The best views of the Wicklow Mountains, a balcony off the canteen, unlimited chocolate – Mars’s offices have been considered the best workplaces in Europe by right. Operating across six business segments including petcare, food, and drinks, Mars is a family-owned business that has been trading since 1911. Wrigley, M&Ms, Pedigree are just some of the products that help the company with a century-long history to dominate the FMCG market.
As a privately-owned business, Mars claims it enjoys the “unusual levels of freedom” when it comes to how it operates. Neil Finlayson, Sales Director at Mars Ireland says its five principles that have been core to the business: Quality, Responsibility, Mutuality, Efficiency and Freedom. We met Neil to get you first-hand insights into a career of a salesperson at one of the world’s leading businesses.
You have fifteen years worth experience in sales. What are three key things you have learned throughout your career?
I have worked in various management roles in retail and food services across most of the sales functions, so I can say that sales is largely about listening. As in any other profession, you can’t make a success of your career if you are not passionate about what you do. This is a profession for go-getters. When I moved to a senior position as a Director, I learned how important loyalty is. Make sure you are loyal to your company and your actions are clear and transparent.
What was the best career advice you have ever received?
This relates back to what I just mentioned – on an operational level, transparency in your work should exclude the possibility of encountering surprises. From a leadership perspective, keeping your cool is key. Whatever the situation, don’t give away how shocked you may be with the developments. Staying composed signals to people you can manage the situation which is key to building trust. In any case, not appearing surprised by the unexpected developments will buy you time.
How are the employees at Mars encouraged to express their ideas?
Mars is a very inclusive company where the structure is quite flat, and everyone’s encouraged to get involved and challenge where they think they can make a difference. We’re open to new ideas and the culture of listening encourages employees to share those ideas. Because everyone is involved and feels comfortable contributing, the overall atmosphere in the company is less bureaucratic and more inclusive. You can make mistakes and you should learn from them – if you are failing, make sure you are failing forward, so you won’t repeat the same error.
“Whatever deal you are negotiating think of the long-term implications.”
What are some of the key skills of a successful salesperson?
As with many other professions you’ll need passion. It is nurtured by self-motivation. Finally, it is a can-do attitude that will make this combination work. A good salesperson is naturally a positive thinker, this helps because there will be lots of ups and downs throughout your career. To keep going you have to learn how to celebrate your ups and recover from your downs quickly.
How have sales techniques transformed with the development of technology?
I guess FMCG is still quite old-fashioned in some of the ways it operates. The field is heavily relationship led which means people buy from people they like. This may be more noticeable based on geo-location. I am quite excited to see what technology is going to bring in the future. We can already see changes on all levels – starting from field sales, all the way up to B2B communication. The speed of information processing, data access and analysis are all affected by technology and I expect there’s lot more to come.
What did you learn from your very first sale?
My experience shows it’s important to make sure you show a benefit to the customer. Whatever deal you are negotiating think of the long-term implications. You can call it working towards creating a mutual benefit which is basically shared benefit. Nurture long-term relationships based on mutual partnerships – it’s always better to create win-win situations.
“Wellbeing of everyone working here is a top priority.”
Mars has been awarded the Best Workplace in Europe 2016. Tell us more about the perks you offer.
Pension scheme, healthcare not just for you but your family, heavily subsidised canteen, opportunities to be a brand ambassador – you name it. Although it’s big, Mars is a family business, it’s about the team that works here and employees are treated as family members. Wellbeing of everyone working here is a top priority. We have some unique programmes in the company too like our Mars Ambassador Programme; it allows the employees to go behind the scenes and get involved with some developing communities that are so important in our supply chain. From helping mint farmers with the sustainability of their operations in India to building a shelter for animals in Mexico City, our people have the opportunity for some incredible adventures.
The company is an active advocate of eco-friendly food processing. What kind of initiatives do you run?
At Mars, we are committed to making sure all our operations across the globe are fully sustainable within a generation. Sustainable energy is our focus and currently our UK operations are sustainable thanks to the Scottish Wind Farm we have there. The US is on the same journey. We are also committed to supporting fair trade – we closely monitor our activity around palm oil and other products.
“Creating jobs for the local communities is incredibly rewarding.”
Just recently Mars Food UK announced a £23 million investment into its King’s Lynn manufacturing site. Tell us more about the opportunities arising from it.
We are very proud of this investment and it once again shows our continued support of the local communities in which we operate. Creating jobs for the local communities is incredibly rewarding and is very much in line with our company philosophy.
What’s your favourite part about working at Mars?
Well, in addition to all those perks mentioned already and apart from a great environment and the team I have a chance to be part of, I should reveal – free chocolate and ice cream!
“Culture plays an important role in Mars.”
Share some advice for those looking to pursue a career in sales.
Be confident – know why you want to work in the company you’re applying to. Sales is a space full of motivated people ready to develop and progress. Doing your research properly will help you identify specifics, knowing values and the vision of the company is key.
A career in sales can be very rewarding, you need motivation, confidence, and diligence to make it work. If you have the right attitude, this profession definitely gives you an opportunity for progression.
Name one misconception about people that work in sales?
It might still be approached as a less sexy or glamorous career path. Some people mistakenly think those working in FMCG are walking door-to-door to force people buy stuff. In reality, we are creating the best possible experience for our customers and research their needs to deliver relevant services. It’s the art of negotiation and building meaningful relationships based on mutual benefit.
Mars are currently hiring for a number of roles. What is your top advice for anyone planning to apply and become a ‘Martian’?
Before applying make sure this is a company for you. Once you do your research, learn what is company actually doing – this means getting to know the business. Consider that culture plays an important role in Mars. We are looking for people who can add to and build our culture. Anyone can be trained for a skill but it is important for us to have people who are able to be part of a team and have a positive attitude.
My favourite place in Dublin… Drury Street, Creative Quarter. It’s a vibrant space full of great places to eat, drink, and wander.
My top tip for Talent struggling with confidence is… Believe in yourself. Look back at your career and see what you have done. There is always a link and understanding it will be helpful.
To stay motivated during your job hunting… Set goals and have options, “spread the net” as far as you can, nurture your network – it will bring you choices.
Favourite app… Because I love football BBC Sport. I am also a heavy user of Spotify and LinkedIn.
Connect with Mars Ireland on Jobbio