In business and particularly in sales and procurement the digitalization process is undeniable. Processes have been automated and information about almost anything is available and accessible for both buyers and sellers. This has changed the landscape in which sales departments operate, and therefore the skilled required to sales managers.
While still some years back information asynchrony provided sales opportunities and caused frustration for procurement, today buyers embrace technology to collect data and control their own purchasing journey. For sales it has become essential to be positioned well in this buyer’s journey long before any purchasing decision has taken place, to rethink sales processes and to manage multiple interactions and digital touchpoints with the customer. In addition, the Covid19 pandemic accelerated digital forms of communication, as social contact has been limited if not prohibited and smart working and video conferencing has become the new normal.
As information is easily accessible, allowing customers to completely clarify and assess their needs online, sellers have to manage multiple digital touchpoints along the customer journey .
Therefore, sales managers need to adapt selling strategies and are forced to provide continuously added value and commercial insight while maintaining relationships in a digital way to make their offering more competitive and appealing. In such a scenario the sales and marketing function become more intertwined than ever before. To engage with sales, buyers’ expectations need to be constantly met. Procurement functions in the modern era request a new approach: they expect to engage with partners that proactively bring in innovation and expertise, and that can integrate their enterprise through a network-like approach. Although, the majority of buying decisions are still made purely emotionally and justified rationally (people still buy from people), all these changes require a fundamental mindset shift in the sales function.
While digitalization as well as availability and accessibility of information have changed the buying journey as such, they have also led to significant changes within the sales organizations and will further increase the professionalism of sales.
Nowadays incredibly powerful and highly automated analysis can be performed to provide insights, forecast trends, and anticipate future customer behavior.
If used smartly, data can support a new, unbiased sales management approach that allows opening ways to innovation and fundamental improvements that are currently overseen by most organizations that follow established processes.
For example, we at Solia Consulting have developed tools for our clients, e.g. for automated customer segmentation, improving pricing and optimizing customer and product portfolios, that provide actionable insights with exact monetary potentials, anticipated win-rates and scenarios. We call it “Margin Mining” and such tools help generating growth and increasing profitability.
As organizations gradually apply new technologies and use data in their selling processes, also enterprises expectations towards salespeople have changed; the profile of sales needs to be much broader and more comprehensive. First, salespeople need to be capable of analyzing and understanding complex data and financial information. But it does not end there: in addition sales still needs to balance mastering product and market know-how, with the need to perfectly understand the environment in which their own organization as well as their clients are operating in. Now more than ever it is about strategic selling and being truly relevant in the buying journey.
Digitalization, automation and new ways of communication are here to stay. To manage the digital transformation well and realize improvements, you will have to involve your organization and people right from the start. Below, some thoughts you might want to consider when starting your data-based transformation:
- Data alone does not do anything at all. Data need to be analyzed smartly to provide valuable insights and generate information. For that, you need to have the right tools and the right knowledge – their lack could even result in a penalization of your organization, getting stuck, or investing too much resources in the actual analysis process vs. the application of the insights that would result from that.
- Also, analyzing alone is not enough (à analysis paralysis). Analysis is only valuable when it results in recommendations that the human resources in charge of execution understand and engage in. Thus, recommendations must be followed by pragmatic action and need to be continuously re-assessed.
- The shift to commercial excellence, a fact-based environment resulting in data driven decision-making processes, will cause changes in sales organizations. It is important to positively promote these changes at all levels of the sales organizations, to reduce the users’ aversion. To do that, internal communication is key – people need to understand that they will benefit from the change also in terms of individual performances. Also, they need to be given the tools and knowledge to embrace the improvements.
But how, as a sales manager can you surf the data-based commercial excellence wave, and rock in sales? In our projects we have identified 6 key skills sales leaders need to cultivate to embrace changes and get ahead of competition!
Sharing data across the organization is critical in order to collect the big picture. Furthermore, teamwork is critical: sharing competences smartly inside and outside the department is becoming necessary to fulfill also personal sales objectives. Sales managers need to connect with colleagues, improving their communication also inside the organization to stay on top and have the overview customers require. Becoming team players and creating team organizational processes will bring positive results in the whole organization.
- Use of digital tools:
Technology is your ally: knowing and using sales enablement and CRM systems is common practice. Proactively understanding how technology works makes life easier and boosts personal performances.
- Analytical approach:
Use information: approach information in a proactive way, collect and share information internally. Also, take the best out of it, analysing them and make them the drivers of your decisions.
- Business-oriented mindset:
Economics is required: understanding data is important to interface with product pricing, profitability, budgeting and risk management. This provides opportunities and new selling strategies, both in terms of what you sell and who you sell it to.
Self-management boosts performances and motivation: manage your time smartly with your accounts, and dedicate your efforts also to personal development and trainings. Learning how to prioritize and continuous personal improvement empowers you to be the best version of your selling-self!
- Emotional intelligence:
Personal interactions are still the driving factor: Good sales managers do make the difference. Negotiation skills and emotional intelligence still plays a major role in the selling process. As said, organizations are still made of individuals, and is critical to work on personal selling styles that adapt to situations and customers, to understand and anticipate the clients’ needs.
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“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Benjamin Franklin –