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Digital Transformation

3 Tips From Verizon To Unify Enterprise Sales Teams After a Merger

Here’s the real story of how Verizon successfully merged enterprise sales teams from AOL and Yahoo.

Connecting silos within a single company is hard enough. Connecting two huge companies after a merger is another thing altogether.

But that’s exactly what Verizon Media’s VP of Media Technology and Operations James Commons was asked to do. After Verizon acquired Yahoo, the company needed to merge Yahoo with another previous acquisition: AOL. Commons was in charge of leading the transition for AOL and Yahoo’s enterprise sales teams to keep productivity high – and customers loyal.

Before we get into how he did it, take a look at the numbers behind this challenge:

  • Commons’ team of 400 people supports 5,000 employees at Verizon Media
  • During Commons’ five years at Verizon, his team has consolidated almost 30 Salesforce instances
  • With more than 400,000 accounts to consolidate, Commons says merging AOL and Yahoo was his most challenging effort so far

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are tricky, bringing up all kinds of questions about data management, leadership changes, and employee retention. Commons boiled his experience down into the following three steps to keep sales growing during a serious business change. Want more details? Watch the deeper-dive fireside chat with Commons in our webinar.

1. Establish sales goals

Post-M&A, retaining both customers and enterprise sales reps is key. The last thing you want is for either to leave. Approaching both groups the right way can mean the difference between continued profits and potentially severe losses.

“The first thing we did was to make sure we didn’t break revenue,” said Commons. “We needed to ensure a good experience for our clients, the media spenders, the agencies, and the direct customers that we had. Part of that was creating clarity for our sales teams so they would stay and serve the customers without leaving the company out of frustration.” In this stage, Commons and his team created achievable goals for the rep and customer experience.

Your goals will differ based on your unique business, but here’s more detail on the three goals Commons identified with his team, along with a checklist of how he suggests accelerating success within each.

Goal: Prevent revenue breakage

  • Most enterprise sales teams are using a CRM system. Grant employees on both teams access to both CRMs. This way, they have visibility into all customer records during the transition
  • Decide what CRM will be the new source of truth
  • Continue delivering promised services to customers
  • Consolidate data on the newly shared CRM

Goal: Create a seamless customer experience

  • Listen to sales reps. Ask where customers are experiencing the most friction in the selling process within both newly merged teams
  • After listening, clarify the sales teams’ processes, roles, and tools
  • Repeat at key merger milestones
  • Create a task force focused on reducing technical debt from multiple legacy orgs, data discrepancies, and other data customizations

Goal: Reduce operating costs

  • Integrate and transform billing processes across legacy business units.
  • Clean up the back office by eliminating duplicate invoicing and processes.
  • Relentless focus on data quality and governance.

2. Prioritize the human experience through leadership

Now that you have goals in mind, it’s time to center your efforts on people. People are the most important resource in any acquisition, but also one of the hardest to manage.

Commons puts it simply: “Uncertainty kills revenue. If reps don’t know which team they’re going to be reporting to, or which accounts they’re going to be on, they have no incentive to go out there and sell. They won’t be pushing really hard to get those dollars in the door that you need each quarter.”

During the AOL and Yahoo merger, Commons realized the sales team needed leadership details quickly so they could stay focused on selling. “If you don’t have a leadership team in place, you can’t have clarity around how you’re going to market or how you’re setting up your sales teams,” he explained.

In the case of AOL and Yahoo, the Verizon team felt it was important for the acquired businesses to jointly plan out who would lead the new enterprise sales teams. Tapping into the knowledge of the existing sales teams helped Commons and his team understand skill sets, strengths, and capabilities. Above all, Commons recommends not rushing this. Your sales teams will thank you.

3. Integrate into one tech stack

At this point, you have goals and people in place. Now it’s time to focus on technology.

Once Verizon settled on the structure of teams, the leaders, and the sales strategy, the AOL and Yahoo merger began to shift focus. It was then that Commons and his team began to look at their tech stack – across back-office processes, supporting tools, Salesforce, and daily sales workflows – to find ways to boost revenue. Commons did this in the following three phases.

Determining data architecture: When Verizon purchased AOL and Yahoo, both companies were using Salesforce already. “We decided to use one of the existing Salesforce orgs. We compared the level of complexity and maturity in both environments. Working with Deloitte, we put together a great framework that included a number of criteria,” said Commons. No matter what data sources you’re using, consolidation should be the name of the game.

Focusing on account structure: With more than 400,000 accounts to consolidate in Salesforce, Commons relied on the tried-and-true 80/20 rule. They first focused on the largest accounts representing 80% of the revenue and left the other 20% for later, after the merger was complete. Commons said, “We kept 12-18 months of data so that if you were picking up a book of business that was new to you as a salesperson, you could see the history, opportunities, and products — all of that was key to keeping consistency for the customers.”

Simplifying and standardizing processes: Commons and his team created workflows where they saw the biggest needs and similarities among their teams. “Most of our teams said they were unique in how they were set up and what they wanted. But when we really got into the nuts and bolts of it, we found that there were more similarities than differences,” said Commons. By spending a little more time up front looking at the sales workflows and identifying the commonalities, Commons and his team saved themselves a lot of work on the implementation side.

Verizon Media successfully merged AOL and Yahoo because of a relentless focus on salespeople. “We’ve gone through a lot,” said Commons. “We’ve been a culture of change and a culture of transition over the last five years.” 

If you’re in the same boat of change and transition, check out Commons’ complete story in our webinar on How to Keep Sales Teams Afloat While Navigating Change. You’ll learn more detailed tips from his experience to inspire your own journey toward recentering around your customers.

As content strategy director at Salesforce, Heike researches and writes about trends in sales, customer experience, and digital transformation. For two years, she hosted and produced Salesforce's award-winning podcast about digital marketing: the Marketing Cloudcast. Before joining Salesforce, she edited bestselling nonfiction books and managed social strategy and content for B2C brands. Heike's work has been featured in USA Today, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, and more.

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