Member Response: Getting Sales Teams on the Road

The Association asked member companies how they are handling the return to normal, specifically as it relates to employees who travel. We have compiled your responses here.

What you see below has been edited for clarity and brevity. Information that may identify companies has been removed. Otherwise, responses are largely verbatim feedback to a broad question about companies’ plans to get its sales force back on the road and in the air.

Submissions come from all four corners of the U.S., the Midwest, and Canada.

If a customer wants to see us, we go. We also are reaching out to customers and asking if they’d like a meeting. We have had quite a few outdoor meetings.

I am comfortable at hotels and have confidence in their efforts to sanitize and maintain distance among guests. Food services have been modified. Housekeeping places seals on guest doors and high-touch items like remote controls so you know they have been cleaned and not used since.

We are mostly driving, but I know people who are flying every week for business, and they say they feel good about what airports and airlines are doing to keep travelers safe.

Up to the end of the year, we will not allow unnecessary trips, which include conventions and meetings.

In September and October, sales trip will be allowed if deemed critical. In November and December courtesy visits will be allowed as long as they are a complement to a critical visit.

This policy has been crafted  before daily reports of surges in COVID-19 cases started to appear, so it may be possible it will be revised shortly if the upward trend continues.

We have been doing phone and video marketing. Sales have definitely taken a hit as many of our customers struggle through this. We recently lifted our travel ban but I have not traveled yet. I wouldn’t hesitate doing so but haven’t yet formed a plan. We still have not let visitors back in our plant and imagine many others are doing the same.

Effective June 1 we are allowing our sales group to travel via car and make overnight stays if necessary. We have addressed concerns of our sales group to make sure they are comfortable traveling, and we made sure before we visit someone we understand their local policies and adhere to them while there.

At this time, I would estimate of those we ask about 25 percent are allowing visitors (submitted June 17).

Effective July 1, we will allow our sale team to fly commercial to visit customer if needed.

Things are opening up more every week and I think people are getting “COVID Fatigue” and moving closer to normal each passing day. At the same time some companies have taken a stronger stance and may not let people in until fall or winter.

  • Our sales territory managers are under instruction to abide by the rules of their respective regions
  • If they cross into another state, they are expected to modify their practices according to that states regulations
  • We have only just started allowing overnight travel again (submitted June 16)
  • We will not fly anyone unless there is an extreme circumstance
  • We will not do in-person calls on dealers unless requested to do so by the dealer
  • If we have to be at a dealer or in the field with a customer, masks and social distancing are mandatory
  • We are not allowed to share vehicles or carry passengers
  • We are not moving staff across the US-Canada border
  • Our annual sales team training event (normally held at headquarters) is being conducted virtually this year

We are good to go to travel but our customers are not, so we are waiting until July and then going for it! 

As time passes, we see a continued loosening of travel restrictions across the U.S., in particular in our southern states. 

Beginning June 15, territory managers put into place territory travel plans that include overnight stays in hotels.  It is important that we re-connect with our dealer base. The personal service it provides is a critical part of the relationship.

Territory managers call ahead before visiting dealerships. They know and obey rules of engagement and practice social distancing.

The week of May 18, we allowed a very controlled travel policy. Subject to state by state COVID-19 policies and restrictions. Day travel only, must be home each night, must have pre-scheduled appointments, must have a pre-defined agenda, etc.

We had mixed results. Some team members did indeed get appointments. There was a certain degree of success and engagement or productivity from some territories. We had very limited access to restaurants; it was mostly drive-through or takeout.

A few team members had no success scheduling meetings due to state restrictions or dealers declining meeting request’s from our sales staff.

On June 1, we allowed sales staff to schedule overnight travel at their choice. The company did not require it. Travel guidelines were again scheduled appointments, planned agenda, and dealer accepting of staff into the dealership.

We had a higher degree of success than we experienced in mid-May. Slowly improving travel opportunities and dealer engagement. Several team members reported staying out in motels for one or two nights. Normally these team members would be out three or four nights. We are slowly seeing businesses relax some restrictions and allow more traffic through the stores.

On June 19, in a conference call with sales staff, we learned most team members were out one or two nights in motels this week. Most dealerships are continuing to relax the restrictions day by day / week by week. We found a couple dealerships with locked doors; when we called, they met us in the parking lot.

Several dealerships have barriers set up around parts counters, service desk, offices, in an effort to maintain social distancing requirements.

We are slowly seeing a few restaurants open with 40 to 50 percent occupancy restrictions. Food opportunities are still mostly fast food drive through or takeout. Motels have very few vehicles in the parking lot at night/in the morning (estimated 25 to 30 percent parking lot capacity).

On June 15, our first team member took a flight since March. The report was that it was a strange feeling. There were not many people around, 75 percent of stores were closed, several people not wearing mask in the terminal, flights were some 30 to 50 percent. Everyone was required to were a mask on the flight. It was a pretty somber atmosphere in the terminals and on the flights.

Many accounts continue to keep their offices closed to outside visitors.

There have been situations where we are allowed to visit, but mostly due to needing to do physical product support in the customer’s factory.

The Canadian border continues to be closed to us.

Different rules in different states present a challenge and may get worse if states impose a quarantine of out-of-state visitors.

Trade shows and industry meetings have all been cancelled and only some seem to be appearing on the fall calendar. 

I have asked my Sales team to work from home primarily and not go to the office unless 100% needed to facilitate space for better social distancing for those who really need be in the office.  So far I would say 95% of customers are not allowing visitors (submitted June 12) and I will say that pretty much all my team is today managing well with Video meeting tools.

The honest truth is that in a given day I feel me and my people may be getting in more actual contact and customer engagement than before COVID.  As a global company, I had my first meeting at 5:30 AM the other day with Europe and finished the day with an 8:30 PM call with China.  I truly think for those who are driven to work the opportunity to be at home and not spend time on travel or commuting has likely presented us  with more working hours each day. I am confident were getting productive outputs and good customer engagements.

Now having said all that I have a couple deals where I really need a face-to-ace with a customer or two.  These await the moment it will be allowed.

Normal seems close, but the business interaction will not likely change back to way it was for some time.

We have been working full speed and full staff. We limited any customers and vendors from visiting our locations to just deliveries and pick up of parts.

Our sales staff has been told to stay out of the office and only visit customers with an invitation to do so. They have been conducting most of their work via phone and email. Only one sales staff has traveled outside of the state since all of this started. He makes himself available to dealers if needed. Our international travel was all cancelled through the end of this year.

Our sales associates are not currently allowed to travel.  We review this policy monthly.  Most customers still have prohibitions in place regarding visitors to their offices. 

Our OEM sales manager is not traveling as his customers do not want to see him. He’s holding lots of phone and video meetings. Our distributor sales manager is willing to travel and to attend shows, but none are happening yet.