Sales, marketing and service are prime disciplines for digitization and AI.
But the “how” continues to pose major challenges for companies.
Driven by the focus on operational optimization in production and purchasing, companies have long underestimated the operational potential in sales, marketing and customer service. However, as in the production environment, best practice models have long been established in customer-oriented areas and have been adapted to the specifics of companies. Improvements in performance through their application reach dimensions of 30% to over 50% and thus they beat their counterparts in the operative areas by far. For companies with fast-moving business, this results in a very short amortization period, while companies with long product cycles have low additional costs for sales optimization compared to their machine investments.
The classic for optimizing sales performance are Sales Excellence Programs. They start with the analysis of the current situation using a catalog of questions tailored to the company’s business model. It is taken into account whether the company has a key account management or a regional sales force. The evaluation takes place in various dimensions such as strategy, control, price policy, performance management, relationship management and organizational design. It enables a comparison to an industry average and the definition of target values. The work packages can be defined and processed from these. In addition to the hard facts, special attention should be paid to the soft factors: communication, appreciation, transparency and social skills within the team. They are essential for a successful implementation of changed or additional processes. In the last 10 years, sales excellence programs have raised significant potential in many companies.
The role of sales has become more diverse. It is no longer tied to the central function of planning quantities and determining prices and conditions, but plays an increasingly integrative role in the company. As a central communication interface between the customer world and the internal areas, sales now has the tasks of a sensor, an initiator and a moderator. Sales employees should have the perfect sensors for trends, set the right impulses, reduce friction losses between operational areas through transparency and at the same time convey sensitivity in planning figures and be a skilled negotiating partner at eye level with customers and their own management. If one becomes aware of these requirements, one asks oneself based on the introduction, “What does this actually have to do with digitization and AI?” The spontaneous answer “nothing” would be wrong, however. The better answer would be: “everything”. Because digitization is nothing without people – with their wishes, personal qualities and skills. A team to which a digital process is imposed, which it does not understand or does not share, will sooner or later lead it to absurdity. A digital technology company lives from the fact that its users voluntarily share precisely these human characteristics with it via data. And car manufacturers for electric vehicles are also booming because the buyers of their cars share all their journey data with them without a bad feeling, as they see a great benefit for themselves in being able to drive partially automated.
So how can digitization and AI be specifically useful in customer-oriented areas?
First of all, it is to be determined which fields of action are value-generating. To do this, we create the customer journey together, preferably in a workshop, based on the business model and product. Along the individual points of contact with the customer, we determine the known value contributions, their implications for the business and their digital images. This usually results in further suggestions for previously unused value-enhancing elements that can also be digitally mapped or are even only made possible through consistent digitization. At its core, it is about the question of where human interaction and where digital additions or data models can show their strengths. This gives us a framework of the possible fields of action for digitization.
This first idea of the desired target state is measured against the actual state of the company with the help of a digital maturity model and a framework for action is determined from this. Questions like:
(1) Are there analytically trained employees or data scientists?
If not, how can these functions be otherwise guaranteed?
(2) Which data are relevant to the business?
Are these structured or unstructured?
(3) How are data sources to be used?
Are they related to each other?
(4) How does this data correlate with the goals of the individual areas (sales, marketing, service, development, etc.)?
(5) How should the organization be set up in order to make the best possible use of the data?
(6) Which measures should be recommended or carried out by algorithms, and based on which data?
(7) Which actions can or should be automated, and which effects can be expected in which dimensions?
(8) Should rule-based or knowledge-based systems be used?
and so on.
If these questions can be answered with certainty, a first step towards a self-learning and gradually partially automated company can be seen. The organization as a whole is moving towards more transparency. Digitization is seen as helpful because it creates a consistent view of the company and its customers. This also shows more than clearly what central function the sales department plays as a source of inspiration and how important its interlocking is as a gear in the entire transmission of the company. It becomes clear that digitization in the customer-centered functions is more complex than, for example, automated error detection using sensors and algorithms in production.
At this point, the question for most companies will be which skills the relevant areas and employees should develop, and where the company should strengthen itself with know-how through partners or new employees.
Now it is time to implement the digitization steps. For example, automatic analyzes can be created that answer the question “why did something happen?” And possibly already make initial predictions: “what is likely to happen?”. In customer communication today, a lot revolves around chatbots, collaboration bots and buzzwords such as conversational commerce. These topics come from the B2C business. However, when attempts are made to let automated systems talk to customers with individual wishes, large corporations have already failed. The functionality of a “so-called AI” often led to frustration and migration on the customer side. It is therefore extremely important to identify the right fields for digitization so as not to run the risk of bringing the entire digitization offensive to a standstill with failed alibi projects. In the B2B area, among other things, algorithmic market research is becoming increasingly important. Computer-aided programs can evaluate vast amounts of data (big data) much better than humans, and recognize patterns accurately. Provided that it is ensured in advance that the data is relevant, for which again nothing works without trained people with their analysis skills.
How can a company advance digitization in sales and marketing?
From many years of experience in a wide variety of companies, I still come to the same conclusion: the greatest potential for sales optimization can be found across the board in the cooperation between people in the areas of sales, marketing and service as well as meaningful interlinking with people in other areas of the company. Moore’s law has not changed anything of this conclusion to this day – despite the doubling of computing capacity every two years. This includes the hard realization for some sales employees that sales should not be seen as an island of bliss with the best information and the largest company car, and that it therefore has to communicate its value proposition well within the company. Once this first step has been taken and those involved sit down at a table with a common goal and cooperative, then the go-ahead for digitization can be successful.
An important instrument for assessing which processes can be automated is successfully used in the service area, for example: the value irritant matrix according to Price and Jaffe (2008). It enables the areas to be identified in which customers and their own company create additional value through dialogue. More time and energy should be invested in this in the form of personal contact. Core areas for automation and digitization are characterized by the fact that the customer has added value, but they have a disruptive effect on their own company, since the interaction does not provide any internal added value. In these areas, the customer can better help himself by using automated offers.
In the reality of companies, an analysis often takes a very short time to determine which path makes sense in sales optimization. Experience has shown that the processes to be improved and their application are only one important part of the task. As already shown with regard to the role of sales as an intermediary between customers and internal areas, a large part of the leverage lies not only in efficiency, i.e. doing things right, but in effectiveness, i.e. doing the right thing.
To enable the long-term success of your company together with you is my calling. I would be happy to discuss with you in a personal conversation what your specific requirements and goals are, and what changes can be achieved.
Talk to me!