The evolving skills of sales directors and sales networks

CEL, Commercial Excellence LAB


SDA Bocconi’s Commercial Excellence Lab has moderated a Page Global Group business talk: 200 CEOs and Sales Directors discussing and sharing opinions about how to face all the challenges of the very next future, after the difficult months that have just gone by.

Covid-19 has inevitably modified the macroeconomic system and thence opportunities for companies. In this context, a key point concerns the evolution of Sales Directors’ skills, and of the whole sales structure’s. The lockdown has prevented them from visiting clients, with often heavy consequences on company income.

To maintain their relationship with clients, Sales have immediately taken action, intensifying their use of alternative channels, both traditional and digital. A Commercial Excellence Lab instant survey of 236 Italian companies has shown that using these channels enabled them to keep in touch with 69.2 per cent of clients who could no longer be contacted in person.

But only 15.6 per cent of respondents have diversified their interaction with clients, using all five considered channels. These limits in resorting to all possible alternatives is a problem (on average, interviewed sales have only used 2.81 alternative channels), and confirms the results of a pre-lockdown Commercial Excellence Lab research: the digitalization rate of sales networks is medium to low in most companies. Digital channels are still little used, and this low adoption rate has been (and is) a symptom of sales networks’ alarming lack of attention to new technologies.

However the present difficult situation may drive digitalization of sales processes in order to find new ways of managing market relationships and prepare recovery. This has been exactly one of the most frequently mentioned arguments by managers in the business talk: Vodafone Global Enterprise CEO and Sales Director Davide Brandini, Hasbro Country Manager Italy and France Mikael Berthou, Ferrarelle Sales Director Andrea Marino, ABC Tools Sales Director Roberto Passerò; together with Page Group’s Alberto Mariotti Cesarini Romaldi and SDA Bocconi’s Paola Caiozzo.

Partly based on further research by our Commercial Excellence Lab, participants in the business talk have shared data, experiences, decision-making processes, visions and expected results, thus being able to highlight today’s priorities:

  • digitalizing not only company networks but even clients, giving them support and new services and/or developing their skills;
  • listening to clients and identifying their new kinds of needs and priorities (primarily, managing the difficult financial situation caused by the lockdown), and match them in an increasingly selective and targeted manner;
  • innovating and developing a new way of managing sales processes and client interactions in general; this means that networks need to change and develop new and different competencies, namely the ability to adapt, to question established knowledge by being strongly learning-oriented, as well as the ability to manage unpredictability;
  • safeguarding, supporting and reinforcing sales forces who need to cope with the new demands of a changing environment.

In the next months, Sales Directors will have the opportunity to exploit their leadership abilities – participants in the talk underlined. When the road ahead is unpredictable and uncertain, people turn to leaders in order to:

  • receive a positive, hope-inspiring vision;
  • see examples of courage in facing uncomfortable situations;
  • get a boost of confidence, and obtain crystal clear information and directions to their destination.


SDA Bocconi School of Management

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