When it comes to building digital strategies for a sales force, it helps to have the resources of companies like General Electric Co., IBM Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. But the techniques of these industry behemoths can make sense for smaller companies as well, Forrester Research Inc. says.
“Even if your company isn’t an industry juggernaut, you can garner best practices from these executives that apply to B2B organizations of all shapes and sizes,” Forrester says in the report, “B2B Digital Sales Transformation: Three Global Leaders Share Best Practices,” by Mary Shea, a principal analyst covering B2B marketing, researcher Meredith Cain, and other Forrester analysts.
Forrester reveals some of the strategies GE, IBM and Cisco as examples of how companies can capitalize on digital sales technology and processes—such as deploying mobile apps tied to CRM systems, and getting data scientists to share their expertise with sales reps—in ways that encourage cooperation among multiple departments and within sales teams, resulting in more effective and profitable interactions with customers.
All three of the companies, for instance, kick off innovative projects with a limited group of sales reps in order to test and build support for new strategies within a “receptive subset” of their sales forces. “This approach eases the cultural shift of shedding legacy systems and creates advocates to help the adoption and rollout of new technologies,” the report says, adding: “Digital sales transformation requires new and more creative ways of collaborating.”
To push forward with innovation, GE, IBM and Cisco each develop strong collaboration among multiple departments to plan and carry out digital sales transformation projects, Forrester says. IBM embedded data scientists into regional sales teams to help uncover customer demand leading to more sales; GE got its sales, finance and technology executives to collaborate on developing an app that improved the company’s sales forecasting process; and Cisco’s revenue-generating marketers provided sales reps with data reports designed to help reps better prepare and interact with customers likely to make a purchase.
The report notes such projects can require a shift in mindset by personnel. It notes that IBM’s data scientists initially “didn’t want to be perceived as being in a service organization in support of sales,” but then willingly joined the project after seeing how their expertise would help drive revenue. “Once they observed salespeople executing on their findings and connected the dots between their insights and increased sales results, a cultural shift happened. IBM now has strong one-team collaboration between data and sales colleagues.”
To be sure, digital transformation is sales teams isn’t easy, Forrester says. “Initiating a sales force transformation of any type is daunting,” the report says. “Combine that with increasingly independent B2B buyers, the challenges of managing a multigenerational sales force, and the abundance of new [sales] enablement tools, and it can be overwhelming.” It cites a 2017 Forrester survey that found that only about one fifth of companies with digital sales transformation projects completed them.
But by following some of the steps taken by GE, IBM and Cisco, “you can nimbly execute a digital sales transformation at the appropriate scale,” Forrester says.
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