The 2020 Sales Leader

Hyper-competition, elevated in-store experience requirements and new value competitors are just some pressure points confronting today’s most successful brands

“Sales reps prioritize a sales agenda over solving a customer’s problem. If organizations don’t change, 1 million business-to-business salespeople will lose their jobs to self-service e-commerce by 2020.”
—Forester Research

The bar has been raised. Hyper-competition, elevated in-store experience requirements and new value competitors — including higher quality private brands — are just some of the pressure points confronting today’s most successful brands. Sales organizations must learn to be “hostage mediators,” confronting difficult retailer challenges tactfully because everything’s on the line.

Tomorrow’s best sales organizations will be skilled at unlocking and packaging new value with their customers. They will be gifted at listening to what is both stated and unstated to optimize their partnerships, and at uncovering new value, offsetting price demands while maintaining profitability. They must possess three important, holistic business skills, including:

Uncommon Insights: The ability to offer your customers uncommon insights that transform and challenge their thinking. Tomorrow’s leading sales organizations will uncover store-specific, real-time consumer trends and offer a global viewpoint on the emerging shopper, innovation and the path to purchase. Future sales organizations will accurately and holistically understand the dynamics and strengths of their competitors and will share a distinct vantage point to their customers.

Today 80% to 90% of all data and insights shared with customers is information they already know. In the future, the best sales organizations will uncover and share only information that is transformational, emerging, and relevant. The best will only bring information to their customers, which is uncommon, fueling a larger growth blueprint.

Stewardship of Assets: The sales leader of the future will be responsible for the curation and stewardship of the organizational assets that support their customer’s purpose, responsible for the protection and the conservation of those organizational assets. Sales leaders will serve as ambassadors and advocates for their customers within their broader organizations, gathering new assets to advance the customer’s purpose.

This philosophy allows the customer leader to better steward internal talent and resources, creating exclusive in-store shopping experiences for the retailer and their core consumer. In the future, if you don’t design solutions that create a shopping trip for your customer, you will not be relevant.

Hyper-Localization: The ability to bring advanced customer analytics, assessing each store — or cluster of stores — as a business unit. The consumer demands personalized solutions, an entertaining shopping experience and service. Hyper-competition will lead to hyper-localization, allowing for a prioritization of meeting consumer needs. Manufacturers will assume even broader and deeper ownership of their top retailer and shopper relationships on a per-store basis. Every customer and every store is a strategic business unit, requiring a personalized solution.

Sales leaders must be adept at collaborating with their marketing teams and agencies on the retailer’s localization initiatives, moving from item optimization to shopper and store rationalization. You will intimately know your core customer — by retailer and by store — creating an annual business plan on a per store basis.

Tomorrow’s sales leaders will be better listeners, critical thinkers and creators of new business solutions — not just great at presentation or relationship management. Companies will discuss mutual purpose, not products. Trust and fast learning, not persuasion, is the future of sales.

The future is here and success is built on hiring general managers for every customer job. Tomorrow’s leaders will critically assess all new investments, embracing the very best of entrepreneurism and strategic business management.

Dan Mack is the founder and managing director of Mack Elevation Forum, and author of the book “Dark Horse: How Challenger Companies Rise to Prominence.”

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