The role of the Sales Department

The role of the Sales Department
In many organizations the role of marketing manager and of sales manager are still combined. Where this occurs, one usually finds that the manager is trying to do two jobs: to control the company’s marketing activities from the office and trying to control the salesforce in the field. Neither one task can be tackled efficiently without neglecting the other. This is bad organization, because direction of a salesforce is a full-time job. The effective performance of any group operation is dependent upon the effectiveness of its leader, and this is particularly true in the management of sales.

Ask most young salespeople to state their ambition, and you are likely to be told they want to become sales manager. A laudable aim no doubt, but the fact is that a good salesperson does not necessarily make a good manager. A characteristic of many successful salespeople is an individual outlook, an ability and desire to work on their own initiative, with the minimum of assistance or interference from colleagues and superiors. Good salespersons are not necessarily good organizers. They may be able to organize themselves, but often lack the desire or ability to organize others.

In view of these factors, one cannot be sure to find a good sales manager merely by promoting from among one’s best salespeople. Fortunately, however, a good sales manager does not necessarily have to be a good salesperson. Indeed those who, above all else, want to sell may find it difficult to settle down to the task of management. They may find the detailed work of organizing others irksome, and may tend to revert to being super-salespersons, thus not only neglecting their new duties of management but also duplicating and interfering with the activities of the salespeople under their control.

The sales manager, ideally, should be a person with a philosophical nature protected by a reasonably thick skin. Certainly sales management is no task for either the sensitive neurotic or the unfeeling slavedriver. A good sales team will only work at its best if it is led by a person judged by subordinates as fair-minded. An effective sales team takes time to create. Once created, it needs astute control to ensure that morale is maintained at a high level. As we shall see later, both morale and motivation are essential features of the persona selling element of the marketing mix.

The functions of the sales manager
The function of a sales manager is not, primarily, to sell- It is to organize the activities of the salesforce to ensure maximum effectiveness in promoting and maintaining the flow of orders from customers. The aim should be the highest appropriate sales volume at the lowest operational cost. The manager should interpret to the salesforce the objectives of the company in the market in which it operates, and the specific role that sales has to play in their achievement.

In the field of grocery or pharmaceutical products, for example, this will include the maintenance of good relations with wholesale or retail customers to ensure they not only maintain adequate stocks of the firm’s products but are making sufficient efforts to resell them. The sales personnel should also be ready to assist by offering advice on the display of the products and by obtaining for distributors point- of-sale materials to associate with promotional advertising in the press or on television, with the view of bringing the consumer to the point of decision to make a purchase.

A sales team responsible for selling consumer goods in wholesale or retail outlets usually requires persons of varying calibre. Selling to large multiples means negotiating with highly experienced buyers, located in central purchasing offices, to set up satisfactory ‘deals’. It is obvious that only those possessing considerable experience and ability will succeed at this level of commercial transaction. Once such ‘deals’ have been struck, however, another category of salesperson is needed to represent the company to the individual supermarket or shop managers. The task now will be to ensure that these retail branch outlets are properly serviced with adequate stocks and display material, and to sort out any major or minor problems that from time to time are bound to arise.

Some multiple firms not only place their contracts from a central buying point but also call forth supplies centrally, giving instructions to the supplier to deliver direct to the branch shops. There are others, however, who operate differently. Having placed their contract for the supply of a particular brand, they leave to the individual branch manager the placing of call-off instructions against the contract. Here the salesperson calling on the retail outlet has a full-scale selling job to do. The retailer’s selling space is limited and he has room to stock only a certain quantity of any one commodity. It becomes the responsibility of the salesperson to ensure his product maintains as good a share as possible of this limited space, because this will make sure that his brand will be readily available to meet consumer demand and will also limit the space left for competitive brands. In the packaged foodstuffs market, for example, this battle for precious retail display space is very real.

Before deciding upon a detailed sales policy, a company should examine its current sales situation. Are the resources at the disposal of the sales department adequate for the tasks they have to perform? It may find that they are adequate in total but are not being correctly deployed. This is a not uncommon failing, and many firms discover they have fallen into the classic error of devoting, perhaps, 80 per cent of their selling effort to chase business that is producing only 20 per cent of sales revenue.

An enquiry into salesforce performance should consider, first, the number of sales personnel the company employs and how they are organized on a territorial basis. Calling patterns should be examined to establish the number of calls that sales representatives make on average in a week, and the frequency with which calls are made on different types of outlets: retail shops and supermarkets, wholesalers, the central buying departments of multiple stores. How many of the total number of such outlets in the country are in fact being visited regularly by the company’s sales personnel?

Secondly, to establish a guide to the effectiveness of current selling techniques, one should examine the ratio of orders received to the number of calls made. What is the average size of order obtained by each individual member of the sales team? How does this compare with the average achieved by the total team?

Thirdly, attention should be given to the existing level of distribution the company has achieved for its products throughout the trade. How does this compare with competitive brands?

Finally, what are the current methods for training and supervising the sales team? Are there training schemes for new entrants or refresher courses for established salespeople? What methods exist for communication between the sales department and sales representatives in the field? The current system for reporting sales calls may need review, together with the methods used to keep the salesforce informed of special promotions, new advertising campaigns and any changes to product formulation or package design.

Salespeople’s journey cycles
In order to establish the optimum number of salespeople needed to sell the company’s products into a given segment of any market it will be necessary to examine the current journey cycles of the existing sales team. A journey cycle is the period of time it takes a salesman to call once upon all the customers allocated to him. Thus an eight-week cycle means it takes that length of time to make one visit to each of his customers. Put another way, if the nature of the product to be sold and the geographical scatter of customers results in an average of six customer visits per day, a salesman working a five-day week will take five weeks to service 150 accounts.

It will be apparent, however, that, out of a total of 150 retailers, some will require more frequent attention than others. In deciding the frequency of calls necessary for individual outlets there are various factors to be considered. One is the amount of stock particular retailers are prepared to hold. A trader who is prepared to hold on*.y. few weeks’ stock of any one brand will require more frequent visit from his supplier, in order to place orders to replenish this stock, than one willing to order sufficient supplies to cover his requirements for a considerable period. Another factor is the frequency of visits undertaken by one’s competitors upon major retail outlets. We have already referred to the battle that exists between product manufacturers in fast-selling grocery fields for a maximum share of the retailer’s precious shelf space for their products. It is only by frequent calls that the salesperson can maintain a strong personal relationship with the shopkeeper and thus ensure a fully adequate display for his company’s brand.

On the other hand, one must consider the costs of sales calls, plus the cost of the execution of the orders received, including the movement of the goods from the warehouse, transportation, the issue of delivery notes and invoices, and the subsequent collection of payment, and set this against the value of the business secured. Small or medium-sized outlets may need regular sales contact, but this can be provided by telephone sales personnel based at head office to ask for repeat orders and to check that everything is satisfactory. This can be supported by visits from the area salesperson at intervals of perhaps every six to eight weeks.

 

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