How to drive collaboration between sales and IT
There was a time when the sales team viewed technology as anathema to their day jobs.
Gartner estimates that circa 2000 some 80% of salesforce automation deployments failed to show any measurable return on investment, as salespeople shunned the technology, either because they didn’t think it would help them sell, because of technical difficulties, or because they viewed it as purely a tool for management to monitor them.
But a lot has changed in the last decade-and-a-half. The latest generation of salespeople has grown up surrounded by consumer technology, they are digital natives. The latest generation of sales tools is more user-friendly. And there is a greater appreciation from salespeople that tools such as salesforce automation can support them in their day-to-day jobs and help them hit their goals.
This has, unsurprisingly, led to an uptick in the adoption of sales technologies. But with this spike coinciding with the proliferation of cloud solutions, there has been a tendency for sales leaders to see an opportunity to procure and implement these sales technologies without involving IT, in the belief it would be quicker and easier without them. These shadow IT capabilities have contributed to what was already a difficult relationship between the sales and IT departments in many organisations, thanks to a combination of cultural and structural obstacles.
Simon Piesse, a principal at North Highland, believes that obstacles include:
- Lack of communication at the leadership level.
- Strategies and plans that developed separately – where the dependencies of each department have not been identified and fully understood.
- Culture within the organisation that does not promote collaborative and cross functional working.
- Lack of joined-up incentives to drive the right behaviours.
- Budgeting that has been developed separately – which means that funding may be being directed into areas of IT that do not support the priorities of sales.
Duncan Keene, UK managing director of ContentSquare, notes: “In many organisations it can often be difficult to convince sales and IT teams that they should work together. In my experience this is most often due to a communication issue: salespeople are mostly non-technical, and IT teams can struggle to understand how to implement the requests of sales, and how the priority of those requests relative to their existing workload.”
But despite the gulf that exists between the two departments, the reality is that collaboration between sales and IT has never been more important.
“Many of the pressures that pushed these departments apart now command their close collaboration,” says Jason Angelos, managing director, advanced customer strategy at Accenture Strategy. “As IT’s role has evolved from being a service department to a strategic collaborator, and sales reps are under pressure to deliver a more enriched interaction with respective customers and prospects, technology is now a cornerstone of the sales department.”
Angelos continues: “Sales and IT cannot work effectively in isolation – they no longer have the time to do so. Digital disruption, the rise of consumerism, and the accelerated pace of change mean that both departments face extinction in the way they’ve traditionally operated, and instead need to adapt and embrace close collaboration.”
He continues: “The customer buying landscape has fundamentally changed – it’s increasingly complex increasingly social, and increasingly cautious. Sales operating models and sales technology support have failed to keep pace with the tectonic shifts in customer behaviour and the new as-a-service-centred solutions offered by newer companies. Likewise, despite billions invested over the past decade in technology intended to boost sales productivity, reported selling time has gone down over the past few years. Accenture Strategy estimates that individual sales performance has declined by 14%.
One particularly powerful benefit of collaboration for the sales team, is the data and insight that the IT department can provide, which will ultimately empower salespeople.
“The IT department is able to provide salespeople with a level of insight that is simply not available elsewhere,” says Keene. “In the era of brick-and-mortar stores, questions over how a product is being used or how effective certain messages were more easily answered, however getting this information now requires the implementation of data analytics tools.
IT teams are too often siloed, and collaboration with the outward-facing sales team has real potential to benefit both departments.
“Salespeople who collaborate closely with their IT department will not only have more knowledge about their customers and prospects, they’ll be able to speed up the product iteration cycle by delivering key, real-time customer feedback to IT and product teams. IT teams are too often siloed, and collaboration with the outward-facing sales team has real potential to benefit both departments.”
Angelos adds: “By joining forces, these departments can help crush the silos that slow the sharing of critical customer data, deliver predictive insights, power a guided selling motion with sales management, and bolster the individual seller experience. Contemporary tools, timely, connected, and predictive customer insights, and a more agile operating model are critical to delivering the smart, seamless, and personalised experiences that customers demand.”
So how can the sales department break down the silos and drive better collaboration with their IT counterparts?
Simon Reindl, a transformation expert and founder and MD of Advanced Product Delivery, provides some basic relationship-building advice for sales teams.
“Sales people are gifted communicators, that are able to quickly assess the marketplace and people. These techniques can be used when working with the IT team,” he says. “Simply get up and talk, openly and honestly. If a feature is going to help drive sales, say so. If a defect is affecting sales, say so. This helps people order when work is done.
“A key frustration to IT people is overuse of the “urgent” feature or fix. Be clear and honest about deadlines. Everyone in business is used to working to deadlines, and being clear and honest about deadlines will help build trust. With that trust when you then say “I really need this live in two weeks”, the IT team know you mean it.
“Get involved as closely as you can. If your dev team is another country, see if you can visit them. It is amazing how much easier it is to work with people once you have met them once, face to face. Sales people know this more than anyone! Build and maintain the relationship by regularly talking, attending refinement and review meeting – being engaged.”
However, for there to be true collaboration, there needs to be commitment on both sides to developing ongoing cooperation. Actions that need to be taken across both departments to foster a collaborative relationship should include:
- Sales leaders should educate their staff on how agile IT teams typically work. Keene says: “Knowledge of what a ‘sprint’ means and task management tools like JIRA which are typically used by IT teams can go a long way to bridging the communication divide.”
- IT leaders should keep staff informed of sales and marketing developments. “IT teams should be kept in the loop by their leaders as to what’s happening with sales teams and marketing in general: this type of general awareness can go a long way to enhancing cooperation between teams,” says Keene.
- Start with the sales conversations. Angelos notes: “Step into the use cases and architect around the seller experience inclusive of the business challenge, and understand how technology can help you solve it. Communicate all the capabilities you’d like to get from the technology and give IT time to deliver a solution.”
- Discussions between sales and IT should consider current and future needs. “IT can advise on the scalability and flexibility of a solution and ensure it meets your needs today and tomorrow,” says Angelos.
- Sales leaders should emphasise what matters. “Weigh in with prioritised requirements and the context of the business outcomes you are looking to solve in order to avoid over-engineering solutions that are suited to [soon to be] outdated business practices,” advises Angelos.
- Focus on the seller experience. “Move beyond management data capture and dashboards with a bias toward timely, connected, and prescriptive insights and collaboration tools that enable more effective sales orchestration and better guide the conversations of sellers,” Angelos recommends.
- Consider implementation and adoption. “IT can help sales leaders and their teams make more informed technology purchase, implementation, and adoption decisions. IT training to sales execs on new technologies, processes, and trends help ensure teams are best positioned to maximise the value of their investments,” says Angelos.
While the development and nurturing of this relationship constitutes additional duties at a time when in many cases both departments are already overloaded, the bigger picture is a more successful organisation as a whole. And for sales teams, it should be a no-brainer. Because, ultimately, with the sales discipline increasingly reliant on technology – unlike days gone by – greater collaboration between IT and sales is simply common sense.
“When sales are down, many organisations are inclined to place blame directly onto their sales reps. However, while talent plays a role, a successful sales function goes further than those operating immediately within the sales team,” notes Simon Piesse.
“Achieving in sales is the result of taking a holistic approach factoring the tools, technology, strategy, training, coaching and surrounding environment. Within this, operational enablement – largely facilitated by the IT department in this digital age – is a crucial pillar, for this ensures that sales reps have the tools, processes and information required to execute a sales strategy in an effective and efficient manner.”
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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.