4 minute read 1 Nov 2018
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How empowered sales teams can fuel organizational evolution

By

Ken Dickman

EY Global Advisory Commercial Transformation Leader

Consumer Products & Retail strategist. Helping clients with profitable organic growth for over two decades. University of Chicago Booth School of Business MBA alumnus.

4 minute read 1 Nov 2018

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Changing the dynamics in your sales organization may be the best driver of transformation across all functions.

In the Transformative Age customer-centricity has won. Customers are savvier. They're more digital. They're harder to target in traditional ways. Despite this difficulty, companies with a customer-first mentality are doing more than surviving – they're growing.

So, how do you compete? Agility is certainly one of the major touchstones of today's successful, customer-centric organizations. Yet, despite the benefits of emerging technologies, enterprise-wide agility is much easier said than done.

To that end, shifting the way your sales teams think and work can provide the catalyst your organization needs. Here are three critical insights behind the power of agile sales teams.

Sales teams can drive cultural change from the bottom up

Your sales teams are the ones interacting most closely with customers and consumers. They are in the best position to champion true high-performance teaming based on customer needs.

When you connect sales teams with marketing and R&D, for instance, you can drive more relevant innovation because sales teams' proximity to the customer and their shoppers enables them to spot new product-development opportunities.

That's the easy part. The harder task is getting sales to capitalize on those opportunities while considering other functional requirements. That's why alignment with organizational goals is essential. A clear, customer-focused purpose must be communicated boldly and continually from the top. Sales incentives must be aligned with that vision to motivate the right sales team behavior.

Sales volume at any cost is an antiquated impulse in today's economy. Instead, customer-focused sales teams must act like business owners, applying data-driven insights to strategically capitalize on immediate opportunities with much deeper customer understanding (e.g., micro-segments and even individuals) and an understanding of the return on investment (ROI).

Retooling incentives can help break down organizational silos

But there's a catch: when you rethink sales incentives, you must rethink other antiquated incentives as well. For example, too many corporate supply chains are optimized at the supply chain level but sub-optimized for the corporation – meaning they hit their cost targets at the expense of being flexible enough to profitably meet the varied demands of new and growing channels.

So where can high-performance teaming make a tangible difference? Consider how an organization develops price pack architecture and implementation. In an agile scenario, marketing and sales should work together to determine pricing that minimizes cross-channel conflict and maximizes profitable growth. Supply chain provides input on cost-to-serve. If the supply chain requires investments for greater flexibility and capacity, marketing and sales may have to create a price structure strategy that is play-to-place until supply chain is able to improve flexibility and the associated costs. Then a price-to-win strategy can be deployed. Finance serves in an advisory role to help all functions understand the financial impacts of their decisions. 

This kind of integrated teaming is critical to achieving both short- and long-term profitable growth.

Of course, such tightly coordinated planning and solution-development requires that executives provide realistic targets and forecasts, without the fluctuating dynamics of over-promising to analysts, then flailing to hit revenue and profit targets as the quarters close – which brings us to my final point.

Artificial intelligence (AI) enables smarter planning and executing at every level of the enterprise

Smarter, more customer-focused sales teams. Insights-informed, high-performing cross-functional teams. Entire organizations attuned to marketplace changes. These are all underpinned by AI and advanced analytics.

For example, one consumer packaged goods organization has been experimenting with AI. One of their initiatives involved pitting AI with cognitive reasoning against their best trade promotion planners. The AI could better balance volume, revenue and profit-contribution growth at slightly less promotional investment. This was consistent with what we typically see when AI and advanced analytics are deployed in these environments: sales increase from 1% to 4%, gross profit-margin contribution increases by 50 to 500 basis points. What's more, AI takes a fraction of the time to complete the planning, freeing up planners to work on more strategic issues like product innovation and other initiatives for increasing sales and profits.

When your data and analytics tools are up and running, you have corporate functions operating in the same tool as your field and account teams – giving everyone the same bird's-eye view, and enabling them to act as an integrated planning, execution and course correction team. That's agility in action.

The hard truth is that the giants of customer-centricity have changed the game – and they are winning. But this disruption is an opportunity to transform your organization with high-performance teaming and a relentless focus on your customer.

Your sales teams can be a lynchpin in this process. Enable them to think about the problems you’re not thinking about yet – how customers will change in the next five minutes or in the next five years, and how to pre-emptively address it. This future-ready sales force will be more adept at running a business as opposed to pushing product – more cross-functional and more strategic.

So, start empowering your sales force now with advanced analytic insights, improved workflow management to convert those insights into actions, and the ability to drive the agenda of commonly incentivized cross-functional teams. Give them the authority to work together and make those in-the-moment decisions that can make the difference in winning a sale – and attaining customer loyalty.

Summary

Shifting the way your sales teams think and work can provide the catalyst your organization needs. But there's a catch: when you rethink sales incentives, you must rethink other antiquated incentives as well.

About this article

By

Ken Dickman

EY Global Advisory Commercial Transformation Leader

Consumer Products & Retail strategist. Helping clients with profitable organic growth for over two decades. University of Chicago Booth School of Business MBA alumnus.