January 7, 2022
COVID’s grasp on the business environment has shifted from shutdowns and rushes for PPE to one of supply chain difficulties and worker shortages. For distributors, those worker shortages come on top of an industry trend that has been happening for some time now – aging sales reps retiring from the industry.
In a survey of 50 industrial distributors, including MSC, Grainger, and Fastenal, 63% stated that they’re looking to add staff in 2022. Both in the context of filling in for staffing gaps in existing branches, and in the 43% who are laying plans to physically expand, distribution companies are welcoming new talent onto their payroll.
The influx of new talent, especially for sales teams, places a heavy emphasis on employee training. But time, as they say, is money. VPs of sales are looking to ramp their sales representatives faster to prevent an imbalance in sales ability, or a drop in monthly per-rep sales due to mentor training or administrative duties.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can play a powerful role in trimming the fat of ramp time for new reps. Personalized product pitches for customers, a clean user interface, and a prioritized list of accounts to call are key to ramping new reps faster with AI.
Industrial distribution is a girthy sector, one that facilitates a comprehensive catalog. Having tens -or even hundreds- of thousands of SKUs will suit buyers who prefer a one-stop shopping experience, but this can be a detriment to a new rep who is managing their first accounts with the company. Even an associate who has been selling proficiently for a decade won’t be capable of memorizing every offering that a well stocked distributor carries, to say nothing of every possible combination of these items.
New hires would normally need 6-9 months or more to adapt to an expansive catalog. But an AI platform like Proton can reach through the entire spectrum of SKUs to identify products that a customer is likely to buy. Feeding those recommendations to new sales reps puts them on more equal footing in terms of their ability to pitch products to customers.
AI helps abridge the training period, empowering reps to become product experts faster than ever before. Having product images and specs immediately available aids to cement that product into the mind of a fresh rep, meaning they’ll not just know what they’re selling, but how to sell it.
The ERP systems that some distributors are still using suffer from out of date, clunky interfaces. They’re often callbacks to the days of DOS past, and continue to be grandfathered into everyday processes that reps use to sell. Antiquated processes usually require ‘deep dive’ training before they’re mastered.
While these systems get the job done, a modern, intuitive interface will lend itself to rapid onboarding of new reps. VPs who aim to truncate their reps’ ramp time should look to roll out cohesive systems that take the place of multi-system selling processes, cutting back on the need to learn how to navigate numerous programs at once. When their digital dashboards are more user-friendly and accessible, reps halve the time they’d usually spend getting comfortable with the technical aspects of their positions. They can then reallocate that time toward profit-generating activities.
Sales managers, as part of the process of onboarding new employees, will expectedly need to dedicate a certain amount of time to administrative duties. Sales reps alone spend an average of 14.8% of their shifts per week on administrative tasking, to say nothing of what sales managers juggle in their own day-to-days.
Sales enablement platforms like Proton.ai offer customer management capabilities that go beyond basic bookkeeping. For each individual rep, Proton generates a prioritized list of accounts to call based on analysis of who has the highest probability of churning and where the most wallet share opportunity exists. Instead of making account call lists themselves, sales reps have a portion of their time back to landing sales.
HubSpot’s State of Inbound report brought to light that manual data entry in CRM software presents a challenge for representatives when using that system. If even experienced reps struggle against the flow of tedious data entry, a newer representative is sure to need plenty of time to get to speed - whatever that speed may be when compared to their colleagues.
Unlike a traditional CRM platform, Proton provides sales reps with actionable information in the form of personalized product recommendations for their customers. Reps spend less time documenting activities and tasks and more time proactively selling. Noting that a product has been pitched to a customer is as simple as checking a box, significantly cutting down on manual data entry.
When a new rep loads into a buyer’s profile on Proton, they’re immediately granted all of the information that has been gathered about the client through previous calls in one accessible place. If a representative ten years into their time with the company is contacted by a buyer who needs to purchase fittings, they might rely on previous personal call experience and notes with this client to best serve their needs. Whereas if that same customer calls an employee who has only been with the distributor for a week, they’ll need to sort through a litany of questions and answers to suss out what will land the sale.
Informational clarity is what rounds out all of the above points. The best way VPs of sales can ramp new employees faster using AI technology is to create clarity among all channels. Onboarding time can be significantly shortened when new hires have clean, navigable dashboards that flattens the curve of adapting to a large catalog and account base.
If you’re interested in seeing how Proton can increase the productivity of your sales team and help drive a 10% or better bump in sales, request a demo and we’ll show you the platform in action!