Competing in today’s global market is a little like being on a treadmill that’s moving faster and faster. As the world shrinks, global competition intensifies, and communication shifts to real time, many sales organizations are finding themselves in a heated sprint to keep up.
This accelerated tempo and fast-expanding reach of business presents some unique challenges. What are they? We put that question to Fred Boss, Americas sales manager at Ticona Engineering Polymers, a manufacturer of high-performance plastics found in everything from laptop computers to washing machines. Boss says his sales organization faces three key challenges today:
1. Globalization. As Ticona’s customers expand into every corner of the globe, Boss’s team is dealing with complexities that didn’t exist even five years ago. One of his biggest challenges: navigating the many cultural differences around the globe. “As Americans, we believe everyone thinks and operates like we do,” he observes. “But even something as simple as a greeting can ruin a relationship if it is not done right. Not everyone wants a firm Texas handshake.”
Boss recently launched a multicultural training initiative to help his sales team successfully steer through myriad cultural differences. His salespeople have learned how to handle everything from email and first meetings to relationship building and problem solving – without committing a deal-breaking faux pas.
2. Value creation. As the pace of business increases, Boss says keeping his team focused on value creation is a growing challenge. “We want our account managers to be as close to customers as possible, but you can’t do that for everyone,” he observes. Helping his team understand where to spend time and how to create value for key customers comes down to understanding customers’ businesses and how Ticona can help them achieve their strategic goals, says Boss. This, in turn, leads to sustainable, long-term business.
3. Talent development. Finding salespeople who are business savvy, can think strategically, are able to navigate the cultural intricacies of a global marketplace – and who can top all that off with a solid background in chemical engineering or science – is no small task. That’s why retaining his team and helping each team member meet the changing needs of Ticona’s customers are top priorities for Boss. He accomplishes these goals by using a strength-based management philosophy: Rather than focus on where people need to shore up weaknesses, he invests in developing their strengths and matching those strengths to the sales role.
For instance, when Ticona recently split its sales force into two tiers – large, strategic accounts and key accounts, each of which required different skill sets and strengths – it “became obvious that some people were in the wrong place,” recalls Boss. Rather than simply replace those people, Boss moved them to positions that better matched their strengths. By doing so, the team has “thrived,” says Boss, “and we’re seeing the results in our pipeline.”
Boss expects these trends to continue accelerating. Relationships, he says, will consequently take on greater importance, keeping sales teams grounded as the pace of business shifts into warp speed. Already, Ticona account managers who once relied on close connections at a single site are finding they must build relationships with their contacts’ extended networks throughout the world.
“No matter what you know about one technology or another, I continually stress to my team that you need to be relatable,” says Boss. “I invest a lot of my time – and I encourage my team to do the same – in learning how to better interact with people. You need to be a great listener and have great people skills, whether you’re talking to someone on the shop floor or the top floor.”
Chemical Breakdown: Ticona at a Glance
Ticona, the engineering polymers business of Celanese Corporation, produces and markets a broad range of high-performance products. With offices in Florence, KY; Kelsterbach, Germany; and Shanghai, its products serve designers and engineers in key markets such as automotive, aircraft, communications technology, medical, and more. Ticona posted $808 million in sales in fiscal 2009 and employs more than 1,450 people throughout the world, including roughly 150 in global sales. Fred Boss’s team, responsible for sales in the Americas, includes 50 of those account managers.
Boss, a chemical-engineering major in college, has spent his 23-year career in engineering plastics, primarily in sales. He joined Ticona in 2007.
– Heather Baldwin
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