How is CSR impacting the sales function?

mark bicknell Published by Mark Bicknell – 1 February 2024

A year ago we opened a discussion among Halifax consultants about how we should position ourselves to accompany our customers with regard to this topic.

Over and above a clear C level and shareholder commitment to CSR policy we perceived in many commercial executives the scepticism deriving from  some customers’ reactions which could be summarized in: “What does your CSR do for me?” In fact many CSR initiatives are what we call “inside out”.. unlike most business initiatives they do not take origin downstream (ie meeting customer needs) but are upstream and related to supply chain and governance issues. The main exceptions being of course in the energy or construction sector especially those sectors subject to government incentives.

So what has happened?

In the past year or so have found ourselves involved in many projects where, in different forms, we are working with sales teams on CSR related issues. In the building, construction and energy segment working with KAM teams ensuring new kinds of value co creation with a focus on how to mix services with products, how to integrate the sales process with new financial and administrative supports. How to manage supply shortage and customer selection.

Then suddenly we find ourselves engaged in issues relating to how to bring innovative technical solutions into the  circular economy working with packaging companies helping their customers innovate downstream to anticipate regulatory changes or with companies such as Pellenc ST who specialize in cutting- edge optical sorters pushing forward in terms of sorting purity, energy consumption and even building AI powered platforms to recognize packing composition via huge visual Databases.

Then moving to the radical green or green, we have started working with companies using biological and natural alternatives to personal health care and food production.

So what have we learned?

This fortuitous mix of macro trend and our curiosity to be close to our customers has brought us to have a much clearer picture of the different challenges facing different sales figures in various contexts. We see essentially 3 roles within this new context with 3 different skill sets:

  1. Sustainable sales ambassador: Professionals who need to have a familiarity with the sector specific CSR issues, are able to explain and answer questions on the company’s CSR activities and able to point out the importance these initiatives have on the industry value chain.
  2. Sustainable Value Seller: Here the salesperson need to be able to open conversations with new professional figures within his customer’s ecosystem to be able to teach the buyer in which ways their CSR value proposition creates a superior alignment of outcomes versus competition. The Sustainable value seller has not only to be fully familiar with upstream but also downstream issues, has broadened his range of customer intelligence and is able to open different conversations with say sustainability directors and marketing functions in his customer’s ecosystem
  3. Sustainable Value Co- creator. Here we are typically in the realm of adding skill sets to your KAM or GAM executives. The sphere issues to be faced are similar to the Sustainable Value Seller but the level of intimacy and nature of privileged and structured contact with the stakeholders on both the company and account side make the challenge more complex and require a sharpening of the KAM practise.

We now have a much clearer view of the necessary competence sets that need to be reinforced or re-oriented to new stakeholders.

Welcome to the journey; we are all transitioning!

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