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Putting sales organizations on the path to a successful sales transformation

Brings deep understanding of customer economics to effective go-to-market strategies

Steve Reis

Works to help companies across industries achieve growth through analytics, digital, and agile execution

Maria Valdivieso de Uster

Help companies build advanced sales capabilities that drive above‐market growth

Most sales organizations have yet to crack the code on how to launch a successful transformation. Too many sales leaders still make quick decisions based on feelings rather than hard evidence. And high attrition rates present challenges when individuals don’t pass on their knowledge of how things should work. The good news is that there is a science-based approach that can increase the odds of a successful transformation by three to four times.

A recent McKinsey article, “Meet the missing ingredient in successful sales transformations: Science,” reveals how the science of change—digital, analytics, and supporting methodologies—can increase the odds of transformation success. To reap the benefits of scientific analysis, sales organizations should focus their efforts on four elements: comprehensive design, agile deployment, continuous capability building and performance management, and sustainability.

One European telecommunications company’s transformation illustrates just how powerful this approach can be. The telco aimed to uncover new market opportunities for growth. To begin, it conducted a micromarket analysis using internal and external data (including data provided by sales reps) to reveal a clearer picture of which markets still had a large share of unserved customers and which were saturated with competition. The findings helped the company narrow its focus and decide where to allocate its resources. As a result, the telco increased its store footprint in key markets—garnering 5 to 10 percent more in-store visits, depending on the market—and reduced total store costs through resizing less profitable locations and other tactics.

How to achieve change at scale

As with any good science experiment, a methodical and considered approach can help organizations achieve the desired outcome—and gather fresh insights along the way.

Create a comprehensive design. Data and analytics capabilities can give sales organizations a clear view of where to find the most promising areas of opportunity. This can be done by conducting a critical analysis of markets and specifically looking for ways to increase growth.

Thus, before jumping into a change headfirst, companies should evaluate the ability of their sales function to seize these opportunities, and then plan a path forward. In addition, leadership can help prioritize plans to prevent organizations from tackling too much at once. Organizations can perform a stress test of the proposed strategy against the realities of the market, such as changing customer preferences, and use the findings to create a road map and prioritize initiatives.

Take an agile approach to problem solving. Cross-functional collaboration from across the organization combined with the use of advanced analytics capabilities helps organizations identify change opportunities with the most potential. However, the successful launch of solutions to these areas relies on an agile approach in product testing as well as the rollout and adoption of the new process.

Leaders begin by building the minimum viable product (the tool or process) that can capture that opportunity and test it. For example, a sales organization might build a tool that helps better target customers for upselling. A/B testing and advanced analytics tools can validate whether the product is working—or if not, why. Teams should adjust their approach based on feedback and iterate rapidly to improve on the prototype. To ensure organization-wide adoption of the solution, sales leaders can test different training methods to identify the most effective way to roll out the new process.

Continuously build capabilities and manage performances. Successful sales leaders run their organization like an engineering firm. Their operations are precise and well oiled, quickly flagging deviations and making recommendations for improvement. However, most performance management systems—the heart of a sales transformation—are slow and don’t present forward-looking insights. Integrating data and analytics capabilities into the system helps organizations better track performance metrics, which facilitates a manager’s ability to make key decisions. And based on our research, these systems can produce great results even if they are automated or self-administered. The key to success is in simply making the right information available. For example, an automated system using robust data could send prompts to sales reps or managers to follow up with customers or reminders to comply with a new process.

Sustain impact. Organizations can use technology and advanced analytics tools to hardwire new procedures into organizational DNA. For example, a sales organization might want to employ a more targeted sales approach by effectively categorizing customers. An advanced analytics system could group customers based on agreed- upon parameters, making it easier for sales reps to target offers. However, technology alone cannot facilitate a sustained change; it must work in conjunction with people. Managers can offer personal coaching on new technology—and use an automated performance management system to highlight performance wins, for example—to reinforce the process.

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