Zero One: B2B Sales Forces Face Disruption
“Make more sales calls!” ‘Tis the old rallying cry for jumpstarting B2B sales. But doing more of the same won’t cut it today. A better way, says Forrester, is to learn from elite sales organizations such as GE, Cisco and IBM.
In a Forrester research note last month, these B2B behemoths shared secrets for digitally transforming sales. They plucked tech aficionados within their sales teams and armed them with the latest tools and data. Then they let them loose to discover new routes to market and shape better customer experiences that lead to higher sales.
“We believe that when we can transform the sales experience, we can transform our customer experience,” said Cate Gutowski, GE’s vice president of commercial digital thread, in the Forrester research note.
There’s a method to GE’s, Cisco’s and IBM’s sales transformation, Forrester says. It starts with overcoming cultural resistance to change, which looms as a giant hurdle tripping up many digital transformation plans. That is, salespeople tend to cling to processes that have worked for them in the past, which is reinforced by companies not wanting to tinker with their money-making machine.
GE, Cisco and IBM overcame this by picking out and pooling tech enthusiasts in their sales forces to be the vanguard of digital transformation. These individuals tend to wantto shed old processes and adopt the latest technology. They crowdsource ideas, run technology experiments, and roll out best practices to the rest of the sales force.
Of course, they don’t do it alone.
Collaboration has become a calling card of digital transformation. For instance, Cisco’s IT department embraces agile processes and rapid-fire testing to work with the speed of business. Sales and marketing departments also share goals and customer data.
“We take marketing’s sentiment data, pair it with sales’ data, and create insights that tie to opportunities and actions that reps can take,” said Melinda Cox, Cisco’s vice president of digital operations, in the Forrester research note.
Similarly, GE centralized IT under a global commercial CIO in order to speed up and scale tech deployments. Sales, finance and tech executives also collaborate to streamline sales forecasting. GE’s goal is to cut sales cycles in half by enabling salespeople to respond to customers quickly.
One of the more interesting sales collaborations comes from IBM. The tech giant embeds data scientists in digital sales teams. Data scientists give salespeople insights on customer engagement, sales tactics, territory allocation, and other parts of the sales operation. More importantly, data scientists can identify motivated buyers and latent buyers.
Embedding data scientists has led to “millions in incremental sales revenues,” said Tom Dekle, vice president of digital sales at IBM, in the Forrester research note. Moreover, embedded data scientists can be more effective at smaller organizations, because “there is more room for input on how to maximize the performance of individual reps,” he said.
It should be noted that digital transformation won’t help all sales reps. Those who are merely order takers are at risk of losing their jobs. Forrester has predicted that a million B2B salespeople will be displaced by 2020 due to buyers preferring to research and purchase products and services online.
On the upside, Forrester says buyers who don’t shift to self-service demand higher quality interaction with salespeople. Ultimately, this is what’s behind GE’s, Cisco’s and IBM’s sales transformations, and why every company needs to make similar efforts.
“Regardless of the size, industry, or complexity of your business, it’s time to move forward,” said Forrester analysts Mary Shea and Jacob Milender in the research note. “Even without the resources of behemoths like Cisco, GE or IBM, you can nimbly execute sales force digital transformation at the appropriate scale.”
Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.