Outsourcing is one of the fastest-growing concepts (and buzzwords) in business today. Most often associated with the high tech industry, or with companies in need of accounting expertise, the outsourcing trend has found its way into the sales organization- and into the Natural Products trade. There are a number of variations in which to outsource your sales effort, and, as the trend grows, there will be more options than ever. Here are a few of the most common:
Sales Management Organization
Generally this type of service can manage everything for you, from broker appointments and daily management, retail store work, and in some cases helping out with your marketing & PR efforts; it’s just a matter of matching your needs to their expertise. These companies consist of seasoned professionals that “know the drill”. Ideally you are assigned an account executive, and that person in effect becomes your regional or national sales manager. Although this person may be working with a few other companies in addition to yours, you are still benefiting from their insight, contacts and experience- for a fraction of what you’d pay a full-time, experienced sales manager. Costs can vary with the level of service required, but generally there’s a flat fee plus commission- remember, everything is negotiable.
Independently Contracted Regional or National Sales Manager (aka HIRED GUN)
In this case, you are working with one individual, with one main goal: driving sales. As with a sales management company, this individual is typically working with other manufacturers as well, so you may only get a pre-agreed upon portion of his or her time. However, an independently contracted sales manager can perform all the tasks expected of a regional or national sales manager, including broker management, budgeting, retail work, key account calls, etc. Here too, you are benefiting from this individual’s experience and insight, as well as trade relationships - for a fraction of what you’d pay a full-time sales manager with the same skills and experience.
Consultant / Sales Manager
Again, it all depends on your needs and the size of your company, but there are individuals that may be able to work on many levels, and can wear many different hats- consulting and sharing expertise for your business plan one day, riding with your brokers the next. RML Naturals falls into this category.
NOT EVERYONE GETS IT
Regardless of the state of the economy, one of the greatest challenges facing companies of all sizes is finding and retaining quality salespeople. This is particularly true within the Natural Products community, where very often the ability to understand and communicate the company’s vision is as important as selling the product itself. Veterans of the Trade have long recognized that successful selling in our industry requires much more finesse, drawing on experience and skills that can’t be learned in business school; or even in most Fortune 500 companies. Imagine presenting your new sales manager (a guy you hired because of his 98% closing ratio with Super-Duper Foods, Inc.) with the Whole Foods new item packet, requiring information about your company’s recycling program; or being asked to describe the working conditions of those involved with the manufacture of your product. Picture the look on his face as it dawns on him that a GMO is not a product of Pontiac. To be truly effective in the Natural Products Trade, your people have to possess more than just sales skills. They also have to “get it”. So where does that leave you?
THE RIGHT FIT CAN BE HARD TO FIND
The phone is ringing off the hook, your skeleton staff is working 15 hour days, and you’ve had to train your eight year old daughter to produce PowerPoint slides for sales presentations. Something’s just not right… you need help, but where do you look for real talent? You may have already made the painful discovery that the people you want most may not necessarily want you. It's nothing personal- there could be lots of reasons, ranging from the geography of the position you have in mind, to their contentment with their current position.
Or, maybe it’s just plain MOOLA.
According to a study conducted by The Wall Street Journal last year, the single-biggest impediment for small businesses (under $5M) to attracting experienced sales professionals was compensation-related, followed by personal growth potential. Not everyone can spot a diamond in the rough, and while you may have full confidence in the potential of your company, convincing an experienced regional or national sales manager to jump ship and abandon the relative security of his or her current position (not to mention 401k and maybe even (YIKES!) frequent flier status, may prove to be a daunting, if not impossible task. Seemingly, your choices are: .....Continue to sweeten the pot until you have an offer your prospective hire can't possibly refuse (and one you’re not sure you can really afford) .....Start reviewing your “ b list” of less pricey, less experienced prospects- ignoring the taunting little voice inside you whispering “you get what you pay for…. " .....Pull your eight year old out of school and put her on the road. Or maybe there’s another option…