Top Management Focus Group
“Organizing for Marketing & Sales Excellence – Setting Priorities and KPIs”

On January 17-18, 2017 our Top Management Focus Group on the topic „Organizing for Marketing & Sales Excellence – Setting Priorities and KPIs” took place at Marbach Castle, Germany.

In our workshop we discussed animatedly what challenges today`s companies face in order to plan, organize and implement their marketing and sales activities. Prof. Dr. Sven Reinecke, Director of the Institute of Marketing at the University of St. Gallen (HSG), provided an instructive overview of current topics and challenges as well as future opportunities for companies in the context of marketing and sales excellence.

Furthermore, we had the pleasure of conducting valuable discussions with truly inspiring guest lectures from a wide range of various industries. As we gained many insights in our 2-day seminar, we would like to summarize seven key take aways on the topic of “Marketing & Sales Excellence“.

1. Segment and serve your markets and customers purposefully

Clear and consequent segmentation is key to a successful organization of marketing and sales activities. The cooperation be-tween the marketing and the sales department plays an important role herein. It is the marketing department that should de-fine the segmentation of the markets and the customers. Furthermore, the marketing department should specify which customers will be served and which will not. That is why it is important that the two departments share a “common language”.

Customer segmentation is probably one of the most challenging tasks in a company whatsoever. This is also due to the fact that a company does not only need to decide which customers to serve, but also which potential customers do not belong to the target group of the company.

To sum up, there are three main steps to successful segmentation: First, you need to segment markets. Second, you need to segment customers. Third, you need to exclude the other customers that do not belong to your target group.

However, even if it is crucial to set clear priorities in segmentation because you can-not serve all customer at the same time, you may have to differentiate your segmentation approach within different market areas of your company.

It may be that the sales department in Asia does not rely on the same segmentation criteria as the one in Europe. Nevertheless, it is absolutely key to develop a common view on segmentation within the company and to purposefully orchestrate the cooperation between marketing and sales.

Furthermore, focus is not only important in terms of customer segmentation, but also concerning the products and services. Modular product portfolios may help to better meet customer needs.

Finally, especially companies with a multitude of different brands also have to pay attention to the communication strategy of their sub-brands. Usually, it is not realistic to take communication measures for all brands in the same intensity at the same time. Again, you need to have a clear focus and prioritize which brands to communicate primarily. Like in many contexts, the Pareto Principle also applies here. This means that you will reach 80% of your success with 20% of effort.

1 - The Pareto Principle - (2017)
The Pareto Principle | Source: (2017)

2. Find a balance between centralization and decentralization

When it comes to internationalization, companies need to decide which parts of marketing and sales to centralize and which ones to decentralize. In that frame-work you should be aware that a high degree of interactivity requires a personal relationship management as well as personal visits. You can never centralize customer relationships, it is done locally and works differently in every culture. Nevertheless, it is important that the content is provided by the HQs. Especially in the time of digitalization, centralization is gaining more and more importance. In other words: the storytelling has to be generated by the HQs, but the local markets should decide how to use the material and how to integrate it into the marketing communication. Therefore, benchmarking also has to be done locally by the sales person. Global standards, CRM-Systems and questions on how to operate and process on the other hand, should be delivered by the HQs.

This way you can react to the differences between markets but act efficiently at the same time. The more centralized a company acts, the less degree of freedom it retains. Examples for companies that tend to work more centralized are Apple, Google and Dell. Swiss Post reinforces the importance of having a balance between decentralization and centralization by saying that it is not only important to have people who are experts in certain fields but also people with roots in different regions – you need both IQ and EQ. The fact that people buy from people they like and people they know is also underlined by Thomson Reuters. They believe that that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and that companies should invest in cultural training and networking. To put it in a nutshell, international companies have to provide their strategies by the HQs but “the magic happens locally”.

2 - Interaction Matrix - Reinecke (2017) based on Klumpp (2000)
Interaction Matrix | Source: Reinecke (2017) based on Klumpp (2000)

3. Position your brand clearly

Although you might at first sight only have one product category or service to offer, you can rely on many opportunities to purposefully position your brand with a clear strategy. Jungfrau Railways with its top destination “Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe” does this exemplarily. The company differentiates between various sub-brands and positions them amongst different target groups. The primary target group of the sub-destination Winteregg-Mürren for example are families that look for summer holidays in the mountains. At the same time, the destination Jungfraujoch has a completely different target group. The main focus here is on group travelers from Asia. This clear positioning and sales strategy makes tracking possible. While for fully independent travelers it is not possible to track where they stem from, the Jungfrau Railways disposes of detailed statistics about the group business, market data and the return on investment in these markets. The collaboration with tour operators and travel agents from all over the world thus allows the company to adjust its sales strategy selectively, if necessary. Another recommendable approach to test whether your brand positioning fits the market is to quickly implement new products or services and to analyze the reaction of the clients. Jungfrau Railways followed this strategy successfully with the installation of the so-called FIRST CLIFF WALK in the Grindelwald-First region. This destination is positioned in the field of adventure holidays where the guests can experience nature and chose from various sports activities such as hiking, biking or driving carts down the hill. Again, this destination not only has a clear positioning but also a clearly defined target group. In this case it aims at the young, active European and Australian customer.

3 - Brand Positioning of Jungfrau Railways - Bütler (2017)
Brand Positioning of Jungfrau Railways | Source: Bütler (2017)

4. Create tailor-made customer solutions

Customer vs. product – that is an issue that possesses constant presence in the organization of marketing and sales. Companies are aware of the importance of their customer. Still, the traditional structures and organizations often result in the fact that customers are not taken into consideration at each step. Falling short of meeting customers` expectations can lead to increased loss of clients over time. In order to avoid that issue, companies should keep in mind that products come and go, but customers remain – customers are the new drivers and should therefore be centralized. However, the centralization process requires the companies to move from a functional towards a customer-oriented organization, so that the customer can be focused on during all stages. Centricity means not only to look at the customer in detail when deciding about sales and marketing, but also to have a 360° view of your clients. In order to follow the customer on his journey, companies have to avoid thinking in silos. Data has to be shared and analyzed internally. Do not forget to ask yourself “who is the customer and what does he need?”. Keep in mind that it is a people’s business. Therefore it is also necessary to speak the language of the customer. The furniture company Vitra illustrates a good example of customer centricity. The family-owned company is convinced that customer centricity requires an understanding and analysis of the needs and wishes of the customer. Vitra offers tailored and customized office environments. Meaning that the office of each customer looks differently, there is no standardized office. You have to create something unique. There are a lot of factors to configure, you have to make them as tailor-made as possible.

4 - 360° Customer View @CLAAS - Zu Stolberg (2017)
360° Customer View @CLAAS | Source: Zu Stolberg (2017)

5. Never stop striving for excellence

Striving for marketing and sales excellence is a task that a company has to fulfill permanently and incessantly. According to Carpentier (2017), excellence stands for the quality of excelling, of being really the best at something. Having said that, being excellent always stands for a relative performance: You compare yourself to the best within your industry, your product category or your service level. You are excellent, if you perform better than your competitors. Furthermore, it is important to note that the goal is not reached when you have achieved a status of excellence. When you are number one, striving for excellence continues and you have to push boundaries any further to sustain an improve quality. However, being excellent or not is in many cases a highly subjective issue. Excellence is hard to measure and often relies on a qualitative judgement of a client or a market. There are several success factors when it comes to the challenge of driving sales excellence. Carpentier (2017) developed a framework that contains the key factors for sustainable success. Among these are first of all a clear sales and market strategy. It is necessary to look at the customer in detail and to identify the necessary consequences to approach the customers. Moreover, sales is a people’s business, so talent management and leadership are key. In this context, also reward schemes play a crucial role as they are one of the elements of how to enhance the motivation of the sales force and to set up a winning culture within the company. Furthermore, it is of vital importance to enable good performance by installing an organizational chart and processes that employees become familiar with. Like this, you can organize for an agile organization that is willing to learn – a factor which again contributes to company success.

5 - Stepping Stones towards Sales Excellence - Carpentier (2017)
Stepping Stones towards Sales Excellence | Source: Carpentier (2017)

6. Set adequate KPIs and use tools deliberately

Setting adequate goals and KPIs is not a science, but an art. There are no secret formulas to how to best define KPIs and sales targets. According to Jester (2017) though, one way how to approach the challenge of goals setting and defining KPIs is by putting the focus on customer retention. In this case, you should avoid negative targets but rather focus on retention rates. These retention rates should usually be close to 100 %. Also, a main focus may lie on new sales (in percentage of new revenue) or on strategic campaigns to reflect major product launches. Do not forget to consider deliberately how many goals and KPIs you define. If you include too many of them, there may arise conflicts of different targets and people may lose focus. Moreover, measuring customer satisfaction is an important task that should not be underestimated. A company cannot only strive for sales targets without having a look at customer satisfaction. This is the reason why sales excellence is a process:

You have to continually manage change, consolidation and growth. Likewise, integrated CRM systems play a key role in organizing for sales excellence. It should be simple and mobile. Furthermore, it should include dashboards and incentive information as well as a chat feature. The chat feature is important to talk about success stories that might be multiplied in another context. It should be made available to the whole management team and can enhance employee motivation.

However, a CRM system is only as good as the people who work with it. This means that it is vitally important that all employees really “feed” the system with relevant information. The rule must be as follows: “Every information that is not in the system is not existent”. Experience shows that this is often a key challenge in successfully operating a CRM in the context of sales and marketing.

7. Be aware of cultural aspects in organizing for sales excellence

One key success factor of enhancing marketing and sales excellence are the people within an organization. You have to take into account cultural aspects and individual needs of employees when defining the operational and organizational structure. Always think twice before centralizing certain departments as in many cases it is not only important to have people with a lot of expertise in a certain field, but also people that have their roots in different regions.

The Swiss Post, for example, had to recognize that it was not possible to centralize sales activities in Western Switzerland. Employees resisted to the plan of closing down two of four sales offices in Western Switzerland. However, in the end, this resistance paid off as the Swiss Post recognized the importance of local sales staff that is regionally embedded. This is at least partially due to the fact that people buy from people they like and from people they know. When centralizing too much, this aspect gets lost. This case shows that relationship management is important both internally and externally.

In the external context, relationship management is about understanding the customer’s organization: Which goals and objectives does the customer have? What are his major projects and deadlines? What does the customer need? Where do potential difficulties lie? Who is involved in the decision-making process? How do internal politics influence the cooperation with the customer? In many cases, these and further questions can often not be simply answered by a look at the organizational chart. For example, being in a hierarchically higher position does not automatically mean that you belong to the “inner circle” of a certain project. That is also due to the fact that everybody within the organization follows both business and personal goals.

Another ongoing challenge is the recruitment of new talents for the sales organization. Getting the right people is a difficult task. In the assessment process, the company should not only focus on the technical knowledge and skills, but also on the emotional intelligence of the job applicant because – as you already know – people buy from people they like (Charles, 2017).

6 - Relationship Management - Charles (2017)
Relationship Management | Source: Charles (2017)


Reinecke, S. (2017). Organizing for Marketing & Sales Excellence: Setting Priorities & KPIs. Unpublished slides (University of St. Gallen).

Bütler, M. (2017). Jungfrau Railways. Unpublished slides (Jungfrau Railways).

Ehrhardt, R. & Stahl, H. (2017). Vitra – How authenticity helps us to provide ‘one face to the customer’. Unpublished slides (Vitra).

Zu Stolberg, M. (2017). Digital Transformation@CLAAS Marketing. Unpublished slides (CLAAS).

Carpentier, K. (2017). Sales Excellence in Transforming Businesses: How to drive Sales Excellence in a Declining Market? Unpublished slides (CGEM – Carpentier Growth Enablement & Management).

Jester, A. (2017). Sales Excellence. Unpublished slides (Thomson Reuters).

Charles, J. (2017). Leadership in Marketing & Sales Excellence. Unpublished slides (Swiss Post).