Gone are the days when companies and their employees could get by with working in silos, using information as power. In a knowledge economy, successful companies arm their employees with endless learning, knowledge sharing, and two-way communication opportunities. Without these opportunities, innovation, performance, and professional growth are stifled. But how is a culture that keeps learning, knowledge sharing, and communication alive created, especially with a remote and mobile workforce?
At Lawson Products, which sells and distributes specialty products, one of the biggest contributors to our increased daily sales figures is the performance of the sales force, which includes approximately 1,000 representatives in North America. Increasing sales rep productivity has been a key pillar of our overall growth strategy. To be successful in our industry, sales reps need to be great problem solvers, multitaskers, and strong communicators. Our reps help improve customers’ profitability. That requires collaboration and the ability to see subtleties in complex situations.
Empowering employees to drive customer relationships
Here are some of the ways that we empower employees and ensure a collaborative culture, one that is always at the ready with the technical expertise that drives customer relationships:
Knowledge sharing. Sharing knowledge is an intentional process that bolsters individual understanding, creating or enhancing a collection of accessible knowledge for others. The concept of knowledge sharing is important because it helps individuals and organizations to be more agile and adaptable, ensuring continued growth.
Sharing Lawson’s technical knowledge with customers is a value-add when selling products and building customer relationships. While providing our distributed sales team with “just-in-time knowledge” of hundreds of thousands of products we sell is challenging, we do see sales grow as customers recognize the value we provide.
Microsoft Teams software. We have implemented Microsoft Teams, a business instant messaging software. The uptake of this group chat tool has been amazing, allowing individual sales reps to connect with their much larger Lawson network. Each rep potentially has the collaborative resources of hundreds of other reps, sales managers, and subject matter experts to help answer a question or solve a customer problem.
Fairly new to Lawson, the use of Microsoft Teams has increased collaboration, bringing together people,
conversations, and content from a variety of regions and functions. The use of this group chat software is a contributing factor to recent productivity gains.
Classroom and online training opportunities. Sales rep learning begins during the interview process when potential reps spend a day riding with an existing rep or district sales manager to better understand the role. Once hired, sales reps benefit from a combination of traditional in-classroom and online learning as well as in-field training with their sales manager.
Starting with new hire orientation, sales reps travel to headquarters for an extensive four days of learning and networking where they hear from leadership, get a tour of the McCook Distribution Center, see demonstrations, gain hands-on product training, participate in role-play and team building, and learn about the company culture. In addition to onboarding, mentoring, and shadowing opportunities, our sales reps participate in ongoing district workshops to learn new products and sales tools. Ongoing in-field training with local district sales managers is customized to sales reps’ territory and customer needs.
Lawson Central, our company intranet, is loaded with updated and relevant content, enabling our distributed sales team to pull information at any time.
Lean Six Sigma teams. Providing members of the remote and mobile sales team the same opportunities that employees at headquarters or the warehouse have makes a world of difference when it comes to engagement. Since we adopted Lean Six Sigma methodology and tools to improve operational efficiency in all areas of the organization in 2013, more than 100 employees (24 sales employees) have participated in Lean Six Sigma problem-solving teams. Lean Six Sigma is a key contributor to improving the customer experience, increasing revenue, and reducing costs at Lawson.
Communication opportunities. Our senior management team members spend one day every month on the road with salespeople, calling on customers, filling bins, and experiencing life as a sales rep. This one-on-one time with sales team members allows senior management to build relationships with employees who have the most “face-to-face” contact with customers.
By observing, listening, and rolling up their sleeves together, senior management and reps can talk about what’s working well and what still could be improved in sales, service, and customer outreach. The opportunity to share their expertise and perspective helps ensure that sales reps feel heard and valued. Learnings from the ride alongs are brought back and shared with the rest of leadership/management so they can make better, more informed decisions.
We also hold quarterly town hall meetings—in person for our corporate team and via conference call for our sales team. Because our sales force doesn’t get as much face time with the corporate team, we devote at least 20 minutes of every sales town-hall conference call to live Q&A.
New sales managers need critical-to-success skills in communication, training, coaching, and more.