That is the question I have been asking myself for some time. It predates the pandemic, this question. You see, I’ve spent most of my career in sales and sales related roles. I followed a certain way of doing things, a certain agenda if you will. It made sense, mostly because I worked for large IT corporations in the software world, one of the most advanced industries out there.
Sales people that work at large software companies are actually exposed to tools and methods that you don’t see that often in other industries. When I was one, I didn’t even have to try and learn what a CRM was, and in my last job as a sales director, I didn’t need to ask anyone what Business Intelligence could do for me. I am not saying every software company is the same, but I do believe that most of them think of sales as “something I better prepare my people to do, the best way I can with the resources I have.” That being said, sales people in this industry are not known for being wildly “pro-customer.” I should know, I was one of them for a long time and I remember how I was trained, and what kind of data I was asked to use, and how to use it. I was successful enough as a rep, but I also moved out of that role after a while. For all that technology and support I had, I don’t think I was particularly good at bridging gaps for my customers.
That is not what I found in other industries though.
A few years ago I worked with a major insurance company as a facilitator and trainer for their top 50 people in the Americas. We had people that were rock stars from both regions. The company had figured out they would get these people and expose them, train them on whatever was hot then. It’s a great way of keeping your people in, mind you: you just give them the “first cut” of whatever is coming. So I was hired and we designed a Social Selling program that would take their game to new heights.
Or so we thought.
There are a few elements every modern sales organization needs, regardless of what industry they are in:
- The right technology to engage with customers and capture data
- The right processes to engage with them using those systems
- The right methodology (or methods) to engage and train everyone in sales and marketing to get the most out of these three elements.
This company had none of that, but instead they had a fantastic culture of accountability that made spreadsheets their favorite tool. It was impressive: the amount of web traffic these people generated by attaching .xls files was the biggest I’ve seen. On top of that, Marketing, the one team that knew what was needed, was not heard by management. “That won’t work in our industry” is what they would tell marketing people advocating for ABM and demand generation strategies. Finally, there was no sales enablement team to work with, so how could you push a standard out and make sure it was adopted?
Long story short, we did launch a program that was successful enough for me to be called in again, twice. It took us almost 2 full years to get to the point where some of these things made it into the sales and marketing strategy of the company, but I can tell you now that was the beginning of their transformation.
I believe transformation in sales is really all about those 3 numbered elements above, plus a 4th and critical one I haven’t mentioned yet. That insurance company though knew and mastered this one before most companies I’ve worked with so far: the buyer has claimed control of their journey. That also predates the pandemic. Companies that believe they need to transform because we all got locked down are late to the party. Buyers have been steadily, and at an amazing pace, gaining control on their journeys. Technology made that possible of course, especially in advanced and stable economies.
When thinking about transforming a sales team, I believe there are many moving parts but they should all revolve around these things:
- What your customers want, how they want it served, and when. Your buyer needs to be at the center of your strategy. You need to do your best to understand them.
- And, in order to do that, investigate what technology you can acquire that will help you capture the data that buyers leave behind when researching for a solution, and at the same time empower your sales and marketing people with it.
- Technology without instructions is just science fiction, so you will also need processes that allow sales and marketing to understand that data, and act on it, at the speed of the buyer’s journey.
- And finally, you’ll need to make certain your sales and marketing organizations stay current, so an enablement strategy with the right methodology must be put in place.
I guess sales transformation is possible, yet those elements and the steps needed to secure them might not be clear to everyone. That is where the biggest opportunity I’ve seen in the past 20 years lies for sales: you can own your own transformation, regardless of how advanced or not your company or industries are.
Will companies and sales people take that leap though? I guess time will tell.
Alejandro Cabral has worked in sales and marketing for his entire career, spanning over 22 years of work in multiple industries and Fortune 500 Companies. He specializes in Modern Selling and Digital Transformation in Sales, and is currently the Global Leader for Digital Sales Transformation at Kimberly-Clark Professional, as well as a public speaker.