Customers are changing…in how they do business and in what they expect from their vendors/partners. And the pace of this change is accelerating. That reality with all its implications and possibilities was the premise of Alexander Group’s 17th annual Chief Sales Executive Forum held November 7 – 9 in Naples, Fl. More than 300 cross-industry executives shared their insights and challenges in their quest to address non-linear buyer journeys and increase revenue growth. Attendees considered what has changed in their traditional understanding of sales and revenue growth.
One conclusion: Every business is now digital. And how does artificial intelligence (AI) fit in, what does it mean to marketing, sales and service? How can companies leverage AI? Dave Spencer (President – North America at BackOffice Associates) and Chris Klayko (Managing Director, Google Cloud Americas & Global EDU at Google) posit that data is everything: It’s not about big vs. small but fast vs. slow. Everyone can get data, but the parameters of data have expanded—companies need to unlock data insights, accelerate AI applications and innovate to win.
While digital is changing the landscape, cultural change will sustain that transformation and drive future growth. Cultural transformation matters in a digital transformation, according to Helen Fanucci (Global Digital Transformation Sales Leader at Microsoft), who stressed the importance of customer relationships and partnerships in this digital age. Microsoft advocates a digital model for revenue leaders that is centered around culture: Transform the Product (infuse AI in everything and gather data insights to inform new products and services); Innovate the Platform (use a single sales management system, a core set of reporting tools, and a dynamic management dashboard); and Engage Customers by guiding customer engagement, redesigning sales and marketing to include tech-savvy talent, and re-training current roles to increase tech knowledge.
Warren Stone (SVP, Research & Applied Solutions-N.A. at MilliporeSigma) reiterated in his keynote the need for new motions that bring the organization and customer together to build a customer-driven ecosystem—that works for both the customer and the business. Companies must have digital technologies to survive, but still require executive leadership, including cultural transformation and new processes to change management. Equally important is the need to frequently reinforce important messages in more meaningful ways than perhaps an email or newsletter that no one reads.
Stone echoed other speakers in noting that data overload means customers are struggling to differentiate the noise from the signal; they need help making decisions. Customers may be more educated (95 percent go to the web before involving a sales rep), but there are more buyers in the decision-making process (5-7 now) which complicates that process. This means there are opportunities to be successful by providing the right messages to the right resources for the right customers at the right time.
For Hans-Peter Klaey “HPK” (Chief Revenue Officer at Hitachi Vantara), the courage to change means serving customers better. And with data as the new capital for enterprise, that means leveraging data—protect, enrich, activate, maximize, innovate it—to better serve customers. Hire the right resources with the right skill sets that embrace technology, recognize the importance of partners, shift the mindset, be customer-centric, be “GLocal” (80% global/20% local), build long-term relationships and value, and recognize that change is neither easy nor fast. “Execute like a maniac” and summon the courage to change anyway.
A media industry panel of Kalina Nikolova (EVP, Strategy at Viacom), Brendan Ripp (EVP, National Geographic-FOX Networks) and Lisa Valentino (Recent EVP, Revenue Innovation at Univision) noted how the digital revolution “will not be televised,” meaning organizations will have to take digital to the customer—meet the customer where they are. Media companies are evolving to solution selling by changing the mindset—revamping roles, talking to customers about strategy and insights instead of product, redefining messaging (e.g., “We’re in the messaging business” instead of the publishing business [Valentino]), emphasizing partnerships, and in general organizing the business around customer needs.
For Whirlpool, Sam Abdelnour (VP Sales, N.A. Region) noted the change in supply and demand. Previously, demand surpassed supply leading to manufacturer pricing power. Now, the consumer holds all the power by engaging with social media (ratings/recommendations), online research and different retail expectations—all pre-sale. Whirlpool has heeded their customers’ new buyer journey. They are shifting and retraining resources by growing their own sales organization, redesigning the retailer space, immersing their culture in a customer-centric mindset and transforming sales ops’ strategy and objectives.
Some companies are training sellers to better use digital resources in an effort to know the individual customer better; this way, sellers can “lead customers to the solution, not lead with a solution” (Bill Kaack, VP, Sales & Marketing at Wolters Kluwer). Other companies struggle getting existing employees up to speed with new technologies, weeding out “cave dwellers” (people who are not “along for the journey”, Bob Skea, Head of Americas at Dun & Bradstreet), re-focusing sales and service teams to customer solution and value, or finding new talent with both tech and product knowledge. Whatever change is needed, most agree the front line sales manager is the most important role in driving change (Katherine Tate, Chief Business Operations Officer at Quest Software): you need the involvement, awareness and engagement (the buy-in) of this critical role (Michael Iskra, President, N.A. Commercial Operations at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics).
Seven keynotes and panels as well as numerous think tank and focus sessions, and six executive panels honed in on topics around revenue leadership and growth in this new environment. The varied industries represented at the Forum, while different, face similar problems and challenges embracing the new buyer journeys and leadership expectations. Leveraging these changes requires a massive cultural shift in an organization’s pursuit of revenue growth.
Watch for future posts, where we’ll explore some of these valuable insights in depth.
Ready to take the next step in the revenue leader’s journey and explore growth multipliers? Contact an event team member to learn more about the 2019 Leadership Series.