5 Essential Consulting Skills You Can Learn From The Sales Industry
What images come to your mind when you think about a job in Sales? If you’ve spent enough time on Netflix, you may picture Jim from The Office half-heartedly performing monotonous tasks like pitching stationary while desperately searching for any escape from the dull life at Dunder Mifflin. While this version of the industry made for surprisingly good comedy, it is nowhere near the reality of a modern sales position. Today’s sales industry challenges employees to identify opportunities and provide solutions in much the same way as consultants do, a shift in thinking that is none the more evident than in the halls of consumer-packaged good giant Procter & Gamble (P&G). As an industry leader, P&G is known for their dynamic approach to Sales that empowers employees to do so much more than just sell its products. The company’s Sales function is divided into 3 main streams: Account Development, Category Development and Market/Strategy Planning, each of which feature many elements similar to the consulting industry. Let’s take a look at 5 essential consulting skills you can develop through a Sales role with P&G: 1 – Dealing with Autonomy and Ambiguity One constant across all 3 streams at P&G is the autonomy afforded to employees. Whereas traditional sales roles (like Jim’s) required dull and repetitive tasks on each project, the modern sales industry challenges employees to choose their own tools and methodologies for each new project. Employees are pushed to be self-starters and choose the direction best suited for their current goals. This also means that employees must be comfortable navigating ambiguous situations in their work. The modern sales role cannot be satisfied by a generic checklist of instructions. Instead, associates have to use their resources to clear up the uncertainty of their assignment. From a consulting standpoint, being able to work autonomously and deal with ambiguity is important due to the dynamic nature of the industry. Each new project brings with it a new market and a new set of issues, for which a consultant must take accountability to fill in the gaps. In some cases, clients may not even be aware of the real issues affecting their business, leaving little to no direction for the assigned consultants. In both the sales and consulting industries, being able to work quick on your feet and navigate through uncertainty are crucial for a successful career.
2 – Data Analytics
Another interesting skill developed throughout P&G is data analytics. For example, employees in Category Development look for insights on how to grow their respective product category by developing hypotheses that are supported by strong data analytics. As one P&G employee put it, it’s not enough to simply predict that organic products are the future of hair care - there needs to be sufficient data to back up this claim.
This principle also rings true in the consulting industry, where solutions cannot be presented to clients without quantitative insights. While qualitative information is important, consultants regularly use large sets of data to help build and support a story for their clients. Overall, the hands-on analytics skill set developed by the sales industry is easily transferable to the world of consulting. 3 – Relationship Building and Communication
One skill set that the sales industry develops like no other is relationship building and communication. For example, Account Development associates are tasked with building and maintaining a relationship with one of P&G’s retailers for a specific category of products. The work in this stream is client-facing and requires employees to be comfortable with both building a strong relationship with clients and presenting information in a clear and persuasive manner. From a consulting standpoint, these skills are crucial to ensuring success on any given project. Without clear and timely communication, consultants wouldn’t be able to derive the problems of a client or present their solutions effectively. Consultants must build strong relationships with their clients in order to foster growth within the project and give way to future engagements as well. A former P&G intern also pointed out that just the simple skill of being conversational with clients can go a long way to ensuring consulting projects go smoothly. 4 – Market Research
The Category Development stream tasks employees with exploring an entire product line rather than just a single account. For example, an associate may be assigned to the hair care category, where they will examine the hair care market both within and outside of P&G, searching for a way to give the company a competitive advantage.
One primary consulting skill developed in this stream and throughout the company is market research. Category Development managers are constantly researching and learning more about their assigned categories, just as consultants must delve deep into the relevant markets for each new project. Consultants often need to become experts quickly in new industries, and therefore require discipline and active critical thinking skills to conduct the appropriate research. A single new insight into the market can drastically change the approach of both a consultant and a P&G employee, and thus shape their perception on the situation at hand. 5 – Developing Custom Solutions A big part of P&G’s strategy is recognizing that the company must continue to provide custom solutions to each unique client, rather than a generic, “one-size fits all” offering. This is evident through the Market/Strategy Planning stream, which deals with topics such as internal strategy, brand health and brand equity. In developing the company’s strategy, employees determine which different clients specific P&G brands cater to. For example, retailers focused on cost reduction need more economical product lines, whereas those concentrating on quality opt for more premium products. Market strategists must identify the products that should be made available, who they should be available to and how they should be presented. Consultants are also tasked with the responsibility of continuously providing custom solutions to each unique client. Consultants don’t develop their solutions through the use of rigid frameworks and formulas, but rather by applying their essential skills to the new information each project presents. This enables them to deconstruct the information they have been given and in turn, work to create the groundworks of an innovative solution. Both consultants and P&G sales employees must be comfortable with adapting to changing client needs and tailoring a solution or product accordingly. All things considered, there are many parallels between the changing sales industry and a role in consulting. Gaining experience in either of these fields can help you develop a skill set that is applicable across a wide range of industries. Make sure to stay tuned to our upcoming Blueprint posts to learn more about the different ways you can position yourself for success in the consulting industry and otherwise!