Brands adapt sales strategies

29 June 2012

NEW YORK: Brand owners like Ford, IBM and Walmart are taking an increasingly differentiated approach to formulating their sales strategies, reflecting the rise of new technologies and more nuanced models.

James Farley, group vice president, global marketing, sales, and service, at Ford, argued the web has made customers more informed, requiring sales staff to find a "new role" as "problem solvers and concierges".

"Modern automobiles have so many sophisticated electronics inside them – for multimedia, navigation, syncing with smartphones and other devices – that customers need good salespeople to help them figure out how it all works and personalise it for them, just as salespeople at Apple's Genius Bar do," he told the Harvard Business Review.

More specifically, Farley suggested his own dual role, covering communications and sales, encourages him to focus on the "bottom line", not on making memorable Super Bowl spots that fail to deliver payback.

"You want marketing to be accountable for sales," he said. I know not to buy Super Bowl ads, because they are not effective for a stable, well-known brand like Ford. Because I'm in charge of sales, I have that accountability and that perspective."

Walmart, the retail giant, runs 3,800 stores in the US, serving a combined 140m shoppers a week. With the aim of introducing smaller stores and more localised assortments, its approach is intentionally targeted.

"When we manage our business, we think about running one store at a time, one aisle at a time – and that's the way to think about dealing with us," Duncan MacNaughton, its chief merchandising and marketing officer, said.

"We work with some vendors on flavor profiles and help them tailor products to suit our customers. We love to be involved in this upstream innovation, and we regard selling these products as a partnership."

IBM, the services firm, has also defined its model as part of a major long term shift in focus from making PCs to providing services. Phil Guido, its general manager, North America, argued the "watershed moment" came with the purchase of PWC Consulting from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, in 2003.

"That was the start of a cultural shift ... Our sales teams increasingly viewed themselves as consultants who solved clients' problems," he said. "Today they spend much more time on directed and experiential learning about how to integrate IBM's assets to solve our clients' most difficult challenges."

The Boston Brewing Company employs 320 sales staff, and developed Angry Orchard cider after Jim Koch, its founder, noticed an increasing demand for this product when on sales calls to customers.

"Most of our ideas for new products come during sales calls," he said. "In my experience, if you listen to 40 smart customers, you learn more than you would from any consultants' study."

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff