A look back at crises: sales at the heart of business transformation

frédéric vendeuvre Published by Frédéric Vendeuvre – 16 February 2023

Unavoidable changes in commercial organization!

A more complex sale. And always more strategic

The past years (pandemic, inflation, shortages, war in Europe, etc…) have upset many established patterns. In times of turbulence, it is better to go back to the basics. Sales is certainly one of them! It secures sales in increasingly complex environments. More than ever, it is necessary to build loyalty and differentiate oneself. Both through the quality and innovation of the offers made to customers, but also through the way of selling, engaging in conversation with customers, maintaining the relationship… And thus preparing for the next crises.

3 basic trends have become more pronounced with the recent crises and are leading companies to accelerate their commercial transformation

1. The “premiumization” of the sales function

The American firm Forrester announced in 2015 the loss of 1 million B2B sales jobs in the United States

This was mostly in the “order taker” sales populations in low value-added activities. Conversely, there has been a 10% increase in the category of business developers and key account managers capable of selling partnerships, projects or complex solutions to large customer organizations. Today, all companies are looking for these high-level profiles, capable of convincing different types of contacts and functions at the customer’s, of discussing value and innovation with management committee leaders, while mastering the skills and experience of the field. Proof of this awareness is the multiplication of Sales Excellence departments in large groups, dedicated to the efficiency of the sales organization, the professionalization of sales forces and the proper implementation of methods and tools.

2. The “servitization” of the economy

A study by TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association, USA) of the world’s 50 largest manufacturers has shown that the share of service sales in their turnover, to the detriment of product sales, has been growing steadily since 2008. Digitalization is accelerating the development of services and their increasing complexity. Innovation in the service offer, the emergence of new business models of just-in-time use and generating CAPEX savings for customers are transforming many businesses. The salesperson must therefore propose new solutions that are agile, adapted to local specificities, including financing, connected services, etc. Salespeople are no longer needed to sell simple products or services. But they are sorely needed to sell increasingly sophisticated services, adapted to each customer. By 2025, 75% of the world economy, measured in terms of GDP, will be made up of services, many of which have yet to be invented… and sold?
We are talking about new offers: co-constructed with customers, which will lead to a change in their practices, and changes within their teams. We are no longer simply talking about “renewal”, but about transforming processes, integrating new technological bricks, new customer uses…

One of the imperative consequences for the sales person, to sell these innovations, is the need to broaden his contacts within his customers and often within his own company: to convince them of his complex solutions, he has to talk to project teams that include representatives from finance, human resources, marketing, IT, country management or BUs… This is a new sales posture known as “business advisor”.

3. The hybridization of B2B and B2C business models

For two decades, the financialization of the economy has provoked merger and acquisition movements that were barely slowed down by previous crises, in all countries and all sectors of activity.

Companies are increasingly dependent on a few very large customers. Hence the implementation of Key Account Management programs.

These major account programs foster a highly integrated relationship with the client, based on co-construction, support and shared innovation. But this is not the only consequence. All organizations are also seeing the multiplication of different business models: B2C, B2B2C, B2B, B2G… and sometimes concurrently within the same activities, with teams not always prepared for these changes in commercial culture. Major global car manufacturers are seeing their B2B sales continue to grow, reaching 30% or more of their turnover, even though the car is historically the consumer item par excellence. Or online sales or advertising sites, born from the B2C Internet, which invest in the B2B sector.
The user experience is not left out, with customers who want to find in their daily professional life all the ease and fluidity to which they are accustomed by their personal use of solutions developed by GAFA. For example, the electronic signature, which is still lacking in many companies, while the remote contractualization of the transaction has long been effective in the private sphere. Or, on the other hand, executives of large B2B companies, who don’t understand why they are treated so badly in a B2C store or hotline in their private lives, in contrast to the attention they receive when they are in their professional world. The B2B / B2C divide is less and less obvious and easily accepted.

The past 3 years have revealed more clearly the weaknesses of sales organizations that are insufficiently prepared for these trends. Whether it be in terms of value-added service offerings, digital sales tools, the structuring of sales processes by sales channel, and finally, the skills of sales teams to support these changes in business models. The period calls for an acceleration of the transformation of the sales function.

Accelerating change

Companies that have been able to establish privileged relationships with their customers, in an advisory and co-creation posture, that have been able to move up their value chain by becoming a stakeholder in their ability to innovate, have been able to get through the period much better than the others and demonstrate this famous “resilience”. In this respect, the past few years have been a real indicator of the strength of customer/partner relationships… or of their fragility… for example when it comes to announcing rate increases… And this has definitively established, if it were still necessary, the relevance of key account approaches, often committed but rarely mature.

Among all the changes, one of the most visible has been the generalization of distance selling.
Numerous studies have shown the speed with which sales departments have had to ensure business continuity – or limit the loss of turnover – in a configuration of remote relations, which has changed quite radically the practice of a historically “contact” profession.
This new configuration has ambivalent effects. If it impoverishes the exchange in certain respects – strong reduction of informality, less capture of attention, of the non-verbal – it nevertheless presents certain advantages – greater availability of the interlocutors, abolition of distance, saving of travel time.

Nearly 14% of a salesperson’s time before the pandemic was spent on travel.

The shock of the crisis with a drop in activity (or a sharp increase) has also led to radical reorganizations of sales organizations.
For example, some teams dedicated to small customers have been reassigned to larger accounts. They have gone from taking orders on incoming calls to prospecting for new projects on outgoing calls. For others, especially in the health sector, the impossibility of reaching their customers who were too busy with health emergencies meant that they had to develop new means of communication, such as social networks or applications that were previously reserved for more personal exchanges – WhatsApp…

In short, a period that has seen sales forces often change their routines in 3 years than in the last 30 years.
More agility, more efficiency, but also often more courage. For example, to go and tell customers bad news about late deliveries, to negotiate price increases or to select those customers on which to focus resources. In the
same way, customers have sometimes experienced the notion of “supplier at risk”, often a little forgotten, and have had to find alternatives, giving a value to proximity, security and quality of the Supply Chain and therefore opportunities to be seized by the sellers.

The conditions for success: awareness on the part of General Management…and investment in the teams

The health crisis has accelerated awareness of the strategic dimension of the sales organization.
This is to ensure business continuity and the sustainability of the activity in a difficult context, to build loyalty with strategic accounts, to benefit from efforts to adapt to the context, such as changes or enhancements to the offer, particularly in terms of services, and even to pivot towards other activities. Finally, to defend its prices in sectors that are experiencing inflation, where it is necessary to know how to explain and justify costs to its customers.

This period has also brought opportunities.
By abolishing distances, it has encouraged the alignment of sales teams on a continental and group scale. As distance learning has replaced face-to-face learning, it has become much easier to deploy tools, processes and training in all countries… and very often, to see that the same levers are effective everywhere. It’s like the beginning of the end of the “At home it’s different”, which has long been the norm in opaque business organizations.

… But it must be well executed

Taking the measure of the stakes is not enough. It is also necessary to ensure proper implementation “on the ground”, so as not to remain at the stage of good intentions. This is our mission at Halifax.

To propose a global vision of the levers of commercial efficiency, combining the mastery of tools (with a selection of the innumerable solutions of sales tech), the expertise of the processes in order to be able to conceive an efficient organization and finally, the Assessment, so as to optimize the adequacy between the profiles of collaborators and the functions to be filled.

Knowing how to train remotely in 15 languages, to provide skills in “just-in-time”, on the job, with a long-term approach, personalized and rich in feedback for the learner. on the job, with a long-term approach, personalized and rich in feedback for the learner.

Bring the expertise of a “pure player” in sales, combining proprietary content fed by the most prestigious partnerships in the academic and business world, supported by a rich combination of digital formats (e-learning, serious games, mobile learning, microlearning, adaptive learning…)

This is what drives us every day and what we implement for all our customers, in France and internationally.

Selling is transforming. Together, let’s transform the way we sell!

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