Sales and strategy

I drifted in Sales and Marketing almost by chance. I had fallen in love with the City of Prague and I felt a vital urge to stay there to work.

When I presented myself at Haka CS in Prague, intending to propose my services for specific jobs involving enterprise strategies of Eastern Europe – which was in fact my specific training – I didn’t expect to become their Sales and Marketing Manager for Czech Republic.

Having the Finnish motherhouse already in phase of bankruptcy, hiring on a young cheeky upstart was an inconsequent bet for the General Manager, who was doing his best to save the local unit and having it bought by a foreign competitor.

Apart from the usual chores of sales visits, attending trade exhibitions and sales workshops, I chanced to get in charge of showcasing the Scandinavian Centre of Prague. It was an extremely ambitious project on Vaclavskie Namesti, started by Vaclav Havel, then President of the Czech Republic and Mauno Koivisto, President of Finland, aiming to regroup all the Nordic embassies and consulates, as well as most of the Scandinavian international corporations under one roof.

It was a fool’s secret that since Haka OY was already in administration, if the Scandinavian Centre was ever to be, it would not have been Haka CS to build it. However, pitching for the project was a golden opportunity to earn my arms in international sales. The endeavour was made even more challenging by the fact that often competition and buyers attended or received me only for the malicious purpose of getting information about the imminent fall of the motherhouse.

As Junior executive, with the Finnish staff gradually dwindling, I shortly ended up as third in the Company Hierarchy – and for a couple of weeks ended acting as interim General Manager. It was an important experience which helped me set the boundaries of my ambitions. At a very early stage in my career, I realised the kind of commitment that was expected from a person aspiring to become General Manager, as much for the business owner as for your subordinates.

In fact, for the next two times I was proposed a position as General Manager, I declined.

Jumping in the role of Sales and Marketing Manager, when one’s background is from an analytic science like Politology and Law, not to speak about opera and theatre, may not seem evident. However, the soft skills learned in those industries contributed largely in acquiring the needed competences for successful sales. At that time, the two weeks as General Manager felt lot easier and as belonging to my comfort zone, than the Sales and Marketing.

The expressive attitude of musicians, especially classical musicians, is often sanctimonious and self-righteous. Creating a “bubble” around the interpreter is supposed to be “collected and demure”. This is often because musicians consider getting accepted in an institution of higher musical learning the arrival point of their career.

The great lesson of working with musical genii (link) is that their interpretation intentionally speaks to the audience – not to the individual. And they listen. Oh boy! They listen with all their body.

Listening is the main part of the work in sales. It’s the logical conclusion of your preliminary investigation on the customer. When your customer starts to speak about your product, you’re on a good track, when he speaks in the same sentence about your product and himself, the sale is done.

When a salesperson speaks more than necessary, he/she is de facto preventing the customer to fall in love with the product.

When working in sales, you should be 100% present not only with the person with the power of “yes” (especially if present), but also with the rest of your audience. You might not know if there is a stakeholder with the might of an overpowering “no” hiding in the room as well.

The environment is also a key element: the head of the table isn’t always the best place to sit. Often sitting in a way to have the light behind you, back to the window, where you can take in all of your audience, is a wearier option.

Working in sales functions is, at the end of the day, a humbling experience. When arriving to the front-end of the chain, being the link connecting with the buyer, you normally have a heavy burden of expectations weighing on your shoulders. The agent at the front-end must comply with norms set by Sales strategy, who on its side must find a good balance with Marketing department, which is after all the Project aspect of Sales.

Project Management is a key feature both in Marketing and Sales strategy. A logical solution would be to implement the Sales Strategy as a sub-project of the Marketing Strategy. However, the Sales Strategy must cope also with the shortcomings of the Marketing Strategy.

The modern-day issue for the Sales Departments is that it must consider itself as the operations unit of two projects: Sales Strategy and Marketing. The salesperson’s income depends of the volume of consolidated sales that one manages to bring home. However, nowadays, in the world of reviews and recensions, you cannot drive through a good deal with a negotiated price “since you must not boost excessive expectations with the customer”. In fact, selling the flaws and limits of your product has become as much a part of the sales process as selling its benefits.

I was blessed in my career to have held for two years the position of Sales and Marketing Manager, having my front-end team working at 15 ft distance of my desk. Within the limits of my budget, I was able to establish my own Sales Strategy, while cherry-picking at my convenience from the brand of the franchise to which we were adhering. I was also in middle of the tactical application of my strategy, since my sales team was on my doorstep asking for guidance whenever something went wrong.

I suppose that I was doing all right, since that was the second time that I was proposed the promotion as General Manager.

With the diversifying of the sales channels, however, working as lone manager for Sales and Marketing is no longer feasible. The needs of polished, branded marketing material are making a such difference that you cannot expect to supply to your need with home-knit solutions, unless you have at least a part-time creative in your team.

Even with social platform management tools you are still short for the responsiveness requirement of the market, if you don’t have members of your team covering the medias when you are off-duty. Pretending to cover everything 24/7 may work for an individual blogger or influencer with his/her personal brand, but on the corporate level, after a while, employees without their own life will become dysfunctional.

The main issue to tackle in managing the position of a Company on the market, is to find the way to find an acceptable balance of the Sales and Marketing expenses in the overall budget, on the short and medium haul.