To the extent companies need to focus on continuously improving productivity, the salesperson’s role — especially in a business-to-business environment — will need to evolve to foster greater trust with the client.
This sense of trust must be earned by providing value-added service and services, beyond the mere product. The salesperson and his/her support team will need to master new channels of communication, carefully segmenting the client base, to provide indispensable, coordinated and real-time advice.
The ideal salesperson in the future will need to have, more than ever, an attitude that unites an unwavering willingness to learn and adapt with an obsessive focus on the client. He/she will need to have the autonomy to be able to provide tailored value to the client base, seamlessly integrating digital technology into the workflow all the while managing a balanced approach in his/her personal life to avoid unnecessary burnout.
Opportunities for organizations to revamp the sales process are rampant and not even necessarily costly. For example, in order to gain in agility and efficiency, it doesn’t take that much to create a channel of feedback from the field, piped directly back into head office. All such feedback must be dealt with, to trigger real-time responses within the organization. How well and transparently organizations do this may dictate their long-term success. Take the retail outlet, for example: does a floor salesperson or cashier have the ability to communicate feedback from the front line up to head office in a manner that stimulates action? At a certain point, the lines between back and front office are blurring.
On another level, as multi-national organizations such as L’Oreal or Procter & Gamble look to consolidate their cost structures by merging sales teams, they will be asking their salespeople to represent and sell multiple brands. While looking for such synergies is understandable, the risk is that the brands no longer retain their uniqueness. It will be very important to find ways for each brand to continue to look and feel different in the customer’s eyes, even through the salesperson. To what extent is the salesperson incarnating, what I call, the 5E’s of the brand: engagement, exchange, emotion, experience and essence? (see The Myndset article here).
For business, there are 5 major conclusions of this vision of the future salesperson. As identified below, the ramifications will require coordinated work between the different functions of the company, not least of which are Human Resources.
1. First, especially at the recruitment phase, organizations need to reconsider the profile of a salesperson. Never has attitude been more important. Many of the same talents that have always accompanied the best salespeople remain relevant. However, salespeople will have to embody a keener notion of self-starter. For example, he/she will need to take ownership of personal learning in order to stay constantly up-to-date with right information and new technologies. The ability for the salesperson to incarnate the brand and bring it to life via value-added services merged with his/her personality will be vital.
2. Customer Relationship Management will take on a whole new level of complexity by having all functions gravitating around the customer. Functions and departments that typically operate independently (e.g. sales, customer service, marketing, stores, eCommerce…) need to commit to working together to provide seamless service for their customers. CRM will be blended (off and online) and concern numerous parties, making the relationship more complex, but more enriching when well managed. The end goal must be that, no matter with whom the customer interacts, he/she is treated as the same person. An interesting approach, particularly for luxury brands, was recently put in place by Audi at its flagship showroom in London, whereby the salesperson on the floor was actually a customer service representative. The “salesy” feel was completely replaced by a person, whose singular goal was to listen to the customer and create a unique experience, interacting with the digital merchandising.
3. Information and communication must be treated in real-time. Organizations will need to consider carefully their knowledge management systems, and the fluidity and access to the information necessary to support the salesperson in the field. A salesperson’s value for a client will include the ability to provide timely, pertinent information, and also to curate the inflow in order to make it manageable and most efficient for the client.
4. Customers are forever demanding more from their suppliers. For many industries, the product is no longer the primary differentiating factor. Brands must find ways to differentiate their service in the field. They must establish their legitimacy in their sector and become the go-to reference. For example, brands that embrace education-based or content-based marketing, will likely be able to create powerful and personal relays in the field via their sales force. The marketing department must find coherent ways to enhance the sales pitch with truly valuable data that is not just self-serving, but genuinely useful for the client.
5. With an implicit flattening out of hierarchy and processes, the role of the sales manager must also be rethought. Just as the salesperson must become more a confidant and a trusted source of advice for the client, the sales manager must take sufficient distance from the daily numbers to be strategic in the allocation of time, providing more coaching and less oversight and number crunching to the salespeople on the field. Ultimately, the sales manager’s role may be broadened to enhance his/her team’s networking, facilitate communications as well as helping to curate information and optimize training.
In the future, the role of the salesperson will necessarily be focused on the pull through of sales, providing value-added services and consultancy, all the while ensuring excellent execution. All this will need to be provided with a necessary discernment between the most loyal customers and the less profitable unproductive customers.
As transportation costs (time and petrol, etc.) will only increase over time, brands will have to figure out how to optimize the value that a human contact can bring, augmented wherever possible by digital technologies that can provide substantially seamless and fluid support for the well-honed, fully trained team. There will be many false starts along the way, but the organizations best able to trial, learn and improve on a continuous basis will likely be fastest to create excellence in sales and a superior brand experience.
This post originally appeared at The Myndset Company. Copyright 2013.