Author: Mark Ward
Published: Feruary 2020
The digitalisation of the business world and the fundamental changes to how customers buy has forced the collapse of previous marketing and sales boundaries and the redrawing of new ones. The integration of once-separated KPI’s and the redefining of traditional portfolios. B2C and B2B marketing and sales strategies once highly differentiated, are now converging. We have seen the role of Chief Revenue Officer become universal, and under them the shifting of the professional identities of pure marketers, or pure sellers. The world’s most sophisticated revenue engines are staffed with individuals that have embraced these changes. They are collaborators, with blurry boundaries and interdependencies around the mission of growing revenue through multiple channels and the best technology available.
In Mentor Group’s Sales Transformation Practice, we have a healthy obsession with the benchmarks set by the world’s most digitally sophisticated and high performing revenue engines. These are the pioneers that set the standard, challenging the rest of the world and calling them higher. What are we seeing?
If the frontier of digital capability in the sales engine is there for all to see, why doesn’t every sales engine move rapidly towards this brave new world? The reasons are manifold but can be grouped into five barriers that typically overlap.
The inability to invest in infrastructure due to a lack of investment capital or an inability to raise and service debt, is the most obvious. The reasons for a financial predicament can be considerably long, but the bottom line is that without money (budget) digital sophistication is likely to remain an intention unless one gets access to a large bucket of sweat equity.
It is a reality that many sales executives and leaders do not have the mindset required to embrace change, technology, or the inherent risks in the departure from the tried and tested. An old-school mindset is a particularly pernicious impediment because it keeps these leaders from breaking out of their existing horizons and restricts their ability to embrace what is possible.
I am distinguishing debilitating fear from the mindset barrier because some sales leaders really want to embrace change and take risks, but their fear of failure keeps them chained. Making significant investments in frontier technologies and processes is risky because of the political nature of companies. Big failures can be career threatening, and anything threatening of our core needs, we avoid.
Many sales leaders have the right mindset to digitalise sales, and, are fortunate to have an absence of the fear dynamic. They are however unable to get accesses to capital because they are unable to win over the endorsement of the C-Suite or Board.
Some companies have business development and go-to-market norms that are particularly resistant to digital disruption. I have large B2B clients in sectors such as Auditing and Taxation, Management Consulting, and Insurance where the sales cycle is long, complex and involving a coalition of buyers/decision-makers. These sales environments are still heavily reliant on traditional tactics and slow-moving personal interactions. But, as I asserted earlier, resistance to digital disruption does not mean immune to it.
The Digital Tipping Point
Why does all this matter? Why should transformation be critically high on the list of strategic priorities for every revenue engine? Malcom Gladwell ubiquitous phrase ‘tipping point’ comes to mind. The tipping point that will fundamentally change the way sales is done (in all industries) is coming and revenue engines that are not digitally ready and equipped will not be able to compete with those that are. But how close is it?
As early as 2015, the World Economic Forum  detailed trends that we are seeing in full flight today. Our relationship with the internet as a mental, social and physical extension of ourselves is unfolding. People are now able to interface with digital technology, data, and the internet anywhere. Most of us in the developed world have supercomputers in our pockets. AI is gaining momentum and the digitization of matter – 3D-printing and the creation of physical materials at home – is here. Very soon, artificially intelligent robots will be joining public companies to sit on the Board of Directors. Think that is far out? AI-powered therapists like ‘Ellie’, developed to treat veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are already having an impact and comparing more than favourably to humans. Self-driving cars are upon us, computers are more effective than humans at trading financial instruments, diagnosing illnesses, and even conducting procedures on the human body.
Very soon people will expect a radically different relationship to companies and people selling products and services. Procurement executives will be choosing only the digitally equipped companies that can interact seamlessly with them at the click of a button or voice command, saving time and other resources. Old school will be ushered unsentimentally out of competitive industries. In the same way that having a company website quickly went from being ahead of the game to essential and expected, an omnichannel experience with integrated touchpoints delivering perfectly consistent experiences for the customer, across any medium of choice and at any time, will be expected.
Where to start
The integration of traditional marketing and sales departments into a revenue engine should be a top priority for Chief Executives. The workflow of this revenue engine should be designed specially to strengthen the collaboration between specialist roles so that the value, volume and velocity of the sales pipeline can improved and the goal of more sales, to more customers, more often, will be realised.
These revenue engines must be aligned to the buying preferences, rhythms, and decision stages of customers. The processes of Product Development, Lead Generation, Opportunity Management and Customer Success should be integrated into a blueprint (or operating system) aimed at listening to, and taking direction from, the voice of the customer.
Leaders of sales engines need more than simply superb resources; they need a way of thinking about businesses and the revenue engines within them.
Seeing these entities as systems is essential. A fundamental property of systems is that they tend towards entropy. Unless these systems can absorb essential feedback from the environment in which they exist, they die. Think Kodak or Blockbuster Video, dead today because they were closed to feedback. They might have heard the disruptive noise, but they seemed not to have really listened, and certainly didn’t integrate the feedback and adapt in time. Revenue leaders need to assimilate and catalogue the various ways in which their environments are giving them essential feedback and respond. Armed with data, they need to implore the executives holding the purse strings to act. The alternative is unthinkable.
If you found this opinion intriguing and the approach to operationalizing marketing, digitalization and change, we’d love to hear from you.