With an afternoon event for entrepreneurs devoted to the topic of “Sales management: Remuneration, pipeline management and key figures,” on June 14, 2018, the Forum Mittelstand (“SME Forum”) series, organized by WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Koblenz, took a different approach. In an interactive, workshop-like expert lecture, Professor Dr. Ove Jensen, Chairholder for Sales Management and Business-to-Business Marketing at WHU, interacted with participating entrepreneurs from the region about their experiences, challenges and questions around the topic of sales management. The well-filled auditorium at the WHU Campus Vallendar attested to the high level of practical relevance of the topic.
Indeed, the central function of business for many entrepreneurs lies in sales, serving as the key to pricing, quantities, growth and capacity utilization. The enormous importance of sales makes its active control a central mission for managers. Professor Jensen geared his remarks to the needs and questions of the participants in attendance. Based on the historical image of the salesperson as a remote-controlled solo artist whose day-to-day work often remained enshrouded in mystery, participants at the event discussed whether the sales process can or should be controlled in the same manner as a production process. Central in this connection was the question of striking the right balance between process discipline and control on the one hand and autonomy and creativity on the other. A quick audience poll confirmed that a shift toward greater control in the sales process has been noticeable for some time – a logical consequence the higher expectations today’s investors have for sales forecasts, consulting risks, IT support, division of labor among product specialists and account managers, and price pressures. However, it is crucial not to overshoot the mark and drift from unstructured leadership to inhuman overbureaucratization; one aim is to keep from losing the exceptional artists and sales geniuses on one’s own sales team.
But what sales-management tools are available to assist with the management of sales opportunities and bids? Whoever wants to manage his or her sales pipeline effectively must structure the process involved. Professor Jensen provided participants with a four-step recommendation for action. This way, first of all, a milestone logic can be applied to introduce transparency to the pipeline of open sales opportunities. Here, it is also helpful to draw up a checklist for use in selecting promising projects early on in the sense of a structured customer analysis. Secondly, the use of modern CRM software is recommended to make leadership processes more effective – a sales opportunity list, for example, that can be used to monitor current status of work and the further strategy of the employees in the interest of identifying dead sales opportunities. The third finding: modern sales management thus consists mainly of foresight, and not of looking back. The fourth idea, the telephone cascade – a weekly, half-hour telephone conversation between each employee and his or her direct coworkers – provided participants a tip that can be implemented immediately, without much effort, and also leads to better forecasts in addition to improved communication.
The SME Forum has set itself the goal of regularly providing small- and medium-sized enterprises with practical and competent information on the latest scientific findings, thus making a concrete contribution to bolstering the economic and innovative strength of local firms. The next SME Forum is planned to be held in fall 2018.