all of this your field team can play a valuable part.

  • Prepare your Day Zero plan

Has your field team prepared a detailed plan on what to do and where to go for the first 10 days when the marketplace re-opens? Are your contingency plans ready to be deployed? How will you prioritize the different assignments and tasks? – They should be prioritized according to the value they bring and the time they take to perform, but  having been away from the stores for a long period might have changed the value usually created at each assignment,  for example, it now might be better to plan to reconnect fast with all your prioritized stores rather  than to do longer visits at every store.

  • Revisit Channel landscape and Segmentation model

Do stores have the right segmentation and the right visit frequency, and have you clearly defined the service levels for the different types? Do you know where all your physical assets are, and do you have a clear picture -at store level – of what the barriers for additional sales are and where you have potential for additional sales? Your field team can help, they have the daily contacts, they know all these details and they can easily help you trim your operation.

  • Update your sales support material – training kits, assortment overview, sell-up opportunities, etc.

Let your team update your sales support material to make it even easier for store staff to sell your products and services. These materials are most of the time neglected in a high-paced daily operation mode, but they are important, especially in business where shoppers are seeking store staff advice in the buying process. Your field team knows exactly what is needed on the store floor and most of the time it’s not the standard marketing packages that will do the trick. Most brands tend only to look at it from the shopper's point of view and forget to answer the simple question from store staff “What’s in it for me? Team motivation is an important element of sales success.  

  • Digital merchandising of different retailer’s online platforms

Your field team has an excellent eye for how your brand is performing in-store, they are constantly looking to improve the in-store presence of the brand and to make it easy for shoppers to choose your products. Why not let them have a look at the retailers' online platforms to optimize the presence of your products here too?  It’s a time-consuming exercise, but it’s worthwhile. Here are some questions to which you might want answers: Are all priority products listed? Do products appear in searches? Are products located in the right categories? Are facts correct? Is each product supported by sufficient information and inspiration for shoppers to make a conscious purchase decision? Are all links operational and all videos up and running? What is your share of Top 10 products per category? What is your share of products on promotion? 

I would start with the multi-channel partners, but also put effort into motivating the players on the ground.

  • Training videos, E-learning and Virtual Face-to-face training with the most important stores.

Training can still be performed even if your field team is not in the stores. Let them work on ideas for training videos and e-learning, they will have important insight into what works, since they are much more familiar with the audience  than the professionals who normally  perform these tasks are, and they can communicate  with store personnel at their level. If stores are still open, but your team is restricted from going there, try to organize virtual face-to-face training sessions with the most important stores – engines like Microsoft teams and Zoom are pretty good alternatives. 

  • Virtual in-store compliance checks – collecting retail intelligence by calls instead of visits.

Even though you are not allowed to visit stores, it’s still possible to maintain contact and close dialogue with store staff. Call them and collect the retail intelligence that you need to keep track of your performance but keep the conservation short and relaxed and avoid conducting it like an interrogation. Use a simplified questionnaire for your visit report and focus on the most important things, the call should be valuable for both your team and for store staff. Your field team has already established the relationship, so continuing to engage with store personnel on the phone for a short time in order to maintain the relationship is not only possible, it is desirable.  

  • Support retailers in online chats or direct contact by phone or provide virtual personal shoppers for your end-users.

Since many shoppers are turning to online channels when physical stores are closed, it might therefore, be an idea to investigate if your field team may assist the most important retailers in their chat function on their websites or in their call centers. Your team can have either direct interaction with the end-users or they can act as product specialists whom the regular retail team can use as support. You might even be allowed to set up a virtual personal shopper platform, where your team can support end-users by demonstrating and explaining product features and end-user benefit through various video services.

This initiative also allows the team to get a better understanding of the decision process that the shoppers are going through – insights that can be used for later training sessions and for the development of sales support material.  

  • Get all the human resource activities done now.   

A final idea would be to get all the human resource activities for the team done during the shut-down period. Make sure that vacations are planned and taken when convenient and when they do not have too negative   an effect on the business. Conduct your bi-annual appraisal interviews now and lastly, don’t forget to host a virtual Fridays Bar for your teams! 

I hope you can use some of these ideas to keep your business operational during COVID-19 and profitable thereafter.

Stay healthy, stay safe!
Jens Brinck
CEO - Gorm Larsen Nordic