I was talking last week with Neil Ringel, Executive Vice President at Staples Advantage as we continue to prepare for the Sales Enablement Forum in March where Neil is one of the industry keynote speakers.  Staples Advantage, a division of  Staples, is the world’s largest office products delivery business, serving everyone from the twenty-person office up to and including the Fortune 500 and the B2B sales team works with clients to develop customized programs with specialized pricing, dedicated account management, and a complete assortment of products and services at the lowest total delivered cost while ordering and fulfillment is a mixture of these direct meetings and eBusiness transactions.  Although they are called sales, they are actually more responsible for delivering the company’s brand promise: “We make buying office products easy.”   Here is our discussion.


Peter: Do you think that you will need less, more, and/or different salespeople in 5 years time?

Neil. In another 5 years, I think we won’t be as worried about whether we need more salespeople or less salespeople, we’ll want better prepared salespeople. Right now, research shows more than 40% of salespeople say they don’t have the right information before making a call, and in an environment where most buyers have already sought out the high-level information on their own, it’s key that we make sure our salespeople have the deeper information so they can really answer the needs of the customers. 

It’s an interesting statistic; because it speaks not just to what salespeople know about what they’re selling, but who they’re selling to, as well. If our customers are doing their homework before we get there and finding out more about us, it’s crucial that we’re doing our homework before we get there and finding out more about them. There’s no better way to make sure we’re creating solutions that are tailor-made to what each customer wants and needs.  So regardless of how many salespeople businesses have in another 5 years, no one’s going to notice if they’re not armed with the right information and expertise.

Peter:  How are you helping your own salespeople to better understand their buyers?

Neil. We’re constantly looking for ways to gain deeper insight into our customers, and we’ve implemented several different initiatives to try to inform our salesforce.  Especially in a business like ours, where we’re offering a customer a program for all their supply needs, it’s important that we anticipate those needs and that our sales staff understands them.

One of the best tools we have at our fingertips is big data. If we can evaluate historical data to understand how a customer buys, why they buy, and even when they buy, it gives our sales staff a better plan of action, and it means we aren’t offering something to the customer that they don’t want or need. Everyone is looking to accomplish more in less time, so if we can anticipate what the customer needs before they come to us, we’ve saved them time.

We’ve also invented a great deal of resources into vertical industry research, and learning how to best serve niche industries with special needs, like education, government, retail, and finance, to name a few. These are businesses that face unique challenges and so they need unique solutions to address those challenges. If we know that before we talk to them, we can be a better business partner to them instead of just a commodity.

Peter:  Finally, What are the three key takeaways going to be from your presentation in Scottsdale?

Neil. The presentation in Scottsdale covers a lot of these same issues that sales force are facing today, so the three big takeaways are going to be:

·         How to leverage omnichannel platforms effectively so customers can buy however, whenever and wherever they want.

·         Why it’s important to invest in emarketing and ecommerce initiatives.

·         How to best utilize technology to customize the sales experience and relationship for each client

These takeaways all stem from anticipating the customers’ needs and responding to those needs, all the way from our product offering and buying channels to our sales staff and solutions.

Want to hear more? Then come to the Forum  or place an inquiry with me afterward if you are a Forrester client. As always, I’d love to hear from you on this and other topics.

Always keeping you informed! Peter