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Force to be reckoned with

A sales force is the lifeblood of any business. It follows, then, that enhancing the  effectiveness of this entity is often a key imperative for senior managers. As the Asia Pacific head for sales performance at global consulting firm Mercer, Ralph Grimse spends much of his time advising companies on how best to achieve this.

What exactly does the sales performance division offer in terms of its services?

Our services range from helping an organisation design a sales force, to helping them figure out who to hire, and how those people should be deployed against various sets of customers. Through our alliance with Miller Heiman, we also advise on how to train a sales force. 

How did the relationship with Miller Heiman come about?

In 2008, we sought to develop a more robust sales culture,  so we went to market and looked at various sales training and methodology firms, among which we selected Miller Heiman to help train our consultants.

During the process, we  realised that many of our clients were in the same situation as us, so we started to look at how we might take Miller Heiman's products externally. The key to this was figuring out how to combine them with our own core competencies pertaining to people – how to reward them, how to increase their performance.

In 2010, we began taking a joint Mercer-Miller Heiman offering to market. And in 2011, we launched our relationship in Asia.

Is there a difference in the relationship in Asia, relative to those in other markets?

Yes. In other parts of the world, we offer the services side-by-side, with one person from Mercer and one person from Miller Heiman both in on a deal. Here in Asia, it's all led by Mercer.

What’s the financial arrangement?

The way the revenue works is that we essentially buy wholesale from Miller Heiman and then sell the services at retail.

What type of clients do you target when offering these services?

We typically do a lot of B2B [business to business] work.  Within that, we mostly work with service organisations, since there's always a level of ambiguity about what's being delivered when it comes to services. The types of organisations that rely on complex sales models tend to benefit the most.

What is a complex sale?

A complex sale is one where you have multiple buying influences. What you want is to line up those influences to close on a deal. Miller Heiman has some intellectual property, and a methodology around how companies should manage this process.

How is the methodology delivered?

We deliver the methodology in a classroom setting over a two-to-four-day session with the sales force.  The people we train actually bring in live deals, which we work on with them. Where Mercer's capabilities come in is in adopting the methodology and ingraining it into a way of thinking.

Are there any specific industries you feel could benefit from sales optimisation?

The one that stands is financial services. What we find is that overall the selling ability and the investment made into, very specifically, wealth management and private banking is lacking. It’s not quite what we would envision as world-class sales.

How receptive have companies in Asia been to these services, relative to those elsewhere? 

Organisations in the West are going through sales transformations. They're trying to take another look at their models to eke out incremental growth. Flip to Asia, however, and you're looking at annual growth rates in the double, sometimes triple, digits. The challenge for us has been to make those organisations invest on the understanding that things might not be as easy for them in the future.

Will you be taking on more staff to help address this challenge?

Yes. We've actually been hiring for the last six months. But we're very mindful of where we put folks. The Hong Kong office not only supports Hong Kong, but also Greater China. 

What type of roles will you be looking to fill?

Much like in the past, we’re mostly looking for consultants. The one thing that's different, however, is that we now need people that can implement the process by providing the training while still being seen as credible. Ultimately, we'd like for them to not only sell, but also deliver.

As this teams continues to grow, we’ll probably look to bring on more seasoned sales leaders to serve in solely a training capacity.

What make for a good consultant?

On the consultant side, they need to have analytical thinking and they need to be quantitatively minded. Having said that, we’re also looking for people who are charismatic and engaging.

Is sales experience required?

If they come in with sales experience that would be plus. But pretty much everyone at Mercer gains this experience on the job by offering our consulting services.