Don't Take The Sales Force For Granted: Recentering The Seller Experience To Drive Performance



A New Day For Sellers

Today’s consumer has changed. They continue to spend even as interest rates rise, resulting in frustration and pessimism. Wages have risen, inflation has cooled, and yet interest rates still bite into personal income, giving individuals a feeling that—as the popular saying goes—”it’s over.” In summary, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still making themselves felt. What is the role of the seller—the frontline sales associate, for instance, or distributed sales reps in insurance or direct selling—in this new economic relationship?

Consumers are choosier, with bleaker outlooks; they want to spend but ensure they’re spending correctly, on products that suit their needs as much as possible. Sellers thus should be equipped with the tools, and the motivation, in order to maximize Customer Experience and help the customer find the best products to suit their tastes, styles, and needs. Where sellers previously could be more passive, having more pessimistic consumers—and consumers who have already informed themselves on products through digital and social means—requires those sellers to become more strategic and intentional.

This has a downside, which is that many sellers are currently facing burnout, resulting in poor retention overall among the assisted sales-based workforce. With this reality at play, asking for more from sellers might result in even more burnout. But as we’ll see, it’s all about how you do so and the tools through which you do so. This requirement has an upside too: for the average seller, more “interventionist” selling is often more engaging, even fun. To paraphrase a common saying, with greater challenges come greater rewards. How does an assisted-sales organization help them navigate that challenge, though?

What Is Seller Experience, Anyway?

Whether we’re talking about retailers, direct sellers, insurers, or other assisted-sales channels, the keystone of any post-pandemic seller enablement strategy centers on the seller experience. Much has been said recently about prioritizing the consumer experience or Customer Experience, otherwise known as CX. It is clear why: consumers are the touchpoint responsible for sales. Many solutions and technologies exist to optimize CX, from virtual merchandising to VR and AR to smart eCommerce platforms to self-checkout experiences in stores. This is all well and good, but too many organizations ignore the dynamic relationship between the seller’s experience, CX, and revenue.

An “unenabled” seller, passively standing around, will be no match for a consumer who has easy access to pricing data, product knowledge, and inventory trends—and who is choosier than ever. There must be a match between the active, data-enabled consumer (to whom the Internet and social media give ready access to product recommendations, price comparisons, technical details, trend information, and so forth) and the seller.

In this sense, the seller experience is an equally important variable in determining sales size and volume and, thus, corporate revenues. When sellers have a similar level of access as consumers to digital tools and touchpoints—for instance, historical customer purchase insights; event-triggered, AI-guided recommendations on customer nurture and follow-ups; personalized and visualized sales goal progress—they come to interactions and transactions not only prepared but enabled.

Total Experience

Experts Leah Leachman and Don Schreibenreif have written about “total experience” for Harvard Business Review. In their account, organizations that link together seller, Customer, and User Experience meet the needs of both customers and sellers by getting rid of “silos” in solution design. As an example they take LEGO, who during the pandemic launched a self-service online buying solution that did not have the personalization and interactivity of brick-and-mortar experiences, so they added a virtual showroom that did provide this high-quality “product-viewing experience.”

Yet even this example does not take into account seller experience—including questions like engagement, retention, and performance, let alone how sellers would be motivated and enabled to provide better in-store Customer Experiences. In other words, even Leachman and Schreibenreif, in talking about total experience, are still focusing too much on CX and not enough on seller experience; the risk here is that customers will simply buy according to their own limited understanding of the product line, order size will remain minimal, and they will not be re-engaged in a manner that involves a human touch.

In enabling the consumer too much without doing the same for the seller, companies are leaving their customers to their own devices (in some ways quite literally) and neglecting the traditional obligation of all sales organizations, that is, to sell. They are leaving money on the table at a time when these customers are pessimistic and “spending more to buy less.

Seller Experience And Performance Enablement Technology

Thus the question becomes, how is the right seller experience created to not only increase performance (repeat sales, order size) but also promote engagement and retention in the sales force? After all, these three factors are interrelated. A more engaged seller who has been affiliated with the company for longer is more likely, logically speaking, to upsell and cross-sell. If a company constantly loses and gains new sellers who have low levels of engagement, consumers might buy the bare minimum, but they are unlikely to become loyal customers or increase the size of their cart.

An instructive example is found in the success story of Fleet Feet. Fleet Feet used seller experience technology to upskill and engage their sellers. Their Education Manager, Heather Fencik, can see weekly engagement activity and distribute rewards (e.g., gift cards) on that basis. Through the use of this technology, Fleet Feet grew sales by +140% among the active users. Now, Fleet Feet continues to expand even as other, similar retailers struggle.

The key here is to not simply copy what Fleet Feet has done but to heed their focus on seller experience enablement. Fleet Feet calls their in-store sellers “Outfitters,” not just associates, and transforms them into expert salespersons. They are empowered by digital technology to develop and sharpen sales pitches for products, which makes them more connected to the company, particularly as Heather distributes rewards for their efforts. In summary, the more they are engaged, the more they are rewarded, motivating them to sell more. The more they sell, the more they continue to engage, creating a virtuous cycle.

The Empowered Seller

The goal here is to create what we might call an empowered seller. Customers today empower themselves with technology. They rely on digital experiences in order to buy, even—sometimes especially—when they spend in-store. The customer journey often involves some combination of online navigation, personalized ads, AI-guided customer engagement, and other digital touchpoints. Yet giving all these tools for the user journey to the customer while ignoring the seller creates a massive imbalance. This puts the burden on the consumer to be informed, engaged, and empowered while allowing the seller to stagnate, discouraging retention on both sides.

Instead, the empowered seller is the hero of the (equally empowered) consumer’s experience, equipped with the right digital technology to make the best recommendations and upsell empathetically. Some experts have called the technology enabling sellers “Performance Enablement Platforms,” or PEPs. These platforms contain every data point and touchpoint the seller needs, from visualized progress on their sales goals to product technical specifics, and provide smart activities regarding these touchpoints in the flow of work. For instance, push notifications are showing the seller how much they have to sell to reach their monthly goals and receive a gift card, automatically sent to their mobile device minutes before their busiest time of the day.

PEPs combine internal seller performance data and external data integrations (i.e., POS or any other back-office system), AI-guided recommendations on follow-ups and nurture activities, personalized to-dos, and high-performer behavioral data patterns to ensure that the seller is as empowered as the hybrid customer—and even more so.

PEP Data

User data shows that PEP technology really works. From 2022-23, assisted-sales companies that used PEPs to enable their sales force increased their workforce size by 25%, with 21% more sellers than the previous year actively engaged with the platform—signifying increases in recruitment, retention, and engagement. Furthermore, when actively engaged with, PEPs drove up order size 3x—a key metric, in fact, increasing the value of each individual sale and thus multiplying seller productivity. This is extremely valuable as it adds value to each sales interaction. Yet PEPs also enable sellers to follow up with customers after a set period of time, driving repeat sales, and helping them meet their own sales goals and earn the rewards that are so crucial for motivation and validation.

Conclusion

However an assisted sales organization chooses to enable their sellers, one truth remains constant—they should find a way of transforming the seller’s experience for the age of the high-tech consumer. The “total experience” for a sales organization is not complete without focusing on the seller’s needs. Companies take their frontlines, fields, and sales forces for granted at their peril. Because while the customer is the essential component of every sale, only engaged sellers at the top of their game will have what it takes to increase order sizes and drive repeat sales. These are two of the most critical KPIs for companies faced with the more pessimistic consumer of the post-pandemic era, and seller experience is the main avenue by which to drive them.



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