SENIOR SALES AND MARKETING LEADERSHIP THAT CAN HELP YOUR COMPANY THRIVE IN CHALLENGING TIMES
Uncertain times often call for unusual decisions and actions as well as for leaders who are uncommonly capable and sufficiently skilled enough to make and follow through on them. This is the case in any sort of company, whether large or small, public or private. It holds true whatever the company’s business sector, industry, or operating region and also applies to its key functions, among which are sales and marketing. Faced with changing conditions on fronts ranging from customer preference to channel dominance, from supply-chain to labor sources, from the macroeconomic to the regulatory, many businesses find the need for experienced, adaptive, and insightful leaders to be greater and more urgent now than ever in recent memory.
Scattered Showers or the Perfect Storm?
This is perhaps because, in contrast to past periods of marked business change (such as the Great Depression of the 1920s, the Oil Crisis of the 1970s, the turn-of-the-century Dot.com bubble, and the 2007-2008 Great Recession that followed), when the driving forces were groups of closely related factors, today’s change is arising on diverse fronts with roots in a variety of sources, from technological innovation and customer purchasing patterns to workforce composition and government regulation. Keeping a company forging forward though such a confluence of variables — each of which presents multiple risks and opportunities — calls for executives with special skill sets, experience, and management characteristics whose absence or presence can contribute materially to an organization’s success or failure.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow — the New Normal
One of the definitions of disrupt is “to prevent something, esp. a system, process, or event, from continuing as usual or as expected.” Disruption can occur across almost all aspects of nearly any economic sector, however, perhaps what the word most often brings to mind these days is the cause and effect of innovation, e.g., as in the term disruptive innovation, which refers to technological innovations that disrupt markets as well as to innovative business models that accomplish the same. Examples of the first include the PC’s rapid decimation of the typewriter industry and the smartphone’s near-overnight elimination of the mass-market camera business. Instances of the second include Uber’s devastation of the taxi industry as well as e-commerce’s deep incursion into the B2C retail market and its attendant consequences for consumer product and logistics and transportation suppliers.
Paradigm Shifts and Other Destabilizing Tremors
Product, service, and business model innovations, however, are not the current business environment’s only far-reaching sources of change and challenge. These extend from the effects of digitization and automation through workforce mix, taxation, and, even — in some industries more than others — regulation and law enforcement.
Digital Redirections. Since the year 2000, the effects of digitally enabled communications and the corresponding rise of social media, Internet, and mobile marketing have substantially changed the means by which many companies now bring their products to market. This is readily apparent in the B2C sphere — where, for example, Amazon’s Prime service has achieved such preeminence that nearly half of all U.S. households now have subscriptions — and is fast receiving increased attention in the B2B arena. For instance, according to recent research conducted by the global management consulting firm Accenture, 86% of $500M-plus U.S. B2B companies are currently equipped for e-commerce. In fact, findings from Cleveland-based CRC, a market research company, indicate that even in B2B industries such as food service manufacturing and distribution, where face-to-face, relationship-based selling has long enjoyed a hegemony, digital penetration is rising rapidly and expected to attain 70% in 2019 versus 50% currently. Such a major evolution in channel mix requires astute and broadly experienced management to safely navigate and optimally leverage.
Automation and Changing Expectations. The digital revolution, or digital transformation as it is most commonly called in business, is not confined to outbound marketing and sales platforms, i.e., marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM), or sales force automation (SFA) systems, which address the lead generation, opportunity development, and sales-close processes. Rather, it has spread into operations — for example, in the entertainment industry, via music-selection and streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora, and, also, in the restaurant business, in the form of AI-enabled chatbots and touchscreen or voice-enabled self-service kiosks at the “front of the house” and as enterprise-wide inventory control and robotic kitchen food-preparation and cooking systems at the “back of the house.” The strategic vision required to recognize the need for such capital-intensive yet cost-reducing solutions, as well as the practical experience to oversee their deployment, calls for senior management that is both deeply insightful and greatly experienced.
A Fast-Changing Regulatory Environment. Over the last year and a half in particular, the once somewhat predictable short-term regulatory environment has become decidedly less so. For example, according to Goldman Sachs, newly imposed tariffs on imported steel could increase Ford’s and General Motors’ raw materials costs by as much as $1 billion per annum, whereas it’s estimated that a tariff on aluminum could cost the U.S. food and beverage industry an almost comparable amount of money annually as a result of the metal’s widespread use in beverage packaging. Other unexpected consequences of a changing regulatory and law enforcement environment include the negative effect of ICE activities on portions of the agriculture and restaurant industries’ access to affordable labor, which has potential ramifications for their pricing structures. The desirability or undesirability of the above developments is not at issue; the point here is only that relatively unforeseen changes with far-reaching consequences require companies to have unusually adept and nimble leadership that can respond to them in the least damaging and most advantageous fashion possible.
Inspiration, Aspiration, and Accommodation—Managing Multiple Generations. Experts maintain that the span of ages represented in the U.S. workforce at present is the broadest that it has ever been, encompassing the “Traditional Generation” (1925–1945), “Baby-Boom Generation” (1946–1964), “Generation X” (1964-1980), “Generation Y” (1981–1999), and the up and coming “Generation Z” (2000-to 2020), with the term “Millennial” being inconsistently applied the last three strata, depending in part on whether or not an individual entered the workforce shortly before or anytime in the decade or so after the turn of the 21st century. Whatever the exact dates assigned to each workforce generation, the consensus is that each group has distinct characteristics and expectations that run along a spectrum from the conventional to the unconventional, with Baby Boomers and their predecessors valuing a more traditional and hierarchical work environment, replete with a “job-first” worth ethic and the promise of stability in return for loyalty to the company, and Millennials and their successors placing greater emphasis on work-life balance, recognition for individual contributions, and opportunities for immediate advancement.
Of necessity, all of the above are oversimplifications but, this notwithstanding, there are indeed significant differences between the age groups, both in terms of their members’ work preferences and of the sorts of talents and skills that each typically bring to the table. Generally, older workers are presumed to draw upon a greater breadth of experience and as such to possess a heightened aptitude for latent risk assessment, whereas, in contrast, younger workers are often thought to be more familiar with technological advancements and to be more eager to engage in innovation based upon them. Everything considered, this is perhaps not all that bad a combination, given the array and diversity of challenges faced by many businesses. However, it does require senior management that is versatile and insightful enough to inspire the best performance from workers of all ages and thus maximize their contributions to company productivity and profitability.
Finding Sales and Marketing Executives Who Can Chart a Course Through Troubled Waters
Perhaps the first step in finding a marketing or sales leader capable of dealing effectively with today’s formidable assortment of business challenges is to determine what such a leader should look like, i.e., to identify the mix of skills and aptitudes that you believe he or she must have to help your company thrive in the current environment. For example, should he or she demonstrate an aptitude for innovation plus business acumen, creativity as well as discipline, adaptiveness but also accountability? A good second step is to identify the type of experience that you think would allow the leader of your sales or marketing function to add the most value to your business. For instance, has he or she led marketing or sales at a competitor or at a comparable company in a collateral industry and successfully resolved and overcome similar issues to those facing your business? Finally, the third step is likely determining what characteristics and behaviors you believe the leader of your sales or marketing function should evince to indicate that he or she shares your company’s values and would be a good fit with its culture, since these two factors are often critical to the success of senior managers.
Finding sales and marketing executives who meet such exacting criteria is not an easy task but it can be made easier if you take advantage of the best available resources — input from other senior managers, guidance from your HR management, and the assistance of a respected executive search firm. Ideally, such a firm will have extensive experience sourcing similar executive positions for companies confronting the same or comparable business conditions. Just as importantly, it should be ready and willing to commit the time and resources necessary to thoroughly and truly understand your company’s requirements for the position in question as well as the particular dynamics of the challenges your company faces.
While the shifting tides and currents of the present business environment are formidable, they are in fact surmountable. What’s more, once confronted and mastered, they frequently leave organizations better equipped for success and growth. Because, in the end, the old adage, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies to companies as much as it does to people — and, of course, also because invariably the latter outcome is preferable to the former.
For comments or for more information, please contact:
Customer and prospect contacts:
Ronald S. Torch, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President, Torch Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.torchgroup.com, 440.519.1822 x101.
Ronald-Stéphane Gilbért, Global Managing Director, Gilbért, Flossmann & Zhang Worldwide, email@example.com, www.globalmarcomm.com, 216.816.4947.
- Posted by Ilana Katz
- On August 14, 2018
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