7 Reasons Why Your Rural Sales Team Is Underperforming

Sales is getting harder, not just rural. Check the stats:

  • “Only 18% of buyers rely on a salesperson as a source of information when making B2B purchases” (Hubspot)

  • “Only 13% of customers believe a sales person can understand their needs” (Hubspot)

  • “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)

  • “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)

  • “Only 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more about a product, 62% will consult a search engine” (HubSpot

These statistics make for hard reading. It seems sales teams’ ability today to influence the buyer journey early on is becoming increasingly difficult. Sales teams’ role and credibility are under attack from the abundance of buyer information online. Social media means there’s no where to hide including the good and bad reviews. As Daniel Pink says in To Sell Is Human, it’s now more a case of caveat venditor vs. caveat emptor (seller aware vs buyer aware).

With a Google search you can quickly work out someone’s profile and connections, see whether they are a trusted advisor in their their field by the customer testimonials they have, what they do or don’t publish and the contributions they make to their industry. Same for the goods or services you buy.

Things aren’t going to get easier. Worse for rural sales teams is that they seem to lag behind their FMCG, IT or Retail sales peers in performance and competencies. They still rely heavily on easily-matched basics like price, territory or personality. They could benefit greatly from a more sophisticated sales skills and resources. Perhaps it’s time we changed that.

To help, here’s are 7 reasons why your rural sales team’s could be under-performing and what you can do to fix it:


Reason #1: You’re not committed to rural sales training

The average company spends $10K - $15K hiring an individual, yet only spends $2K a year in sales training.
— BridgeGroup Inc

How do you think the world’s best sporting talent gets better? They train consistently and constantly, honing their specific skills with a focussed determination day in, day out. That’s what separates them as the best from the rest. The pay cheques and sponsorship deals confirm this.

Talent doesn’t stop with the players. It applies to the coaches too. Take the All Blacks.

They have specialist coaches in kicking, defence, nutrition and psychology. This is a reason why they are amongst one of the highest performing sports teams on the planet.

Sales as a professional discipline has changed dramatically over recent years because consumer buying has changed. These means the training tools and trainers we use have to adapt too.

Coaches and trainers who don’t train themselves and keep up with the latest buyer journey research or social science are destined to become irrelevant, teaching antiquated skills that have no application in the digital world we live in today. It pays to choose the tools and trainer carefully and then commit. Fully.

Reason #2: You’re failing to manage your rural sales team effectively

46% of salespeople didn’t intend to go into the sales profession.
— HubSpot

Before you blame your rural sales team’s performance, look at your management of that team. This is what good coaches do. What are you tolerating or allowing? How are you supporting their professional development? What responsibility are you taking to ensure they succeed? How are you keeping them motivated?

We see newly appointed sales managers who have risen through the ranks with a great track record but can’t make the next step up. They might have not acknowledged the old adage: “what got ‘em here, won’t get ‘em there.” They, just like their direct reports, need specific training to support them in their role. Get it wrong here and you can get it wrong for everyone.

One of the quickest ways any sales manager can kill high performance morale is tolerating underperformance. High performers always know they have to carry these under-performers and it’s this demotivating factor that becomes one of the reasons they leave you.

In high performing sports team if your players don’t make training, they don’t make the team. This should be no different for us in rural sales. We get the teams and cultures we tolerate. 

Don’t tolerate mediocrity and don’t be afraid of confrontation. Set clear boundaries on what constitutes high performance. If you’re team isn’t performing, you need to make the necessary, hard changes. We see too many rural companies wait too long when they should have acted earlier. They worry about losing their sales team when they should have be more worried about the sales they’re losing and the opportunity cost that comes with that.

Reason #3: We don’t treat and respect rural sales people as professionals

Sales reps is a bloody god awful term. We wouldn’t give our R&D, Scientists or CEOs the same labels so why do we do it with our sales people? I hate it and for the good ones, it does them a great disservice. I prefer the title Territory Managers. The title demands and implies that they are highly competent in knowing and managing their territory which is what good TMs do. It will also make them an invaluable asset for the company and the community they serve.

In his book Relentless, Tim Grover calls high performers Cleaners. Players like Kobe Byrant and Michael Jordan who are “unstoppable, relentless and always clean up. They take responsibility for everything. When something goes wrong, they don’t blame others because they never really count on anyone else to get the job done in the first place.” So who are your Cleaners on your team? You might have Coolers (good) and Closers (great) but the best teams need Cleaners (unstoppable).

Language and words are powerful for sales teams. They can either motivate or demotivate. Use the right stuff to send the right signals so you get the best out of your people. Push them up. Don’t pull them down.

No one sets people up to fail. We all want to see people succeed and achieve their personal best. Sales is a tough tough gig so they need all the support they can get. Instead of being critical and dismissing their contribution as a commodity, we need to be curious. Rather than look at the sales outcome, support them proactively through the sales process from the start so you can intercept and influence factors earlier rather than after the event.


Reason #4: Your rural sales team has plenty of SQ but little EQ

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel
— Maya Angelou

The rise of service bots, AI and automation for some represents a big threat to people and their jobs.

For me, it represents a huge opportunity.

Humans crave connections and being human with the right emotional intelligence (EQ) can be one of the biggest benefits any company can offer. Automated texts or emails offer no sense of personalisation or connection so I usually ignore them and wait for a real person to reach out. Whilst some companies will cut costs and corners using generic non-personalised communication channels, the right sales people can use this to your advantage by offering a better, deeper human connection that makes customers feel something.

This is because of one enduring fundamental truth: people will always buy people.

We’re wired to connect and our cave man ancestry means we rely on connections to survive the tribe and our environment. It’s also why so many of us like to conform.

As we see more automation come into play, humans will place a premium on dealing with humans and pay for the privilege because of the more genuine connection and enjoyable experience it offers.

When it comes to human EQ, there is no greater fail in rural sales than when a gruff male rural sales guy turns up on farm (hopefully with an appointment) and dismisses the “wife” as a second class citizen and asks to “speak to the boss”. This still happens even in the year 2018!

The same goes with those underperforming rural sales reps who think the world owes them a living. They are not taking responsibility for the part they play in the scenario they find themselves in. Instead of thinking about what they can do, they look for blame and excuses such as slow season, bad weather or the last rep they inherited their region from. 

Because most rural sales teams are so eager to sell, they forget to serve.

This ingrained Sales Quotient (SQ) is fine, and commissions can help and hinder here, but its downside is it can encourage self-serving, shallow and transactional sales behaviour.

If you were a patient visiting your Doctor and he or she prescribed your medicine and rushed you out of the door how would you feel? Would you feel listened to? Would you feel your particular pain had been understood? Would you be confident you had been given the right prescription to treat your specific pain? It’s the same for your customers.

To be a real success, sales reps need to move from order-taker to trusted advisor. Becoming a trusted advisor takes time and effort. Any claimed expertise needs proof accompanied by EQ. They need to create content, speak at events, build relationships with the right influencers, commission their own proprietary research, be genuinely interested in serving people, network and invest in their own learning and professional development. Selling isn’t enough.

Reason #5: You don’t segment your rural sales team training 



If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
— Abraham Maslow

Every sales rep is different. Each is on their own journey due to the different capabilities and competencies they have.

This means what works as a training programme for one team member won’t be relevant for another. Like we do with customers in marketing strategy, we need to segment our sales teams into 3: high, medium and low performance teams. You can even call them something more diplomatic like primary, intermediate and senior if you like. 

This segmented needs approach means you end up designing the specific tools they need for the specific problems they are facing making it more relevant and meaningful for them.

A high performing sales rep will need a completely different training approach and trainer to a beginner. Same for a mid-tier rep. Taking the time to understand what they need rather than prescribing a top-down, one size fits all solution will get you a much better result.


Reason #6: You rely on people-based rural sales team, not a system-centric one

When companies fail, or fail to grow, it’s almost always because they don’t invest in the people, the systems, and the processes they need.
— Howard Schultz

Rural sales has and always will be about people and relationships. That will never change. However it’s not enough on its own.

To win, you need to have a documented sales process that is system-centric, rather than people-centric. People will always come and go but your systems won’t. If you don’t commit to a sales process, you’ll continue to experience the “hairdresser/mobile mortgage manager syndrome” where clients follow your talent rather your brand. 

We see rural real estate companies or rural accountants firms buy talent so they can buy “the book”. What happens when that same agent or accountant moves on again or starts their own business? What they moved for they’ll surely move for again.

We also met sales managers who live in constant fear their top sales superstars will leave them. They have no leverage and it feels like all the power sits with the top guns. The thing is real high performers always want to get better. Like Daniel Pink says in Drive they want to become masters of their craft. This makes them hungry to learn more. You need to tap into that vein and fuel that desire to retain them. 

The people part of sales is very important and we’re not here to minimise that. The sales experience and buying journey you offer should be memorable and different from your competitors. Your sales people should be the embodiment of your brand, not the other way round.

When the unfortunate yet predictable time comes when your salesperson moves on, you stand a fair better chance of recruiting another that can plug into that same system and offer your clients the same buying and sales experience. The other plus is good sales reps will be drawn to you because of the brand and sales system you stand for. 

Systems like CRM and lead nurturing will help support more predictable sales outcomes. Relying on your people alone and winging it, won’t.

Take the time to build and document a Customised Sales Process with your team. Sit down and work out what they specifically need as sales individuals to get the job done role playing different clients and scenarios. Get them to share that knowledge and their systems with their peers as buddy or mentor. You could even use an expert to facilitate this process.

That way you’ll hold onto your superstars that bit longer.


Reason #7: You don’t commit to follow-up rural sales coaching

“It’s a funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I get.”
— Arnold Palmer

The other mistake we see rural companies make is not committing to enough follow-up sales coaching. Research studies prove when you stop training you lose the learning. Without deliberate practice, 75% of learning evaporates within days. Studies show participants only retain 10% of what they are taught so regular reinforcement matters.

Like learning a new piece of software or a musical instrument, unless you start practicing regularly you won’t get any better at it. Andre Agassi spent 6 hours a day hitting a tennis ball. Same for Serena Williams. If Federer, Sampras, Bjorg or Agassi never stopped training why should you as a rural sales manager? You can always be better.

Consistency will always beat intensity every time. One hit wonders are never that. Be a life-long learner. Make it an on-going habit. Be a student of success. Attaining new knowledge is good but applying it always better.

Be one of those people who apply their knowledge. Don’t let your learning go to waste.

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Do you want have the strongest, most conditioned rural sales team?
Do you want to get a big jump on your rural competitors?
Are you sick of managing an under-performing rural sales team?
Are you worried your best rural sales people will leave you?

We can teach you how to markedly improve your rural sales outcomes, retain your best talent and get your new reps up to speed in half the time using the systems we have honed and crafted over decades.

We will send you links to the five most influential sales books I’ve studied. Books your rural sales team should too. 

Over many years, I have successfully increased rural companies revenue by 5-15% with simple, effective proprietary sales tools that I developed, tested and refined across many tier 1 clients in the rural sector. Rather than keep this knowledge to myself, I’d get enormous joy sharing what I’ve learnt with those of you who want to learn more and grow your rural sales performance.

I have 5 1:1 coaching calls available with a full refund if you don’t get any value - you can book me here.

I am also available for a limited number of rural sales team workshops during the calendar year. You can book me here.

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If you liked this article, here are a few more you might enjoy reading on sales improvement too:

https://www.agrarian.co.nz/blog/the-single-biggest-attribute-you-need-when-recruiting-for-rural-sales-excellence

https://www.agrarian.co.nz/blog/why-running-separate-sales-and-marketing-teams-is-failing-you

https://www.agrarian.co.nz/blog/5-reasons-why-your-rural-sales-team-arent-using-crm