15 Mar 2022

Say goodbye to your traditional sales team

Mike Rigby, CEO of MRA Research, on engaging with customers and influencers in the new normal.

Triggered by the Grenfell fire, and later by Covid, supplier engagement is going through a revolution. More specifically the content of suppliers’ marketing and technical information, and the way suppliers engage with customers and other actors in the supply chain is being transformed.

Suppliers engaging with specifiers, contractors, engineers and distributors are rethinking everything. The new Code for Construction Product Information that the Inquiry demanded affects what is communicated, and how, and affects how suppliers engage with users of their information.

Physically too, many architects and consultants are now working from home – and are likely to remain there – and contacting them and key people in national housebuilders for example is a lot harder.

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say we’re at the start of an engagement revolution.

For many suppliers, before Covid, selling meant turning up in person and everything that went with that. It’s how most sales teams were trained, and what they knew and wanted to do.

Then along came the pandemic, with its lockdowns and restrictions, and customers were too fearful and busy to see suppliers. Overnight, suppliers’ sales teams were unable to sell.

During 2020, the BMF conducted a survey of merchant members asking when they’d like to start seeing suppliers’ salespeople in their branches. Most said next year at the earliest.

It was unknown territory and suppliers saw it as an existential threat. Most put their sales teams on furlough, others restructured, and internal sales, marketing, and technical teams filled the gap remotely.

It wasn’t the end, as suppliers feared, but merchants were in no hurry to meet. They were adapting to the new normal, and not all were moving in the same direction. Their needs are continuing to change, and suppliers can no longer assume that the answer for every customer is the traditional sales team with regular scheduled visits, needed or not.

The one certainty is that there is no single solution. Markets and customers are changing at different speeds and moving in different directions. Brands that impose one-size-fits-all engagement solutions will get pushback.

This isn’t the death of the salesperson, or the end of traditional marketing, but it is the death knell of a mindset, and of a one-size-fits-all way of engaging customers and markets. Companies’ needs are diverging, and successful brands will engage the way customers need.

The information in these reports is an excellent starting point, but smart suppliers will go further, and research customers’ needs instead of assuming they already know the answers.