Sales, Sales Person and marketing strategy

Published: 28th March 2012
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Sales and the salesperson may by definition and as per the pecking order in an organization be the underdog of the marketing function. But take a closer look and you might discover that in the changing dynamics between buyers and sellers, the relationship between marketing and sales has changed and it is now one of equals.

Marketing is incredibly important. But if marketing goes wrong, it is often times sales that has to come to its rescue. In product marketing, marketers are all too familiar with situations where the grandest of marketing strategies come to naught and the products do not reach the target segment of consumer. While marketing managers can at best debate the next big marketing opportunity and come up with ideas that work in the medium or long term, it is the humble salesperson who takes the bull by the horns and through some brilliant moves, salvages what might include "offloading" products in new territories or to new customers at an "attractive price". In situations such as these, it is sales that wins the day for the marketer!

When it comes to consumer insights, who else knows the consumers as intimately as the salesperson - who thinks, talks and breathes "consumer". The most sophisticated of market research techniques are found to be somewhat deficient in capturing real-world insights of consumer perceptions and needs—a process that the salesperson cancan initiate through mere intuition.

Who else can establish deep bonds and enduring relationships with the customer other than the salesperson? While brand campaigns and mass media advertising connect and communicate with consumers, these do so at an arm's length and do not bond with the customer or even win trust and commitment to the same level of engagement as the salesperson.

Is there a problem customer who can spread negative publicity and potentially cause serious harm to the company's reputation? Count on your best salesman to negotiate the company out of complex situations and win difficult customers over. It may be astonishing but true that many a time, the public relations and client management expertise of the salesperson can surpass even that of the CEO!

Advertising may reach larger audiences, but could also be a high spend and high risk adventure. Sales are slower but more sure and measurable in the long run. However, companies that cultivate an excessive marketing bias and take decisions not based on a reality check with sales tend to commit costly mistakes. For example, the most sophisticated of market research techniques failed to appreciate true consumer perceptions and attitudes towards the mighty and invincible, Coca-Cola. A formula change based only on research and indifferent to the opinion of the salesperson resulted in a disaster for the brand. Similarly, multinational companies with an ethnocentric orientation paid a price for not designing products with features which were blindingly obvious as essential for Indian conditions: refrigerators needed door locks to prevent theft; cars had to come with higher ground clearance; and audio systems had to be louder! Sales, is the sine qua non of marketing. It always had to be so. Sales management is today being increasingly viewed as mission critical for the success of the business venture.

As an economy grows and competition intensifies, differentiation opportunities based on product, price or advertising strategies narrow. Therefore, effective personal selling becomes key to survival.

In India, the last couple of decades has witnessed a journey from a seller's market to a buyer's market and there has been a remarkable transformation in the manner in which organizations perceive the importance of the selling function. Selling is no more viewed as an adjunct to manufacturing or finance. Budgetary allocations for sales have been enhanced and there is an increasing emphasis on sales staffing, training and development across a spectrum of industries. Sectors such as insurance, retail, telecom, real estate and consumer durables are hiring salespersons in very large numbers with the size of the sales force in insurance and retail running into thousands. As the economy and consumption grow, these sectors require the maximum 'physical reach' with millions of customers in large and expansive territories. It is reported that in the USA, 13 per cent of the work force is presently employed in sales. While no corresponding figure for India is available, the number is expected to be equally significant. Salespersons are no longer the unsung heros of marketing, with numbers being significantly elevated. In terms of titles, salespersons' professional titles include designations such as business development executives, client relationship executives, customer acquisition executives and so on. Compensation in terms of salaries and incentives has also significantly risen for salespersons. What is more, sales effectiveness has been significantly enhanced through technology adoption across the function. Laptops and communication devices aid the salesperson to be in continuous touch with their managers where customer queries can be addressed in real time during the sales call. Additionally, DVDs, web sites and sales force automation software packages are excellent facilitators in improving sales effectiveness.

The salesperson is now fully integrated with the rest of the organization and provides critical inputs and specifications to new product development and price point fixation. Marketing programs can only be implemented subsequent to a buy-in from sales. Salespersons represent the voice of the customer and the sales force is even consulted on strategic decisions by members of a company's board, at times bypassing several levels in the organization. Henry David Thoreau may have believed that customers will beat a path to the company that makes the best mousetrap thus making sales redundant. But the agenda of companies has certainly changed since then. Customers are now inundated with choices, and parity on most marketing aspects is the norm. Marketers certainly need someone to tell customers why its mousetrap is better. That is why selling will continue to reign supreme.

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