In recent months I’ve heard more than one person suggest that it can be difficult to get sales teams to buy into a digital transformation project.

Obviously all departments are capable of resisting change, but apparently sales teams tend to kick up more of a fuss than their colleagues.

The reason being that they don’t want to lose the important human touch that is so vital to winning new business and increasing the size of deals with add-ons.

And their attitude is understandable given the stated aims of most DT projects. 

For example Gov.uk, often heralded as an organisation at the forefront of digital transformation, aspires to create “digital services so good people prefer to use them.”

However if sales teams obstruct the adoption of digital technologies and new working practices it might mean that the business ultimately fails to move with the times and the customer experience can suffer as a result.

James Bromley, COO at Swiftkey and former MD at MailOnline, said that it’s no surprise that sales teams can be apprehensive about DT as on the face of it they have a lot to lose.

Take a look at the way digital media is increasingly purchased by automated real-time exchanges that make decisions based on data rather than lunches and long fostered relationships. 

It doesn't get any better with CRM. No longer is sales a black art where the individual salesperson holds power and IP, instead their performance is visible to all and their collection of highly valuable relationships has been encapsulated by Marc Benioff for the benefit of the company rather than their next role.

Bromley says he wants to employ sales people that embrace new technologies, such as YesWare, and who see DT as a tools arm race to keep ahead of the competition.

So what can be done to persuade sales team of the benefits of digital transformation?

I’ve dug around and come up with a couple of case studies that hopefully give an idea of how other businesses have overcome this delicate challenge.

The benefits of analytics

In a separate post on the importance of getting sales teams to use analytics, I described the way that IBM successfully showed its sales teams that digital can actually make their jobs easier.

The tech giant found that sales leaders were sceptical that predictive analytics would be beneficial.

They believed that converting an opportunity into a sale was largely a function of the seller’s actions and could not be predicted in advance.

However, through a process of education IBM was able to demonstrate that analytics could actually help sales teams make better use of their time and improve conversion rates.

The situation has now gone full circle, and having proved to the sales teams that predictive analytics can actually make their jobs easier, IBM reports that its sales managers now commonly request additional analytics tools.

James Bromley advocates IBM’s approach and says that sales teams need to be shown that investment in digital brings increased revenue.

That said, don't underestimate the fear that a lack of knowledge brings - lots of education and a chance to play with the tools you are introducing is key. Ideally this would be led by your sales director, not a third party expert.

You need sales directors who get it. Done correctly, DT in sales teams should be empowering to the wider team rather than seen a monitor or restriction. 

Some sales leaders can be uncomfortable with this and wrongly focus on measure and control.

Provide incentives

Sales teams are driven by incentives, which is why the customer experience can occasionally be neglected in favour of hitting monthly targets.

However incentives can also be used to ensure sales teams focus some of their energies on transforming their working practices.

This useful blog, which describes how businesses can implement a new sales framework, advocates the use of an MBO (management by objective).

The MBO is created as a percentage of an employee’s target compensation at a relatively low level (e.g. 5%), and is used to incentivise behaviour on new processes that the leadership team is rolling out.

Apparently this proved to be ‘an incredibly effective way to focus the sales team on goals outside of quota attainment’.

In summary...

These are just a couple of case studies I found of businesses that have adopted certain measures to persuade sales team to get onboard with digital transformation.

It’s obviously a difficult process that requires a combination of training, education and cultural changes, but this hopefully gives an idea of how other companies have approached DT.

Econsultancy is hosting a Digital Transformation webinar on March 5 2015 that will review key insights from our research and look at some of the important issues digital leaders will face in 2015.

David Moth

Published 16 February, 2015 by David Moth

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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