The Challenging and Rewarding Careers of Sales, Marketing, and Advertising Executives
Insights for job seekers and professionals
William H. Murphy, PhD
The following is a revealing look at how sales, marketing, and advertising executives view their professions and how they strive to bring success to their firms. This anthology, based on interviews conducted with numerous executives, provides insights into the lives of executives in these exciting professions, the challenges they face in striving to grow their businesses, and the rewards gained in pursuing careers on the front lines. These executives are ultimately all focused on the prize – facilitating exchange by understanding market and competitive dynamics and doing so through time by satisfying customers profitably.
For college students contemplating their choice of major, including possible careers in sales, marketing or advertising, these stories provide insights for your considerations. For the soon-to-graduate student, these stories provide insights that can be used to sharpen interviewing readiness and for understanding your career options in a personal and revealing way. For the seasoned executive, these stories provide an opportunity to explore future directions for your career climb, as well as to rejuvenate and refocus your energies.
Enjoy this collection – each is the true story of an executive who is striving to grow their business. Each is a tale of the demands of being a professional in the demanding and highly rewarding sales, marketing, and advertising professions.
Vice President of Customer Services
Assistant Vice President of Credit Life and Disability
More will be added each month!
Industry:Wireless Services Industry
TitleVice President of Customer Services
Customer Services is a great place to start out in the organization. A Customer Care Representative has the opportunity to acquire a wealth of knowledge relating to the company and to the industry through extensive training and interaction with the customer. Also, working in customer care can provide a great deal of satisfaction resulting from solving customer problems effectively.
The Customer Services function at the company is composed of six subfunctions, each of which reports to Jim. These are: Technical Support, Applications Support, Business Operations, Customer Care, Business Services, and Quality and Process Improvements.
Jim’s primary role is overseeing the Customer Care function, which is evaluated by expense control and customer satisfaction. Jim serves on the Executive Team, which is responsible for resolving issues encompassing all departments. For example, when new rate plans are in the process of being rolled out, Jim must determine what the effects will be on the Customer Service function. He develops and supports ideas for revenue generation and the related effects on the Customer Service department.
Perhaps Jim’s most important role is ensuring world-class customer care within the most efficient and effective model possible that delivers the best long-term income for the organization.
Entering the Profession
Jim has held various customer care and marketing positions in the telecommunications industry for his entire career. In 1977 he began his career as a Service Representative at a regional phone center where customers would pick up their phones and receive service. After holding various call center positions and a customer service marketing position, Jim went to Bell Telephone Company where he was responsible for a regional market’s small and medium business channels. In the mid-1990’s he became Vice President of Customer Services where he now direct reports to the President and General Manager. Jim’s educational background consists of a BBA in Marketing and an MBA from Northeastern University.
As to the qualities that the company seeks in new candidates, Jim reports:
The main qualities the company looks for in new recruits are work ethic, commitment, excellent telephone communication skills, good listening ability, and adequate problem-solving skills.
A new recruit will typically undergo six weeks of specialized training to become qualified as a Customer Care Representative. During training, new recruits learn all about the company, the wireless industry, and customer service techniques. A two to four week transition period follows where the new recruit takes a limited number of calls and has a great deal of support from coworkers. Then the new recruit will “graduate” into the regular Customer Care group.
Jim estimates that approximately 90 percent of all customer service techniques and company and industry knowledge is learned by a recruit during the training process. Another five percent is learned in transition. There is no way to train for the remaining five percent, as this category represents unique issues that must be dealt with individually. About 70 to 80 percent of all customer calls relate to ten main categories such as billing problems and rate plan questions.
A primary goal of the training process is to ensure all graduating Customer Service Representatives are well-versed on the top ten types of calls and how to respond to them.
Today the company has more than 1,000 rate plan codes, so it is essential the Customer Care Representatives have access to the most up-to-date information. The company currently utilizes a Customer Care Intranet for this purpose, and it contains easy-to-access customer care information such as rate plans and wireless coverage areas.
Performance Determinants & Compensation
There is an overall set of goals relating to quality, productivity and number of calls that are used to measure the performance of a Customer Care Representative. A normal distribution curve can be utilized to demonstrate that some Customer Care Representatives are slower and more thorough, and some are faster and less thorough. In simple terms, good performance means being fast and thorough, while still being pleasant to interact with, from the customer’s perspective.
The company randomly sends postcards to customers that have called for service. These postcards ask simple questions relating to overall satisfaction, along with questions asking about the knowledge and courtesy of the Customer Care Representative that handled the call. If a Customer Service Representative receives a certain number of “great” postcards, he/she becomes eligible to receive a bonus. Each Customer Care Representative receives a base salary. For the first couple of years, they are eligible to receive a raise every six months, based on performance. Finally, all Customer Service Representatives are eligible to receive a year-end bonus, which is also based on performance.
The company is evaluated as a whole by a quarterly customer satisfaction survey. A sample of customers are asked to respond to the questions concerning a variety of performance categories including customer service, billing, network, and roaming. A scale of one to ten is used in the different categories corresponding to whether the company exceeded, met, or failed to meet expectations. The survey results are then used to determine what drives overall customer satisfaction and customer feedback is utilized to create meaningful ways to better meet the needs of the company’s wireless customers.
The wireless industry in general is very competitive and quality customer care stands at the frontline of ensuring overall customer satisfaction and customer retention.
The wireless services industry is characterized by increasing complexity, growing competition, and demanding customers. One challenge the company faces is improving processes and service quality so that the customer does not need to call in the first place.
According to a recent customer satisfaction survey, overall customer satisfaction at the company is primarily driven by four factors; customer service (not the largest driver of overall customer satisfaction), billing, network quality (largest driver of overall customer satisfaction), and roaming.
Despite the finding that customer service is just the second most important factor in overall satisfaction, Jim is well aware of other research, conducted by the Forum Corporation, which found that customers are five times more likely to switch vendors because of perceived service problems than because of product quality issues.
Since network quality is the largest driver of customer satisfaction, expanding upon the existing communications network infrastructure to improve call quality and clarity has the potential of increasing overall customer satisfaction. The company is constantly grappling with network issues such as the cost versus perceived benefit of implementing new cell sites and technologies. Furthermore, other issues play a factor in network expansion, such as geography, weather, community issues (most communities don’t want a cell tower within close proximity, yet they want the convenience of wireless service), and population density (whether or not there is enough density to warrant a new cell site). Most customers are willing to pay a little more for wireless service if they perceive that a provider has a superior network.
The company continuously strives to position itself within the market as having the best wireless network in the region, and maintaining this status is a significant ongoing challenge. To maintain this status the company needs to constantly publicize its efforts to improve its wireless network.
A key challenge faced by the Customer Services Department is customer retention. According to a study conducted by the management consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., poor service is responsible for 40 percent of customer turnover. Another study recently indicated that each problem a customer encounters causes a 20 percent decline in long-term customer loyalty. It is the role of the Customer Services function to develop processes that help ensure customer satisfaction.
For Jim, loyal customers are crucial; a study by the American Management Association found that the business of loyal repeat customers yields 65 percent of an average business’ sales volume. Further still, in the wireless industry it can cost hundreds of dollars to win a new customer - making loyalty a pivotal part of the success of the company.
Because repeat business has a more positive impact on the bottom line than new business, customer retention is a key driver of long-term profitability in the wireless industry.
The company has one of the lowest “churn” or customer turnover rates in the region. Wireless contracts help to retain a customer for the first one to two years. After this initial period, retention is driven mainly by the factors found in customer satisfaction surveys. In addition, retention is increased if the customer perceives a good price-to-value relationship. Thus, pricing and rate policy work in conjunction with network quality and quality customer service to ensure competitiveness and customer retention.
One of Jim’s biggest challenges in being a successful leader is effective communication.
Effective communication helps to ensure everyone shares a common vision and work ethic. Through effective communication, Jim must convey that each person in the organization is instrumental in his/her respective area and is encouraged to voice and/or implement good ideas.
Jim must coordinate activities with every major function to be effective. Customer Services does not operate autonomously, and the action of any function can impact the Customer Service group and vice versa. It is Jim’s challenge, through serving on the Executive Team, to ensure that Customer Service, Public Affairs, Network Services, Marketing/Sales, Finance, Human Resources, and Legal are all on the same ship, sailing in the same direction, and embracing a common vision.
Jim believes that being able to feel empowered and having the ability to get things done is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job. Achieving superior results drives his satisfaction.
Jim firmly believes that the goal of any business is to deliver value to its owners who are taking a risk. This is an application of the idea that every job within an organization ultimately exists to create value for customers and shareholders. The central goal of any business organization is to satisfy customers profitability. As Jim suggests,
Customer satisfaction ultimately ensures profitability and the transfer of value to shareholders by increasing customer retention.
Industry:Musical Instrument Sales
Success is tied to high familiarity with the products carried and the targeted market segment, along with fine-tuned communication skills and a love of the business. These factors help me provide quality service to customers and increase sales for my company.
Mike has been in the music business for the past 20 years. His love of music led to a degree in Instrumental Education, which was followed by a master’s degree in business. His career has included playing in a prestigious symphony orchestra. For the past five years he has owned his own business, a business where he can remain intimate with music while also utilizing skills in business. Mike is a Manufacturer’s Representative for three musical instrument companies, with responsibilities for a geographic region. Acting essentially as district manager and with three salespeople working for him, Mike reports to the sales manager of each of these manufacturers.
Mike…enjoys the freedom and independence afforded by owning his own business.
Entering the Profession
In the past, musicians and performers would retire musically and continue in the industry as representatives or sales managers. This is not how it works today. In fact, to be able to represent musical instrument companies a candidate must be heavily involved in the music industry, have at least a bachelor’s degree in music (most entering the field have a master’s degree), have at least five years retail experience, and have experience working with musical education in schools.
Training usually occurs incrementally as an individual develops techniques
in sales and grows in product knowledge
While some of this comes through mentoring, most requires the initiative of salespeople through studying the field and through continuing education. Once a professional has experience in sales, training is limited to annual sales meetings or trade shows where new sales techniques and new product developments are the focus. These training opportunities are run by musical instrument companies and the training focuses on new products, techniques and technologies.
Performance Determinants & Compensation
A Good Performer is someone who increases the bottom line of the business
Mike meets with manufacturers to forecast sales and determine budgets. Then, Mike’s company faces the challenge of matching sales to goals. In order to focus his salespeople, commission rates are set with the rate varying by product and territory. Mike strives to match his salespeople to territories in such a way that they are able to make best use of their skills while providing good customer service.
Ultimately, the loyalty customers feel toward their sales representatives
make or break the business.
Musical instrument manufacturers make payment when products are shipped and commissions are paid to the sales representatives at the beginning of the ensuing month. The best aspect of having his salespeople work for commission is that the reward for good performance is directly linked to sales. However, while this leads to striving for high volume, there is a risk of harming customer service. Mike is careful to make sure that his people keep their sights on the value of their customers.
In the 90’s, the musical instrument industry’s biggest challenge was to keep university, college, and other school music programs intact. In recent years there has been an increased effort to make the importance of these programs better understood, with many different groups taking a role in building awareness for the future of music. These efforts have included promotions and public service announcements. In addition, the trade organization, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) lobbies in Washington to keep funds flowing to the schools. The benefits from these efforts have been the continuance of these programs despite tightened budget conditions. With organized music programs the mainstay of his business, these lobbying efforts have contributed to his continued growth.
Competition forces companies to be responsive, knowledgeable and innovative
Another major challenge in the last few years has been the increasing sophistication of both customers and competitors. With the heightened use of the internet and with increasingly aggressive competitors, customers are more knowledgeable and they demand more information when making purchases. The only way that manufacturer’s representatives can succeed in these conditions is by working closely with manufacturers to gain a thorough product knowledge and by honing their communication skills so as to better serve customers. Even after the sale, salespeople need to stay close to both the manufacturer and to the customer to ensure customers receive a top-quality product.