Supplier sales teams lack the expertise to thrive in an omnichannel world

The concept of omnichannel has grown like a weed over the past five years. Although it presents the latest set of expertise to make a supplier indispensable to its customers, it’s also potentially the biggest key account manager communication fail since category management.

Brought about by the step-change in customer behaviour that came with the widespread rollout of broadband, omnichannel enables a brand to engage every ‘touchpoint’ of the shopper in a uniform, compelling and purchase-motivating way.

Looking back, we all felt such geniuses taking shopper journey insights to the jaw-dropping multiples. Let’s face it, it was a category by category variation on “they park up, they shop and they leave”. The most exciting one I worked on was the shopper journey for buying cuddly toys, which went: “They thumb through the Argos catalogue at home, then drop into Woolworths to touch, price and maybe buy”.

Many now shop on the train via an app, or sit at the kitchen doing the weekly shop whilst watching a cooking show. They add to their basket gradually over days depending on how their life inspires them. They hop between search engine, online marketplace, direct-to-consumer sites and social media, at some point clicking through to purchase, or maybe not. From beans and bathroom cleaners through bats, balls and billiard tables, digital experts can drive consistency of messaging and shopping experience so shoppers can buy whichever way suits them in this emerging ‘everywhere channel’, which includes physical stores.

Omnichannel is about all-inclusive consistent experience. It can be a threat to major retailers even if they play online. However, if a supplier tunes their product to the target shopper of a major retailer though omnichannel management, it can shore up shopper loyalty and springboard mutual growth.

Most successful suppliers make themselves indispensable to their customers. This means more than just being reliable. They also need the smarts to grow a category and maximise customer returns. As the internet revolutionised shopping, it changed the definition of what it takes to be an indispensable supplier. Where space management software once did the trick, now you need omnichannel expertise.

Since we’ve been training omnichannel at Sentinel, it’s become clear how chasmic the skill gap really is. Ask a dozen sale leaders what it means and you’ll get 10 different answers and two saying they’re never heard of it. Hardly surprising when considering a new go-to-market philosophy that includes every possible consumer touchpoint.

Leveraging all the available tools for driving trial, retrial and loyalty communications, investing trade and consumer funds in the right balance of places and measuring ROI is quite an expertise. As we’ve seen before, sales just wheel in a subject expert to meetings rather than get to grips with the language themselves. Instead of leading the retailer dialogue, they find themselves an abstracted piece of grit in the machine. The biggest barrier to retailer engagement is as it so often is: the account manager.

Sentinel Management Consultants deliver sales, negotiation, planning and finance training courses for our clients worldwide.