Conventional wisdom: If you've got a smart phone, you can outsource a sales force.
On the contrary: Spend the extra money to build a team of your own.
Here's the pitch.
Let's say you run a busy start-up that can't afford sales reps. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal last week, a college kid in Sweden can now pick up the slack on demand. Easy for you (no benefits, no training, no effort). Easy for him (every underpaid struggling worker loves a second job--please sir, may I have another?--to help make ends meet). And, naturally, you can handle the whole process through an app, no deep human interaction required. Win-win, right?
Of course not. Any business owner who plans to stay in business should understand why this model sets you up for failure.
The Sales Problem
Outsourcing your sales to part-timers you've never met could work if you need to, say, convince single-ply toilet paper customers to spring for the double-ply stuff. But if you want loyal customers and profits five years down the road, then you need a system that develops dedicated, motivated, engaged employees. Those gung-ho employees are key to developing long-term relationships with your customers. And that system is most likely your own inside (and/or outside) sales team.
Most business owners overlook the importance of a dedicated sales team because the average customer hasn't talked with an empowered salesperson in a decade. Conflating the idea of greasy used car pushers, Mary Kay party hostesses and college students on the internet into a one-size-fits all salesman shortchanges everyone. In this system, it's the customer's job to find the answer--the salesperson is just a Vanna White-esque accessory, pointing, clapping and making small talk.
The Sales Solution
Sales shouldn't be the gotcha moment of a game show with one right answer--it's about solving customer problems. If you want to solve one problem, one time for one group of people, an app and a team of outsourced "brand ambassadors" may be able to help you. But building a loyal customer base requires trust, expertise and passion for your products. To do that, you're going to need good people to embody those qualities, and you're going to have to treat them well. That's where the so-called "sharing economy" promoted by Uber, Airbnb and Upwork, falls short.
Hey--That's Not Sharing!
Employment is a simple contract: People work for money, which makes them feel secure. The idea that most workers need flexibility more than they need steady salaries or health insurance coverage is ridiculous. Any owner, advisor or reporter who pretends the sharing economy is anything more than worker exploitation is just afraid to point out that the emperor is naked.
Beyond the issue of ethics, there's also an issue of quality. A temp salesperson will do, or say, anything to keep a client happy while they're making a sale. A permanent company salesperson plays the long game, building customer satisfaction for years, not days. That relationship is more important to your bottom line (loyal customers = sales) than the short-term savings of temping out your sales floor.
Investing in Your Salespeople is Investing in Your Future
While you're at it, you should pay your sales force a living wage.
Commission-only compensation structures are difficult to administer, can be discouraging (and lead to quitting) for newly minted sales employees and can encourage high-pressure tactics among more experienced salespeople.
Your salary structure should ensure that your salespeople are energized, productive and, most of all, happy. Happy sales people mean happy customers, and happy customers mean more sales. It's as simple as that.
Our goal--like yours--should be to give your customers the best experience they've ever had purchasing a product. That will never happen if you choose an app over a loyal and dedicated sales team that believes in your company and the products you sell.