Ultimate Guide to Building & Growing Your Wholesale Sales Teams

Feb 10, 2020

In the wholesale world today, your field sales reps are the key to your company’s success. They are the ones who are making it possible for your products to get into the hands of the consumer.

By following a sales process that is built around building relationships and maintaining long-term contracts with retailers, your reps help ensure continued revenue growth for your company over the long-haul. They are visiting your customers regularly to ensure your products are fully stocked, performing maintenance, and taking any other necessary initiative to maximize profitability and keep the client happy.

But, as a sales manager, you can arm yourself with the knowledge on exactly how to set yourself, your sales team, and your company up for success. In this in-depth guide, we’ll provide just that. Everything from how to set up a successful wholesale field sales team to optimizing your daily sales processes and the top tools to do so. Let’s take a look.

Building Your Wholesale Field Sales Team

As you begin the process of building a field sales team, you have several sources of potential team members. A great one that is sometimes overlooked is people who already know the company and its products: current employees in other departments. People who want to take the next step in their professional development are good prospects, simply because they care about advancing in their career and are willing to step outside their current comfort zone to do so. You might need to coordinate this search within your company with your HR department to determine if there is a protocol for approaching current employees.

Here are some simple guidelines for reaching out to them on your own:

  • Identify the attributes of a successful team member.
  • Take stock of current employees for potential candidates.
  • Post the opening and provide your contact information or approach employees directly to determine interest.
  • Begin interviews and cull your list.
  • Allow those on the list to shadow current reps in the field.
  • Eliminate more candidates based on time spent in the field shadowing.
  • Follow your company’s protocol for making a job offer to one (or more) candidates.

Along with this avenue of identifying potential prospects, utilize other methods your company has to solicit new employees. Ask other sales team members for their recommendations, as well as other managers. You can also utilize professional online resources like LinkedIn. After you have a solid group of prospects, you can begin the training process to add one or more members to your field sales team.

Top Skill Set for Your Reps

Reps who excel in wholesale field sales have a general skill set that makes them successful, both on a personal level and for the company. They must organize the information provided to them about the product or services they will be selling as well as the processes used by the company and your team. They also must enjoy motivating and selling clients, as well as building long-term business relationships.

In general terms, a good field sales rep must have the following skills:

  • Customer-service skills: The ability to listen to the client’s needs and concerns, both before and after the sale.
  • Interpersonal skills: The willingness and knowledge of how to work with all kinds of people and build relationships with clients as well as other team members.
  • Self-confidence: Be comfortable and persuasive when making presentations of all sizes. The ability to “cold call” and face rejection regularly without becoming unmotivated.
  • Stamina: Willingness and physical strength to have long days with much walking and standing for long periods. Sometimes must also carry heavy sample products, depending on the company.

Source: Elevate Corporate Training

More specifically, some reps cover large geographic areas and must be willing to drive (or otherwise travel) to visit retail clients. They must consider the time necessary to be away from their family, often for several days or longer at a time.

Any field sales rep today must also be comfortable with the basics of the Internet, including chat, email, and video conferencing. They must also be comfortable on the phone making calls to potential or established clients, which sometimes includes resolving problems and handling complaints from their customers.

The ability to handle stress is another requirement for a field sales rep. Their income and other compensation are usually dependent on their sales, and they are most often under quotas or goals that must be met.

The next step in the process of adding to your field sales team tackles the training of your new reps. Let’s take a look at how to successfully onboard new wholesale sales reps to be successful in their career paths as well as for your team.

Tips for Training and Resources

The onboarding process and training for new sales reps begins with the same solid educational theory that any effective teacher employs with students: thorough knowledge about the product or services to be sold, understanding of your processes, and the application of what they are learning. This doesn’t happen from simply reading a manual on their own, from slide presentations, or from lectures. Behavior change of any kind comes from an enthusiastic and motivated leader, from practicing key concepts in real-world situations, and then processing (and acting on) constructive feedback on their efforts. Let’s take a look at this process in more detail:

  • Customer Interaction – Once new reps completely understand their products, trainers must show them how to interact with clients and close a sale all while conveying excitement about those products to customers.
  • Clear Processes – Reps must be completely clear on the processes you want them to follow. This might involve initial time in the office with administrative personnel to explain and demonstrate how they are used. Then shadowing a seasoned employee or two and running through potential scenarios to put it all together. This is essential to make sure that the new reps are giving out accurate information to their customers and to ensure they are utilizing whatever tracking and documentation processes you want to be followed.
  • Time Management – Depending on the experience level of a new rep, it may be helpful to teach them time management techniques to lead them—and you—to success. This may be a quality you required before hiring, but if not, don’t assume all new reps know how to do this. “Timeboxing” is an effective technique to teach and use for people who have difficulty with distractions or generally managing their time every day.

The length of training and all onboarding to your company can vary. But spending sufficient time to make sure new reps are informed and knowledgeable, combined with time for shadowing and practice will pay off for everyone later.

An on-going evaluation program is an important part of the initial training as well as continuing education for your established reps, too.

Evaluating & Coaching Your Reps for Success

An overly-obvious way to evaluate success for wholesale field reps is strictly on sales. However, long-term success with clients won’t happen if that is your only measure. It’s not just about the money they bring in. There are other critical sales metrics to consider.

  • What is their closing rate and what is the average deal size? How long did it take to close it? What is their sales volume?
  • What about lost sales? How often does it happen? Why are the sales lost? Is there a pattern; is it a function of training?
  • How do they spend their time that isn’t directly related to making a sale: meetings, email, phone calls, etc? How long do they take to respond to a lead?
  • Is the salesperson costing the company money to keep? Has their training been adequate or is there something else that can be done?
  • Are their customer’s orders getting backed up or taking longer in fulfillment than necessary? Is this happening due to errors?

Source: Sales Drive

Based on your metrics, you may decide additional training is in order. This is important for both new and long-term sales reps. Coaching and guidance will get any wholesale company more success from their reps than will negative evaluations.  

Consider things like looking at their goals for each day or even each contact with clients; listening to their pitch, both on the phone and in person, followed by constructive input from you; making sure the information they are passing on to potential clients is accurate and matches what will happen once the sale is closed; assessing how confident and at ease they are with their interactions; making sure they are following rules of etiquette and courtesy in dealing with clients as they build long-term business relationships with customers.

As you train and retrain your wholesale field sales team, incorporate effective sales processes to maximize that training. The results will be a winning experience for everyone involved.

It is critical for the survival of any wholesale company in the 21st century to adapt to two important factors: consolidation/specialization within the trade and the spread of new technology. This includes your sales team as well.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, globalization and cost pressures are forcing smaller retail businesses to merge in order to remain competitive. Following that restructuring from small to larger companies, the demand for large, national wholesale distributors to supply them will increase. Also, many of these larger retail entities will begin to specialize which will then filter down to their wholesalers’ need to do the same.

As a wholesale business, you will also need to embrace new technologies to better serve your customers. Inventory management is one key advance in technology that helps wholesalers do this, as well as systems that enable you to interact seamlessly with your clients.

Imagine a wholesaler who cements its relationship with its clients by taking over the inventory control and management systems for them through the use of a Vendor-Managed Inventory system (VMI). The supply chain is automatically facilitated by the wholesaler, with no phone calls or paperwork necessary with the client. Daily reports are generated automatically which results in stock being replenished as needed.

Part of this VMI system involves another technological advance in shipping and inventory: radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Radio-frequency identification uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags attached to stock. This has the potential to streamline the inventory and ordering process further and replace the need for manual barcode scans and eliminate most counting and packing errors.

These are some of the strategies and technologies that you and your team will need to embrace and implement to stay competitive as your wholesale company continues to grow and you scale your field sales team.

Strategies to Optimize Your Team in the Field

In conjunction with optimizing your wholesale-specific processes through technology, you can also optimize your sales processes. Harvard Business Review reports that 50% of the sales organizations routinely recognized as being high-performing use by-the-book sales processes for:

  • Activity tracking
  • Territory management
  • Lead Generation

These wholesale sales organizations also optimize all of their sales processes through the use of wholesale and field sales software and other technology. There is simply too much excellent software available today that automates repetitive tasks to ignore using it.

As mentioned above, more and more wholesale sales organizations also include customers in the sales process, making it easy for them to re-order directly from their computers. This helps reps and customers both maximize their time. It is becoming more evident that wholesale companies that make it easy for customers to order will succeed, while others won’t.

Let’s look at each of the three processes that are critical to the success of wholesale sales teams and how to optimize them:

Activity Tracking

It is inherent in the job of a field sales rep that they are unsupervised most of the time. After the initial training and onboarding process, the sales manager is responsible for the activities of people they often don’t see every day, depending on the culture of the company. With the technology available today, this aspect of the manager’s job has become much easier with automated activity tracking software.

Managers can track things like the number of customer visits and meetings, how many sales presentations made, proposals sent, phone calls made, leads followed up on, emails sent, and how many deals were closed. Good sales reps will want to tap into this information, too, to improve their time management and performance. Check out this article for more information about tracking and measuring the activities of your reps in the field.

Territory Management

As well as tracking your reps’ activity, it is also necessary to take a look at and then optimize your company’s overall sales territory management. Drilling down, then you can do the same for the area covered by each rep individually to evaluate and optimize your sales territory management strategy and determine trends or gaps in coverage. Picture a battleplan with you and your reps as the officers managing assignments and goals as well as prioritizing clients and communicating with them.

Several areas of working with a wholesale field sales team can be optimized with territory management software. It can help define and set the territories based on your industry or your goals; set specific sales goals and then evaluate those territories over time against those goals; evaluate your reps within that framework of territories.

Sales territory management is an ongoing process; an effective manager knows this process is never finished. The visual aspect of management software will allow you to adjust and change quickly. It is another component that can be a continual skill-building tool for your reps, too.

Source: Handshake

Lead Generation

Lead generation points managers and reps in the direction of new pools of potential clients. Cold calling can work, but the amount of wasted time versus the generation of a true lead isn’t efficient. By using data visualization tools for lead generation, new clients can be uncovered and followed up on with more chance of the result being a sale.

Research indicates that it takes the brain a mere 13 milliseconds to interpret an image, so charts, tables, or graphs are more quickly understood compared to raw line-item data. As a sales manager, it simply makes sense to tap into that speed to present data to your team. You are providing your team with “snapshots” that help them understand how to reach new prospects. By understanding your sales trends in the context of an actual map, your team can quickly identify efficiencies while sketching out their next moves strategically.

Your wholesale field reps, who are on the road most of the time, can access this information easily, no matter what device they use. The visuals of territory mapping along with sales route optimization will make it easier for your reps to understand where they need to focus their time and energy, especially when they are on the road and away from immediate support from managers and peers.

The generation of data like this simply cannot be done fast enough manually to be useful. Competition demands that your team is receiving a stream of valid leads using a robust sales tool that optimizes lead generation and visualization.

Top Wholesale Sales Tools to Use

The Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool has been a valuable part of any business’s toolbox for quite some time. The time has arrived, though, for more sophisticated uses of the CRM combined with other powerful sales tools.

Platforms used today to manage wholesale field sales teams, especially when reps are working remotely, should integrate with existing software stacks, be mobile-compatible, provide visual tools for mapping accounts, allow for automating sales  and order-fulfillment tasks, and provide easily-interpreted data visualization by territory.

The use of sales enablement tools can create more opportunities by giving reps the information they want and need in a way that they can better understand. That understanding can then lead to more sales. Here a few that can save time for both you and your reps, which then gives them more time to be making sales. Spend time checking each one out (as well as searching out others, if necessary) before making a decision.

  • Map My Customers
    The industry-leading visual territory management, Map My Customers, was built with field sales reps in mind. A top feature is optimized sales routing for your field sales reps, reducing windshield time by 30% on average. Map My Customers also allows reps to filter their accounts, colorize them by attribute, and visualize accounts on a territory map. It also provides for intuitive lead generation and optimized team management for you as the sales manager. The robust platform is available on iPhone, iPad, and Android.
  • Tableau
    This platform is described as a powerful business intelligence tool for analytics visualization. It presents results in numerous forms to get a better insight into your business data. Several wholesale industries, as well as healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, education, marketing, and retail, have been already making use of the insightful data visualization performed by Tableau. On the downside, its pricing is inflexible and has had issues with after-sale support.
  • FineReport
    FineReport is another business intelligence reporting and dashboard software. It is easy to use for those new in the field, especially if they have had experience with Excel. The official website provides detailed teaching documents and videos for users. Plus, and more importantly, the technical support service is 24/7. Although FineReport provides a wealth of visual effects, charts, maps, 3D effects, it does not recommend charts according to the data.
  • Power B1 is a product developed by Microsoft, is inexpensive, and takes Excel to the next level for data visualization. There are both free and paid versions. Note, the free version is limited to less than 2GB of data, which does slow down the processing time.

Insider Tips of the Trade

In conjunction with the many suggestions discussed above, it is crucial to accept that your wholesale field reps hold the key to your success. Here are some specifics to think about on an on-going basis:

  • Keep tabs on the satisfaction your reps feel in doing their job. If they feel appreciated and their importance is acknowledged, they will be loyal, productive team members.
  • Embrace technology. It will optimize your sales team’s daily tasks, as well as wholesale specific processes like inventory management.
  • Consolidate orders if you are selling through multiple channels. This will increase efficiency, result in faster order fulfillment, and keep customers happy.
  • Be appreciative of your retail customers. Recognize that they may not buy on the first pitch and that it takes time to build relationships.
  • Offer and maintain outstanding customer service. Differentiating your brand by lower prices (thus lower margins) in the hopes of a higher order volume will not be an effective long-term strategy.
  • Hire people who believe in the product. Reciting a rote pitch with no true belief behind the words won’t lead reps to success.
  • Benchmark your reps by maintaining clear goals and evaluating their individual progress against those goals. Cut-throat competition among reps may work in the short run but tends to demoralize over time.

Set Up Your Team for Success

Hopefully, with the information and wholesale sales strategies in this guide, you can be confident knowing you are armed with the important knowledge necessary to ensure long-term revenue growth for your company through this year and beyond.

Valuable sales skills, effective training and leadership, and optimized sales tools and inventory management processes are all pieces of the puzzle that can make this happen. By utilizing all of these, you can set yourself, your field sales team, and your wholesale company up for success far into the future.

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