Coaching the first step to building a customer centric culture


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The consumer goods industry has seen more changes in the past decade than it had in the previous 40 years.

The constantly evolving consumer behavior and heightened expectations for an improved customer experience have meant that the overall consumer experience has become increasingly complex and hybrid. Now, a customer experiences a mix of digital and physical touch-points feeding into their shopping journey, often simultaneously.

Consumers have become incredibly price sensitive and, at the same time, more value-conscious than ever.

The explosion of new routes to market and ever evolving product innovations has put consumer loyalty to the test. Consumers are fickle, It’s easier than ever before to switch brands.

All of these advancements have put increasing pressures on retailers and in turn, consumer goods organizations aim to provide personalized and consistent cross-channel experiences for customers.

Customer centric companies bring x 5 more revenue

To respond to these changes, retailers are continuously looking for trusted business partners who understand their needs and their business and can help them to be agile and grow.

The foundation of this trust is a deep, emphatic relationship built on transparency, collaboration and mutual benefits.

The consumer goods companies that have invested in a customer centric approach and building trust with their retail partners and provide superior customer experience bring in 5.7 times more revenue than their competitors.

McKinsey’s organizational health index research shows that customer-centric organizations (those with high Net Promoter scores) are driven by behaviors centered around the success of their customers and this differentiates them from organizations with lower Net Promoter scores.

As such, we can draw the conclusion that the customer centric mindset and related behaviors need to be built into every layer of a consumer goods commercial organization. Everyone including Category Managers, Key Account Managers, Telesales Agents and Field Sales Reps should be encouraged to prioritize customer success and mutually beneficial growth factors should be baked into their success KPIs.

Sales reps role more strategic

This above mentioned shift has driven a number of structural changes, including the evolution of Field Sales Reps and Key Account Managers to become more strategic than ever before.

Sales reps are now expected to act as the single source of truth and consistently provide trusted advice tailored to the retailer’s unique needs. In a recent survey, conducted by Salesforce, 55% of sales reps in consumer goods stated that they expect their roles to permanently change, with as many as 78% of them stating that their success metrics have changed already.

At the same time, with the impact of the pandemic, there has been a rapid shift to more remote and omni-channel sales engagement models, as a part of organizations’ sales enablement strategies. Sales leaders have increased their remote sales capacity by 43% since 2019 and sales reps have had to add value across all touch-points.

Consumer goods organizations therefore have had to consider a permanent systematic approach to shift from the traditional face-to-face selling model to a hybrid structure where field reps are enabled and equipped to provide the same level of engagement in a remote visit as they would face-to-face.

How to cultivate a culture of growth and customer-centricity

Whilst consumer goods organizations adapt to these trends, one challenge remains to be a problem: a lot of field sales reps are at the entry point in their careers and a large number of them are still paid a below average salary. This combination, plus other factors including the pressure to meet their sales KPIs often lead to a high churn rate within the consumer goods commercial organizations.

Operating on lower salaries also often drives behaviors where sales reps are mainly interested in short term targets such as achieving their sales goals, versus wanting to invest in longer term targets such as a customer’s future success and growth.

To address these changes, consumer goods organizations will need to cultivate a culture of growth and customer centricity combined.

1. Building a personal development path for commercial reps

Firstly, implementing individual development and coaching strategies would allow sales reps to achieve personal and financial growth and open up opportunities to climb up the ladder within the consumer goods commercial organizations.

In a recent interview I conducted with the CIO of the largest beverage manufacturer in South America, he stated that a lot of their field reps are early in their careers and still learning the industry. Therefore, the company often appoints them as merchandisers in modern trade outlets to learn the industry and pick up sales skills. By providing them the right type of coaching, focused on attaining customer success, and just-in-time feedback, they evolve into other roles within the organizations including advisory roles in traditional trade.

Putting the sales rep at the centre of coaching programs encourages sales leaders to provide the personalized guidance reps need to overcome personal barriers more quickly.

It also allows reps to be more open and build a two-way relationship that would ultimately inspire them to put their customers first.

2. Embedding customer experience in coaching

Secondly, there is a need to approach coaching with empathy towards the individual rep, their experience and competence level and combining that with customer centric goal settings.

The mistake that we often see consumer goods organizations make is to combine reward-structures and heavy handed training with little or no connection to the customer.

What works well, is when sales coaching is focused on embedding the customer experience in the behavior of sales reps. For example, allowing sales reps to make decisions , enabling them with customer data and insight where they are able to make informed decisions whilst having timely and open dialogues on what matters to them and their customers. In this model, sales leaders use open communication techniques and channels so reps can share their concerns and leaders can provide just-in-time coaching and timely, situational feedback.

3. Enable virtual and real-time coaching

Thirdly, taking into consideration the millennials and Gen Z’s that are joining the sales force, consumer goods organizations need to consider a hybrid learning approach to cater for the digital savvy reps.

To equip sales reps to provide trusted advice to customers, they need to start thinking about how to provide these reps with remote training and virtual channels to get timely assistance from their coaches and leaders.

This would deliver just-in-time coaching tailored to the rep and taking into consideration the needs of the customers they are serving.

In addition, they need to be able to provide role play and on the job coaching to help the reps improve their key messaging and objection handling with light touch coaching along the way.

4. Encourage self evaluation for improvement

Encouraging reps to evaluate their own performance helps them to reflect, take ownership and build self improvement goals around their own observations. This creates a stronger desire to improve continuously as they are making the commitment to be customer centric.

Of course, reps don’t always have all of the answers when it comes to goal setting. Leaders can coach the reps, face-to-face or within an online coaching platform, to align on their short and long term goals to ensure that they are achievable, measurable and will have a positive impact on their customers.

Once goals are agreed, leaders can use software solutions to create personalized training paths and role play, ask for feedback and improve performance through just-in-time coaching.

In summary

Driving customer centricity through mindset and culture changes, not only drives improved performance. It will also create further opportunities to invest in your reps and their growth. According to LinkedIn research, 94% of employees are likely to stay at a company longer if invested in their career and growth. Performance increases and reps are more motivated and engaged – it’s a win-win for everyone.

Sally Sabet
Sally is the Global Lead of Consumer Goods Go to Market for Pitcher. She has a career spanning 16 years which includes previously working as a Principal Solution Strategist for Salesforce and at companies such as Service Now and Experian. She’s a thought leader within the consumer goods industry and is passionate about not only helping businesses grow and innovate but also championing women in technology. 


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