Presented by Sean Leas, Executive Director: Smollan

Sean began his career at Woolworths in 1993. He quickly moved up the ranks to become National Sales Manager and later Group Merchandiser. During this period, he completed an MBA and was a part-time lecturer in Business Management at Damelin. He joined Smollan in 2002 to head up Unilever Channel Management which he did inspiringly. He then moved into the role of leading Smollan’s diversified service offerings and is currently in charge of New Business Development.

Smollan is a field marketing company. Its focus is on field sales and retail execution. Its vision statement says it all. It reads, “We exist to grow our clients’ brands.” They do this with the help of 52,000 employees, half of which work in South Africa; the balance are spread out over five continents.

Sean opened his presentation with the statement that the current economic difficulties notwithstanding, business continues and money can still be made but only if the right approach is taken. In his view, the old-style retailer is dead. The future lies in a multi-channel distribution system, with brick-and-mortar stores co-existing with web-based sales channels.

Consumers are looking for experiences. As they walk into a store, it’s the first 50 metres that count. This has resulted in the emergence of retail theatre. Sales people are the custodians of the brand and “out-of-stock” situations must be avoided at all cost. Indeed, Sean compares half-empty display shelving to a broken front tooth – ugly and impossible to miss.

Mass-customisation is the concept of the future, and technology will play an ever-increasing role. The trend towards the development of apps will continue but retailers must be careful not to become faceless. Differentiation will become increasingly important; strong personal relationships, creativity and service excellence will keep them in business.

This requires that sales personnel are well trained and incentivised. For example, a waiter’s role should no longer be restricted to serving customers. He/she should sell.

Generally speaking, successful selling will evolve into a mix of data versus intuition – the convergence of art and science.

ã Kurt Illetschko 2013. Published with permission.