McKinsey: Is Your Sales Organization Ready for the Digital Revolution?


Customer expectations are changing. They want a richer, more delightful, and more engaging experience. This means companies face not only a huge opportunity, but also a choice. They can either meet their customers where they want to be, or try to follow them later. Digital allows your business to get to that place today.

Similarly, those in sales are always thinking about how to reach new customers, how to get their product to more people, and how to increase net-new sales. Digital provides a way for you to not only reach the masses, but for them to come to you pre-qualified and ready to make a purchase.

And while 56% of companies have told McKinsey they plan to increase their investments in digital, there is a catch. When asked, “How do you feel about your digital capabilities?” less than a third of companies said they have what they need, and a mere 17% said they are confident they have the right capabilities and processes in place.

Choose a strategy for getting started.

People often say to me, "Great. Digital is very exciting. I like it, but it still sounds vague. Where do I get started?"

My advice is to begin in the most traditional place: where the opportunity is. The very first question you should ask is, "Where will digital matter in my sales organization?" And the answers can differ widely.

For one company we worked with, it was all about net-new sales growth. So we took a look at their micro-markets of opportunity and said, "These are the customer segments and geographies and product categories in which you want to grow. Let's point our digital experiences here."

With another company, what they were really looking for was higher customer loyalty, because their current scores were suffering. So we helped them create digital experiences that allowed them to them better track their product inventory, and better understand where their customers were spending.

What you must get right.

If you're re-crafting your experiences around digital, how you enable your sales force, analytics, and everything else you put into your sales operations becomes really important. It’s easy to treat operations as an afterthought, but in a world where you’re leading with a digital customer experience and route to market, sales ops becomes mission critical.

What does this mean? It means you have to have automation, not only at the marketing level but also at the customer relationship management (CRM) level. It also means that you have to take your sales force off spreadsheets and actually put it into more scalable platforms.

One of the great hidden benefits of moving to an automated digital customer experience is all the potential you can unlock with data. For example, you can see what your customers are looking at, what their patterns are around this, and what product they should buy next.

Being able to capture that information on the back end, and then provide recommendation engines for your sales force or for your customers to be able to predict what product they need, are the types of capabilities that open up when transaction and exploration is on a digital platform.

It’s not all one or the other.

McKinsey believes there are three varieties of digital for business-to-business (B2B) that are going to happen and mature in the market. One is just a pure digital experience. Think about your consumer life — how you buy on Amazon, for example. How delightful it can be, how easy, how you can compare prices and get recommendations. That’s a 100% digital experience.

The second way is a digital blended experience with frontline sellers. Instead of a customer having to call their account rep to see what things they’ve purchased or to manage their upgrades, their rep has visibility into all of that digitally, and knows when to reach out.

The third way we see digital happening is related to channel: You can actually use it to start prospecting. Customers can discover a product in a digital format, and then be flipped to a channel partner who can help with the rest of the sale or help with the services and the installation.

Some people have asked us, "Does digital mean the death of the traditional channel, your resellers?" I don't think that's the case for B2B selling. If anything, digital should be a complement, not a substitution. If digital helps you bring in more leads and prospects, and do things in a quicker and more delightful way, it should be blended into your channel route to market.

There’s a cost to waiting.

Some people will say, "Great. Digital is important. I get it. But what if I do it next year, or the year after? What's the cost of waiting?"

I think the cost of waiting is your competitiveness. What we see with startups and many fast-growing companies is that they're using digital to set different standards, and that’s reshaping the expectations of customers.

While working with one company, we found something quite chilling: For their products and services, customers were far more interested in a digital experience than what they were delivering. And that gap was huge, with a difference of about 30%.

By waiting, all you're doing is providing less of the experience that your customers are looking for, and I'm not really sure companies should be risking their customer loyalty. Certainly, you'll still have your feet on the street and your other sales channel, but why not actually add the digital piece, as well?

The very first question you should ask is, 'Where will digital matter in my sales organization?' And the answers can differ widely.”

Lareina Yee | Partner, McKinsey & Company
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