Are we heading towards the emergence of a sales engineer profile? Will the Full-Data Driven impose the scientification of Sales? What place for storytelling, brand value and social and environmental commitment in a digital world? Alexandre Doukhan, Director of Business Development at Les 2 Marmottes, sheds light on this issue.
Could you come back in a few words on your professional career?
Of course I did. I started my career in financial auditing, a position that gave me a better understanding of the business world. I then moved to consumer goods at Procter & Gamble, where I held the positions of Field Sales and Key Account Executive. The experience, which lasted six years, was very enriching on a professional level, even if I was not necessarily in phase with the group's social and environmental commitment. This is why I turned to companies with value propositions that correspond to my convictions. So I joined the startup/SME Good Goût which makes organic food for babies and children. I worked there as National Sales Manager and Leclerc Brand Manager. The company has been sold. As you can imagine, we are not on the same dynamic when we go from an SME owned by its founder to an international group. That's why I joined Les 2 Marmottes as Business Development Director. It is a French SME with 70 employees founded more than 45 years ago that produces infusions and teas made in France without any added flavorings. The potential of the category, the brand, and the societal project particularly convinced me to come and develop this nugget.
If there's one thing that hasn't changed in sales over the past decade, it's the shortage of sales talent. Michael Page estimates that there is a shortage of over 200,000 sales professionals in France. Are you having trouble recruiting?
The company's mission has become an extremely important criterion. I found it much easier to recruit in companies with strong values. The World Company model, which promised a career, financial comfort and responsibilities without going any further, is no longer sufficient in itself. So of course, remuneration remains a decisive factor, but it is completed by the meaning given to the work, the company's mission and its commitment. At Les 2 Marmottes, we don't have any particular difficulty in recruiting commercial profiles.
Also, we have a very low turnover in spite of a rather consequent commercial team (30 people). The societal and environmental commitment of the company favors the loyalty. The sales people are happy and proud to promote responsible products. Our recruitment needs are therefore limited. I haven't hired any salespeople in almost a year, for example. I think we have a shield against shortages: our mission and our brand value. However, we have to be very careful: this situation will not last indefinitely, and convincing candidates requires a regular review.
What do you think are the three decisive factors that have changed the practice of Sales in the last 10 years?
I have the impression that we are talking less and less about the product and more and more about the price. There is less room for discussion about consumer habits, about context, about quality. In ten years, price has become an almost exclusive topic of discussion. Lately, there has been a factor that has come to compete with the price factor among buyers: organic. At one point, the "organic" argument made things a little easier commercially. That is unfortunately changing, as the growth of this segment is slowing down. I can also mention the (timid) emergence of a Made in France expectation and a favorable carbon balance. Also, some distributors are positively discriminating against SMEs.
What has changed in the Sales teams (profiles, expected skills, etc.)?
Analytical ability is now expected in sales profiles. Insofar as everything is "price" and "administrative management" oriented, more profiles with a certain analytical agility are sought after, perhaps at the expense of commercial skills. Digital transformation and competitive intensity have undoubtedly changed the skills expected in Sales. We are looking for an intellectual quotient rather than an emotional one.
It must also be said that the expectations of customers are highly analytical, with less categorical discussions. This hegemony of the analytical is exacerbated by the turnover of our buyers. It is indeed difficult to build strong relationships when the couple of interlocutors changes regularly.
Numbers are an incredible resource. But if we take the reasoning to the extreme, we can say that Data imposes an indisputable decision that stems from an almost scientific approach. Either we say that the algorithm supplants the Human, or we value the human relationship, the storytelling, the emotion and we support it all with Data. It's like believing that because we have the recipe for a dish from a 3-star restaurant, we'll get the same result by entrusting the cooking to anyone. The success and the emotion created are far beyond the shopping list and a recipe: they are intimately linked to the history, the experience of the chef, his knowledge of his producers, his teams... and then the consumer who values the work of an artisan. It's exactly the same story in my opinion in commerce, which is nothing more than the meeting and exchange between individuals around a promise.
How do you see the evolution of Sales in the last decade?
There are two opposing worlds. All signals are converging towards the scientification of Sales, towards unbridled digitalization, towards Full Data-Driven and therefore towards the sales engineer. It is tempting, but I am convinced that business will remain above all a story of exchange between humans. Investing in people will always be the right solution.