The evolution of the sales manager: research findings from SDA Bocconi

In today's fast-changing scenario, we mapped the activities and skills of today's and tomorrow's sales managers.

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The current scenario, characterized by circumstances that are nothing short of exceptional, combined with widespread uncertainty about the future and the impact of digitization on the sales department is revolutionizing the practices of sales managers. Today, sales professionals are being called upon to reinvent their role.

 

These assumptions gave rise to research conducted by SDA Bocconi's Commercial Excellence Lab (CEL) in collaboration with ManagerItalia Lombardy entitled "From sales manager to business manager,”. It sought to collect and map the opinions of more than 400 sales managers on their perceived importance and degree of confidence with respect to 32 sales management skills that are potentially relevant in the next 5 years. Manageritalia involved associate managers in sales and commercial positions in the survey, garnering strong interest and laying the groundwork for a collaboration to innovatively outline the future of this professional figure.

 

On the 2nd February, in a packed classroom, Paola CaiozzoPaolo Guenzi and Laura Ingrid Maria Colm of the Commercial Excellence Lab presented the results of the research, assisted by Luca Rizzi, Enterprise Sales Manager at Cisco, Ottavio Maria Campigli, Equity Partner and Founder of W Executive, and Paolo Scarpa, President of ManagerItalia Lombardia.

 

"This research is part of what we have called the Sales Competencies Barometer," Paola Caiozzo said at the opening of the event, "precisely because it aims to monitor the evolution of sales managers' professionalism over time. In a few years, in fact, we will measure the phenomenon again so that we have continuity of data."

 

The first question posed to the sample interviewed is: what categories of subjects and activities do you devote most of your time to, and who/what would you like to devote more time to than you currently do?

"An interesting fact immediately emerges," Paolo Guenzi, scientific director of CEL, points out to us. "Sales managers spend most of their time alone. This is a peculiar response for a profession that thrives on relationships. While they would like to be able to spend more time on direct interactions with customers and their team." Remaining on the use of their time, sales managers surveyed indicate a desire to be able to spend less time on administrative and reporting activities and more time on strategy and coaching activities.

 

The second survey item concerns the competencies needed for the evolution from sales manager to business manager. "Through the use of regression models, we statistically calculated the perceived importance of each skill versus the perception of mastering it adequately." Paolo Guenzi explains. "The ones that are perceived as most important are the more traditional ones, i.e., market relations (so direct activities with customers or indirect through one's own people) and leadership skills (e.g., planning, forecasting, sales performance management and people management). Equally important but more critical, because they are less overseen, are architectural skills (e.g. strategy, analysis, redesign of sales organizations.). Note, on the other hand, that innovation skills (e.g., revisiting business processes or internal processes to improve their effectiveness and efficiency or supporting the introduction of digital technologies) and

capabilities to influence other business functions are considered less important, a finding that could be a symptom of weak attitude to change. It's a point for consideration."

 

Finally, the study categorized sales managers into five profile clusters based on the perceived degree of importance and confidence in relation to the previous skills analyzed, which are:

 

Top of the class: they consider themselves to be high performers on all the skills taken into consideration, which they regard as relevant for the future.

 

Cold innovators: they perceive themselves as excellent in innovation skills but weak in their ability to influence other functions and in their mastery of skills "complementary" to their role (e.g., legal, financial).

 

Reliable traditionalists: they feel grounded across the entire spectrum of skills but without excelling in any particular area.

 

Conservative supervendors: these come mostly from "slow change" industries such as medical and pharmaceutical industries and perceive themselves to be high performers, especially in customer relations and several other areas, but preside weakly over innovation skills in particular.

The unprepared: mostly coming from smaller than average companies, they feel weak on all skills considered with the exception of leadership skills.

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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