The Idea: I recently had a discussion with the leader of a large CPG company on the skills required for tomorrow’s sales leaders. We agreed that the best will be experts at unlocking new value with their customers while listening for what is “unstated.” They will protect partnerships, and be adept at offsetting customer price demands, using a higher-level negotiation mindset. These sales organizations will embrace fierce customer discussions and confront difficult business challenges with courage and thoughtfulness.
Paradox, ambiguity, and hyper-competition are pressing this industry. The future demands a new psychology, emphasizing holistic business management, embracing the blend of entrepreneurism, high-level financial disciplines, and skills to moderate customer innovation meetings. Competitive advantage comes by outlearning – and “out-listening” others; five skills will define this advancement.
Skill 1 Facilitation: Being a good presenter and relationship builder is not enough. Leaders will masterfully moderate high value co-creation meetings across marketing, operations, and third-party teams. Joining efforts to create an ecosystem of assets and emerging new businesses is an increasingly rare skill.
Skill 2 Entrepreneurship: Customers demand extreme value and will squeeze more profit out of every item. Tomorrow’s performers will excel at financial productivity analysis to include comprehensive profit and loss assessments. They must think like entrepreneurs and ruthlessly maximize all investments as if it was their own company. In the next generation, every customer and resource are variable and open to reassignment. Everyone must steward a diverse portfolio of brands, services, and assets in support of creating a custom solution for the customer.
Skill 3 Enterprise Voice: Tomorrow’s sales leaders will harness the full intellect of an organization to include deeper strategic goals of the customer. The competency of the future is linking the hidden assets of one’s organization to the boardroom agenda of their customer. This level of alignment only occurs through “enterprise to enterprise” relationship management. The most distinct sales organizations will structure their relationship around customer immersion, not customer engagement and mutual purpose, not just products.
Skill 4 Holistic Insights: My interviews show that 80-90 percent of all data shared with B2B customers is information they already know. The best sales organizations will uncover and share information that is transformational, relevant, and uncommon, fueling a larger growth blueprint. Future sales organizations will share “real time” consumer trends, offering a global viewpoint on the emerging shopper to include innovation and path to purchase insights and addressing the retailer’s best consumer.
Skill 5 Hyper-Localization: The consumer demands personalized solutions and entertaining shopping experiences. Organizations must understand how to build exclusive solutions and assume deeper ownership of their customer’s needs on an organic level. Every store is a strategic business unit, requiring a personalized solution. Sales leaders must collaborate with their marketing teams (and agencies) on the retailer’s localization initiatives, moving from category management to individual store optimization; especially targeting the highest performing urban outlets.
How will we lead?
Individuals and teams must learn confront challenging situations earlier in their processes. The high-performing organizations will be skilled at treating internal dissent and cutting underperforming brands and projects. Building this trustworthy culture will require an increasingly versatile type of leader who encourages honest, unfiltered discussion.
The traditional “top down” leadership model limits creativity and talent attraction. It also stunts true entrepreneurism. Teams will excel when they can co-design new ideas. Mentoring must go both ways in order to tap new talent. The future sales leader will embrace the very best of entrepreneurism and strategic business management.