The respondents are unanimous: the trade has grown more diverse and complex. The main changes identified are:
Today, beauty brands expect their suppliers to provide them with tailor-made advice. This means you need to start from the knowledge, strategy, and current concerns of customers to help them make decisions and eventually place your products.
Suppliers’ marketing strategy is changing, but sales representatives still – too often – need to fill in the gap between the marketing tools provided and their customers’ expectations. Some of them adapt, but not all are talented at it.
Just like in all sectors, in the beauty industry, the purchase function has boomed. It means more deadlines and more sales stages before the purchase is actually made.
Regulations are getting ever-more demanding, which adds even more tasks to complete for sales reps, and they think these activities have nothing to do with their trade. This theme is perceived as polluting the different phases in the customer-sales rep relationship.
Physical meetings are getting scarce and are more difficult to obtain. They should be justified with arguments and an operational context. Whether for customers or sales reps, there is a strong “time efficiency” expectation. Indeed, physical meetings cannot be replaced and are often strictly defined by customers. This change seems to increase with the size of the customer company.
Among the different means of communication, the overuse of emails is denounced as counter-productive. All the people interviewed declare they have to deal with an excessive volume of emails. Some sales reps identify efficient communication tools with their customers, for example by explaining a phone call is the only way to join them in case of emergency. The use of text messages is also well-perceived by sales reps, because it highlights their close relationship with their customers.
The digital issue is still not resolved: of course, things have improved, but sales reps are aware there is still much to do. They know they need to reinvent the sales tools based on customer experience. But they often struggle to be heard by the marketing department, whose approach is still rather “product-oriented”.
There is an additional brake: collaborative work. The co-creation working method involving both marketing and sales has still not been adopted by everyone. Today, marketing departments ask sales reps for advice, but in the end they make the decision themselves. The tools are often only partially adapted and not really widely adopted.
As e-commerce has been developing, sales reps have started to fear they might be “replaced”, although “in our field, we still need to see each other, have a look at the pigments in daylight”, and “the human relationship is essential to some particular projects.”
Sales teams are most often partially or totally remote: sometimes people even work at home, thanks to new technologies. But it has become a bit of a problem, because the management can decide to reduce the budget for travel expenses, thinking video conferences can replace a physical meeting, though it is only partially true.
Change the approach
This synthesis conceals huge gaps, in particular in terms of digital experience. Among our customers, those we have helped integrate and adopt social networks in their daily sales work are most aware of the gap between their sales approach and the new behaviour of their customers. They seek a more global approach to keep up both their teams’ performance – and turnover – and the commitment of the employees, who need to feel they can succeed.
If everyone says they “place the customer at the heart of everything they do”, the reality of the customer approach and experience often proves cautious and very traditional. Given the exchanges we had, we can state that, contrary to received ideas, sales reps can make progress, even if marketing departments do not change and follow them. They have an interest in it, because they are in direct, daily contact with customers and are the main observers of this widening gap. They are aware of the dangers of the status quo. In addition, they do have concrete solutions to offer.