Sales leaders are being pressured to transform their commercial models to make them more digital, data-driven, and accountable. The forces propelling this transformation of sales, marketing, and service include: the rapid shift to virtual selling, the growing demands of “new school” digital buyers, and pressures to generate more revenue from legacy investments in people, technology, data, and content from leadership.
We’re already seeing the outlines of what we’re calling the 21st Century Commercial model take shape in the form of large shifts in both investment and buying behavior. At a time when buyers and sellers are cutting back on discretionary spending to match reductions in demand and client access, they are shifting their resources and spending to digital, data-driven, and virtual selling channels:
- Businesses are shifting dollars from sales travel, overhead and events into digital technologies that improve coverage and the client experience at scale according to a survey of growth leaders by the Wharton School of Business.
- Over 90% of organizations will invest more in selling content to fuel these digital sales according to this research, and the adoption of content management platforms are on the rise after being flat for the past several years.
- Investments in data and analytics to target accounts, qualifying buying intent, personalize offerings, and determine customer sentiment will grow by over 50% in the coming years.
At the same time, business leaders are increasingly frustrated with the persistent low levels of adoption, utilization and return they are getting from their existing sales and marketing technology assets. The majority of CRM implementations have lower than acceptable return on investment, less than satisfactory user adoption, and lots of unrealized potential according to research by the Sales Management Association (SMA). Data assets are also under-utilized. Most organizations are not leveraging the first party data within their CRM, Marketing Automation, and Digital Marketing platforms to support business decision-making or drive measurable growth according to an analysis by Forbes. And content utilization by sales remains very low and episodic.
This presents a conundrum. How do you accelerate the shift to digital selling platforms when the technology you already have is not pulling its weight?
The answer is not more technology, or even new technology tools. Sales leaders already suffer from too much technology and not enough impact. On average enterprises with B2B selling teams have already invested in 20 sales tool categories to support critical selling activities including: pricing, training, coaching, content sharing, customer relationship management, and contract management according to Miller Heiman research. Most of that technology works well enough. And the majority of sales operations and sales enablement professionals know what to do with it.
The real problem is to find ways to connect the dots across this growing technology ecosystem in ways that solve the biggest selling problems and create value. We’ve reached the point where the proliferation of sales and marketing technology tools and the maturation of the growth technology stack have made current approaches to managing these assets untenable. Tactically, this leads to tools that are duplicative, difficult to use, or disconnected from the other parts of the system. Strategically, the fragmented and tactical management of these expensive growth assets makes it very difficult to stitch together technology and data in ways that create value.
At this point there are too many moving parts in a modern selling system. No single tool is going to solve every problem completely. The reality is it takes three or more steps to move, transform, and deploy information and content from one system to the person or place it can create value. For example, the process of organizing, managing, recommending, and intelligently deploying sales content to a salesperson at the moment they need it takes at least three steps and likely spans many systems. The same applies to the rapidly growing stockpiles of data about customers. Capturing, aggregating, analyzing, and deploying insights based on customer interaction data is a multi-step journey. That’s why the best revenue enablement solutions now span three or four established technology categories and almost defy description – diminishing the usefulness of conventional technology marketing, analyst research, catalogs, benchmarks, and evaluations.
To effectively manage this complicated ecosystem of technology, business leaders are going to have to reimagine their sales and marketing technology portfolios. They’ll be forced to look across technology silos and islands and take a broader view of how data, content, and technology assets are supporting sales and creating new revenues.
The next generation of growth leaders will distinguish themselves by how they get their sales technologies to work together to support their processes and create value. They’ll stitch together the building blocks in their legacy technology stacks into technology ecosystems that capitalize on the most obvious opportunities to grow sales, profit, and firm value. Specifically, we see growth leaders actively “knitting together” the various pieces of their technology portfolios to build digital selling platforms that automate, simplify, and speed up selling by addressing the major hot spots in the selling process.
This may sound complicated. But it doesn’t have to be. One thing I’ve learned in 15 years of building and implementing digital selling and sales enablement platforms at Cisco and Hitachi is that when it comes to technology people tend to over think things. In reality, knitting together a highly profitable and productive portfolio of selling technologies is not rocket science. It does require hard work, teamwork, and leadership. But there’s definitely a cookbook – and the recipe for success is pretty straightforward.
The trick is to apply the 80/20 rule and not let perfect get in the way of profitable. Most B2B sales teams struggle with the same fundamental things. In my conversations with hundreds of sales operations executives I consistently see the same five or six problems or “hot spots” in the sales process that hold salespeople back:
- Finding the right product, solution, and selling content to meet customer expectations;
- Quick and easy access to competitive information and customer references to support the deal;
- Getting help finding and preparing proposals, pricing, and RFPs;
- Delivering training and readiness resources when then need it in the context of the selling situation;
- Reducing the time required to prepare for sales calls with guidance and opportunity prioritization;
- Simplifying, automating, and streamlining the top drivers of CRM adoption identified by sales leaders in an SMA survey: Improving ease of use (95%), ease of data input (93%), assistance in pipeline management (93%), and establishing CRM as the single source of sales information (93%).
CONNECTING THE DOTS TO ASSEMBLE A DIGITAL SELLING PLATFORM
At Hitachi Vantara, our entire focus was to connect these six dots into what we called a Digital Selling Platform. When we pulled all these pieces together our sales operations team was recognized as the “Sales Operations Program of the Year” for sales operations by Forrester/Sirius Decisions.
I’m not saying it was easy to connect these dots and create results. Just straightforward. The hardest part of stitching together the different pieces of the sales portfolio to create a sales experience that delivers the right tools, information, and resources at the right time are: a) leadership, b) change management, and c) taking a team approach to tailoring it to your process. Specifically, our team took five steps to connect the dots across the growth technology portfolio to create value:
- Take a top down approach to technology: Leadership agreed to take a “top down” approach to evaluating the entire sales and marketing technology portfolio with value creation and capture in mind. This does not require a “czar” with a fancy title. Rather an individual or team tasked with determining how all the pieces in the sales technology portfolio play together to create firm financial value.
- Identify the key points of leverage and failure in your sales process: We conducted a sales activity analysis – a qualitative and quantitative survey of the entire revenue team. This allowed us to identify the top five to six “hot spots” in your sales process that take up salesperson time and gate revenue growth to focus our efforts.
- Rationalize and focus the technology portfolio: Our Sales Operations, Sales Enablement, and Content Operations teams worked together to conduct a technology stack assessment and rationalization analysis to focus our sales technology portfolio on the places we needed to better leverage, automate, enable and support these specific hot spots. This analysis identified many disconnected or duplicate capabilities, and technologies that were not supporting sales because they were either not being used or were not useful.
- Fill critical gaps with best in class tools: We conducted a gap analysis to prioritize capabilities and tools that needed to be upgraded to fill in the areas our technology was not effectively supporting the key sales hot spots. For example, we added sales engagement tools to our roadmap to provide better opportunity prioritization and guided selling to salespeople because pre-call planning was taking up so much of their time.
- Leverage digital adoption solutions to multiply utilization. Measure and grow user adoption by connecting all the critical tools and capabilities to a digital adoption software package that makes it easy and fast to discover and use all the tools available to them. This proved to be a simple and highly profitable exercise. We learned that while we had “pockets of adoption” across the revenue team, no single sales rep or manager was aware of all of the tools we already had. More importantly, we realized that a little adoption goes a long way when it comes to leveraging selling tools and resources. A two-fold increase in adoption will yield a five to ten-fold return on existing technology, content, and data assets.
Ultimately, we realized a Digital Selling Platform was a great opportunity for sales operations executives to demonstrate leadership because it delivers a rare “win-win-win” initiative because it was popular with the sales force, politically practical, and financially sound. Done correctly a Digital Selling Platform will deliver:
- Quick wins in terms of advocacy from the sales team and success stories;
- High returns on investment because a small increase in adoption will yield a large return on growth assets;
- Strategically the platform addressed digital buying behavior and the increased cadence of virtual selling by enabling virtual, remote selling and new school digital selling channels;
- And politically the program improved the impact and effectiveness of expensive legacy CRM infrastructure and reinforced its role as the system of record and single source of truth driving the sales process.