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The role of creativity in sales training 

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The role of creativity in sales training 

Advice offered by Tony Hughes, CEO at global skills development company, Huthwaite International, which, over the past 20 years, has worked with senior sales and negotiation professionals across the globe to help them excel in their roles and drive growth for their organisations.

Over the past 20 years we’ve seen training and development strategies being utilised more and more as a tool to increase the productivity and profitability of companies, and to help up-skill teams to future-proof businesses.

At the same time, there is a growing emphasis on ROI, ensuring companies can continually demonstrate a business case for any investment made in training.

Often at the sharp edge of this are sales teams, whose output before and after a training intervention can often be accurately measured, usually in pounds and pence. It is therefore essential that any training genuinely works – and continues to work. However, that’s not always the case, and as industries evolve, and new technologies come to the fore, it’s not uncommon for traditional sales approaches to be less effective than they once were. And for learning and development professionals, this presents a duo of challenges; continually demonstrate value, while ensuring that any sales training methodologies are still relevant and effective.

Learning from the best

This is an issue currently facing the Medical Device sector. At Huthwaite International, we recently commissioned a major European-wide benchmarking study of senior sales leaders working in the Medical Devices field and found a collective feeling that existing sales techniques simply aren’t as effective as they once were. Not only that, but the study revealed the market is advancing at such a rate that existing sales team skill sets are struggling to keep up.

So why should you be interested in what’s happening in the Medical Devices field? As a global industry where sales processes are highly sophisticated, the macro trends happening in this sector can, in many respects, be treated as a barometer for other industries, especially if they are facing similar commercial challenges, namely shrinking budgets and evolving buying methods.

Within this in mind, it’s useful to examine one of the areas in which Medical Device sales leaders are seeing potential for growth and success within their teams; creativity.

The importance of creativity

Our report showed that in the Medical Devices sector, the necessary skills for success today and in the future are based around – among other things – creative commercial thinking. What became clear was that professionals today are clearly placing the ability to add value to a sale through innovative commercials – arguably out of necessity – over the need to focus on price-led selling, which historically is founded upon the pillars of strong relationships and innovative product sets.

This desire to create new commercial models, for example, by providing added-value services such as remote patient monitoring, new payment models such as pay-per-treatment, or more effective patient intervention that reduces hospital readmission, may end up being more valuable to the hospital than the device itself. This innovation is being driven by a perfect storm of healthcare reform, involving a need to prove clinical effectiveness and control costs, along with increasingly complex sales and contracting models.

Put simply, within the sector, we are seeing a shift from traditional ‘push’ selling techniques – based on factors such as mutual understanding, relationships and product features – to more sophisticated and nuanced model of ‘consultative’ selling. Here, the seller offers a solution and in some cases a whole new vision, to meet the client’s expressed and implied needs which can include commercial imperatives far removed from the product purchase in question. This approach is much more effective and sustainable, but does require the seller to be in command of their verbal behaviour, specifically their questioning techniques, to reveal the full needs picture and so align their solution creatively and persuasively.

The focus on creativity doesn’t end there. Our benchmarking study also explored where sales leaders anticipated their future growth would come from, and while new product development and innovation rated highly, so did developing creative commercial models and innovative pricing during the sales process.

Both pricing and commercial models are absolutely the domain of the effective sales professional. In the Medical Device sector, this is manifesting itself as a result of the increasing need to sell to multiple stakeholders with a variety of objectives from clinical to business-related. This is a different proposition entirely to the legacy model of features-based selling aimed directly at a single clinician. A sales rep might now need to have high impact conversations with a widely varied group of people, from Chief Financial Officers (CFO) to Business Managers and Buyers.

As such, it is not uncommon for professionals to be required to find and convey value above and beyond the effectiveness of the medical device itself. For example, the ability to create new revenue streams or deliver therapeutic advantage while also reducing the amount of time clinicians have to spend in the operating theatre. While the basis of this added value will be the result of painstaking research, anecdotally we know that sales professionals often need to carry out viability calculations ‘on the fly’ in the meeting as they receive new information and data. This is a real skill and comes down to asking the right questions on the day. As such, many traditional sales professionals are resisting this new way of working, as it pushes them way outside of their own comfort zone.

Agility will therefore be a requirement of the successful Med Device sales professional of the future. They will achieve a deep and meaningful understanding of customers’ wants, needs and commercial imperatives – both explicit and implied – through skilled questioning before aligning these to a solution or equally a value creating aspect of the solution. That could be a new payment model or a far wider holistic challenge the organisation may be facing. It’s a deeper but broader approach that requires fluency in verbal behaviour coupled with agile and creative thinking.

Learnings for all

Granted, we are talking about a highly nuanced sector here, but it’s possible other industries – especially if they are impacted by similar challenges as faced by the Medical Devices industry such as shrinking budgets or evolving buying methods, could already be experiencing similar trends. For those responsible for training and development in an organisation, this poses the question: which sales methodology will genuinely equip sales teams for the challenges posed by the future? Clearly, investing resources in a training programme, only for it to be rendered irrelevant as the market shifts and evolves could not only end up being expensive, but catastrophic for overall company performance so the key consideration has to be the need for the chosen methodology to be rigorously researched, timeless and validated. That’s why at Huthwaite International, our approaches are rooted in extensive behavioural research. Having spent four decades studying the behaviours that are needed for successful business, our solutions are among the most researched and validated on the planet.

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The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and retailers need to adapt

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The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour and retailers need to adapt 1

By Mary Keane-Dawson, Group CEO of TAKUMI

It’s no secret that the retail industry has been badly hit by the pandemic, with the recent collapse of Arcadia and Debenhams providing a harsh reality check as to what the future could hold for brick-and-mortar stores. With all non-essential shops being ordered to close last month, with no re-opening date confirmed, it is inevitable that a natural shift to online platforms would occur.

Online giants, ASOS and Boohoo, have established themselves as the new industry leaders. Both e-commerce giants bought failing Arcadia brands and Debenhams and ruthlessly closed all the retailers’ physical premises. The shift to online in the retail sector has never been more apparent.

Retail brands need to establish their digital presence to serve their consumers’ changing behaviour and to remain competitive in the retail industry.

Capitalising on changing consumer behaviour

The pandemic has meant consumer needs have adapted, which in turn has led to a shift in consumer behaviour. Retailers need to capitalise on changing consumer behaviour to remain relevant, but more importantly profitable.

The ‘stay at home’ message from the government, which has been almost constant throughout the past 12 months, has meant many consumers have started to become more reliant on online channels and platforms.

Supermarkets, such as Aldi and Co-Op, responded to this change in consumer behaviour by deciding to serve their customers on delivery apps, such as Deliveroo. As fewer people were ‘popping to the shops’ due to lockdown restrictions, supermarkets reacted by offering an instant delivery service, essentially where the ‘shop pops to you’.

The shift to online platforms and influencer marketing

Retail brands need to follow suit and adapt their ways of working to reflect this shift to e-commerce. Ted Baker, the premium fashion retailer, has admitted its disappointing online sales figures last quarter could be due to its slow response to the shift to ecommerce. The retailer is aiming to “significantly improve” its online shopping platform because of this.

As the shift to online platforms accelerates, retailers need to start investing in digital marketing, for example influencer marketing, to ensure their brand stays at the forefront of their consumers’ minds. Evan Horowitz, CEO of Movers+Shakers, a creative agency, explained in our whitepaper in August how the pandemic has led his company to increase its influencer marketing as “influencers are more influential than ever”.

As such, many traditional retailers have started exploring the benefits of influencer marketing. Wickes, in partnership with TAKUMI, launched the UK’s first ever home improvement industry TikTok campaign to reach a new audience with authentic and creative content and to drive awareness of its range of products. Our whitepaper, Into the Mainstream: Influencer Marketing in Society, which surveyed over 3,500 consumers, marketers, and influencers across the US, UK, and Germany, found that almost three-quarters of marketers (73%) upped spend on influencer marketing in the past 12 months, with spending significantly increasing in the retail (79%) sector.

It seems inevitable that more brands will continue to invest in influencer marketing with social media’s popularity increasing as we start to enter a post-pandemic world.

Using social media as a tool to respond to changing consumer behaviour

With marketers upping their influencer marketing spend, many social media platforms have also responded to the growing popularity of ecommerce.

Instagram redesigned its layout to ensure its Shopping and Reels tabs were given more prominence. The Instagram shopping feature allows brands to attach a virtual shopping tag to their ads on the platform. People can click on a tagged item and then be re-directed to the brands’ product webpage.

Similarly, TikTok’s rising popularity has led it to launch its own ecommerce offering. Last October, TikTok announced a partnership with Shopify. This partnership will enable Shopify merchants to create, run and optimise TikTok marketing campaigns that will attract consumers from TikTok’s growing user base.

Instagram and TikTok are slowly evolving from content platforms to ecommerce hubs. This transformation coincides with the rise in consumers shopping online following the pandemic.

What’s to come for retailers, post-pandemic?

Consumer behaviour is changing and the pandemic has accelerated the shift towards social media and ecommerce. Retail brands need to recognise that the shift to online is here to stay.

To remain relevant, brands need to allocate appropriate budgets to digital marketing channels. Interestingly, our whitepaper found it was marketers from traditional media channels that were increasing their influencer marketing spend the most, demonstrating that the shift to digital marketing has already begun. Retail brands need to start to prepare themselves for the post-pandemic retail environment to avoid ending up like Arcadia and Debenhams.

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5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond

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5 Trends Driving the Future of Customer Service in 2021 and Beyond 2

By Matt McConnell, CEO of Intradiem

2020 ignited radical shifts for contact centre operations with the move to a remote work environment. Our customers say this trend is more of a permanent transformation – one that uncovers trends that include more flexible operations and greater efficiencies in leveraging contact centre data.

Trend 1: The Remote Agent Model is Here to Stay, Permanently

Historically, many IT teams discouraged remote working for customer service teams, but it was quickly proven virtual contact centres could work and offered a significant upside. The average annual cost to physically house a call centre agent is approximately $8,300 per agent in the United States. If a 200-person contact centre decided to move only half of its agents to home offices, that translates to $830,000 in annual real estate cost savings.

Working remotely also opened the doors to reach talent and hiring beyond a specific geography. For example, call centres based in rural locations who may have exhausted their local talent pool can bring in quality agents from anywhere in the world.

Trend 2: The Role of AI will be to Support Human Agents, Not Replace

Despite many years of buzz, it’s worth acknowledging that AI cannot entirely replace one-on-one human interaction in customer service (yet, or maybe ever). Many interactions with chatbots or other entirely automated CX tools only drive the escalation of customer issues rather than resolving them at the first touchpoint.

Instead, AI is best used to assist and manage agents to help them work more efficiently. For example, AI-powered technology can reduce handle time by auto-populating call notes or automatically log agents into or out of applications to further save time.

AI will provide an added layer of support as a management tool to keep agents on track in remote environments. AI also enables better connectivity for customer service teams and enables agents to receive consistent communications and Information they need to excel in their role in serving customers.

Trend 3: A Swift Migration to the Cloud

Call centres have been notoriously slow to move to the cloud. In the past, this has not been an issue when centres use on-premise technologies. With fully remote call centres, companies must reconsider their approach to the cloud.

Call centres can no longer rely on on-premise data with a decentralised workforce. Often their information is locked up in data centres, while operations remain outside of the office. Moving to the cloud offers more flexible operations, easier access to data and substantial cost saving, but only if call centres tap the right partners to make the most of the shift.

Trend 4: The Emergence of Predictive Analytics

Call centres generate an enormous amount of time-sensitive data that must be gathered and analysed in real-time to effectively manage their operations. Without real-time capabilities, Insights gathered on a Monday may only be contextualised later that day or week. This is not impactful as the time to act has passed and call centre conditions have already changed.

Looking beyond 2021, we will see call centres take their analytics a step further to go beyond real-time analytics, and into predictive analytics.  This will leverage real-time data at scale to offer preventive support to both agents and customers, moving call centres from reactive to proactive. Instead of waiting for a customer to call with an issue, centres can leverage historical data to reach out pre-emptively.

The same approach can be used to identify agents who struggle or may be experiencing burnout earlier in order to reduce attrition rates. A smarter mindset on data will revolutionise how call centres operate and in turn, companies will see higher customer and agent retention.

Trend 5: Real-Time Technologies Will Be Applied to the Back-Office

We will also see companies increasingly apply call centre technologies to their back-office operations. They will start to leverage back-office data in real-time to cut down on wasted hours and better track employee activities.

This part of the business has not been managed with the same technology investment as the call centre, leading to inefficiencies where back-office employees may struggle with certain tasks or spend time in non-work applications. Now, companies will be able to use AI-powered technologies to drive productivity gains in the back-office — leading to significant savings to the bottom line.

2020 served as the inflection point for call centre transformation. The shift to remote work unlocked new uses of technology and opportunities thought impossible before. We are now at the tip of the iceberg, as successful call centres will continue to innovate and think differently on how they can improve their operations in the new year and beyond.

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Creating a B2B lead generation strategy in the Covid economy

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Creating a B2B lead generation strategy in the Covid economy 3

By Petra Smith, Founder and Managing Director of marketing agency Squirrels&Bears

The pandemic has transformed the relationship driven B2B environment in a significant way and what has started as an immediate response to a crisis, is now becoming the new norm in lead generation and sales. Compared to the more transactional interactions associated with B2C businesses, the traditional face to face nature of relationship building has now been fully replaced by digital conversations.

According to a recent McKinsey research B2B decision makers globally believe that digital prospecting is as effective as in-person meetings and that remote selling is as effective as in-person engagement. The new pandemic-induced digital patterns are likely to become permanent as nine in ten decision makers say that this new digital go-to-market strategy will be a fixture throughout 2021 and possibly beyond. With the long-term shift to digital business environment B2B businesses can drive their lead generation strategies by rethinking their approach and focusing on the following aspects:

  1. Define the changing priorities of your ideal customers

Buyer personas, representations of ideal customers, can be a useful way of helping to understand the specific profile of the customer segments and their key interests such as characteristics, behaviours, attitudes, needs, value drivers, concerns and motivations. Creating accurate buyer personas is key to planning how best to reach your target audience and deciding where resources should be focused to do so most effectively.

However, the pandemic has brought a new set of customer values and interests. For many, it’s a guarantee of safety and reassurance, as well as knowing that they can buy from and work with your business with limited close contact. Businesses can create value by effectively matching their offerings to specific customer needs, however this requires understanding what products and services they are looking for, what problems are they trying to solve and which offering works the best for them, in real time.

  1. Identify how they communicate

Forrester’s research suggests that over 80 percent of the sales cycle now takes place online. Customers make more decisions before contacting a business than ever before, and they expect your digital channels to educate them fully. If they can’t find the information they’re looking for on your digital channels, they might just head to your competitor’s website instead. Make it easy for your customers to buy from you by educating them about your offering, as well as implementing clear and simple calls to action that can guide them on their buying journey.

Lead generation is not about chasing a secret method that results in high volume of leads. It is about understanding and identifying the most effective combination of tactics that will help to achieve the unique lead generation goals. Any channel that generates interest in the business can be classed as lead generation, both online and offline.  The channels that work most effectively include content marketing, email marketing, event marketing, social media, website and PR. A multi-pronged approach to communication that covers different avenues and tactics is required as no single method ticks all the boxes by itself.

Content marketing

Creating high-quality content tailored to your target audience and their needs can help to establish your company as a trustworthy thought leader, keeping the brand fresh in their mind when they are ready to make a purchase.

Email marketing

Building relationships over time through carefully planned emails sent at the right time. The emails should offer new service or product offering, advice, new content, or other helpful information and resources that add value to the recipient.

Event marketing

Whilst unable to host or attend in-person events, webinars can be an equally powerful tool. The key is that attendees feel they have spent their time well and accessed valuable information and resources.

Social media marketing

Social media lead generation is about being where the customer is and showing them the approachable, human side of the business. The goal is to build relationships over time, which will put your brand at the forefront of their mind when they are ready to buy.

Website and SEO

Drive website visitors to specific landing pages and capture their contact details through gated forms. Offer useful information in exchange for an email address and continuously nurture those leads by educating them throughout their buying journey.

Press coverage

Build a thought leadership profile through reputable publications recognised by your target audience. Leverage the subject matter expertise of your team and use it to sell through insights and business storytelling.

  1. Generate and nurture leads

Hope is not a strategy. The process of generating and nurturing leads involves purposefully engaging the target audience by offering relevant information, supporting them in any way they need, and maintaining a sense of interest throughout every stage of the buyer’s journey. Every buying journey is different, but establishing a strategic communication strategy that guides your customers as they progress through their journey, will lead to higher return on investment and more in-depth customer relationships.

96% of B2B customers want content from industry thought leaders to inform their buying decisions, so creating compelling content is key to establishing your brand as the go-to, educational leader in your industry. Nurturing these leads is critical as it directly impacts customers’ decisions about whether or not they want to convert into paying customers. Establish a regular lead generation and nurture campaign schedule and leverage targeted content to reach industry-specific audiences through multiple channels and touchpoints.

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