Finding unique selling propositions has long been a key consideration within sales. It is now more important than ever in the current saturated and highly challenging marketplace. With firms rapidly adapting their offering, discovering these differentiation factors is more complex than in previous years. Yet, it is still possible with imaginative leadership and an organisational culture open to enacting change.
The first crucial step is refining and positioning the organisational culture. I’m a big believer in how people are treated and what they experience working inside a business will undoubtedly be sensed by customers and the wider market. Get this element correct, and the conditions are set perfectly for determining points of difference from your competition.
There is a broad array of hard and soft ways to achieve this, but the most critical element to appreciate is the time it takes to drive the process and establish full engagement. Of course, the relative size and structure of the company will affect the timeline.
Some of the principal steps are listed below:
Clear objective setting
Every management course in existence stresses the significance of specified objectives. Nevertheless, it’s surprising how many companies set unclear or unmonitored ones, or bother to establish them at all or only for part of a team. Worryingly, this is particularly prominent within mid-level and senior management who are responsible for determining objectives for others and driving the overarching strategy through the organisation.
If this level of personnel offers no tangible or measurable activities, how can a business unit or department be expected to do anything but stand still?
No matter an individual’s role, every employee must have an explicit idea of what they need to achieve over a given period, with a fixed and predefined review date. Ideally, it should be linked to the broader company plan or vision. Even better is a group objective that aligns multiple team members and departments to drive in the same direction.
A healthy challenging environment
Healthy challenges are a necessary element of any strong culture and high-performing team. The ability of a group of individuals to accept matters of contention as the norm and even revise their opinion rather than becoming more entrenched in their own way of thinking is a sign of a really positive working environment. These attitudes and behavioural characteristics take time to cultivate and the onus is on the leadership to set the tone here.
At an optimum level, this mindset also translates externally to customers through well-trained client managers. The cliché ‘the customer is always right’ rings true in many ways.
However, robust and demanding conversations around range development and what each party is bringing to the table to encourage increases in sales should be commonplace within any key account. This external aspect is conceivably the hardest to execute as many account managers do not possess the confidence or the buyer relationship to accomplish this effectively.
Reducing the importance of targets
Our post-COVID world very much lends itself to an immense focus on numeric target recovery. We have seen reducing margins through the elevated cost of producing goods – increasing pressure, with those black-and-white targets looming larger than ever.
I feel, however, that an overemphasis on this factor can be detrimental and prohibitive to the behaviours and competencies necessary to achieve improved figures. Bespoke trading conditions, cross-border buying and customer/market volatility may all be factors beyond any company’s control, but they can have a significant impact on numeric performance.
Care for and nurture the behaviours and performance appropriately, and I firmly believe the numbers will look after themselves.
Redefining the attitude to failure
In UK society, we are intrinsically taught from a young age to avoid failure – from the first tests/exams we sit to sporting competitions, university applications and beyond.
While there is unequivocal logic in this method to strive for success in whatever field, I think we apply a degree of negative conditioning concerning slip-ups that can bleed across into the workplace.
To use another old cliché, the most important part of making mistakes and having things not work is developing our ability to react to the situation. Every single mistake provides a learning opportunity. If the effort and application for the original task are sound, then adapting and evolving an approach based on failure is, in my experience, the clearest route to triumph.
In an innovative and fast-changing world with a huge amount of noise about market direction, the next ‘big thing’, etc – the fail and adapt model, I believe, is crucial to success. Adaptability and agility will be fundamental over the coming years.
If this strategy is not valued, it will result in a detrimental effect on company culture. It will be particularly felt by high-performing individuals who are less likely to take measured risks and therefore the long-term business performance will inevitably suffer in a changing market.
The end goal should be a diversely skilled team with the appropriate attitude and application to further a company’s objectives. As customers’ expectations increasingly lean towards an omnichannel offering, a business providing differently skilled touchpoints is in a strong place to maximise the undoubted opportunities the market offers.
When employees are aligned culturally, with a clear understanding of what ‘good’ looks like for the relevant organisation, then even better.
The days of a lone account manager catering to all major client needs seem to be a thing of the past. By cultivating a team in the right way, they quickly become not just a key asset to a firm but an essential point of distinction.
James Day is Sales and Marketing Director at Durable UK. He is also the European Office Products Awards 2023 Young Executive of the Year winner