We have all heard the research that successful companies continue to invest in marketing and training even when there are economic difficulties because there is an opportunity to win and retain customers from competitors who are reducing their spend on marketing and training their people. The problem is that during recessions there is huge pressure to reduce ‘non-essential’ spending which may include most marketing and training activities. It can be very difficult for most businesses to identify what the return is from their investment in training unless they have identified and measured what outcome they are seeking to achieve.
In the past the key measures were ‘happy sheets’ that rated the training course and more recently feedback and short tests with webinars and e-learning but have these interventions actually improved the competencies of people and moved the business forward? We have recently started working with an online tool that assesses both individual and team capabilities against clearly defined competencies. The tool then directs individual’s to the training resources (self-development, coaching, online, workshops etc.) that are appropriate for their specific needs and it can then measure their progress after this support to identify the training that is most effective.
When the capabilities are closely linked to business-building performance both the people and the sales grow together. As you can imagine it’s proving very popular in these challenging times!
I was recently asked how a particular business could develop its sales and at the same time change the aggressive management of its commercial people who must meet their targets or be asked to leave. As you would expect this environment may be successful in the short-term but it comes at a cost from the high turnover of people and lots of wasted time and money spent on recruitment, training, stress-related sickness and redundancy etc. The opposite situation of no targets with little measurement or management may be a more relaxed organisation to work in but is likely to meander it’s way to a dead-end. Having worked as a consultant with a lot of market-leading companies the most effective in the long run are those which recognise that a clear vision combined with a customer focused culture, pursuing business development strategies with customers which are implemented by commercial teams who are motivated and supported to deliver their goals. My passion is to help companies to achieve the simple formula of developing People+Business both internally and externally.
What do salespeople do when the pressure comes on to hit their numbers and they need to sell more? The natural response is often to try pushing their existing and new customers to buy more products or services and if this doesn’t work push them even harder! This ‘hard sell’ approach to gaining more business is seen as the macho response to the challenge of selling more which is in contrast to the ‘soft sell’ approach of building relationships with customers by understanding their needs and tailoring the product or service offer to deliver the desired outcome. This ‘soft sell’ approach can take longer to achieve the objective of increased sales and during times when the business needs to sell more it may be viewed as a luxury that can’t be sustained. So what’s the answer, do you take the short-term hard sell route or the longer term soft sell path? Every situation is different but my preference in selling situations, as both a customer and a seller, is to take a balanced and open approach to find out how the seller can help the customer by understandng their situation and needs and then confidently recommending and discussing what is best for the customer with clear next step actions. As with most things in life I think it’s about achieving the right balance!
I know it’s not easy being a senior manager. You have to keep producing the results, meet the challenges from customers and competitors and make sure that you’re organisation is headed in the right direction when change is happening all around you (technology, economy etc.). One of the most impressive senior managers I have worked for as a consultant was appointed to head a global organisation and spent the first 3 months just meeting internal and external stakeholders and listening to their views. The manager wanted to make changes to the organisation structure but asked me to conduct a review where I would interview a cross-section of the commercial organisation at head office and in the countries for their detailed feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. Several weeks later I presented back to the senior manager who was pleased that his original plan was correct but even more happy that the organisation had identified lots more opportunities for improvement which the senior management team were able to implement with the full support of the organisation. It was a great example of creating change from within rather than trying to make it happen through force of will from above.
I’ve enjoyed working with many leading businesses in lots of different markets but food and drink has been a favourite for some reason! One of the most memorable was when I worked with a top soft drinks company (you can guess which one) getting involved in helping one of their business divisions which was underperforming. After passing the test with senior management, by understanding what they wanted to achieve and demonstrating that I could add-value, my first step as always, was to spend time with the front-line team. I worked with the managers and most importantly a cross-section of the field sales force, observing them in action and listening to their views, as well as gaining access to several other sales teams in similar markets (snacks, confectionery) to use as a benchmark and to pick-up any ‘outside’ ideas. The review led to the creation of a small project team including myself that was tasked with introducing new systems, objectives, measures, training and sales processes. When the re-structured division was launched it very quickly achieved its business targets for the first time and made serious inroads into the market share of the competition. I really enjoyed being part of a process and team which helped to transform the business and I always look forward to using this tried and tested review approach in new situations and challenges!
The best job that I had as a sales manager in Procter & Gamble was working with major retailers as a category management specialist. This work was great because you could make a big difference to the business of the retailer as well as your own company by using insights and practical strategies which could be implemented in hundreds of stores. I remember very well the launch of Pampers boy and girl nappies and how we develped a simple category plan to fit twice as many lines on the shelf at Sainsburys and justifying it with enhanced sales and profit figures from test market stores. This approach to building the overall (nappy) category cake made the difference between success or failure for the launch of a new product and the growth of the retailer’s business. This experience gave me the incentive to become a consultant focused on business development working with customers and suppliers. How can you grow your ‘category’ cake together?
What is the best way to prepare for and meet with an important customer, is it best to have the meeting all mapped out or to keep it open? My colleague Jane Fletcher has worked in retailing for over 25 years and before becoming a consultant was a buyer for Waitrose, responsible for major categories such as dairy and bakery products. Jane said that for regular meetings she expected suppliers to be well prepared with ‘all the answers’ but for meetings about innovation the most productive approach she found involved a blank sheet of paper, a flexible agenda and a supplier who was keen to listen to Jane’s views about her specific customers and market to help identify tailored opportunities for business development. These meetings typically generated new ideas that both parties had created together and specific actions which would help produce new products, promotions, packaging or merchandising to build the business. So for meetings to create new ideas remember to take a blank sheet of paper and an open mind!
Over the years I’ve worked with veterinary professionals and companies who sell their products and services into a very traditional market – agriculture. When meeting with both the vets and the people working for businesses selling in to this sector it was great to hear that they were all focused on building long term relationships with their customers but they were also open to help in changing a few of the old practices that they had in recommending current services, promotions or the biggest revenue earner to their customers. A similar approach to improve commercial practices emerged from our work with the vets and businesses which was for them to contact customers before the start of the next season in order to both anticipate their needs and get in before the competition by offering an added-value service or product package (service/product, delivery, price, timing). This approach can work in many other markets so take a look at your products and services and think how you could anticipate your customers’ needs by providing a product or service package that delivers added-value before they buy it from your competitor. Season’s greetings!