By Keith Hartley
Senior Vice President of Sales
ServiceMax – From GE Digital



I’ve been thinking a lot about Digital Transformation lately, and how it applies to us sales professionals. Oftentimes, sales leaders and their teams are forgotten when C-suite executives discuss digital transformation strategy. The CIO may view digital to drive operational efficiency, while the CMO may see digital as the answer to boosting customer engagement. A true digital transformation requires both in conjunction with sales.

The cold reality is that we in Sales are in Digital Transformation Kindergarten.

Digital transformation is really about human transformation. Today, people are accustomed to 1-click access to information, applications and a myriad of user experiences. Convenience is crucial. Convenience is everything. And attention to salespeople has eroded. Everyone I know, including my kids, have little patience for multiple clicks, swipes or tags. The new B2B buyer is a “one click and done” method for finding what they want.

Research shows that customers report being nearly 60% through the sales process before engaging a sales representative, irrespective of price point. Buyers are more informed and better armed with data and opinions.

Success in the new B2B world requires sales to make a 360-degree shift to embrace digital transformation. In my experience at leading companies like Servicemax and Oracle, there are 5 distinct pillars that sellers need to embrace and enhance on their journey out of Digital Kindergarten.

1. Alignment

Organizational alignment fosters a sense of mission, and directs salespeople towards the goal. Alan Mulally from Ford, former CEO of Ford Motor, successfully led the company through a digital transformation after the 2008 recession.

His key to success was creating a plan for sales, delivering that to his executives, and mirroring that meeting all the way down to front line sales managers at the dealerships. Being aligned throughout the company drove a feedback loop for employees to share their ideas with the executive team, and fostered a real sense of alignment from individual salespeople to the C-suite.

2. Engagement

Who remembers what the first item sold on Amazon was, approximately 22 years ago? It was a book called “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies.” Look how Amazon has disrupted not only books, but electronics and now even grocery shopping.

The business process of selling is constantly shifting, and the only way for a modern digital seller to succeed is to maintain a keen sense of learning. Continuous listening and flexibility allow for the sales person to spot trends, and a nimble attitude allows for leaning into new, creative ways to reach her audience. Our clients expect 24×7 multi-channel services, and if we are not delivering this way, they will move on.

Ongoing training and reinforcement are a must for sales people to remain engaged. IBM improved customer engagement with their salesforce in APAC by piloting a social media campaign. Starting with 15 sales folks, IBM tracked social media response and activity, seeing what worked and didn’t, and replicating those practices across over 500 sellers. The results were astonishing: over $24M in wins, $57M in pipeline, and over 2.7M readers were exposed to the content.

3. Toolset

There is a myriad of tools available for the modern sales person, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and numerous others. Whatever toolset you decide to embrace, focus on creating a social presence with constant awareness. The most successful sales people always provide value that is targeted specifically to the person, versus generic messages to the person’s title. Embracing digital tooling allows us to claim back the sales funnel, including Awareness, Consideration and Decision.

My experience firsthand at Oracle taught me that over-emphasizing one tool versus another is a losing battle. Better to focus on the outcome (value) you create specifically for the person you are selling. No matter the toolset, the modern seller must follow up now more than ever to grab what little attention the buyer offers.

Altimeter’s 2017 State of Digital Transformation report finds that while organizations are investing in innovative technologies, most are lagging or failing to respond to consumers’ new expectations due to “meager digital literacy.” The report also finds many companies have cultures and that “politics, ego and fear are the main obstacles to achieving the collaboration and solidarity needed within companies to make the changes digital consumers want.”

4. Skillset

I typically don’t look for culture fit any longer during the interview process, I look for culture add

Learn Smarter, Work Harder. I typically don’t look for culture fit any longer during the interview process, I look for culture add — The likelihood that someone will not only reflect the company’s values and professional ethics, but also bring an aspect of diverse opinions, experiences, and specialized skill which enhances not just the team, but the overall company culture.

A recent study at Baylor University showed that 75% of B2B leaders regularly use social media in their decision-making process, and that 85% of buyers using that social media have larger budgets versus those that don’t use social media. So, today’s modern sales person must possess a nimble social presence with constant awareness for shifting trends.

Listening, researching, networking and engaging are the four primary skills required for modern selling. Targeting your network with valuable insight means targeting real people, not addressing generic functional roles the same across companies.

5. Shared Purpose

Sharing a common purpose with those not in sales is the base foundation for sales digital transformation. Employee advocacy Is often positioned as a one-sided affair, meant to benefit the brand or company. Today, digital savvy seller won’t buy into this because they understand the value of their own social leadership position.

Championing employees across every level of the organization and supporting them for the long term is a game changer. And it’s these exact employees that we all want representing our company in public.

Ultimately, all stages of the selling cycle are funneling through the Internet. Time for us sales professionals to claim back our funnel, from discovery (building your social network presence) and business case development (becoming a genuine thought leader), to the evaluation (becoming a trusted advisor & consultant) and decision (becoming the BEST offering).

Graduating from Digital Kindergarten is difficult. It requires a new type of seller, one that focuses her energy and effort ruthlessly. No better time to get started than right now. Change is inevitable, Growth is optional. You choose…

Keith Hartley currently leads the Americas selling organization for ServiceMax from GE Digital, the leading SaaS application for the Field Service Management marketplace. Previously, he was Vice President, Americas HCM Cloud Sales, where he managed the sales team responsible for selling the Oracle HCM Cloud portfolio into the largest and most strategic accounts in North America.

Previous to that, Keith was Chief Executive Officer at PureSense Environmental, where he led the organization through a business transformation culminating in it becoming a leading Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) analytics provider. He was also Director, Sales at Red Hat, where he created and executed their sales strategy and negotiated and delivered go-to-market (GTM) business plans with leading ISV partners.