26th November 2021 | Journal Of Sales Transformation
Waldemar Adams, Global Senior Vice President, SAP Customer Success COO Office; Grant Van Ulbrich, Director, Sales Transformation – International, Royal Caribbean International
Q: What will be the top-three agenda items for sales leaders as businesses emerge from the pandemic?
WA: 1) Ensure customer success. 2) Budget achievement and growth plans. 3) Manage their teams successfully, with empathy.
GVU: Our focus is keenly on selling digitally in a new landscape where the retail travel partners and the high street have gone virtual or are working from home. We’re supporting this by also educating our sales force on “What is Digital Marketing and Selling” so that we can help our B2B customers evolve their own business platforms into the digital world. We’re focusing on rightsizing the sales organization to service the changed landscape and match our B2B customers and their needs. And we continue to develop our internal sales force throughout the pandemic through education on “Selling Transformed”: transitioning to a deliberate focus on the customers wants, needs, business strategy, goals and visions versus leading from a supplier perspective.
Q: Are these the same three agenda items that appear every year?
WA: Partially – the core business priorities remain the same: deliver budget and ensure customer success. Managing the team now has a new spin, as of the virtual and remote collaboration both with the team and with the customers.
GVU: No – our focus comes from new knowledge through our partnership with Consalia Sales Business School. An awakening of the positive mindsets versus the negative ones we live in daily as well as learning how to master “The Winning Value Proposition” and new ways to work within account management from Consalia.
Q: If so, what are the top-three new agenda items that sales leaders will be thinking about for 2022?
WA: At SAP we started “FlexWork”, which was anyhow in scope but very much accelerated by the Covid situation. This will give our staff better flexibility to decide what will be their preferred mix of working from home or from the office. It is interesting to see that there is no general rule, and the perception where and how to work varies a lot in the different countries and continents.
A second topic is “digital demand” as, again, a lot of the customer interaction will start virtually.
The third item is to “drive change”. In our company we start the year with GTM (go-to-market) changes to learn from the past and to optimize our setup. This can be evolution or revolution and it always requires special attention to make those changes work and be successfully applied across the organization.
Flexible working: it is interesting to see that there is no general rule; the perception where and how to work varies a lot in the different countries and continents.
Q: How persistent will changes such as hybrid working be for sales organisations post-pandemic?
WA: Very much – that is why it influenced and accelerated the “FlexWork” we had anyhow created. The new environment that we are all in also requires new answers and greater flexibility. As a consequence, it also requires smart management, clear and constant communication, and empathy.
GVU: For Royal Caribbean International we have been returning to offices from October 2021. Some have already in various locations, but not all of our B2B customers have. We will continue to support them both virtually and in person wherever possible.
Q: How are supply-chain issues affecting sales organisations?
WA: I see this less for us as a software company but very much for many of our customers. Therefore, it is within our responsibility to help them with managing this transformation and change to become an “intelligent enterprise”.
GVU: For Royal Caribbean International our “supply issue” is getting our ships back into service. But that is opening up daily and, by the end of this year, we aim to have the majority of our fleet back in service. Selling our product is in full swing!
Q: What are the top-three technology trends that will be on sales leaders’ agendas for 2023?
WA: 1) The move to cloud solutions continues and accelerates, which feeds into a demand for distributed cloud and also for a cybersecurity mesh. 2) Sustainability, understanding of the environment: footprint, optimization of supply chains, insights and governance. 3) Also to build a resilient business by applying AI better and also to add hyper-automation.
We are expanding our Sales Force AI enablement platform globally. We’re also expanding the Power BI systems and we’ve developed our own applications to sit on top of Salesforce and Power BI that enables our account-management team to present and share with our customers in a much more customer-centric methodology.
Q: What’s the current situation with respect to AI in sales?
WA: AI remains an important aspect to better understand data, but it still requires human interpretation. AI and ML (machine learning) can definitely help to discover patterns, trends and relationships which have not been seen before. To turn that into an action requires management involvement.
GVU: For Royal Caribbean International it is expanding our Sales Force AI enablement platform globally. We’re also expanding the Power BI systems and we’ve developed our own applications to sit on top of Salesforce and Power BI that enables our account-management team to present and share with our customers in a much more customer-centric methodology. The three elements are: Salesforce, Power BI, and applications over these two systems for better useability and presentation.
Q: What are the key talent issues for sales leaders post-pandemic: recruitment, development, retention?
WA: The battle of brands; need to provide a clear purpose.
GVU: I’m happy to say that we’ve maintained the health and strength of our sales teams throughout the pandemic. Our primary focus was to our travel partners and we maintained our sales force in place even when we had nothing to sell. We wanted to maintain support for our B2B customers.
Q: Have you noticed a change in the skill sets required for salespeople, since the onset of the pandemic?
WA: Yes, to the extent that it is less “hunters and farmers” like in past decades, but partnership in building and growing the business together.
GVU: We’ve noticed that some core skillsets needed to be dialled up and these include empathy, compassion, consideration, kindness, and patience – all surrounding the key component of listening. But the main skillset was learning how to manage personal change. People’s lives have changed and the change has been constant and unprecedented. I created a new personal change model during my master’s programme with Consalia and Middlesex University. We’ve given that to our internal sales force as well as our B2B customers so they can learn how to think and navigate personal change for themselves. It has been truly positive and well received. You can see and share it for free at www.scaredsowhat.com – “Scared – So What?” was also featured in the article “Igniting a SPARK” in iJoST edition 6.1 as well as the Change Management Review and The Oxford Review.
Q: What are the key skills for a) salespeople and b) sales leaders going forward?
WA: Empathy, passion, business ethics and a can-do mindset.
GVU: a) Salespeople: Learn patience; begin your conversation with the customer with “What are your goals, vision, needs?” versus starting the conversation with what you have to sell. Practice empathy and compassion. The travel industry is starting over! b) Sales leaders: Learn how to lead transformationally versus transactionally. We cannot sell in the way we’ve always sold. We have to develop our people and lead from within, promoting a culture of intrapraneurship, hermeneutics1, and transformational leadership with agility. It starts with you and you need to develop the next generation of leaders now.
Q: How much of a priority is salespeople’s welfare?
WA: Purpose and a clear “why” have overruled the monetary aspects. (Also, see the hunter-farmer point above.) In a business world with services and sales, money is not a good driver anymore when you have a certain base established.
GVU: TOP CONCERN – burnout has been a real concern. If we don’t invest and protect our salesforce, who will?.
1 Originally the interpretation of biblical texts, hermeneutics more generally today refers to the philosophical study of interpretation. Traditionally, disciplines that rely on hermeneutics include theology, jurisprudence, and medicine, as well as social sciences, and humanities.