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To Grow Sales Amid Uncertainty, Turn to Your Existing Network

Principal at Oliver Wyman Partner at Oliver Wyman

Across industries, companies have made substantial investments in salesforce automation tools and processes; however, few have capitalized on their most powerful resources, the internal network of people and data. Networked sales leverages these resources to increase customer intelligence, capture more opportunities and increase sales productivity.  

Both during and before the current pandemic, enterprises that embraced networked sales have outperformed their peers by more than 5% in terms of revenue growth. As we are currently facing a crisis-driven shift in customer touchpoints toward digital and other remote channels, there is heightened urgency to break traditional organizational silos and build a commercial approach that uses every available asset. Networked sales can make the difference between surviving and thriving.

Below, we examine the three key elements of networked sales: increasing customer intelligence by integrating new sources of data, capturing opportunities and boosting retention by embedding non-sales resources, and increasing sales productivity by reshaping the sales organization into a cross-functional network. We also introduce how companies can set up a networked sales approach.

Maximizing Customer Intelligence

Today, there is a greater need than ever to share information across the organization and to tap new sources of leads and customer insights. The most creative enterprises look beyond the immediate touchpoints, drawing insight from their broader ecosystem.

One manufacturer and direct seller of a range of iconic engineering products now collects and leverages data from a variety of nontraditional sources, including customer community forums, sponsored events and conventions. Collected and shared by non-sales resources, this data has proved central to generating new sales leads.

The data collected through these sources feed into a “next best action” engine that powers its sales and marketing activities. The engine identifies potential new customers and optimizes budgets across the company’s digital channels.

This innovative approach has become a core enabler of the enterprise’s growth strategy. In its first three months following the launch of this new networked approach in a key United States location, sales increased tenfold.

Capturing Opportunities and Boosting Retention

Networked sales also engages all customer-facing employees, including those who have ad-hoc customer interactions, to improve customer acquisition and retention.

Positioning sales and sales-related resources — support staff, field reps and technical sales experts — into a coordinated ecosystem is a key to networked sales success.

For example, one of the world’s largest technology retailers has created new sales guidelines to empower those employed in support centers to drive cross-sales. Customer support representatives are trained not only to address technical questions, but to sequentially sell add-on products and services, focusing customers’ attention on the features that are most likely to appeal to their needs.

After experiencing the help provided by the support team, nearly 60% of customers said they were likely to make another purchase, highlighting how adopting a networked sales approach can contribute to incremental sales.

Increasing Sales Productivity

Positioning sales and sales-related resources — support staff, field reps and technical sales experts — into a coordinated ecosystem is a key to networked sales success. Together, they build meaningful customer webs of influence, prioritize leads and define actions.

Networked sales teams have been proven to improve productivity. For example, a major cloud-based software and service provider overhauled its salesforce, reorganizing its entire organization into a series of territory field-sales teams supported by technical support staff. This included shifting the focus of sales from selling products to driving significant opportunities in wide-ranging digital transformations and multi-product solutions, with technical experts supporting the sales. Within a year, revenues rose by more than 50%, even though there was a net reduction in sales headcount.

In times of crisis, we observe a contraction in how enterprises delegate authority, with the C-suite and other senior executives making critical decisions and joining the front lines of sales, operations and public relations. This can be a catalyst for adopting an enduring networked sales approach, positioning the C-Suite as an integral part of the cross-functional sales network.

Getting Started

Implementing networked sales does not come without a few hurdles. Getting cross-functional teams to operate in concert requires careful design and significant change management, particularly in decentralized, human capital-intensive organizations.

Designing a compelling vision for the customer journey helps anchor all key design aspects, including roles and how to enable your resources in those roles with the right tools and incentives. Upskilling, or at least training, is often required. For example, non-sales staff needs to be trained to ask simple discovery questions and to make a few targeted recommendations that can lead to sales. For sales teams, the script needs to involve relationship-building and bringing in technical support staff when relevant.

The burning platform ignited by the current crisis can help overcome organizational inertia. There are various ways to get started that are low-risk, relying on experimentation and feedback to boost customer retention and advance commercial recovery efforts. For companies with longer sales life cycles, we typically see the highest return from dividing the sales team into a cross-functional network of lead qualifiers, solution developers, customer insight generators and expert negotiators. For companies where sales are more transactional, we typically see the highest return from tapping into non-selling teams, such as customer service, to generate leads and close more straightforward deals. Regardless of company type, one of the greatest tools at a company’s disposal is the breadth of customer interaction data that can drive key sales insights. Identifying and tapping into all available data sources early will lead to a competitive advantage.

A version of this article also appeared on Oliver Wyman Insights.

Oliver Wyman’s Bruce Spear, Partner, and Brent Bloomberg, Engagement Manager, also contributed to this article.

Julien Boulenger

Principal at Oliver Wyman

Julien Boulenger is a principal in Oliver Wyman’s New York office. He focuses on pricing, commercial transformation, sales growth strategy and organizational effectiveness in B2B services and manufacturing sectors.

Hugues Havrin

Partner at Oliver Wyman

Hugues Havrin is a partner in Oliver Wyman’s Paris office. He focuses on helping business and technology services companies with growth strategy, portfolio repositioning, pricing and commercial transformation.

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