How we talk to our customers is so confusing today…it is a complex process

The Changing Nature of Sales

Sales Leadership Forum

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Every business leader has wrestled with just how fast the world and the customer is evolving and how best to maximise a sales strategy. In today’s world, it is a multi faceted process; one which has seemingly changed. But how much has it changed? What are the key influencers? And is the customer different today to even a decade ago?

EP hosted a breakfast forum this morning to examine this complex subject. So many questions are commonly discussed as to whether companies do focus less on customers; whether brands are too dominant; whether social media has grown in importance and whether the actual process is different.

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Three very experienced and knowledgeable industry leaders talked and answered questions. Charles Prew, CEO of Von Essen Hotels and former CEO of Barcelo Hotels and one of the industry’s senior figures over the last three decades; Kathryn Pretzel-Shields, Head of Client Management, Hotels, Restaurant & Travel Industries, American Express Merchant Services; and Judith Davidson, formerly UK Sales Director for Sodexo and today COO of Integrated Financial Arrangements plc.

The discussion was interactive with many excellent issues and points raised. The following is a break down of the main points and quotes that came from the discussion. EP is seeking to develop and evolve this debate as it is an area where every company is on a learning curve and by sharing knowledge, sales performance can be improved.

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Speaker Comments

  • Charles noted that :“Since 2004, as a CEO, I have found myself more and more focused on sales than almost anything else. I would suggest that the second most important position in a company today is the revenue manager. It is amazing how just a good strategy will influence sales.”
  • Kathryn commented that; “Sales is a constantly evolving and changing. We need to learn from the past and get the balance right. Brands are important today but people buy people. People buy through relationships but a brand needs to be an extension of a relationship as otherwise a company is always vulnerable to losing customers if a good sales person moves on. On saying this, the sales team need to be very knowledgeable about the brand and to have the internal relationships to be able to answer customer queries quickly and effectively.”
  • image10Judith noted; “Trust is so important in sales. The customer is more knowledgeable but the key is how we engage with customers. Every time something goes wrong with a client, it provides an opportunity to turn it around and win real loyalty. In some ways, we have allowed services to become commodities. Sales has not changed. It has just evolved.”
  • Kathryn; “We are far more sophisticated with the use of data. We know so much more today. Wee know exactly which sources and working and why. We can, therefore, shift our emphasis as is required.”
  • Kathryn added; “Facebook should not be under-estimated in this market. How many people will trust an advert? How many will trust a friend and therefore, by extension, a link on their Facebook or a recommendation?”
  • Charles; “Sales is more strategic today. If a hotel needs to sell rooms, there are so many different ways in how to sell and approach the market. It is such an exciting side of the market but you need to be careful as if you get it wrong you can sell too much, too cheaply. I do wonder how long there will be a role for the seller who is on the road. I have never seen the value of targeting against say eight meetings per week as they will focus on this rather than building a real relationship that will deliver. More can be achieved through different approaches.”
  • Judith; “Research is often underestimated. One needs to understand your customer and your competition. The insight allows you to be competitive.”

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General Discussion

  • “It can be far more difficult today to speak to the customer today as they work through agents that prevent access to the client.”
  • “In markets such as today’s, companies need to think more about developing their sales culture. For example, how many C&B managers view themselves to be a seller; yet they are. Every employee is selling but this is so often not recognised by the team.”
  • “The sales process is process led and there are more and more reports required which allow the sales manager to hide in the office.”
  • “Sales is more holistic today. Once a contract is signed then it is all about retention and loyalty…things do go wrong in life but how you handle it will determine how the customer will talk about you to others.”
  • “It can cost you 7 times more to win a new customer than save an existing one. Sales has to start with the existing customer.”
  • “Sales is a multi-faceted job today. It is far more complex.”
  • “A relationship with a customer today is potentially different with each one. Some want a one-to-one relationship; others are happy with email; others Facebook. I think often we feel uncomfortable with a Facebook or email relationship because we think it is not good enough, but it is because that is what the client wants.”

This is a complex issue and one that does require further debate – so please let us know your thoughts and views.

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