As a food ingredient manufacturer pursued business strategies to drive margin and efficient growth, it started to acquire companies with innovative offerings—a move that opened the door to expand its existing product portfolio to include more specialty ingredients. The company saw the potential to differentiate itself in the market by adding to the commodity items it had been known for with not only higher-value specialty products, but also R&D services to help its customers turn these ingredients into innovative food products of their own.
This combination of traditional and specialty ingredients, paired with services supported by experts such as food scientists, positioned the manufacturer to deliver exceptional customer value and evolve ahead of food trends. To capitalize on its vast product portfolio, the company realized it needed to transform its sales effectiveness capabilities and improve its internal operations to better align with customer needs and buying processes. Key to this transformation was a well-organized, well-enabled and well-motivated sales force that could successfully represent these expanded offerings to both current and prospective customers.
Commercial leadership at the food ingredient manufacturer identified the need to undergo a complete sales force effectiveness transformation. While its existing customers were major food manufacturers who generally purchased ingredients based on their price, the sales team now was able to cross-sell a whole portfolio of products and value-added services to a range of business sizes and types, including restaurants, bakeries and retailers. Many of these new customers were focused on the quality and variety of the specialized ingredients they use in their recipes or sell to consumers. At the same time, there was an untapped opportunity to introduce these noncommodity products and services to existing accounts.
The executive leaders saw this as a pivotal moment to reimagine the structure and roles of the sales force to set the foundation for future success. They wanted to institute new customer engagement processes, motivation systems and talent management approaches that would achieve the operational excellence they were aiming for to drive profitable growth. The sales activities and incentives within the team needed to evolve to sell the full portfolio of products and services to old and new accounts, rather than leaning on the products and account relationships they had been comfortable with in the past.
The food ingredient manufacturer’s executive leadership reached out to ZS for help developing a comprehensive sales effectiveness transformation program that would help it achieve its multiyear growth expectations. The executives valued ZS’s data-driven approach and wanted to bring this discipline into their day-to-day sales operations. Their ultimate goal was to build an effective and efficient sales organization that would apply best-in-class go-to-market approaches to deliver value for customers and, in turn, drive profitable growth for the company.
It was important to the food ingredient manufacturer’s leaders to operate with one unified sales force capable of selling its full product line to long-standing and new customers. The manufacturer looked to ZS to diagnose how the sales team had been operating day-to-day to determine which activities were driving value and which were not. They also asked ZS to define which roles were needed, while effectively empowering existing team members and developing talent management capabilities that would drive performance. ZS collaborated with the manufacturer’s leadership team to interview key stakeholders and analyze historical data to understand the greatest opportunities to improve sales force effectiveness.
As ZS identified the priority challenges and vision for the sales team’s future state, we broke the project down into seven complementary workstreams.
- Current state diagnosis: Understand the current state of the sales organization and its processes via discussions, data analyses and surveys, uncovering internal best practices and opportunities.
- Sales force design: Develop a best-in-class sales organization with clearly defined roles, structure, team size and territories.
- Customer engagement process: Collaborate to define leading-practice sales activities, including enablers for account prioritization and strategic account planning.
- Operations excellence: Design processes to streamline and improve contract management, RFP processes, order fulfillment and resource planning. Develop a sales forecasting methodology and processes.
- Performance and talent management: Define and evaluate sales competencies. Design the learning journey. Establish the right KPIs and performance management program (Win the Week) to grow talent and drive team performance.
- Motivation systems: Establish career pathways with defined levels, each with fair and accurate compensation plans, incentives and challenging yet achievable goals.
- Change management and value realization: Define plans to communicate with key stakeholders, implement new strategic designs and track progress to realize value.
During the current state diagnostics workstream, we leveraged the ZS Voice of Sales Force SurveyTM to assess the specific time-allocation opportunities within the sales team and to prioritize the focus of the future-state sales organization design. One key insight from this survey about role pollution freed up more than 30% of the total sales team hours per week to apply to more-strategic efforts.
Based on the information we gathered, we designed a team that featured strong sales reps as strategic account managers who were prepared to sell the full product portfolio, complemented with a select number of specialty sales reps with expertise in the technical aspects of food ingredients.
ZS also helped the food ingredient manufacturer enhance the customer experience. We spent time with a cross-functional, customer-facing group to understand the buyer’s journey. Combining this knowledge with best practices, we designed a customer engagement process across all sales phases that acts as a backbone for portfolio-based selling. Specific deliverables included defining key activities by role, an account prioritization methodology and an account planning tool. These resources helped prepare the customer-facing teams to focus on the right set of customers and decision influencers with the optimal set of sales activities to increase penetration within accounts.
Once we defined the new team structure and processes, we established KPIs and set the sales managers up to quickly identify across the pipeline where individual team members needed coaching and guidance, making it possible to minimize any barriers to success.
Throughout the project, ZS proactively guided the sales leaders through the planned change management process by defining pilot programs for a small, hand-selected group of initial adopters (the Early Experience Team). This approach allowed the client to learn from and refine these programs before scaling them across the business. As a result, the programs were able to drive the value realization that the manufacturer’s leaders desired from this project.
In approximately eight months, ZS had assessed the food ingredient manufacturer’s current operational processes and redefined the sales force to prepare it for future growth. We designed an efficient, performance-focused and right-sized sales force armed with a resource planning playbook and change management materials to support account transitions. We also provided the sales leaders with hiring, placement and performance management tools to set up the new sales force structure for success. And, to retain their team of upskilled and hired-in experts, we created a motivational, fair and fiscally responsible sales compensation plan tied to objective sales quotas.
Our work resulted in an expected increase of more than 9% in the manufacturer’s revenue. The work ZS did also empowered the food ingredient manufacturer to increase the impact of each customer interaction and enhance the customer experience.
By the end of the transformation, we had achieved both quick wins that drove immediate value for the business and had helped the food ingredient manufacturer set the stage to achieve its long-term strategic sales objectives.
According to the sales leaders, this sales force transformation has been a dramatic success. The food ingredient manufacturer achieved and exceeded its volume targets while also achieving its margin targets in what the client referred to as “a historic year,” recognizing that the reinvented sales team was a major contributor to these wins.