Pre-pandemic, the sales function in transportation and logistics was one that relied heavily on in-person visits to customers. COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated digital transformation in many areas, and sales is no exception. Here are some ways we see the function and its leadership changing going forward.
From “wine and dine” to click and engage
Sales success is shifting from being measured in customer visits per field sales executive to digital offerings and engagement rates on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Jaap Bruining, SVP and head of Europe at Coyote Logistics, observed: “Old-day industry practices — like wining and dining — will not work anymore in the future, and not just related to COVID. Different ways of generating sales combined with a shift from social to technical skills are ahead.” We’ve seen logistics companies already adapting to this “new normal.” Late in 2020, DHL announced the re-launch of Saloodo!, its digital freight platform. DHL has also maintained a strong presence on Facebook. Digital freight network Convoy and supply chain tracker Fourkites leverage LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Leaders at new digital market entrants are also actively publishing content on social media, leveraging their own networks and credibility.
New digital priorities, new leadership profiles
As the industry shifts from traditional logistics sales with its army of key account managers and field sales executives toward generating digital awareness and revenues, there will be a major leadership and cultural challenge, especially for established CSOs. Sales in this space is increasingly focusing on end-to-end customer touchpoints that shape the customer journey, from digital engagement and webinars and a clear brand identity on social media to the tracking of customer activities and online booking of logistics. Sales leaders will need to understand how to increase brand visibility via SEM (search engine marketing), SEO (search engine optimization), SEA (search engine advertising), universal searches (i.e., videos, images, news or maps) and targeted campaigns on social media and mobile apps.
It will not be enough to tack on digital capabilities to existing sales structures. “Traditional sales plus a digital vehicle will not succeed in the market,” said Anne-Sophie Zerlang Karlsen, CEO of Twill, Maersk’s digital platform. “The future in sales will be a combination of relationship-based selling for large customers combined with digital and data-based decision-makers and a high customer-centricity. Thus, former heads of customer service might become the CSOs of the future.” This might also lead to a decrease in the sales force operating in the field and an increase in customer service roles at headquarters to make sure the customer experience is prioritized. Some logistics companies are looking outside the industry for digitally savvy sales leaders, including major tech players in Silicon Valley. A key challenge for the CSO of the future will be the ability to transform the awareness created on digital channels into purchases.
To succeed in an increasingly digital and complex environment, future transportation and logistics CSOs will need six key skills:
- The ability to create a purpose-driven sales approach to internal and external customers: Studies show that content providing a clear purpose and distinctive insights, along with aspects of social responsibility or environmental considerations, is driving traffic considerably. Everyone wants to feel as though they are part of something.
- Expertise in generating digital traffic and digital marketing trends either from a digital-focused company or as a change agent in a digital role.
- A customer-first orientation: Recognizing that the customer experience is not about presenting your products (old digital view) but about offering what the customer wants (future digital philosophy).
- Data-driven decision-making as opposed to the old way of following a leader’s instincts.
- The ability to build multidisciplinary teams: Creating and building teams with the right digital (e.g., data, AI, analytics, etc.) and traditional logistics expertise.
- An openness to disruption, receptivity to new ideas and an understanding of when to push for reinvention versus maintaining existing processes.
It will not be enough to bring just one great CSO into the business. The whole company will need to focus on a holistic approach to digital transformation. The organization needs to understand the challenge, prepare itself for a very different future, build new capabilities and allow a new digital culture to evolve that contains diverse executives with non-standard profiles. In many cases, a cultural shift — with a decreased focus on authority and a greater emphasis on learning, curiosity and innovation — will be essential if this transformation is to succeed.
This article was originally published on SpencerStuart.