Sales Managers Err In Biasing Toward Years Of Sales Experience In Making Hiring Decisions
Thousands of sales managers, and the human resources (HR) teams that support them, consider years of relevant sales experience to be a key criterion for recruiting and hiring salespeople. In the new economy, however, sales experience is an unreliable indicator of future success versus another key characteristic. In fact, assumptions about sales experience that have guided sales hiring for more than a hundred years should be discarded in the age of the customer, in which buying dynamics have radically changed.
Successful sales managers, now, will focus on hiring salespeople who are best able to deeply understand their customers and align with their buyer's communication needs and preferences, as opposed to their product or vendor-industry expertise. Buyer empathy may be found in highly experienced salespeople or developed in inexperienced salespeople.
Sales Experience Is Not An Inherent Advantage For Engaging With Executive Buyers
Earlier this year, I spoke with Kathleen Cattrall, interim chief experience officer at VCA Animal Hospitals about the company’s customer experience transformation efforts. VCA is a publicly traded company (fittingly, its NASDAQ ticker symbol is WOOF) that owns and operates more than 600 pet hospitals in the US and Canada. Its work to create more customer-centric hiring processes features in my latest report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees."
Kathleen and her colleague Aaron Frazier were gracious enough to answer a few more questions about their progress in building a more customer-centric culture and what they’ve learned about creating great pet-owner experiences. Here are some of their insights.
Q. How did VCA know it needed to improve customer experience? Was there a “burning platform,” or did someone senior at the organization decide it was time to make a change?
A. Art Antin, co-founder and COO, was the real visionary here. VCA was approaching its 25th anniversary, and Art was frustrated with clients visiting less frequently. Our customer retention rate was lower than VCA wanted to see. Complaints were escalating, and they all pointed to a poor customer experience. Art said, “We’ve spent 25 years becoming the leader in veterinary health services. We’ve accomplished more than any other company in that regard. We need to focus the next 25 months on improving our customers’ experiences with us.”
In my new report, "How To Hire And Onboard Customer-Centric Employees," I describe how companies can transform their hiring processes to ensure new employees are customer-centric. CX professionals must partner with their HR department and hiring manager colleagues to change the way they screen, interview and onboard new employees. The report describes specific ways to make each step in the hiring process more customer-centric. For example:
Get customer-centric applicants into the hiring funnel. A customer-centric hiring process starts by attracting the right kind of applicants and filtering out the wrong kind. The careers section of a website provides an opportunity for companies to tell applicants what they value in employees. For example, The Container Store's website describes the company's commitment to putting employees first and draws a clear distinction from other companies that focus on shareholders first. Contrast that first impression with the careers landing page on Bed Bath & Beyond's site, where the opening sentence talks about stock performance and its expansion.
Our clients continue to realize sustained online revenue growth which means many eBusiness leaders have both the funds and backing to continue to invest heavily in commerce technology. Across the board, retailers, consumer brands, and industrial suppliers alike are significantly bolstering their capital investment programs to ensure they stay at the forefront of digital innovation while ensuring that their online, fulfillment, and back-office systems are ready to scale for anticipated growth over the next five years. Subsequently Forrester is hiring for a Principal/Senior Analyst to help us expand our coverage of this incredibly dynamic area.
Last Friday, after a long week of RSA conference events and meetings, I eagerly looked forward to slipping on my headphones and enjoying the relative silence of my flight back to Dallas. As I approached my seat, I saw I was sitting next to a United States Air Force (USAF) officer. I looked at his rank and saw two stars on his uniform, making him a major general. I had a sudden sense of nostalgia and I instinctively wanted to salute him. I resisted the urge, introduced myself, and thanked him for his service.
Over the next two hours I had the most unexpected and fascinating conversation of my RSA week. It turned out that my fellow traveler is the commanding officer of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). According to the website, the AFRL is “the Air Force’s only organization wholly dedicated to leading the discovery, development, and integration of war fighting technologies for our air, space, and cyberspace forces.” We discussed a variety of open source topics, including electromagnetic pulse weapons, cyberweapons, Stuxnet, unmanned aerial vehicles, USAF renewable energy initiatives, as well as national policy.
When you follow the market insights industry as closely as I do, it’s easy to get submerged in the doom and gloom of our role. Of course, there are great presentations and case studies at conferences on emerging methodologies, and we have the awards ceremonies — like Esomar’s Young Researcher of the Year or the AMA 4 under 40 — that highlight the talent in our industry. But in many cases it feels a bit like an in-crowd to me — like we’re the last of the Mohicans.
But I’ve come to realize that market research is still a very interesting profession for many (young) people, who see it as a great career and put their heart and soul into it. I’ve been hiring market insights professionals for my team for close to a year now: first a senior analyst, then a junior position, and finally two consumer insights analysts (one of which is still open). And it has been a great experience!
I’ve met a lot of smart people and I’ve been impressed not only by the candidates’ passion for data and how to link it to business issues, but also with the type of projects they have been working on at their organizations and their interest in new ways of doing research. Most of these projects never get presented as case studies at conferences, and not many people are sharing this knowledge via social media (yet), but the hiring process has left me with a good feeling about the state of our industry. There are plenty of smart young people out there that love doing market research and are very good at it!
Two weeks ago, Forrester went to Brazil for Brasscom’s (the local IT and country promotion group) Global IT Forum in Sao Paulo and Rio. One of the most interesting and insightful presentations was by Jairo Avritchir, Brazil IT site director of Dell. Jairo talked about Dell’s experiences and how the firm’s utilization of the country and its rich IT talent pool had evolved. Initially, it was largely in support of the company’s local sales and manufacturing operations. Today, the center has emerged as a BI and analytics hub for the global organization. Given the 40% appreciation against the dollar over the past eight years, the COE strategy around higher-end BI skills was the only way the center could compete with India. The Dell example clearly points out how both clients and vendors need to think about and fully utilize their alternative geography investments. A blog post at Computer Weekly touches on this topic as well.
The recovery of IT spending late in 2009 and early in 2010 has sent the local players in India and multinationals scrambling for find talent. The fact that firms cut back hiring and reduced their bench to maintain margins has degraded suppliers’ ability to respond. As a result, vendors have turned to poaching talent from competitors. At its analyst day, Cognizant was honest that it had increased to 16% up from 12% for the trailing 12 months. One small vendor that Forrester spoke with said that it had peaked at almost 30% over the last quarter. Another said it was in the mid-20s for certain practices; yet another two multinationals said that it had seen a similar overall rise to Cognizant, but in some of the packaged application areas it was in the mid-20s.
The impact of this sudden increase attrition? Forrester believes that this spike coupled with the clients need to deploy more quickly and cost effectively will drive the much broader adoption of solution accelerators and other non-linear IP models. Today best practice is to get 5% to 7% of revenue. We expect that that percentage could easily double over the next 18 months as vendors deal with attrition and clients clamor for faster deployment of solutions.
One of the key themes I saw popping up in 2009 was the need for market researchers to communicate insights instead of information (or even worse: data). I've been at a number of events where this was discussed and I followed multiple discussions in market research groups like for example Next Generation Market Research (NGMR) on LinkedIn. Personally I added to this discussion by publishing a report called The Marketing Of Market Research - Successful Communication Builds Influence.
The general consensus is that market researchers should stay away from elaborating on the research methodology and presenting research results with many data heavy slides and graphics. Instead, they should act more like consultants: produce a presentation that reads like an executive summary (maximum 20 slides or so) and starts with the recommendations. The presentation should show the key insights gained from the project, cover how these results tie back to business objectives, include alternative scenarios and advice on possible next steps.
However, another consensus from the conversations is that not all market researchers are equally well equipped to deliver such a presentation, where they're asked to translate data into insights, come up with action items, and tell a story. Most participants in the discussions agreed with the statement that the majority of market researchers still feels most comfortable when they present research outcomes (aka numbers).