Digital transformation for sales: The initiatives that count

by Marty Nicholas

In previous posts, we detailed why sales must transform to stay relevant in the digital age, and also outlined what the rep of the future will look like. With the view of ‘what’ we need to evolve our salespeople into becoming clearer, the key challenge for sales leaders – or any business leader carrying a target – is ‘how’ to best support our salespeople through this digital transformation. With near-term targets always looming, the question we are commonly asked is – which are the critical initiatives to focus on in order to make this happen?

When it comes to sales transformation, we observe in a lot of businesses that piecemeal initiatives are being launched, with a bias towards new technology tools. Common examples include focusing on CRM data quality, launching social selling or implementing a marketing automation platform to assist with lead generation. Although technology is a critical part of the picture, the shifts required to adapt sales for the digital age are much broader than this alone. To build the infrastructure and operational muscle essential for success, genuine transformation spanning people, process and technology is required.

But what do the shifts required to get there actually look like?

Across a broad range of sales transformation work we have undertaken in a variety of sectors, a number of initiatives have emerged which are critical for evolving sales for success in the digital age:

1. Sales Organisational Design

Objective: Enable more relevant & value-adding sales interactions, at lower cost

  • Evolve the channel mix to optimise effectiveness and the cost of sale – in many organisations, a traditional ‘reach and frequency’ based coverage model typically results in static field sales coverage. Organisations must move to a more responsive and efficient targeting of opportunities – one that is dynamic across channels.
  • Establish the 'digital demand generation engine' – sales ‘road warriors’ traditionally self-generated their leads and meetings. Tomorrow’s salesperson will rely on a marketing-generated pipeline of sales-ready leads and will need to support online buyer education and progression across the buyer’s journey.
  • Lift sales role specialisation – with a broad remit limiting their ability to add value to the customer, the capacity-strained generalist rep of old will need to transform into a customer-focused specialist. Operational demarcation and absolute role & goal clarity will be critical for transformation. 

2. Sales Process

Objective: Integrate workflows & support consistently high-quality interactions 

  • Develop cross-functional planning processes – driven by an internally-focused ‘push’ approach, the traditional linear sales-led process must shift to provide coordinated support of the buyer’s journey. To shift to this customer-focused approach, organisations will need to detail how each function and channel will collaborate across the buyer’s journey.
  • Integrate marketing and sales processes + metrics – formerly competing and/or independent, marketing and sales workflows must become complementary and interdependent to enable ‘closed-loop’ lead hand-offs and follow up.
  • Focus on new success drivers – to ensure prompt lead follow-up and deliver more insights and value to the customer, input-focused sales ‘quantity’ disciplines must evolve to become more customer and ‘quality’ focused.

3. Technology and Data

Objective: Create sales capacity & optimise effectiveness & efficiency 

  • Deliver user value to drive CRM adoption – too often CRM is geared around data capture, which benefits management, and salespeople aren’t personally enabled. A shift from ‘top-down’ to ‘bottom-up’ adoption and a focus on simplicity and mobility will be key to getting sales on board with both existing and new technology.
  • Digitise the frontline & leverage process automation – investing in productivity and effectiveness technology tools can help eliminate low-value admin tasks and create the capacity for salespeople to spend more time with customers.
  • Enable data-driven selling – by leveraging the customer’s ‘digital footprints’, salespeople can reduce the information advantage held by today’s highly informed customer. To make this possible, organisations will need to ensure salespeople can easily access the right data, at the right time.

4. Sales Talent and Capabilities

Objective: Build sophisticated skillsets to exceed the expectations of today’s buyer

  • Uplift commercial acumen – salespeople must be less the need-identifying, solution-focused generalist and more the customer-focused problem solver, using their unique expertise to deliver contextual thought leadership and insight.
  • Build digital + data savvy (& buy-in) – expanding the CRM, social media, data and digital skills of salespeople will help them shift to a more precise, intelligence-driven approach that accelerates the customer through the buyer’s journey.
  • Build ‘decision navigation’ skills – salespeople will need to shift from being a relationship manager to a trusted influencer – one with the nuanced skills to influence stakeholders and complex decisions.
Bringing it all together

With the breadth of what needs to be done to ensure sales are ‘future-fit’ for the digital age, the critical determinant of success which we routinely observe in enterprise businesses is the ability of leaders to deliver transformation. Specifically, delivering transformation and building new ways of working whilst running the business and maintaining focus on hitting near-term numbers.

Some of the key behaviours and characteristics of leaders that do this successfully include:
  • Prioritising effectively and maintaining a laser focus on a small number of high-impact ‘build’ initiatives, rather than trying to prosecute too much change, too quickly.
  • Clearly communicating the ‘why’ of transformation and helping salespeople understand that a digital future is bright for them, and is not going to replace them with robots.
  • Getting across the operational detail of new transformation initiatives to prevent execution slippage.
  • Leveraging pilots to de-risk transformation decisions, test new ways of working and generate business engagement for new ways of working.

Stay tuned for future posts, as we’ll explore the maturity process that organisations go through as they implement these initiatives, as well as more detail on the ‘how’ to actually put them on the ground.