In an era when technology is changing the ways people conduct every aspect of their lives, it’s not a surprise that business leaders have come to depend on it as the lever that will elevate their sales and marketing performance to the next level.
Productivity has increased in all aspects of business because of technology, and the implementation of CRM, SFA, marketing automation and social media tools — to name a few technologies — has had a direct effect on sales effectiveness.
That effect is not a universal thing, however. In fact, many organizations are performing more poorly now than they did in the past, in spite of technological advances.
For example, quota attainment peaked in 2011, when 63 percent of salespeople made their numbers, but since then it has skidded to 55 percent, CSO Insights
Marketers and salespeople are now less happy with the technology they are given to use than they were in the past.
The percentage of respondents who said they were very satisfied with the systems they were using plummeted by eight full points in a year — from 12.44 percent in 2015 to 4.41 percent in 2016, according to a yet-to-be-released CallidusCloud research report.
Performance is down, in aggregate, and satisfaction with technology is also in decline. What’s the problem? It could be that the next evolutionary step for sales and marketing is not technological but cultural.
That was a sentiment I heard a lot at CRM Evolution, the premier CRM conference for thought leadership, held last month in Washington D.C. Naturally, there were plenty of software vendors in attendance, and there was a lot of talk about new technologies: the Internet of Things, machine learning, automated voice assistants and more.
The tide of new technologies continues to roll in, but behaviors, organizational structures and processes are not changing quickly enough for the humans those technologies are meant to serve.
Yes, the new trends promise to revolutionize the way people live and work, but most businesses haven’t yet internalized the last two waves of change, and they could be swamped as a result.
Technological change is both a response and a driver of customer expectations. As customers come to expect faster responses and more subject expertise from sales people, along with a more consultative sales process, businesses need to lean on technology to make them possible on a profitable scale.
Yet many companies still fight battles with adoption. Only 26 percent of respondents could report full adoption of sales and marketing technologies, the CallidusCloud research found. Many are struggling to gain acceptable alignment between sales and marketing; 71.62 percent of respondents in the same study reported either siloed systems or no automated systems at all.
Several CRM Evolution speakers homed in on the concept of culture.
Many executives are still not digitally literate, said Brian Solis, a principal at the Altimeter Group. Although they know they need technology in order to succeed, their own blind spots or resentments about the technology — and change in general — can deprive their organizations of the ability to capitalize on their investments.
Some companies in heavily regulated industries use those regulations as the excuse to avoid change, Solis said, adding that the companies that will succeed are the ones that don’t turn inward but instead collaborate with regulators to find ways to enable innovation.
Successful leadership requires an understanding that digital transformation must influence overall company strategy and executive leadership, according to Sheryl Kingstone, research director at 451 Research. Furthermore, that leadership needs to aim for disruption, not seek to preserve the status quo, even when that currently might be profitable.
Executive buy-in is not a new idea. Over the past 30 years, many a CRM implementation has failed because of a pervasive disdain that started at the top and trickled down through the organization.
The need for executive buy-in has expanded to include new technologies on several fronts. Without leadership that not only supports technological change but also can articulate its possibilities to the people who will use it, businesses will find it impossible to overcome organizational inertia.
One solution could be reverse mentoring, Solis suggested — that is, executives receiving guidance from their more technologically savvy employees. However, that requires an open mindset that many executives fail to possess.
Changing customer expectations and fast-evolving technologies have created a need for a new kind of C-level leadership.
CEOs need to become more aware of the customer experience and understand how it maps to technology, and then push to keep the two aligned. They don’t need to be younger — but they do need to be more aware of change, and more connected to which changes will make their businesses more effective at delivering winning customer experiences. Then, they need to be champions of that change.
For CIOs, the role will become ever more strategic in nature. To effect the changes the CEO outlines, the CIO must determine which systems and data should be integrated for maximum effect, as well as how to make that integration happen in an economical way.
Sales and marketing leadership together must create a team-oriented culture that makes use of data to its fullest in order to translate a vision into results. The days of sales and marketing battling, bickering and pursuing contradictory goals now are long over.
Although you need to worry about technological change, it should not be your organization’s main worry. Success hinges on creating a culture that can change gracefully and incorporate new concepts and technology as smoothly as possible.
Driving business disruption without simultaneously disrupting your organization internally is a tough task. Is your company’s leadership up to it?
By Christopher J. Bucholtz