Amer Sports, a leading company in the sport equipment market, is a financial group which chose to specialise in the sport industry and today, consists of many different strong sport brands. The group is facing two challenges when dealing with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy; by dealing with professional customers and also with end users, it must play on two different fields. I worked for a year as an intern in Amer Sport’s French subsidiary as the Retail and Trade Marketing Manager Assistant on the Salomon brand, and I must say that I have never heard the term “Customer Relationship Management” during my whole internship.
How does Amer Sports create and maintain relationship with customers?
For a leading and customer-oriented company such as Amer Sports, CRM should be part of an employees’ daily work. As for Salomon B2B customers, the relationship is first created and then maintained by the salesperson, each responsible for a geographic sector. Nowadays, due to new lines of product, most customers have two interlocutors, one for the hardgoods (equipment) and another one for the softgoods (apparel and gears), which can complicate the interaction if the two salespersons don’t work hand in hand. Here again, it is all about company culture. The Salomon sales team used to consist of passionate sports people who were proud to work for Salomon, more than that, proud to be part of Salomon’s family. Those people today, have difficulty accepting working for Amer Sports, a company that chooses more and more to use agents, self-oriented short-term employees, and not to employ salespersons, probably because it is cheaper, but which threatens the company’s culture, and moreover, which could threaten long-term relationships built with customers. So, the sales team is in charge of the whole relationship process: they identify in which stores they strategically want to sell their products, what are the needs of their customers, and then start building a long-term one-to-one relationship by interacting with them and offering products relevant to the distributors’ capabilities and characteristics. Most of the time, the salespersons successfully build trustful relationships, especially by their expertise and credibility and the intimacy that they can have with customers. More than once, I came across a salesperson having dinner after work with one of their customers, inviting them to ski, and chatting about everything except work. The downside of this system is that most data about those customers are in the salesperson’s mind. The only information that I could find in the system was contact information (which was sometimes not even accurate), and previous orders. Having data about customers is not worth anything if it is not updated. Moreover, the implementation of the new system implied to change all the ID numbers of customers, which resulted to a massive confusion for employees as for customers. To have valuable information, I quickly understood that I had to call the salesperson, although Amer Sports implemented a few years ago a “global new system enterprise resource planning system from the well-known company SAP which was supposed to bring high level customer service”. From what I could experience, this SAP platform was far from being user friendly and the training on the program in the company was too light. Indeed, one of our trade marketing campaigns designed to help our distributors was delayed because of a technical manipulation needed in the SAP system, that only one person in the company was able to do, which consequently leads to a loss of credibility and therefore trust for our customers! Salomon’s customers do not ask for a full self-oriented relationship, even if most of them like to have a “human” relationship, but they just ask for reliability, and yet it is where Amer Sports is having difficulties despite its will to have an operational excellence.
The second major barrier to complete success for Amer Sports is indeed its technical performance. In the scale of the customer satisfaction model, the sales team is performing quite well in the interaction with the company and the emotional levels, but Amer Sports does not supply a level of technical performance good enough to support them. The salespersons can always try to be present along the whole sales process to show that they are not self and profit-oriented and trying to build trust, it is pointless if the company doesn’t support them. The sales team of Salomon and Atomic for example have to deal with system failures when taking orders, major delays and stock outs. And Amer Sports’ answer is to give discounts to its customers to compensate. But customers do not particularly care about a cheaper price, the only thing they ask for is to be delivered on time, which is the least the company should do. CRM is about understanding the touch points the company has to do right and answering the customers’ needs. CRM is about relationship before being about numbers, but companies tend to forget it. And Amer Sports, as a financial group, gave me the feeling they are focused on profit above all; those permanent stock outs are the perfect proof of a company that wants to avoid any cost by having extra stocks instead of emphasising on customer satisfaction.
Even if those operational issues are indeed a trend in the sport industry, it is really surprising to hear customers always giving feedback, good and bad, showing that they love the brand, and salespersons that are always complaining and trying to relay the information at each meeting, without any visible impact on Amer Sports’ strategy yet. But those salespersons are actually the ones possessing the dynamic capabilities needed to build the right CRM strategy. This dialogue would only create value when Amer Sports will listen to those complaining customers because they represent the best collaborators, and the company should try to manage all those failures to finally be this market leader.
As for the future of the group, it definitely lies in building a direct relationship also with B2C customers. Salomon is now interacting with its end users through its own retail stores and an ecommerce website where the brand can totally control its image and have the same worldwide dialogue with all its customers.
Today, Amer Sports has the opportunity to gather proper data on its end users to finally build a real CRM strategy, but will the company do it?