Few careers are as central to the pace of change in our business environment as Sales – and as we explore in the latest of our core discipline series for Michael Page, the discipline is in a moment of great opportunity and at times high risk. One thing is for sure though: for those who embrace the new digital environment, the discipline promises its leaders and key talent a truly action-packed journey.
Drivers of change in Sales
1. Digital has transformed the sales process, ready or not
For leaders of a strong team, today’s new data-driven environment holds a mirror up to an organisation’s traditional sales team process, to help seek out its true value. “Historically sales people if they make their number, it’s because they’re the greatest sales people in the world,” says Simon Johnstone of Salesforce, only half-joking. “And if they don't make the number, it's someone else's problem,” he quips. “But business intelligence tools let you go ahead and start making educated decisions for your sales team.” Teams that quickly adjust are those that can reap the rewards of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says Heineken’s Anna Campagna: “Everything is changing dramatically and much faster. The dynamism, the connection and the pace of everything we do, have completely changed,” says Campagna. “And we all need to acknowledge that it's a completely different way of working.”
2. Master and drive the omni-channel experience
Today’s data loop provides sales teams the invaluable ability to check and recheck key customer success data – and to continually drive these sales channels in order to maximize customer engagement and revenue. Notes Anurag Garg of PageGroup, “If your sales leadership is not reviewing and refreshing the access to the data they have on at least a 48-hour basis, and measuring the success of the work not only by revenue but also customer engagement scores, I think you’ll have a problem in the future.” Aon’s Ronak Marolia believes a key driver of change in Sales is the emergence of the omni-channel customer world, a world of seamlessly switching between devices and platforms. “The old-school thought was around using each channel or operating channel independently. Now though, customers are literally switching between channels at break-neck speed,” he says. “The sales strategy now needs to take that into consideration – in terms of how companies approach the market.”
3. Today’s sales leaders are expert connectors and champions of purpose
Now as never before, companies have to focus on not only what they do, but also why they do it – and its overall impact it has. Heineken’s Campagna says this focus on purpose has clear repercussions for leaders. “The concept of leadership has to change – and the way you develop it within people,” she says. “I think we have moved from an expertise-led leadership to empowerment-led.” From an emphasis entirely on delivering results, Sales leaders must now also be powerful unifiers: “It’s about connection, and being able to you make very diverse people work together – often for very new projects, goals and ambitions.”
4. People strategies must closely align to sales strategies
Business strategy aside, a sound and closely-aligned people strategy is becoming imperative to any new company’s success. “In terms of achieving commercial goals, the closer a client’s people strategy is to the financial strategy, you can see that the success rate is higher,” says PageGroup’s Garg. A good example of this close alignment might be identifying the very top 2% of staff for sales organisations, and holding an annual training session specifically geared to them. “It’s an opportunity to meet their peers and learn best practices – and an opportunity for the firm to forecast any issues within that group,” says Garg. Involving the CFO and CHRO in the exercise can help ensure that payments in terms of both cash and benefits are up in the 80th percentile, he notes.
5. Refined service must outpace technological innovation
In service-driven businesses, a more informed and enable customer has ushered in a more sophisticated and creative sales function. “The technology coming into play is becoming more important – so there has to be transformation of the role of the sales person, maybe towards pricing strategists or business development,” explains Euro-Asia Holidays’ CEO Wee Hee Ling. “I can see this trend coming in our industry and I believe other industries are changing quite rapidly too.” For those who are agile and laser-pointed on the customer need, she still sees a vital role for Sales professionals to provide more service, bundled products and crafted itineraries: “We do find that people still want to talk to people, come down and share what they want,” she notes. “We just have to upsell more.”
6. Use data to validate a risk taking and innovation-driven culture
While some may view a CRM program as a plug-and-play option, Johnstone of Salesforce advises that data-driven sales teams are most successful when leaders first lay out the right foundations for an innovation-driven culture. “It's first about maintaining a challenger mindset, a restlessness – and an ability to put your foot out there, regardless of the political type of risk,” he says. “And then it’s in the data and systems components that need to be in place.” Before data insights can really be successful, he stresses the importance of first building an open, honest team culture that will allow for trial and error, and welcome risk-taking and failure as a means of pushing improvements forward. “At first it’s less about the technical skills, and more around the openness – and a willingness to share, move ahead and to be part of a collective team,” he notes. “Remove the egos as much as possible: and create a joint attitude of, ‘Well we messed that up, but let's try it again’. With no finger-pointing, no blame game.”
7. True value-add sales professionals can remain future proof
The news is good for those sales professionals who continue to play at the complex and high value-add end of the customer equation. Despite changes in the market, your career horizon remains bright. “Sales as a function is by nature very adaptable – they will always morph into something a little more complex than what are now,” notes Aon’s Marolia. Where he sees technology clearly replacing humans is at the lowest end. “If it's just about reaching a client, sending out the opening email, those kind of things are getting streamlined.” On the plus side, he says technology allows you to design your sales strategy based on factual data and information – then focus even more on the human element. “The core of what sales people bring to the table is not going to go away.”
8. Lift the barriers: Sales still demands the personal touch
Amidst all the drivers of change, it is important to underline what hasn’t changed about the Sales discipline – in particular the human element. In many cases, the personal touch is critical to closing a transaction, whether during the negotiation process, or in relationship building. PageGroup’s Garg highlights a recent senior placement who’d moved from banking into a Fortune 500 industrial business. The US team had hurried through the interview process efficiently via Skype video conferences and phone calls. “It was a great process, very well defined and run,” he explains. “But there's always this element of no personal touch.” Weeks in, someone reached out to their new colleague with an opportunity to meet the US team in Singapore during a conference. “Overall her excitement for the role went from a five to a 10 out of 10 by the end of the session,” he notes. “You cannot take that away – because automation or not, changing a job is still one of the biggest decisions you can make in your life.”
Massive thanks to those who made Future of Sales happen: in particular those who’ve provide technology leader insights: Simon Johnstone, director customer success ASEAN for Salesforce | Ronak Marolia, Director and Regional Leader, Salesforce Effectiveness, Aon | Anna Campagna, regional sales director, sales excellence and capabilities, Heineken | Anurag Garg, Associate Director, PageGroup Singapore Wee Hee Ling, CEO, Euro-Asia Holidays | Bryan Goh, co-founder of travel startup, Native | Plus our huge thanks to PageGroup’s Sales leadership team throughout Asia-Pacific.