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The Problem with Sales

Added 21st of March, 2014

By Scott Freeman, 21st March 2014

I mean the ‘noble art’ of selling, rather than the ‘top line’ figure, although I’m sure we’re all having our challenges there! Selling as a profession has received little adulation over the years, unlike in the US, where it is highly regarded as a career. And given some of the challenges present in the FMCG industry right now, I have concerns about the role of our sales people, particularly key account managers and what we are doing to address that.

Starting more broadly, our education system, notably the universities do little to promote sales. Undergraduates can specialise in Accounting, Marketing, Operations and HR as a degree but there is little mention of ‘sales’ anywhere. Having just finished some post-graduate studies, it seems universities are still trying to hide the ‘noble art’, even from those with work experience...who are in sales roles! Little mention was made of sales during the entire course. The accounting module mentioned ‘revenue’ as a number on the income statement and the marketing module made a brief mention of ‘customer segments’. However, there was no dedicated module to selling and no mention of sales cycles, negotiation or key account management.

One industry expert who works with both suppliers and retailers sees the problem from both sides. With the internal and external pressure on account managers, he has seen a lot more who are "tired, exhausted and burnt out”, having little support and training to deal with these challenges. From the retailer side, there’s an impression of high churn and often months being taken to replace people.

Added to this, if the industry is losing some of its appeal for "burnt out” sales people, then be aware, as others are circling, waiting to pounce and offer ‘greener grass’. Speaking recently with the CEO of a major retail (non-grocery) supplier, they said they are focused on securing people from the FMCG industry. With the systems, processes, analytical ability and overall account management approach, our KAMs are in demand elsewhere. And other industries might seem more attractive right now...less promotional focus, balanced power between retailer/supplier...and a number of customers to choose to work with.

So we can’t change the industry dynamics or remove the pressure, but we can invest, train and support much better. Just as the Field Sales Manager supports their team ‘in the field’, how often do members of the senior team (Marketing or even GM/CEO) show support for the KAM? And what training or investment is provided? With every company running a lean operation and senior managers being time poor, training and development has moved down the priority list.

However, there are some positives to draw on from the industry with the work that Competenz has done to create accredited sales training. Jim MacBride-Stewart from Competenz says that over 1000 learners have signed up in the last year and that the feedback from both new and experienced sales people shows that the training makes an impact on both results and motivation.

So if the industry is making some headway with Competenz, what are you doing as an employer? Those companies who provide comprehensive training and development really stand out – their people talk about it! And as they talk about it, their employment brand improves and it becomes easier to attract people. With demographic trends and the industry being hesitant to take those without FMCG experience, it means there is a greater fight for the ‘talented few’. Training and development doesn’t have to be expensive...it’s more of a mindset or a cultural shift.

The talk of innovation and ‘being bold’ is worthless unless a few of the basics are sorted. Check on your sales people, particularly your key account managers...there’s a lot riding on them right now.



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