Managing marketing managers
Oscar Villamora is the managing director of Universal Robina Corp. He is a recipient of the Mansmith Young Market Masters Awards in 2010. Here he shares his views on managing managers in the field of sales and marketing.
Question: What do you think is the most significant challenge facing sales managers today and how can they overcome it?
Answer: The first one is the ability to use analytics to drive meaningful decision-making. The sales practitioner is now faced with [such a] huge amount of data from numerous sources that he is challenged to capture and connect the dots to drive the right analytics and decision-making. He or she needs to be enabled to capture the data, send them to the right cross-functional support team with sufficient analytics competency to help make sense of the information in order to drive strategic decisions.
The second one is driving the right commercial mindset instead of just “selling.” Sales managers should be able to utilize various channel (offline and online) opportunities in such a way that, while they are able to hit monthly target, their initiatives contribute to the enhancement of brand equity and business profitability.
The last item is the evolving sales culture. The sales culture of the past was dominated by rigidity, sometimes driven by fear of authority. That might have worked in the past but in order to attract the best talents of today, the sales leaders should drive “value-driven” sales culture that is nontoxic and positive, with leaders practicing genuine humility and competence. Only then will the sales leaders attract the best talents of today.
Q. How do you prompt sales managers to make their numbers but to think strategically at the same time?
A: I have an interesting point of view on this question. Let me start by saying that from the perspective of the front-line sales team, their primary motivation is to hit their targets on a monthly basis to ensure sales incentives are able to augment their monthly income. The main thinking, therefore, is that if sales managers and front-line sales team are presented with ideas that will enable them to hit their targets on sustainable basis, they will welcome this with open arms. This includes strategic actions on route to market, channel/customer initiatives, store activation and promotions.
With this, I say that the burden to drive strategic thinking lies on the senior sales leadership team. This includes driving strategic customer/channel planning processes within the sales function to induce long-term thinking and alignment to brand directions. The second aspect is on the space of trade marketing. The senior sales leader should evolve the trade marketing function from just being a “promo execution group” into a team that drives category strategy and shopper marketing. This enables trade programs executed by sales team to be strategically aligned with brands and within the framework of business profitability. The interesting point of view, therefore, is this: a sales team with a tactical mindset is a reflection of the senior leadership team that leads them.
Q: How are channel conflicts avoided and resolved among different sales heads?
A: Fundamental to this is a clear channel strategy that defines promotions and pricing framework across different channels. Having clearly defined strategy framework on these two areas gives different sales heads common ground to resolve conflict.
The second aspect is sales incentive design. I am in favor of designing shared/group-based incentives to complement individual incentives. Designing an incentive that favors team performance instead of individual sales performance usually drives cooperation among different sales teams and is a key driver of support to the channel strategies in place.
The final secret sauce, I believe, is driving positive culture of open communication within the sales leadership team. If all else fails, nothing beats a healthy culture of resolving channel conflict through open communication and dialogue within the sales leadership team. Do not underestimate the power of positive sales culture to proactively resolve channel conflicts.
Q: What do you think are the most important trends that will shape the future of sales, and how can organizations prepare for them?
A: One is digitization, particularly the speed of development in artificial intelligence (AI), which we have been hearing recently. I feel that developments on this space will alter every aspect of the sales discipline especially areas around route to market, customer and channel promotions/investments, shopper engagement, shelf assortment and space management, among others. Just recently, I have read an article that in Walmart, there are certain aspects that AI is already being used to negotiate with suppliers.
The other aspect is the evolving channel dynamics, both offline and online. The pandemic is a clear example of shopper behavior changes that altered channel dynamics, for example, the high relevance of online and small format stores, of which we did not see much traction before the pandemic. The sales leader should be aware how these global trends affect shopper behavior, which in turn alters the channel dynamics and the customers we deal with everyday.
Q: Many brand managers have been criticized for lack of actual sales experience, hence, their inability to direct the “P” of place in their marketing plan. What do you think of this? How can this be corrected?
A: I admit that I am biased to say that marketing leaders who have sales experience have an edge over the ones who have none. But being assigned in sales is not the only way for a marketer to effectively direct the P of place in marketing plan. The marketer can be purposive to drive learning through osmosis. Breaking down functional silos, the marketer can strategically engage and maximize the trade marketing function to get valuable inputs on channel management. The marketer should also maximize the opportunity to join customer business reviews and distributor visits to engage not just customers but also the field sales team. I believe that with this rigor, the marketer improves effectiveness in driving the P of place. Lastly, nothing beats experiencing sales yourself. It would be a great career move if the marketer would go outside his comfort zone to experience a sales stint within his career journey.
Q: In your opinion, what would be the best career track in sales and marketing leading to a general manager (GM) position?
A: The conventional answer would have been to start in sales so you have a customer/channel perspective; then you can move to marketing to experience managing brands, which can eventually lead you to a GM role. But I have a unique perspective on this. If your company has a trade marketing function that is strategic and progressive—one should aim to have good trade marketing leadership experience as a good prerequisite to a GM role. I dare say that trade marketing leaders are the most commercially astute of all functions as they are the focal point of cross functions within the company—brands, customer/channel, finance and supply chain. —contributed
Oscar Villamora will talk about “optimizing channels for reaching your target market” during the 4th Mansmith Brand Summit on July 5 to July 6. For details, please visit brandsummit.com.ph.
Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders Inc.