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High-impact sales transformations

Integrating new digital capabilities with surrounding commercial processes

While it seems like everyone today has a Sales Transformation going on, why do so few achieve the impact companies are looking for? Too many “sales transformations” don’t actually result in new ways of selling that deliver better experiences to customers (and thus deliver increased growth and increased share of wallet). Too often, despite best efforts to be customer-centric, value-driven, and human-designed, transformations end up being siloed system implementations with little behavior change. Nowhere is this challenge more glaring than in large-scale CRM implementations in mature industries. Time after time, companies spend significant amounts of time and money implementing sales automation capabilities that get little use. Sellers see them as added work and oversight, leaders see spotty adoption and metrics that aren’t trusted to drive decision-making, and sales enablement teams spend their time coming up with ways to drive system adoption instead of focusing on business outcomes. 

This seems counterintuitive—it should be going the other way. Companies are getting better at integrating IT with the business units. The CIO and now Chief Digital Officer (CDO) roles are gaining prominence on the executive team. Digital Transformation consultants have developed excellent implementation methodologies based on human-centered design principles, Agile workflows, and the latest thinking in change management. There is no such thing as an analog transformation anymore, the whole world is going digital. 

Yet, there are still global, multibillion-dollar companies, with thousands of sellers, whose CRM adoption is terrible. And while that is bad enough, there are many more large-scale, expensive, digital implementations that end in finger pointing between the business and IT over systems that don’t deliver on the experience and business case promised.

Before delving further into this, let it be said there are pockets of companies that are doing this very well, mainly in the technology world. For many tech start-ups, digital automation is part of their DNA.  As such, enabling their sellers with a sales automation platform that supported their digital sales processes was central to their business model. Their sales operations teams have sophisticated pipeline management systems, and they are running multiple sales motions with planned variation to identify best practices. And it doesn’t hurt to have a financial structure that supports 25 percent cost-of-sales versus the traditional 5–8 percent in mature, B2B industries. But for every one of these “digital natives,” there are many mature, B2B product companies that are paying millions in licensing fees for a system their sellers don’t use.

In our experience working across a wide variety of clients across industries and sizes, there is one overarching factor that drives the success of sales (and marketing, and commerce, etc.) transformations: integrating the new digital capabilities into the rhythm of surrounding commercial processes.

Walt Becker

Principal, Customer Advisory, Sales Transformation, KPMG US

Why does this happen?

Without the above, these initiatives are destined to become additional work instead of replacing old work. At best they will help one part of an organization be more efficient in an area, but the impact is likely to be siloed. Once a change becomes additive and off to the side, it doesn’t have much of a chance to succeed in today’s workplace. 

Digital account plans are the classic example of this in the sales transformation world. These can be an excellent tool when integrated into the surrounding business processes, and a needless homework assignment when not. Most would agree the act of stepping back and doing an account plan helps Account Executives and teams think through potential opportunities and needed actions to deliver against account targets. And Sales Force Automation systems do a great job of digitally consolidating the opportunities and tasks from all parts of the business under one account. But, when done in isolation and simply reported on, they rarely help sellers sell more, and thus don’t change behavior. 

If the account plans are not used in the Sales Planning/Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process, and sellers have to use another system to summarize their forward look, why do an account plan? Similarly, if sales managers don’t revisit the account plans in weekly one-on-ones to see how they can help progress key opportunities and remove obstacles, why do one? If new team member onboarding doesn’t use account plans to get people up to speed…You get the picture. Simply adding account plans to the existing commercial processes, without eliminating the old ways of doing things, doesn’t make sense.

It seems simple, but we see it happen over and over again. Companies in the midst of large sales transformations don’t want to invest in core sales process design, let alone S&OP, coaching cadence, onboarding, and training; and the work gets de-scoped from projects. “We will do it internally,” or “we are just going to use the process out of the box,” or “the GTM transformation is behind the system implementation, we’ll do that work later.” Companies rationalize these decisions, but in reality, most internal teams have day jobs and aren’t experienced in process redesign and building capabilities. It is very typical to see a large program with $1 million in discovery, $5–10 million in implementation, $1 million in stakeholder management/change, and nothing allocated towards business process change.  Needless to say, these programs rarely deliver on new ways of working nor the business benefits. 

What can we do about it?

While there are some factors that make success more likely, there is only one silver bullet. The answer has to do with customer experience, but maybe not in the way you are thinking. For B2B companies, most have figured out a desired customer experience, but far fewer have figured out how to seamlessly deliver this behind the scenes. Transformations are most successful and deliver on the business case when the company relentlessly focuses on enabling their sellers, marketers, and servicers to deliver the end-customer experience. 

We will talk more about this in my next discussion which hits on the next two items that can derail digital transformations: Demanding change but not supplying the tools and methods to do it successfully, and not considering and intentionally designing how the seller/marketer/servicer experience will evolve from initial deployment to maturity. 

In the meantime, the following factors are ways to help avoid the core challenge of not integrating new digital capabilities into surrounding business processes: 


Business Head should lead the transformation—no matter how much stakeholder management, communication, and training are done, if the business lead isn’t driving the change, the surrounding commercial processes are unlikely to be impacted



Include business process redesign for core commercial processes as a matter of course in all large programs—coordinate this across the company with a Commercial PMO

    - Prioritize system-wide capabilities that impact core existing processes over individual function capabilities


Aggressively pursue discontinuation of the old way of doing things, such as turning off systems, requiring new methods, and providing information digitally.

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Meet our team

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Walt Becker
Principal, Customer Advisory, Sales Transformation Lead, KPMG US

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