Sales is, arguably, one of the most dynamic functions of any business. With technological advancements and rapidly changing consumer expectations, the sales role continues to evolve through a multitude of channels including direct field sales, digital and inside sales. As the volume of information available to consumers whilst making a buying decision expands, sales teams must play a proactive role in helping clients navigate through it. Furthermore, a Harvard study indicates that 73% of consumers today use more than one channel before making a purchase. The good news, according to the study, is that consumers using more than four channels are more likely to spend more, come back for repeat purchases and more likely to recommend the product to their networks. To compete effectively, businesses, therefore, must transform their sales teams to leverage the power of digitization, deliver a fantastic omnichannel customer experience, and create repeat businesses. So, how can organizations prepare their salesforce for the future of work?
Align the sales function with the customer journey
Most organizations today structure their sales teams by channels primarily focused on acquiring new business. However, as the various channels converge, the sales function must be aligned with the changing customer journey. To better serve the business objectives, teams need to be reorganized along the different stages of the customer journey while facilitating a consistent user experience. Functions such as marketing, sales operations, and support need to go hand in hand with sales to enable this experience.
This is easier said than done. Changes to the structure will come with changes in expectations from the role and the need to up-skill the representatives in key areas. Competencies that enhance employees’ digital acumen and customer management will need to be sharpened, while traditional push-based sales skills must fade into the background. In certain instances, there may be a need to acquire different skill sets from non-traditional avenues to build up the competencies within the function.
Define and measure success
Building the right team structure is only the beginning of the journey. Defining and measuring success is equally important to drive desired change while retaining continued focus on business results. In the new structure, there is a need for higher collaboration and interdependencies between teams—demonstrating an emphasis on team-based success. At the same time, individual accountability is imperative to ensure a great client experience and drive every sales member to change their behavior.
With regards to pay and incentives, total rewards also need to reflect these changes. Incentive structures are critical for most sales organizations and leaders are generally cautious in making any changes that may be perceived negatively. To alleviate this risk, organizations must be able to assess the sales force preferences to pre-empt the challenges they are likely to face in executing the new strategy. These preferences are also evolving; for example, a recent Aon Sales Employee Value Proposition study of 416 sales representatives in Asia Pacific found that half of the respondents preferred team-based financial targets along with other individual performance measures. Other related Aon studies on sales force effectiveness have found that most sales teams are welcoming of incentive structure changes if organizations maintain the transparency and objectivity of the incentive process.
Leverage total rewards
Another aspect of the changing nature of work is the increased significance of Total Rewards. The Aon Sales Employee Value Proposition study further found that learning & development and career advancement were ranked higher than monetary incentives and are integral for sales representative retention. Organizations have a great opportunity to marry the role changes and up-skilling with the employee career paths and provide avenues to learn new skills. One large financial organization developed a program that encourages sales representatives to move vertically, laterally, and diagonally as a key differentiator of their value proposition. With the added layer of non-cash rewards, organizations can truly create a total rewards view that is tailored to every individual’s preferences.
Real-time continuous feedback
Developing an optimal operating structure coupled with aligned performance and rewards design sets a strong foundation for the sales organization. But that isn’t nearly enough. Successful companies can survive and adapt to the many changes, through consistent and continuous feedback. In a Business As Usual (BAU) environment, many sales leaders correlate the frequency of feedback with administrative time spent away from selling. However, with the help of technology and advanced analytics, businesses can move to an almost real-time continuous feedback on the key KPIs.
This serves multiple purposes for the business:
1. Accelerate the change process as the sales representatives have access to the impact of their actions.
2. It provides a real-time feedback line to management to identify and address any teething issues and keep the organization on track.
3. It strengthens trust as everyone can see how they are working together to achieve the desired outcomes.
Sales is and will continue to be an integral part of any business. The next time you think about a people program for your sales team, evaluate it can serve as a catalyst that creates a winning salesforce that not only responds to change but stays a step ahead of it.