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Sales Leadership Paradoxes

By Cranfield School of Management


Sales organisation are changing, so should sales leadership

Over the last decade or so, we have witnessed unprecedented transformations in the sales function and in the role of sales professionals, this transformation, driven by change in buying behaviour, technology, globalisation, competition, and unparalleled levels of external and internal pressures are forcing sales organisations to revisit sales strategies, structures and practices in a fundamental way.

A key challenge for sales leaders is how to design and manage sales organisations that can respond to potentially diverging forces, ones pressing in the direction of reducing costs to serve and others in the direction of co-creating superior customer value. Therefore, sales executives need to reconcile this opposition in the sales function and, ideally, identify and test an approach to create value for the supplier organisation with the top end accounts and at the same time from lower end customers.

Drawing from research on innovation, it is argued that in order to compete in the long term, companies have to develop the ability to both explore new opportunities and exploit existing capabilities. Done simultaneously is referred to as ambidextrous. Future sales organisations will require higher levels of ambidexterity in sales leaders.

Paradoxes faced by sales leaders

Sales leaders often have to manage seemingly conflicting dilemmas in their roles. The typical questions raised are:

  1. Should we focus more on achieving sales performance in the short term, or on building long-term growth?
  2. Should we focus more on growing the business through the existing relationships with customers, or should we pursue this growth through the acquisition of new customers?

Sales organisations must manage these strategic dilemmas to help achieve their business objectives and achieve transactional business for today as well as developing key customers for tomorrow.

Sales organisations dilemmas

Modern sales organisations are in a state of flux. The convergence of new technologies, increasing stakeholder demands and volatility in the market place, amongst others, are recognised as posing a number of dilemmas to sales leaders. There are two key areas:

  1. Leading the business – looking at growing the business
    1. Growth Vs. Profitability
    2. Existing Vs. New Customers
    3. Efficiency Vs. Effectiveness
    4. Stability Vs. Change
  2. Leading the people – engage individuals and enable performances.
    1. Autonomy Vs. Control
    2. Competition Vs. Collaboration
    3. Experienced Vs Young Sales Professionals
    4. Performance Vs. Learning

Through our Sales Directors Programme and on-going dialogue with members of the Key Account Management and Strategic Sales Forum, as well as through our research with companies undergoing transformations in their sales and customer management organisations, we’ve developed a range of tools to help organisations and leaders with these dilemmas.

Find out more about our work in our Open Executive Development Programmes and in Cranfield’s Key Account Management and Strategic Sales Forum, the tools we have developed and how we are contributing to redefine current understanding and practice in Key Account Management and Strategic Sales.

Blog produced by: Cranfield School of Management

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