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A message from Harvard on Business Development: “People, people and people”

Do you have a minute to hear from one of Harvard’s Best? A true masterclass on Sales Management in times of almost unpredictable shopping journeys by Harvard Business School’s Frank Cespedes.

As time goes on, companies and industries are beginning to notice the exponential increase of change within their sectors. Most people would bring up something like Moors Law at this point, but as some of you may know, that only applies to the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit, which doubles about every two years.

The exponential change we are seeing today is related to the way technology and our society’s interaction with it alters our habits, preferences, and communication. On this episode of Tech Innovation Talks, we invited Frank Cespedes, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and sales industry veteran, to speak with us on the subject of sales management within the unstable and constantly changing context we find ourselves in.

Take at look at some remarkable moments of our conversation.

Frank Cespedes: Companies are ‘work in progress’

When we asked Frank about how companies are dealing with this influx of change, his response was firmly realistic: “At best, it’s a work in progress (…) at worst many companies have failed to adapt.

Clearly, the business world has been struggling to keep up. Companies that have been able to stay afloat are quickly realizing that the ‘treadmill of change’ is never going to slow down, much less stop altogether. In fact, the speed of change is accelerating, and that means that the finish line for companies doesn’t exist.

Business Development: Welcome to Behavioral Sales

So what does this mean for sales management? Are we all doomed to mediocrity when it comes to keeping up with change? Frank thinks otherwise:

“I think we’ve got more and more data and tools to make sense of what we got out there even as the pace of change increases. There are more tools available to do price testing, and they’re good tools becuase they’re digital tools that get at behavior.”

Frank Cespedes, Sr. Lecturer of Business Administration at HBS.

Here, Frank is talking about how traditional surveys have never been able to truly grasp how customers will truly act within the buying journey. People say one thing and do another. But digital tools get at the root of this phenomenon: their actions and behaviors: what they actually click on, what they’re actively searching for, and how they behave online and within digital marketplaces. With the advancement of technology, the quantity, and quality of data companies have access to will only increase, and that’s good news for sales management.

But taking full advantage of this data will require a trained workforce with a data-driven mindset. Frank mentioned one of his colleagues at Harvard Business School, Julia Wolf, whose research focused on the C-suite of the top 1200 global companies. It showed that the number of employees at the C-level within these companies had doubled in the past 25 years, comprised mostly of specialists.

The digital age has created marketplaces, niches, and specialties that simply weren’t present 25 years ago. This means that you need to invest in specialists no matter what.

Customer Experience at the core of retailing: “People, people and people”

One thing that most of these C-level employees lacked was “prolonged prior experience in customer contact activities like marketing and sales”, as Frank put it. This is causing top-down decision-making to miss out on crucial insights and first-hand know-how in relation to the customer. But what can we do about it? Frank put it best:

I’m gonna use a variation on a standard and still good phrase about retailing: ‘the first three things that I would work on are people, people and people.’ Alright? And that is both at the top and at the coalface.”

Frank on what’s at the core of customer relatioship.

But that’s all that we’ll share here. Check out the full conversation for more or visit our YouTube channel to watch other episodes of TechInnovation Talks.