by Bruce Harpham

How IT supports sales at 3 large companies

Jan 26, 2016
CIOIT Leadership

Sales are the lifeblood of any business. And IT can play a pivotal role in what happens before and after the sale – that’s what happening at Salesforce, Northwestern Mutual and DocuSign.

conference call

Supporting the organization’s sales department is one of the best ways that IT leaders position themselves as strategic contributors. What does that contribution look like in practice? It starts with learning what sales people do and what their challenges are. The next step is to streamline, automate and equip them with tools to make them more productive.  

Justifying the cost of specialized IT support for sales is easiest in companies that have complex and large value sales.  In addition to long sales cycles, complex sales often involve intricate contracts and multiple stakeholders. Managing all of this information can be frustrating for sales professionals. Learn how three technology executives enable sales with better technology and processes.

The concierge and sales coach: adding value to sales at Salesforce has quickly become a major player in CRM. The company’s extensive customer list includes American Express, American Red Cross, Delta Air Lines and GE. Salesforce sales representatives offer sophisticated software and interact with numerous stakeholders while selling and serving a customer. Enter the Salesforce IT group to smooth the path.

“We built the Sales Coach for Salesforce to help our sales professionals become more effective,” commented Greg Gsell, director of Sales Cloud Product Marketing at Salesforce. “This app helps new sales staff get up to speed and learn how to work effectively with different buyers,” Gsell says. “This addition also makes it easier for experienced sales professionals to quickly get up to speed on new products,” he says. The sales coach app was first developed for internal use at Salesforce a few years ago and has since become integrated into the product.

[Related: How CIOs can scale scattered pockets of digital innovation]

“Working with customers and prospects considering competitors is a recurring challenge in sales. Our technology eases that situation,” Gsell says. “A newly added tool makes it easy to write a quick request and get specialized help in addressing a specific competitor,” he says. The ability to quickly access support from other parts of the company means sales professionals can get the answers they need to close sales.

Providing simplicity and just in time information: supporting sales at DocuSign

Do you still print PDF contract files, sign them in pen and then send them out for processing?

DocuSign, established in 2003, provides online contracts where buyers and sellers can sign off on digital contracts. DocuSign is widely used in the real estate industry and other sectors.

Eric Johnson joined DocuSign in 2014 as CIO and immediately started to learn the organization. “I started here by emphasizing listening. Listening to and learning from the business is important in serving sales and other parts of the company. I see myself as a business person who knows how to use technology to solve problems,” Johnson says. “I use the following principle to guide my approach: Avoid falling in love with the technology: it will disappoint you. It matters what you do with it once you get a new system in place,” he says.

“The sales organization is looking for simplicity, ease of use and a one-click solution. They don’t want to become technologists,” Johnson says. “We are going through a process to simplify our technology and applications right now. I have found that too many collaboration tools tends to create noise and frustration,” he says

“Ensuring data quality is another way we support sales and the rest of the organization,” Johnson says. “Data quality is like the blood inside the organization. If the data is corrupted or incomplete, it is difficult to be effective,” he says. Poor data quality means ineffective sales calls, frustrated finance professionals and sub-optimal marketing campaigns. Data quality may not seem like a sales issue at first. On further analysis, it impacts sales and several other parts of the organization.

“Creating a business analytics system is one of the ways we have supported sales. Before we put this system in place, our sales staff had to pull reports and assemble information in Microsoft Excel. That meant less time to focus on customers. Creating systems and processes to streamline work like that helps the sales representatives,” Johnson says.

[Related: Yo, CIOs: Don’t think your role is mostly operational]

“We also support the sales staff by providing activity data directly in our implementation of Salesforce. Our sales representatives can see how many transactions and users a given company has. This information also helps our sales team understand if a customer is happy with the product. Providing all of that information in one place makes it easier to prepare for sales meetings and calls,” Johnson says.

Immerse yourself in sales: the Northwestern Mutual approach

Northwestern Mutual, a leading financial services company based in Wisconsin, has a long history. The company was founded in 1857 and has since grown to 5,000-person organization. That growth has come with awards including being named to Fortune’s most admired companies list in 2015. Despite that success, Northwestern continues to innovate.

“My approach to building a relationship with the Northwestern sales organization includes formal processes and informal networking,” says Karl Gouverneur, chief technology officer at Northwestern Mutual. “The formal aspect includes an annual planning process where we take in suggestions and ideas from across the organization – including sales staff – and build our budgets and plans accordingly,” Karl says.

“Informally, I find it very helpful to do a ride along with sales staff to better understand their situation,” he says. “When I travel to different offices to present on technology, I often visit with sales staff and go with them on visits to clients. This first hand exposure gives me rich insight into how IT can help sales,” he says.

Recent innovations at Northwestern have emphasized the phone as a key sales tool. “We improved our IVR (interactive voice response) system so that sales staff can access the menu and service they need in seconds rather than minutes,” Gouverneur says. “We also created a way for our staff to record post-meeting wrap up notes – a key regulatory requirement for our industry – by recording a memo with their phones,” he says. Both of these innovations recognize that the phone remains an essential tool for sales professionals.

These IT leaders show that supporting sales goes far beyond purchasing and installing a CRM application. Effective support begins with recognizing the importance of sales and seeing their challenges first hand. Gathering first impressions as an IT executive from the field remains an excellent way to increase professional credibility. To supplement these insights, the other best practice requires a governance and project management process to evaluate requests and deliver improvements.