Article first published by Richard Smith on LinkedIn in May 2020
It’s fair to say that anyone whose job still relies mostly on face-to-face contact will have to reimagine the future of their role. This couldn’t be more true for the field-based brand rep. Although this role comes in many shapes and sizes, the basics are the same for most: brand reps are the human link between a brand and their retailers, they rely heavily on getting face-to-face with their customers and their staff, to do their job, and they cover a wide range of responsibilities, ranging from sales and training to marketing execution and operations.
As soon as the lockdown struck and retailers closed their doors, I’m sure many brand reps and account managers started to imagine what the world would look like for them once retailers stores reopen, and how their role would change.
As Head of Sales & Customer Success here at Myagi I have built relationships with many brand reps across numerous companies, so I not only care passionately about their future, I also believe that future is brighter than some may think! So below are my 5 top tips to help brand reps navigate the future of their role and career and turn this situation into a positive.
If you haven’t read this book, I recommend you do; it’ll only take an hour and it’s a great reminder of how change makes us feel, and how to deal with it. I have worked with enough brand reps to tell you that just like wider society in general, some reps are forward-looking and embrace change and some are quite happy sticking to the status quo. For those still hoping that things will go back to “normal,” my advice is to accept that they won’t. The sooner you realise your cheese has moved, the sooner you can take advantage of the change and find the cheese again. You have to find a way to create your own learning loop to test out what works with customers and how you can still achieve the results needed for you, your employer and for them. If you can’t or won’t accept the change has already happened, you won’t be focused on learning the best new approach to thrive.
2) Improve your Digital Skills
If one change is certain, it’s that the brand rep/Account Manager of the future will be far more digital in how they connect, sell and engage with their customers. The current situation will only accelerate the emerging trend of digitisation. Gone are the days of sitting in your car on the M6 for 5 hours to visit that dealer you’re desperate to do more business with or deliver a training session to a team to only a hand full of sales associates. You may not even be able to visit your buyer at their HQ. and pretty much every Trade shows are cancelled – their future already in question – and recent circumstances are giving sales and marketing execs a reason to re-evaluate their structure and processes. consider the way they do business. Especially the field-based roles. So it’s almost certain the way you achieve your current objectives will become more digital and so you need to develop the skills to master this new execution.
We have all become more familiar with software like Zoom and Microsoft teams for video calls—my prediction is that these digital tools will become the main way you’ll sell to customers and engage with their staff. Without those regular in-store visits, you’ll get far better at creating content and engaging with stores online. The five top skills I recommend you work on are:
- Selling via Video call
- Getting comfortable with being in front of the camera (for content creation & selling)
- Working with digital assets & media
- Digital Storytelling
- An understanding of how you drive online engagement and deliver online training
But it’s not as scary as you might think.
The software world has never been easier to access. With so many companies providing knowledge bases, how-to videos and online resources, just by being proactive with your own learning you can self-educate effectively on these new tools to support your job.
Here’s the good news: last year, you probably had no chance of getting a customer to accept a zoom call instead of a store visit. But now, they will be suggesting it to you. Just think how much more efficient you can be without the travel and planning required to physically be there, let alone the expense budget required to do so. Make a case to reinvest that budget into your digital tool kit, so you have the tools you need to not just continue doing your job, but to do it better than ever.
3) Less can be more
The uncomfortable truth is that you’re going to have fewer customers than before.
This crisis has hit your customers harder than in other industries, and I believe we won’t see the true impact of that until the various government schemes around the globe end and employers are forced to stand on their own. But again, the decline and consolidation in retail accounts was already a general trend in retail; with more sales pushing to online and a consumer who no longer appreciates a less-than-exceptional retail experience. But fewer customers doesn’t need to mean fewer sales. You will need to invest in the customers who are innovating and have accepted that “the cheese has moved,” as these are the ones that stand the best chance of survival. Help them to increase their conversion, drive traffic and improve the customer’s experience.
4) Share innovation with your customers
At Myagi, we are lucky enough to work with some amazing retailers who are adapting to the new world quickly. Whether it’s curbside click-and-collect, online customer consultations via Zoom & Whatsapp, moving investment online or changing the layout of stores to help customers shop while social distancing—businesses need to be an active agent of change, sharing best practices and ideas while encouraging customers to be brave and innovate their way to survival. Brands have always driven their retailers to adapt to the consumer, and in this instance, it’s more important than ever. Be a positive voice, spread hope and help them to adapt. They will always remember you for it and reward you with loyalty.
5) Crisis = Danger + Opportunity
I know, it’s old and cliché, but it’s true. Periods of change and uncertainty also offer huge opportunities. Maybe this is the time to change your career path, gain new skills, grow as a person or help others to grow and change. Can you adapt quicker than your competitors, or help guide your customers through this period and change the way they do business? I can’t predict all the opportunities that lay before you, but they are there if you look hard enough, think creatively, and always continue learning and adapting.
Let’s sum it up
Though this advice may seem basic, sometimes the most obvious lessons are the first ones we forget. Based on what I see happening in retail and the trajectories of the industry in terms of technology and training, these are my 5 top tips for brand reps/account managers who are concerned about what this crisis means for their role and the future of their customers. There is no denying that retail is transforming into something new, but those who embrace change and seek opportunity instead of fearing it are the ones who will discover the best new ways to sell and engage.