We wrote recently about the challenges transport and mobility service providers are facing in developing new, sustainable, digitised solutions for their customers. The nature and bases of competition are changing in our markets – and the balance of power is shifting in channels.
Here, our Managing Partner Nick Pannell picks up a critical related topic:
how will service providers transform the culture, approach, and capability of their sales organisations as markets change shape?
"In a new competitive landscape, we have to rethink sales strategies......"
Whether automotive OEM, oil “supermajor”, or financial services goliath – the hitherto dominant players in global transport and mobility value chains are busy working out sparkling new strategies, with new customer value propositions built on technological innovation and net zero sustainability.
This is great. Nonetheless – a very slippery banana skin awaits them if, while pulling together all the sexy strategic stuff, they forget to address the topic of sales culture and capability. Quite frankly, there’s no point building a vibrant new digital, integrated, next generation proposition if you can’t then sell it.
Not many of today’s market leaders are known for the youth, agility, or nimbleness of their sales organisations. Performance culture is often stuck in the dark ages: high basic salary components; deeply “experienced” sales team profiles; a transactional, product-led approach carried out by the classic “cup of coffee” sales rep.
That sales culture is quite simply not going to cut it in the brave new world of integrated digital services. Forget it.
Leaders are going to have to think through the options available to them for reshaping their organisation’s sales culture, structure, and approach. For example:
- Do we replace our teams with a brand-new generation of salespeople? (good luck with Europe’s staff councils)
- Do we invest in re-training and re-skilling the sales teams we already have?
- How do we restructure sales performance management, KPIs and remuneration to best fit a new approach?
- Or do we fundamentally change our approach and sell primarily through expert and specialist partner channels?
Reimagining sales leadership for the “next normal” ….
Concealed behind the questions above is a more fundamental and difficult dilemma.
It simply won’t be enough for businesses to change the focus and targets of their sales teams, scatter around a few new KPIs, buy one or two “Selling Services” training courses, and “performance manage” any salesperson whose numbers don’t hit the right level (most won’t).
Yet that’s precisely what’ll happen in most cases, and precisely why many organisations will fail. Why? Because they’ll address these (important) tools and enablers without first tackling the big-ticket items of sales culture, strategy, organisation, processes, and approach.
As customer relationships and value propositions change beyond all recognition, it would be lunacy to expect a conventional sales approach to be even remotely future fit.
It is time for sales leaders to think big, think new and think different.
Rebuilding sales capability for a more demanding customer….
Selling fuel and fleet management services is easy, isn’t it? It’s a simple trade-off between three variables: price, control, and convenience. We’ll chuck a box in here and there: one to connect vehicle with base, and one to pay your tolls. Now any moderately capable and reasonably trained salesperson could sell that.
What if “the thing” you’re selling is far more complex? What if your products and services sit within an ecosystem of connected partner services? What if data is the real “sell” and yours is only part of a more intricate picture? What if the ultimate value proposition looks different for each individual customer? And what if the integrator of the value proposition may or may not be you?
You see, at this point we’re beyond the normal “capability” question of whether my salespeople have, or don’t have the required skills to sell a new product or service. We’re way beyond that. We are into brand new questions which organisations must have the courage to ask themselves and answer:
- Are we the right party to take this service to the customer?
- Do we have the organisational capability and credibility to sell this service?
- What are the most cost-effective and agile channels to reach end users?
- Where is the true value in what we offer? Do we need to own the customer relationship, or is the value we provide further back in the chain?
- How do we engineer our sales channels and activities to maximise the value we create?
Reshaping sales channels intelligently……
Much of this will come down to making courageous, grown-up choices about channels.
As services become more sophisticated, more integrated across partners and therefore more complex – we usually find that the B2B customer’s own decision-making unit is also more complex.
As an example: sell a fuel card to a corporate or commercial fleet customer, and you’ll probably deal with a fleet manager. However, build an integrated driver expense management proposition, with multi-source data, interfaces with general ledger and HR systems, linked expense claim workflows and an MI module – and you’ll have to work with a CFO, a Head of HR, a CIO or CTO, a Sales Director and probably a few accountants and IT managers.
That’s not easy. And it forces the questions: are we the natural integrator of this service? Does our brand stretch far enough to give us credibility in selling it? If yes to both – have we got the sales capability to work across the decision-making unit? If not, how do we best build it?
Traditionally, we’ve assumed that if we engineer a new proposition for our customers – then our own salespeople will be the right channel to use to sell directly to them. That may not be the case – and the decision around whether it is or isn’t becomes a multi-factor one.
Selling remotely, and selling in concert
We don’t believe any previously accepted “normal” will return – but rather a next normal will emerge. Within that “next normal”, it’s already 100% certain that many of the new products, services and propositions coming into transport markets will be put together through strategic alliances, joint innovation, and channel partnerships. That’s the nature of digital services.
Alongside that – Zoom and Teams selling works. Though I’ll be castigated by the “business card and golf balls” brigade, none of the below is going to happen:
- there isn’t going to be a mass return of salespeople to the highways when lockdown restrictions are eased
- there aren’t going to be visitors’ books suddenly overflowing with dates, names, and vehicle registration numbers
- B2B customers are not going to be jamming phone lines asking for salesperson visits
Sorry if that comes as a disappointment!
What’s clear, though, is this: because many new propositions are built and integrated through partnerships and alliances, and as remote selling is here to stay – the “who sells it to the customer?” question is not linear anymore. It may not be party A or party B, but instead new party AB.
Figuring out who does what at each step of the value chain is key. Making sure we aren’t precious about channel choice and/or customer “ownership” (a tired concept) is vital. And making smart choices about how we deploy and use partner strengths to build overall channel value is critical.
So…what about re-engineering targets, performance management and KPI’s
Yes, of course these are central to a robust sales approach. Targeting the right things, managing sales performance against those targets, and putting in place the right KPI’s to track progress towards them – what high-performing sales organisation wouldn’t prioritise getting those things right?
But try to tackle them before you’ve addressed culture, organisation, capability, channel strategy and processes? Now there’s that banana skin.
Nick Pannell is PHC’s managing Partner and has worked globally on sales culture, organisation, and capability transformation. If you’d like to talk to Nick about how PHC can support your company in rethinking sales culture, rebuilding sales capability and reengineering sales targeting and KPI’s, then email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.