By its own definition, the consumer goods (FMCG) sector is a dynamic industry as organisations try to respond to – and predict – customer demand and future trends.
Essentially, FMCG’s are those products that are frequently purchased by consumers at relatively low cost, such as deodorant, toothpaste, detergents and packaged food and drink, along with non-durables including glassware, bulbs, batteries, paper products, plastic goods – the list goes on. Or in broader terms: food, pharmaceuticals, consumer electronics, drinks and beauty products.
At the forefront of this sector is the role played by sales people. It is their job to persuade customers to buy their company’s products, which could see you working in a customer-facing role on the shop floor of a high street store, for instance, or in a non-customer facing position within a call centre environment contacting new and existing customers and closing deals over the telephone.
Irrespective of where you work, the nature of your job is essentially the same ie, dealing with customer enquiries, maximising sales revenue and hitting both personal and team targets. And crucially, you will need to be able to handle rejection. As James Dyson, inventor and one of the leading figures in the FMCG sector, says: “Enjoy failure and learn from it. You can never learn from success.”
As all sales people will say, the more ‘Nos’ you receive the closer you move to that all-important ‘Yes’.
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Hours and environment
The FMCG sector never sleeps. In an age when consumers demand access to goods and services 24/7, sales people are needed to don the company’s uniform and ‘man the shop’ around the clock. In the main, you will usually work during normal opening hours, which is around 35 to 40 hours a week and may include evenings and weekends or shift work.
If you are employed in an office-based, graduate or managerial position, you will be expected to work the normal 9 to 5 hours.
Skills and interests
With the FMCG sector increasingly becoming one of the most preferred destinations for new entrants at all levels – from school leavers to newly qualified graduates – you need to know what skills and attributes employers look for in their ideal candidate. Typically, employers want to see evidence of the following:
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- An outgoing and likable personality
- A high degree of self-motivation
- Able to work own your own initiative and as part of a team
- Strong customer focus
- Ability to work under pressure and to tight deadlines
- Resilience and persistence combined with the ability to cope with rejection
- Commercial awareness
The FMCG sector is big business. So big, in fact, that it is worth an estimated €1 trillion in Europe alone and is one of the few industries shielded from the recent recession and emerge as the front runner to drive the UK’s economic recovery forward.
Indeed, the FMCG sector is one of only four sectors that have continued to be pro-active in the recruitment market throughout what has proven to be the most testing economic conditions since the mid-1990s. Although not entirely recession-proof, this is certainly one sector that can offer a sales career within an industry that can weather even the most turbulent of times; after all, people still need to eat, drink and wash every day – well, they need to eat and drink, anyway.
It is said that sales people are born, not made. But nothing could be further from the truth. Individuals from all backgrounds and all education levels enter the FMCG sector. However, most recruiters look for a standard level of academic achievement: four GCSEs grades A-C or equivalent.
That said, there are some areas of the sector that are more competitive than others, and there has been a trend in recent years for employers to ask for graduates – especially for technical sales positions. But more important than academic and professional qualifications is your passion and enthusiasm for the products you will be selling.
Training, other qualifications and advancement
One of the great things about working in this sector is that progression is somewhat quicker compared to most industries and one where you can easily find yourself considering your next career move sooner rather than later.
The people who ‘get on’ are those who become masters of their own job while identifying the keys skills needed to do the job they want to be promoted to next, the one after that, and the one after that. For instance, if you are currently performing a telesales roles and hoping to move into a team leader position, gaining an understanding of how to set targets, manage budgets, produce sales forecasts and run staff training sessions will make your application stand out, because these are core skills that only people in a team leader and above role will use.
There are also a number of more obvious things you can do that will get you noticed by your superiors and make you stand out from your colleagues:
- Take on extra responsibilities
- Lead by example
- Mentor new starters
- Be good at the things others are poor at – be the person who sells the most of particular product
- Openly praise colleagues for doing a good job which by default, shines light on your own achievements
Once you have decided that you are ready to further your career, you will have a number of options available to you.
A sales assistant, for instance, could take the next step up into a team leader/supervisor position before moving into a trainee store manager role. Thereafter, you could progress to duty or line manager before taking on the responsibility of managing an entire store and then rise through the ranks as area manager followed by national sales manager and ultimately sales director, where you will rub shoulders with the likes of retail-king Philip Green.
Others enter the FMCG sector as part of a fast-track scheme that enables high-calibre entrants to realise their management potential within a planned and deliberate time-frame. Starting off in an office or field-based sales executive role, fast-trackers will spend an allotted period of time mastering their job before moving up to team manager or senior account/sales manager and following the traditional route to the top as described above.
There is also the opportunity to study for professional qualifications in the form of certificates, diplomas and post graduate study – all of which will demonstrate your enthusiasm for your industry, increase your skills and raise your profile and could mean the difference between you and another candidate winning the next promotion.
This is a multi-billion pound industry in which brands spend an equally impressive amount of money on marketing to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals and ensure consumer loyalty. Some of the biggest players in the UK include:
- Proctor & Gamble
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The sales sector is served by a number of professional organisations, the key ones being the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Institute of Sales & Marketing Management and the Managing & Marketing Sales Association.