A lot of effort has gone into research in the field of marketing. There are numerous scholarly and peer-reviewed articles available in the print and electronic media today. What makes this paper so interesting is that it juxtaposes a number of papers written by eminent personalities who have contributed to making our understanding of the subject more reasonable. On the question of who would be a better professional sales person, Barrows (2007) talks about the dynamic market forces such as global competition, changing customer expectations, and new communication technology necessitating the need for a more knowledgeable person, while Ichniowski et al. (1996), advocates innovative workplace practices that could increase performance. On the whole, the research showed that gaining knowledge was undoubtedly an area that scored over non-professional sales methodology.
Keywords: professional, knowledge, technology, performance
- Could the vice president of marketing be premature in expanding into the professional liability market? Develop a sales plan for Doug to follow as he enters this new market.
There is justification in the vice president of marketing expanding into the professional liability market. Since its inception in 1987, the vice president was right in expanding his business focus as the company had already established its name in the Personal Insurance and Risk Management Products services. The firm, which began as an independent agency selling personal lines of insurance and later began to offer basic employee benefit plans and health insurance programs to small businesses, had a strength staff that grew from 10 in 1993 to 105 in 1998.
Midwest has a strong databank, and has been in the insurance business for long. This is a positive platform for Doug has to his advantage. What he needs to do now is to identify the right people for the job based on his personal evaluation and also to introduce a new strategy to make the selected team perform to his expectations.
Barrows (2007) states that:
“Dynamic market forces such as global competition, changing customer expectations, and new communication technology, combined with career challenges due to ongoing industry consolidation and corporate restructuring, mandate continuous learning and the sharing of ideas.”
Considering Barrows theory, Doug would need to understand the needs of his clients and how he plans to connect with them. Once he does that, his next plan would be to evaluate the right people for the job using the right techniques. Understanding his agents and their strengths and weaknesses can help Doug gauge whom to select and why. This should be followed by a training program to motivate and educate the selected agents in developing leadership qualities, enhancing their communicative skills, understanding their product and their target audience.
- Evaluate Doug’s current appraisal system for his agents. What are the current strengths and weaknesses of this system?
In Doug’s current appraisal system, he could compare each agent’s premium income produced that year with that of the agent’s previous year. He could then hold a one-to-one discussion with each of them to understand their reasons for their performance. This was followed by his own assessment and recommendations of each agent which was then sent to the vice president for approval on increase or decrease in commission rates and salaries. The strength of such an appraisal system is that it gives Doug an insight of each agent’s qualities on which he could make a judgment. He could also discuss with each agent what their problems were which led to lower performance, or what was it that helped them perform so well.
The weaknesses far outweighed the strengths. The system lacked direction in the sense that it was not a very constructive way of evaluating talent. Individual assessment can hardly be termed as a productive or positive method of judging agents. True, it gave an insight of how well they did in bringing business, but it couldn’t elucidate the qualities of that agent. Qualities like personality, communicative skills, and leadership qualities to name a few, couldn’t be gauged by Doug’s system. These are far more important when it comes to evaluating a person before an assessment can be made about that person. Doug’s system only made assessments based on comparisons drawn from individual sales records.
According to Ichniowski et al. (1996), “innovative workplace practices could increase performance through systems of relative practices that enhance employee participation and make work design less rigid and decentralize managerial tasks.” (P.299-333)
Considering that if Midwest Risk became an endorsed supplier of professional liability coverage for bar associations and/or CPA organizations, his selected agents would be directly interacting with customer groups of high potential. In addition to this, these agents would have to spend a large portion of their time contacting senior officers; making presentations and performing various missionary selling tasks that they weren’t exposed to. Doug’s appraisal system lacked these qualities.
3. Given the operating objectives for the professional liability market, which selling activities should be emphasized for the professional liability sales force? How much effort should be devoted to each sales task?
Knowledge is the driving force of all living creatures on earth. Without knowledge, life would be void. Distinguishing between the right and wrong would not have been possible without knowledge. It is this knowledge, a form of information, which exists and drives a human being to greater heights. The level of knowledge that an individual derives is subjective, and Knowledge Management forms the structural and functional basis on which Information Management or Information Resource Management is built.
In T. D. Wilson’s (2002), ‘The nonsense of Knowledge Management,’ Stephen Roach, Chief Economist at Morgan Stanley, saw a lot of positives in putting Knowledge Management (KM) into practice and advocated that KM was the best cure for any company’s problems. But this was soon to change, when in 1997 he reversed that opinion saying that it was, on the contrary, a recipe for industrial disaster. So what made him change his opinion? One argument is that data and information can be managed, and so too can information resources, but knowledge, something that only we know, can never be managed, except by that individual knower, and that too rather imperfectly.
According to Alvesson and Karreman (2001):
‘Knowledge is an uncertain, unspecific phenomenon, which relates to meaning, understanding and process development.’ (P.995-1018)
In such a situation therefore, it is hard to manage.
Sveiby (2001a) said that:
“Management of people is one of the two tracks of knowledge management, as the World Bank uses the power of ‘people management’ to track ‘knowledge management.”
When examined, the World Bank’s knowledge management strategy in reality bears little relation to the rhetoric. When Stephen Denning, head of the Bank’s ‘knowledge management initiative’ retired, and he became their knowledge management consultant (www.stevedenning.com/), the Bank re-thought its strategy, and the rhetoric no longer remained ‘knowledge management,’ but ‘knowledge sharing’ (Wilson, 2002).
Considering the various opinions voiced by different people, it can be assumed that knowledge management would indeed be the most important component in Doug’s selling activities. When one talks about knowledge management, it is a combination of upgrading one’s knowledge on the products being considered to enhance sales, and personality development. The products in question here are training on personality enhancement and technology. It is only through these activities will Doug’s selected team be able to make presentations and/or perform various missionary selling tasks that they weren’t exposed to or would find hard to execute.
In my opinion, more time should be spent on developing personnel behavior and character and less on technology study. Therefore, it would be like spending 70% of the time in personal development and 30% on technology. This will help the organization focus on strong customer relationships and services.
4. How would you develop standards of performance or quotas for the professional liability sales force?
- Strengthen HR activities with special focus on employer-employee relationship.
- Highlight Compensation and Benefit programs for the employees
- Enhance Organizational Development and Learning Activities
According to Wissensmanager (n.d):
“The modern business world is characterized by changing global markets and technological advances. In order to compete is such a highly competitive environment, organizational structure and culture has to change to strengthen its flexibility. Thus, knowledge becomes an imperative tool in value creation. Importance is placed in developing the organizational knowledge base either by learning from others in the organization, or through innovation. Both these methods help the organization acquire the technological edge to excel in their field” (P.1).
5. How would you compare the productivity of the professional liability sales force with the performance of the life, accident, and health insurance sales force?
According to Lucas (1994):
“training is necessary for employees to face change, which is a constant factor in today’s workplace, which include, the introduction of new machinery and systems, globalization, empower supervisors and managers with the depth of knowledge to successfully manage better-educated and more diverse workforce and orientation, and develop an action plan.” (P.4)
In hindsight, there would be no comparison at all. As Lucas (1994) rightly points out, a person who is knowledgeable and intelligent would be able to find ways to overcome any obstacle in his/her path to success. While productivity liability sales people would be trained to face any situation commendably and with respect, the sales force selling life, accident, and health insurance may require just basic subject knowledge to target their audience. Professional liability sales force plan systematically and gather information about their clients before targeting them, whereas, other sales force personnel would look to target anyone without proper planning; spending more time in making a sales.
6. Will any changes be necessary in the compensation package? If so, what?
Yes, there will have to be a substantial difference in the compensation package offered to a professional liability sales staff in comparison to other sales staff. Since a lot of time and money has been spent on training, those who successfully become professional liability sales staff can demand at least a 30% hike in their compensation package to others.
Alvesson, M. & Karreman, D. (2001) Odd couple: making sense of the curious concept of knowledge management. Journal of Management Studies, 38(7), 995-1018
Barrows C. W (2007, Oct 02), International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration, The Haworth Press Inc. Journal, Retrieved on Oct 02, 2007, from http://www.haworthpress.com
Ichniowski C, Kochan T, Levine D, Olsen C and Strauss G, (1996), What works at work: overview and assessment, Industrial Relations, 35 (3): p.299-333
Lucas, R. W, (1994), Business Skills Express Series: Training Skills for Supervisors, McGraw Hill Professional, NY, ISBN 0-7863-0313-1, p.4-5
Sveiby Karl Erik (2001a), What is knowledge management? Brisbane: Sveiby Knowledge Associates. Available at: http://www.sveiby.com/faq.html#Whatis [Site visited 31 March 2008]
Wissensmanager, An Illustrated Guide to Knowledge Management, http://www.wm forum.org/files/Handbuch/An_Illustrated_Guide_to_Knowledge_Management.pdf
Wilson T.D (2002), The nonsense of 'knowledge management, Information Research, Vol. 8 No. 1, http://informationr.net/ir/8-1/paper144.html