Since the last two decades that the firms started bringing in sales force automation and sales technology into their sales productivity strategy meetings, selling as a function has evolved from just being a team of committed sales professionals to an organizational growth engine. Much of this evolution is credited to the infusion of technology, digital and analytics, to the organizational function of selling and sales management. Billions of dollars are being invested to make technology a critical ‘enabler’ for the sales force. Firms are investing in digital and analytical tools such as AI that makes managing selling process accurate and produces expectations of high sales ROI. As per a recent McKinsey report, many of these investments are not paying off and most of the firms are still debating on the ROI of such digital transformation (integrating digital and analytics) and trying to figure out the right answers. Possibly, the answers can only be found if one cared to bring in enough focus on the drivers of the transformation. Clearly, investing in technology is the starting point which if not put onto the right direction could lead to ‘tech-disillusionment’. Therefore, it’s important to ask few questions before setting on to the journey of digital transformation of the sales force.
- Salesforce enablement: Deliver useful insights that are customized
What kind of insights that your sales force need? Will your investment deliver those insights? These two questions are very critical from the point of view of sales force adaptation to the digital transformation. Leaders who drive such transformation should exercise restraint and not give in to the temptation of ‘insights flood’. Technology can churn the huge amount of data analysis and insights and a large portion of these are likely to remain untouched, simply because no one needs it. On the other hand, if your focus in on the need of your sales force, you are more likely to design your digital and analytics strategy, much aligned with what would make your sales force more enabled. For example, a CRM software with integrated social media tools could be a great investment for a telecom service provider to enable its sales force for up-selling and cross-selling. However, for a firm that has firms as customers(B2B), the CRM will have to integrate multiple levels of customers (customers and customer’s customers).
The second point is about the delivery of insights to the sales force. Within the sales organization, there could be unique characteristics associated with the customer groups, operations and logistics management and competitive environment. How do you address that? Clearly, the insight delivery design must be customized to the individual needs of the salesperson. Firms need to set the agenda of ‘inclusive discovery’ rather than ‘one set fits all’ approach.
- Building purpose and relevance: a case for sales force productivity
The power of communication cannot be overemphasized when a firm is embarking on a digital transformation. The purpose of such initiatives must be made clear to the sales force before the sales managers start communicating individual targets, customer journey management process and key deliverables. It is critical for the sales force to believe in the power of sales analytics and therefore, they need to be involved by way of personal dashboards, shared dashboards, and simulated gamification of sales projects. Its critical to drive home the point: everything is geared to enhance efficiency and productivity.
If a firm considers its salespersons as value merchants (to deliver value to the customers and the firm) then the purpose of the digital transformation is rooted in the idea of making value merchants more efficient and productive. Consider value mapping activities by salespeople. If salespeople are enabled with insightful analysis on the customers business and their economic environment, they are more likely to assess the value creation opportunity with more precision and accuracy. This, coupled with pricing analytics optimization tools could create equitable value capturing opportunities for the salespeople.
Empowering salespeople to run sales projects on firm’s online platforms could reinforce form’s idea of sales force autonomy. Suitably supervised by the sales leaders, such initiative could transform the sales force from being ‘price warriors’ to ‘value winners’. With such initiatives built on solid foundation of digital platforms and analytics, firms can further strengthen their sales force by using data driven capability enhancement programs. Such programs must blend in the older and traditional training methods with the digital tools to make it effective.
Therefore, firms, especially in B2B space, must plan and strategize to initiate the digital transformation of their sales function in such a way that is more inclusive, purposeful and relevant to their sales force and business setting. It would be useful to be mindful of the fact that technology is going to evolve faster than its adoption, and therefore, before a firm commit an investment, the decision should be weighed by all stakeholders including the sales function leaders and the sales force itself. This would ensure that there are no residual leftovers from the digital transformation implementation.