The ability to utilise and manipulate information is essential. Matthew Dearden, Regional President for Eastern Europe, UK & Ireland at Clear Channel, acknowledges that it’s something that the out-of-home media owner needed to work on: “The rigour with which we used data to back up sales pitches was variable. Robust data to support our arguments is an essential tool…
It’s a brave move to tamper with your sales strategy. Not only do you risk key sales people walking out of the door, there is also the matter of getting buy-in from HQ. The risks are numerous, but sales teams need to be smarter in how they work and that’s why many leading organisations have made changes in order to regain customer focus and improve operational effectiveness.
Simon Johnson, Group Managing Director for UK & International at publisher HarperCollins, says: “We’ve seen over the last few years that the internet and digital have fundamentally changed the way people are reading… and finding out about content.
“That’s a massive structural change in the industry and therefore if I am going to alter my sales structure to reflect that, it’s probably going to be a major change to the way people work; potentially who’s in the team and how they work with each other and other parts of the business.”
The upshot is you need to be sure your reasons for a different strategy are watertight. Mark Parsons, Senior Vice President for Business Development in the UK, Ireland & Nordics for DHL Supply Chain, comments: “Developing a sales strategy is pretty straightforward, even in the current market. [What’s] more challenging is reengineering the organisation…
“You have to be fairly ruthless and identify what you have in your sales force and what you think you need. In addition to this, you need the organisational backbone which allows you to exploit the new skills.”
It takes courage to leave behind established performance metrics and incentives to bed in a plan which won’t necessarily fit in with short-term quarterly or annual targets. “There’s a risk with any big change that you don’t go the whole hog because ultimately it’s going to involve people… who can be quite resistant to change because it can be seen as quite threatening,” adds Simon.
Some of the boldest reforms are occurring in industries where technology and consumers come together. Thibaud de Saint-Quentin, Executive Vice President & Managing Director for EMEA at gaming concern Activision Blizzard, emphases the need to have “an ongoing engagement at various levels with customers” so that there is integration across the business.
He explains: “When we have a programme that has worked well for a customer in a specific country, we export it into other territories. That’s one of the reasons why we have progressed over the last few years… We are much more integrated at the European level and we make sure we build on the lessons that we have in one country, so that we can apply the lessons in other territories.”
Whether your sales force is national or international, you need the ability to adapt to both threats and opportunities. Helen Grace, Vice President of GM Currency Exchange at financial services firm American Express, says: “You have to think of the global sales team as a portfolio and create flexibility in one country to cover for investment in another. You are still making the same choices as you would on a single market basis. Where are you trying to get to? What’s your plan if those investments don’t work? How long do you have to get there? What are your measures?”But you also need to develop a sales culture that is, in equal parts, pioneering and enabling. Is your global team helping to forge clear links with the parent company or other connections that will help the local market? Is your local market team pushing the frontiers?”
“We didn’t have a crisp enough view of which clients – advertisers and their agencies – we were targeting with which messages. Now we’re clear on the engagement we want with each stakeholder, and who is leading it.”
Steve Macallister, former President & Managing Director for Sales & Distribution at BBC Worldwide, says that “it’s really important to invest in building a cutting-edge market research capability so that you have the means for tracking trends in the market and anticipating new ones”.
Getting sales teams to record information on a consistent basis can be something of a battle. Nevertheless, the best companies will be on top of this and pushing it hard as it will help drive performance and root out dead-ends and time wasters. “Tracking profitability has been a powerful tool to help us make our sales strategy more effective,” says Thibaud.
Problems are occurring in companies where there is a lack of flexibility – a sales model that appears to work fantastically in one of the fast-growing economies, won’t necessarily be appropriate in a mature market like the UK. Likewise, if clients are risk averse, you may need to develop a specialised team who can forge relationships and be more long-term and strategic, ideally winning deals of greater value.
Mark says: “There are countless sales strategies but the challenge is to pick the ones where you can take the organisation with you. If you do that, you can manage a metrics-based approach in an international business, as opposed to being killed by it.”
Whether you’re B2B or B2C, it doesn’t matter. You have to be prepared to change with a more discerning and empowered customer – it’ll be the difference between having a winning sales team as opposed to one comprised of people who makes excuses every quarter for missing targets in a market of ever decreasing margins.
I hope to see you soon.