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The top sales challenges for cleaning supplies and service companies

By Paul Black, CEO of sales-i

The cleaning industry was hit hard by the 2008 recession but now, a decade on, it’s back on the rise. According to the latest British Cleaning Council (BCC) industry report, the cleaning industry’s turnover has increased by 21 per cent since the recession, greater than the average growth across all sectors of the economy (17 per cent). In addition, the same report found that the industry contributes over £24 billion to the UK economy.

It’s safe to assume that the cleaning industry is back on the rise and many companies are starting to take advantage of new opportunities. At the same time, however, they face new challenges, especially when it comes to sales. These challenges are the focal point of sales-i’s most recent report, in which 233 supply chain business leaders, including senior executives from the cleaning industry’s suppliers, manufacturers and distributors, shared their thoughts on the upcoming sales opportunities and challenges for the coming months and beyond.

The following four sales areas were identified as the most persistent and troubling.

Struggles with CRM, customer retention and loyalty
Nearly two fifths (38 per cent) of respondents cited difficulty in ‘up-selling and cross-selling to existing customers’ as a key challenge for the coming year. This suggests that the industry is not fully harnessing the technology available to them, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence (BI) systems, that enables a data-driven view of customer buying behaviour.

Cross-selling and up-selling opportunities are often lost without sufficient depth of customer behaviour analysis. Seldom few sales professionals succeed on following their ‘gut instinct’ alone. If a business lacks insight into the immediate and ongoing wants and needs of its target audience, it will naturally struggle to improve sales. By extension, retaining existing customers and building long-term loyalty will also prove a hard mountain to climb.

Significant skills shortages in the sales department and back office
Recruitment will be an area of significant focus for the next twelve months, and according to our survey, sales is the most prominent area (65 per cent) in which supply chain companies are experiencing skills shortages, followed by operations and logistics (27 per cent) and production and assembly (21 per cent).

If firms cannot recruit the best staff, their efficiency, productivity, and creativity will suffer. The BCC industry trends report said that growth in the cleaning sector is higher than the national average. Working to publicise this type of data could go a long way to showcasing cleaning as an attractive sector to work in – whether in customer-facing roles, in the back office, or in manufacturing – and consequently help to tackle the skills shortages in the sector.

Apprehension to fully embrace digital technology and e-commerce
Automation, digital technology, e-commerce and software systems have become focal points of innovation in many major industries. Most of our survey respondents (61%) see automation and smart factories as an opportunity for their industry, and most (70 per cent) also say the same of e-commerce. However, the rest are either ambivalent, or openly view these innovations as a threat to their current ways of working.

It is interesting to note that most of these companies are completely intimidated by e-commerce giants such as Amazon: instead, they are seeking to take advantage of the expanded reach that digital sales channels can offer.

They are also taking advantage of a wide range of enterprise software systems and apps. According to our survey, the most common areas in which supply chain companies are deploying software systems to boost performance and efficiency are sales and marketing. Technology is critical to making sure that these departments succeed – for example, marketing software can ensure that leads are flagged and followed up on in good time.

Those who are apprehensive about introducing innovative new technology into their company might consider how it can help the sales department, especially in light of the fact that there are worries about skills shortages in this department.

Impact of economic performance and the commoditisation of key products
An overwhelming 98 per cent of respondents see the economy as critical to their performance. Businesses tend to respond to downwards trends in the economy by racing to the bottom and slashing prices. As the BCC trends report suggests, the cleaning industry makes a significant contribution to the economy, and it shouldn’t turn to lazy sales tactics in the event of wider negative economic trends. Loyalty programmes, customised product packages, and market-leading customer service are the things that will make a difference in the long run.

As any industry evolves, it endures new challenges. But the fundamental thought behind many of the challenges outlined by this report are longstanding issues that continue to endure – knowing your customers, skills shortages and digital revolutions. It is time for companies to embrace new challenges with new solutions – letting technology relieve some of the burdens along the way.



About Sarah OBeirne

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