How IT and sales can collaborate to drive growth, innovation, and improve stakeholder experience

In the wake of significant business disruption, IT, and sales leaders must collaborate and develop strategies to drive growth, innovation, and improved stakeholder relationship.

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According to the latest research by Argyle and Salesforce,  IT is no longer just about keeping systems up and running. Today's IT leaders must be far more strategic in driving business growth. The most impactful actions that CIOs can champion is to collaborate with other lines-of-business to further improve the stakeholder experience - customers, employees, partners, and communities. Sales teams are prime candidates for cutting-edge tools, including artificial intelligence, and their appetite for technology transformation is greater than ever. Research bears this out:

  • IT leaders say their CEO's #1 priority for IT remains the same now as it was prior to COVID-19: lead digital business/digital transformation initiatives, per IDG.
  • According to Gartner, nearly 67% of sales teams are completing, undergoing, or planning a sales transformation to further evolve the function.
  • Forrester notes that nearly half (46%) of companies say that marketing and sales are the areas where they are mostly investing in AI adoption systems.
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IT and Sales must collaborate to drive growth, innovation and a better stakeholder experience 

According to the research: "If digital transformation is going to be a reality, IT and sales leaders need to agree on a unified goal for digital transformation across their business - and the next steps to get there. This means the following baseline understanding of the next steps: 

  • Why teams need a shared definition of digital transformation
  • Why it's critical for IT and sales to collaborate
  • How to foster a better IT and sales partnership

A shared understanding of digital transformation 

Here is the definition of digital transformation: "Digital transformation is the practice of using new technologies and services to evolve business models, sales strategies, marketing practices, product offerings, and organizations as a whole." 

New research from International Data Corp. (IDC) indicates that worldwide spending on digital transformation is forecasted to reach $2.3 trillion in 2023. Per Deloitte, just over half (55%) of CIOs are currently serving as trusted operators of their businesses. Here are some research data points to consider from the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer Report

  • Eighty-four percent of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services
  • Seventy-three percent of customers say one extraordinary experience raises their expectations of other companies
  • Sixty-six percent of customers are willing to pay more for a great experience

  A successful digital transformation is a win for every department, as well as for the customer. The future of the autonomous enterprise is based on a single source of truth visibility of your stakeholders that is shared across the entire business. The latest research from MuleSoft identifies the 8 trends that will shape digital transformation in 2021. The use of data analytics is one of the important key trends.

Why collaboration with IT and Sales is critical

 As an IT leader, you and your team are focused on building the best technology stack possible. Your colleagues in sales want to close deals. Great technology and closing deals have one thing in common: a better customer experience. By breaking out of the IT silo and collaborating with sales, you can build a great customer experience together.

According to the Salesforce 2020 State of Sales Report, sales reps are using automation and AI to optimize processes. As technologies like artificial intelligence mature, reps are finding some relief in the form of automation to help them spend more time on actual selling activities. Sales use of AI has significantly grown in the past two years. AI is gaining fast adoption in sales ops. While AI is not yet as prevalent in sales (57% adoption by high performing sales) as in marketing (where 84% use it), its adoption in sales has shot up in recent years - 21% adoption in 2018 versus 37% adoption of AI in 2020. The growth of AI in sales thus represents an extension of human capability, not a replacement of it, as reps are tasked with more complex mandates.

High performing sales reps are using additional data sources to gain better customer insights. Reps voraciously devour information from many sources so they can understand and advise customers - powering a process called insight selling. 88% of reps say current economic conditions make it important to anticipate customers' needs. Customer insights include customer communication history, customer purchase history, competitor insights, and customer staffing changes. Sales teams are relying on use of technology and access to data to make faster and more informed decisions.

"Transformation happens when leaders stop focusing internally on technology, products, departments, or systems -- and recenter around their customers." -- Bret Taylor, president and chief operation officer at Salesforce.

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The shared purpose of IT and Sales is to improve the customer experience 

Sales ops jobs are expanding and more strategic. From training to technology to performance analysis, sales ops wears many different hats these days, and colleagues recognize their vital contributions to both keeping the lights on and developing strategies for growth. Eighty-nine percent of sales professionals say sales ops plays a critical role in growing the business. The better support from IT, the better chances of sales operations delivering strategic value to the business.

How to  build a better partnership with IT and Sales

According to research from McKinsey, digital transformation isn't always a success. Consider:

  • Fewer than 30% of digital transformation initiatives succeed.
  • Only 16% of respondents say their businesses' digital transformations have successfully improved performance and equipped them to sustain changes in the long term.
  • An additional 7% say that performance improved but that those improvements were not sustained.

Digital transformation is hard. Success requires a team approach. The CIO playbook notes: "As an IT leader, you should also use this time to get familiar with the sales process. Understand where the team is hitting roadblocks. Pinpoint where customer frustration impedes a sale." According to the research, here are the six items that should be on the IT and sales collaboration checklist: 

  1. Assess current processes. What sales tasks are being done manually that could be automated? What's taking up the sales team's valuable time in activities other than selling? Have a discussion not only with the sales leadership but also with their reps, to understand how a digital transformation could impact selling.
  2. Speak the same language. Each team has their own shorthand. Cut down on the tech talk and explain solutions in simple terms. If a sales leader uses a word or references a customer experience you don't understand, ask follow-up questions. Curiosity is a sign of a great leader.
  3. Tackle data. Data drives sales. How can IT provide easier access to real-time information for sales? Where are the roadblocks? How can data silos be broken down? Technology will generate the reach and scale your IT team needs to make customer-centricity part of your company's DNA, so prioritize the democratization of data to enable better experiences for employees and customers.
  4. Establish a meeting schedule. How long and often will the teams meet? Who should be included? Digital transformation will be an ongoing initiative, not a short-term project, so ensure the right leaders are in the room and committed to building cross-functional collaboration muscles.
  5. Absorb and implement feedback. If the sales team is telling you that a solution won't work, listen. Be ready to suggest alternatives. Likewise, explain why you are suggesting a solution and outline the features that will help them. Communicate clearly.
  6. Agree on what success looks like. Teams behave how they're measured, so align on integrated success benchmarks between your team and sales. Establish shared metrics, goals, and KPIs and how often they should be tracked. Outline a process for adjusting when needed and revisiting the project as needed. 

Sales leaders are placing emphasis on re-skilling and training to respond to the accelerated technology and digital transformation. The research concludes that "successful companies recognize that a strong IT-sales partnership is critical." 

Salesforce research shows that sales leaders say they are accelerating their digital transformation plans since 2019. Many leaders admit they're not completely ready to map key business priorities to changing conditions. For instance, only 26% feel completely capable of adapting team culture, and 28% say the same about staff skills. 77% of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since 2019. 66% of sales leaders are also focusing on reskilling existing employees. 63% of sales professionals are confident in their organization's ability to train/reskill reps - this is key in order to best use new emerging technologies like AI. Sales cannot accelerate digital transformation without partnering with IT. Successful CIOs must recognize that improving sales execution will lead to growth, profitability, and most importantly, a better stakeholder (employee, customer, and partner) experience.

To learn more about how IT and Sales can better collaborate to drive, growth, innovation, and improved stakeholder experience, you can visit here.