Sales In The New Century: How Will It Shape Up?

Sales is and will continue to be an integral part of any business. But how can organisations prepare their salesforce for the future of work?

Sales In The New Century: How Will It Shape Up?

12 Oct 2018 by  Ronak Marolia

INFORMATION EXPLOSION: Globally, we are producing about 16.3ZB (~16.3 trillion GB) of data every year. Customers will have to manage an unparallelled amount of uncurated data. As the volume of information expands, sales will need to play a proactive role in helping clients navigate through it and make it relevant to them.

OMNI CHANNEL EXPERIENCE: A Harvard study says that 73% of consumers today use more than one channel before making a purchase. Not only that, customers using more than 4 channels are more likely to spend more, come back for repeat purchases, and recommend you to their networks. Channels are truly converging, and it will reshape the sales roles along with it.

FREELANCING & THE SHARING ECONOMY: At the same time, a Forbes study states that freelancers will become the single largest type of workforce in the world over the next 10 years—a significant increase from just a third of the US workforce today. Closer to home, approximately 10% of Singapore’s current workforce is freelancing; and while this is conservative, it is going up as well. Most importantly, more and more freelancers are entering the salesforce.

How can your organisation make the most of this evolving workforce trend?

Let’s talk about a large multinational company that Aon worked with in the region. To compete effectively in the world around us today, they wanted to leverage the power of the digitisation, deliver a fantastic customer experience, and create repeat businesses with their clients.

The first step was to organise the sales function to align with the changing customer journey. Before, they were structured by channels primarily focused on acquiring new business. With the new direction, the teams were re-organised to drive new business, customer retention, and experience covering the multitude of channels in which they were present. With this change to the structure, there were resulting changes in the role activities and a need to up-skill the sales representatives in certain areas. Competencies that enhanced their digital acumen and customer management were being sharpened, while traditional push-based sales skills faded into the background.

Once the teams were formed, defining and measuring success was equally important. The interdependencies between teams in the new structure demanded an emphasis on the team’s financial success. At the same time, there was a need to create individual accountability to create a great client experience and ensure collaboration. Leveraging the tools and analytics at their disposal, changes were made to include quantifiable KPIs in their performance management systems with a clear intent on building the future business.

In view of pay performance alignment, the compensation plans had to be changed as well. Compensation is viewed as a sensitive topic for most employees and they were worried about how the sales representatives would react to some of the changes. Aon conducted a sales voice survey to assess this risk, and interestingly, half the sales representatives acknowledged that sales is a team sport in the current environment, and backed team-based metrics. 4 in 5 sales representatives said they believed that non-financial KPIs created better alignment with the business direction. They were welcoming of the changes, if we could maintain the transparency and objectivity of the incentive process.

The study also brought forward the importance of Total Rewards view while managing the current workforce. While compensation featured among the top 3 drivers of performance and retention, career and learning opportunities ranked higher. Sales representatives were more likely to stay on with the firm for better exposure and career opportunities, rather than compensation. The up-skilling coupled with a career programme that encouraged sales representatives to move vertically, laterally, and diagonally was put in action. With the added layer of non-cash rewards, they could quickly create a total rewards view tailored to every individual’s preferences. 

Having designed the optimal operating structure and rewards set a strong foundation for the company, but that wasn’t enough. Feedback was critical to ensure that they survive and adapt to the changes. Many sales leaders correlate frequency of feedback with administrative time spent away from selling. However, with the help of technology and advanced analytics, they moved to an almost real-time continuous feedback on the key KPIs.

This served two purposes for the company:

  1. Accelerated the change process as the sales representatives had access to the impact of their actions,

  2. It strengthened trust as everyone could see how they were working together to achieve the desired outcomes.

By building the right conditions for the for the sales function to evolve and thrive, this company created a sales organisation that can successfully compete and perform in the new environment.

Sales is and will continue to be an integral part of any business. The next time you think about people programmes for your sales teams, evaluate how your organisation can serve as catalysts who create the winning breed of salesforce—who not only respond to change, but stay a step ahead of it.

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Ronak Marolia

Ronak Marolia is a Regional Solution Lead at Aon in Southeast Asia, and serves the Southeast Asia markets on topics of Sales Force Effectiveness and Executive Rewards. Over the last 8 years at Aon, Ronak has partnered with clients across industries in South and Southeast Asia. His expertise includes workforce sizing and optimisation; sales force effectiveness and design; organisation design; incentive design, corporate governance and executive rewards. He has also published multiple papers in the areas of sales effectiveness and executive rewards.

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Ronak Marolia
Ronak Marolia