The consumer goods industry has seen more changes in the past decade than it had in the previous 40 years.
Multiple changes have put consumer’s brand loyalty to the test: constantly evolving consumer behavior, the shift in buying channels, the rise of price sensitive and promo-conscious consumers who are still equally value conscious, the explosion of new routes to markets, as well as new product innovation are a few of these changes. It’s now easier than ever before for consumers to switch brands.
All of these advancements have put increasing pressures on retailers and in turn, consumer goods organizations aim to provide personalized and consistent cross-channel experiences for consumers.
Customer-Centric Companies Bring 5x More Revenue
To respond to these changes, retailers are continuously looking for trusted business partners who have deep understanding of their business and can help them to be agile and grow.
The foundation of this trust is a deep, emphatic relationship built on transparency, collaboration and mutual benefits. The consumer goods companies that have invested in a customer centric approach and building trust with their retail partners bring in 5.7 times more revenue than their competitors.
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McKinsey’s organizational health index research shows that customer-centric organizations (those with high Net Promoter scores) are driven by behaviors centered around the success of their customers and this differentiates them from organizations with lower net promoter scores.
Customer-centric mindset needs to be built into every layer of a consumer goods commercial organization where sales teams are encouraged to prioritize customer success and customer growth factors are built into their KPIs.
Sales Reps Role More Strategic
This shift has driven a number of structural changes, including the evolution of field sales reps and key account managers to become more strategic than ever before. Sales reps are now expected to act as the single source of truth and consistently provide trusted advice tailored to the retailer's unique needs.
At the same time, post-Covid-19, there has been a rapid shift to more remote and omni-channel sales engagement models, as a part of organizations’ sales enablement strategies. Sales leaders have increased their remote sales capacity by 43% since 2019 and reps have had to add value across all touchpoints.
Consumer goods organizations therefore have had to consider a permanent systematic approach to shift from the traditional face-to-face selling model to a hybrid model where sales reps are enabled and equipped to provide the same level of engagement in a remote visit as they would face-to-face.
How to Cultivate a Culture of Growth and Customer Centricity
While consumer goods organizations adapt to these trends, one challenge remains to be a problem: a lot of field sales reps are at the entry point in their careers and many of them are still paid a below average salary. This combination often leads to a high churn rate within their commercial organizations.
Operating on lower salaries also often drives behaviors where sales reps are mainly interested in short term targets such as achieving their sales goals, versus wanting to invest in longer term targets such as a customer’s future success and growth.
To address these changes, consumer goods organizations will need to cultivate a culture of growth and customer centricity combined.
1. Building a personal development path for commercial reps
Firstly, implementing individual development and coaching strategies would allow sales reps to achieve personal and financial growth and open up opportunities to climb up the ladder within the consumer goods commercial organizations.
In a recent interview I conducted with the CIO of the largest beverage manufacturer in South America, he stated that a lot of their field reps are early in their careers and still learning the industry. Therefore, the company often appoints them as merchandisers in modern trade outlets to learn the industry and pick up sales skills. By providing them the right type of coaching, focused on attaining customer success, and just-in-time feedback, they later evolve into other roles within the organizations including advisory roles in traditional trade.
Putting the sales rep at the center of coaching programs encourages sales leaders to provide the personalized guidance reps need to overcome personal barriers more quickly. It also allows reps to be more open and build a two-way relationship that would ultimately inspire them to put their customers first.
2. Embedding customer experience in coaching
Secondly, there is a need to approach coaching with empathy towards the individual rep, their experience and competence level and combining that with customer centric goal settings.
The mistake that we often see consumer goods organizations make is to combine reward-structures and heavy handed training with little or no connection to the customer.
What works well, is when sales coaching is focused on embedding the customer experience in the behavior of sales reps. For example, allowing sales reps to make decisions, enabling them with customer data and insight where they are able to make informed decisions whilst having timely and open dialogues on what matters to them and their customers. In this model, sales leaders use open communication techniques and channels so reps can share their concerns and leaders can provide just-in-time coaching and timely, situational feedback.
3. Enable virtual and real-time coaching
Thirdly, taking into consideration the millennials and Gen Z’s that are joining the sales force, consumer goods organizations need to consider a hybrid learning approach to cater for the digital savvy reps.
To equip sales reps to provide trusted advice to customers, they need to start thinking about how to provide these reps with remote training and virtual channels to get timely assistance from their coaches and leaders. This would deliver just-in-time coaching tailored to the rep and taking into consideration the needs of the customers they are serving.
[See also: Will Work-From-Anywhere Work for Consumer Goods?]
In addition, they need to be able to provide role play and on the job coaching to help the reps improve their key messaging and objection handling with light-touch coachingalong the way.
Encourage Self Evaluation for Improvement
Encouraging reps to evaluate their own performance helps them to reflect, take ownership and build self-improvement goals around their own observations. This creates a stronger desire to improve continuously as they are making the commitment to be customer centric.
Of course, reps don’t always have all of the answers when it comes to goal setting. Leaders can coach the reps, face-to-face or within an online coaching platform, to align on their short and long term goals to ensure that they are achievable, measurable and will have a positive impact on their customers.
Once goals are agreed, leaders can use software solutions to create personalized training paths and role play, ask for feedback and improve performance through just-in-time coaching.
Driving customer centricity through mindset and culture changes, not only drives improved performance. It will also create further opportunities to invest in your reps and their growth. According to LinkedIn research, 94% of employees are likely to stay at a company longer if invested in their career and growth. Performance increases and reps are more motivated and engaged — it’s a win-win for everyone.
Sally is the Global Lead of Consumer Goods Go to Market for Pitcher. She has 16 years of experience in helping organizations innovate by digitally transforming their routes to market and business operations. She’s a thought leader within the consumer goods industry and is passionate about not only helping businesses grow by bringing fresh and innovative thinking but she’s also an active champion for women in technology. Sally won the Women in Sales EMEA (WISA) Award in 2020, and was recently shortlisted for the Women In Tech Excellence Award and the Women in IT Award.