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Sales Representatives: Are they a thing of the past?

With 18 years of experience as the managing director of Superior Sales Force, the greatest technological opportunity I can see is the advancement of sales capability. Of course, my business is built on being able to provide field force capability, often from blue chip companies. However it is glaring, nearly embarrassing how sales capability has been put on the back burner and outsourcing has been seen as the solution.

When I started selling Arnott’s chips off the back of a van, if you couldn’t sell, you didn’t eat, literally. A colleague of mine had a KPI of 10 new accounts a day, selling orange juice to cafés. It seems that if you set such a KPI now, you could easily face harassment charges from HR. I don’t think the profession of sales is inferior to what it was 20 years ago, but I definitely think the importance placed by top brass on sales capability is clearly inferior to the expectations of their predecessors.

Selling has evolved to the point where conviction takes precedence over convincing. By developing sales experts in your business you add a very powerful asset to the sales conversation and a backstage pass to jump the sales queue in many business transactions. We have moved from ‘R’ based selling (relationships) to C based selling (conviction). So instead of thinking that ‘we will do business if you like me enough’, we must think ‘we will do business if what I know is what you need’.

Five key pre-conditions to consider before embarking on this journey.

In our experience, if you don’t have the following in place, any capability initiative is doomed to fail.

  1. The business needs to be okay with developing individual talent without fear of them leaving and working for your competition.
  2. The talent needs to understand how their individual profile must serve the broader business objectives. It’s always about what’s good for business, not just good for their career.
  3. Leadership needs to not only support this initiative but also actually participate in it. This is not an idea that gets delegated to learning and development or human resources: It is championed and deployed through the highest levels.
  4. Pilot and deploy the initiative carefully without too much fanfare. This is about harnessing the thinking and power of a few people. Its not about committees and discussion papers. Its impact will be felt but you need to let its actions speak louder than its promises.
  5. Time needs to be carved out for the capturing, packaging and delivering of capability from within the business. It’s a slow burn, long-term effect.

The Growth Agenda – Driving Shareholder Value

Growth is a core driver of shareholder value. In technical terms, shareholder value measures the capital gains of a stock plus the dividends received. It is best correlated to the expected level, timing, duration and risk of future cash flows and the capital employed to generate these cash flows.

In the short to medium term, these cash flows can be improved by cutting costs and through acquisition of other businesses, but there is a limit as to how far these strategies can be leveraged. Ultimately, the most sustainable way to create shareholder value in the long term is to enhance customer demand-led growth.

The growing sales capability gap is all the more serious given the wide range of activities that sales professionals perform. In some cases, their remit extends from high-level strategic analysis and portfolio planning, right through to operational, in-market activation and account management. They must be able to engage and collaborate with consumers, customers and colleagues in other functions, as well as with the multiple external agencies and specialist suppliers that support them. In the words of one multinational company CEO we worked with: “You have to be able to fly with the eagles and scratch with the turkeys!”

The proposition at the heart of Superior Sales Force is that organizational leaders who want to drive demand-led growth need to take a more strategic, holistic and integrated approach to the development of sales capabilities. By investing greater time, effort and resources in building the sales capabilities of their people, teams and their organizations, they will be better equipped to improve commercial performance and drive growth. Over the years, we have developed a proven, practical and user-oriented approach to planning and implementing sales capability development strategies and programs. This is based on working through three important stages, which we describe as the 3D Approach.

The 3D Approach is a powerful tool that can be used to guide businesses leaders through the process of sales capability development:

  • Define Strategy

Defining the key capability development issues facing the organization to create an inspiring sales capability vision, strategy and plan

  • Develop Solutions

Developing effective and efficient sales processes, tools and ways of working and integrating these in a holistic way with blended skill development programs, and with initiatives in the organization, people and culture drivers of capability

  • Drive Embedding: Launching and embedding capability development programs in an inspiring way that transforms the attitudes, skills and behaviors of people, teams and organizations and changes the way they work in practice.

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