Managing effective salespeople today means adjusting to a rapidly changing world including pandemic-driven shifts and technology such as data analytics playing a more prominent role in optimizing the sales strategies of organizations worldwide. A number of leading business schools are hosting executive education programs for sales leaders to help them navigate these transitions.
Combining the latest academic theory with hands-on practical experiences, the courses focus on creating a sales strategy that drives revenue and profit growth. They are about building high-value brands and effective sales teams that can take full advantage of today’s digital technologies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer preferences in a big way, prompting a shift towards digital sales channels. “By increasing e-commerce purchases, consumers prefer trusted brands, are reducing their shopping frequency and doing less spontaneous spending,” says Professor Pedro Celeste, at Católica-Lisbon School of Business & Economics, in Portugal.
“Moreover, they are spending more money on health and well-being, like organic and fresh food or fitness, as well as e-pharmacies and e-doctors. As a negative impact, consumers spend less money on travelling and tourism.”
These changes are fully reflected in the teaching at Católica-Lisbon, which puts on the Commercial and Sales Management executive education program. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharper focus the importance of using digital technology to create new distribution channels. How can executive training support this digital transformation?
“The digital revolution has touched every aspect of our lives, and education is of them,” says Celeste. “More than 4.7 billion people have access to the internet and more than 5.2 billion have some sort of mobile device. This level of connectivity has influenced how people learn, search and interact with others.”
The digital transformation has affected classrooms and how professor reach their audiences. “There was an urgency to readapt methods and teaching pace,” says Celeste. “The current use of online learning enhanced digital technology. However, customized programs still need to balance physical presence to be more effective.”
Emerging issues in sales management: ethics, environmental concerns
While digital education may have honed executives’ virtual communication skills, another area of focus for course providers such as Celeste is ethics. “Transparency can be challenging for executives, but it’s essential for fostering an ethical culture,” he says. “Consumers prefer trusted brands. Market communication strategies need to guarantee transparency, clarity, visibility and trust.”
Professor David Soberman is the Canadian National Chair in Strategic Marketing at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. Rotman runs an executive education program on this subject, called Enterprise Sales Management, delivered in partnership with the Canadian Professional Sales Association over four weeks exclusively online.
Rotman’s program is also teaching executives to make good ethical marketing decisions, not solely based on economics. “The pandemic has brought into sharp focus the challenge of making sure that people understand exactly what they are buying and what to expect,” says Soberman. “This is harder when you don’t get to see people in person.”
There is also more emphasis being placed on environmental responsibility. “Many things including global warming, forest fires and flooding are due to human activity,” adds Soberman. “Companies need to think about what they can do about it.”
In addition, the program teaches executives how to build a sales workforce driven by effectiveness. Soberman says this is about having the right incentives for salespeople in place. This means building fun, enjoyment and self-fulfillment into the job, and making sure you are choosing to hire individuals who “fit” the company and vice-versa.
A data-driven salesforce
On top of this, Soberman says that analytics is playing an increasingly prominent role in sales best practices, and in the executive course. “It is much easier today to collect data on everything associated with the activity of salespeople and how they relate to customer characteristics and past interactions with the customers,” says Soberman. “There is tremendous horsepower in building models that use this data to explain outcomes. This can then be used to make better managerial decisions.”
Aalto Executive Education in Finland also runs a course in this subject, which is called the Essentials of Marketing and Sales, and is delivered online. Pekka Mattila, Group Managing Director at Aalto EE and Professor of Practice at Aalto University School of Business, also stresses the increasing importance of more sophisticated business intelligence tools.
“In B2C, we have more advanced and elaborate tools for comparing different outlets, different channels, different branches, and to see how different customer demographics are translated into sales,” he says.
Mattila adds that his course is focused on practical outcomes rather than academic theory alone. “I think the whole purpose is to encourage this kind of very practical application of tools and frameworks in one’s own context.”