With the immediate impact of the COVID pandemic largely behind us, organizations are slowing shifting back from the mindset of sustainability to growth. Let’s explore how sales leaders can approach one of the biggest 2021 annual planning topics of conversation—digital strategy and execution.

At this point in 2020, all your competitors have undergone some variation of a “digital transformation” to supplement an end-to-end data-driven, Customer Experience (CX) focused digital sales strategy. A recent study conducted by KPMG found that over 90% of companies have completed a transformation within the last two years. However, less than 50% of executives believe the transformation will live up to its promised value. Do not be part of the 50%. Evaluating your organization’s current digital capabilities using SBI’s Digital Maturity Evaluation tool and then answer three questions to drive digital success within your sales organizations.



Download the Digital Maturity Evaluation Tool Here


Get involved early. As a sales leader, you are often operating between the corporate executives and your sales teams. From the left ear, sales ops leaders are yelling, “We don’t have the digital systems to support our processes. We’re understaffed and under-supported!” From the right ear, the C-suites yells about how 2021 will be the year we crush the yearly growth targets through the new corporate “digital strategy.” The pressure is immense. Embrace the liaison role to successfully set and implement the digital strategy by aligning and answering 3 questions:


  • How does my strategy focus on the customer?
  • Do I have the sponsorship from top to bottom to drive success?
  • Do I have the skills to scale digital growth?


How Does My Strategy Focus on the Customer?


Your sales team knows your customers the best. Too often, the strategy is set from the top and trickles to the bottom, resulting in tactics that are out of touch with the customer and resistance from your sales reps. Political friction and lack of sales understandings from your executive team can set unrealistic digital sales targets and timelines. Your sales teams will attempt to adapt quickly to the fast-changing digital landscape, but ultimately a rushed job will create an inefficient process and negatively influence the customer experience.


Selling is still a people-focused art. Leverage your field resources, such as buyer personas and customer journey maps, to understand how and why your customers make their purchasing decisions. Craft a message that is personalized and focused on building a relationship with the customer. If 95% of your customers prefer a direct sale, why set a strategy that focuses on channel and partner sales? Huge partner sales relationship discounts are negated if there is no bridge to the customer experience (CX) and 25% of your accounts churn. Alignment between the strategy to the buyer’s journey increases the ability to sell and motivates your sales reps.


Action: Convey the voice of your customers to the strategy session by listening to your sales teams first. It will generate a strategy that is appealing to your customers and executable by the sales teams.


Do I Have the Sponsorship From Top to Bottom to Drive Success?


Lack of commitment and focus from a single point in the chain will disrupt your execution. Look for allies within the organization focused on long-term success instead of the traditional “check the box” let me get this done. Many companies see implementing digital CRM/ERP systems as “I checked the box. Now I have a digital strategy in place.” This is the wrong mentality. Digital execution is an agile and iterative process. The foundation is created in the first phase and then customized for the customer and sales reps based on feedback. Without the long-term vision, companies lose the steam-power to see past phase one and fail to see true accelerated productivity and efficiency benefits.


Successful execution of the iterative processes requires leaders at every step. Designate a committed sponsor to champion each feedback and phase. Look for champions throughout all levels within the organization. This could be the summer intern accountable for automating analytics reporting for a key industry vertical or the channel manager that finds new routes to market in a growing region. The accountability will ensure everyone is focused on a common goal, and progress moves forward.


Action: Define a clear list of roles and people that will advocate and push initiatives. It will generate ownership and execution responsibility.


Do I Have the Skills to Scale the Digital Growth?


Any digital strategy execution is pointless if you cannot sustain or scale the initiatives. Transformations can take a high degree of technology literacy and output large amounts of data. A system admin is needed to run advanced systems and data gurus in place to interpret the fresh data. Inventory the current roles and skills on your team to identify gaps. Ask yourself some situational question to measure your readiness, such as:


  • If all my customers are virtual and working from home because of COVID, did I arm my workforce with virtual selling skills to shift focus to an inside sales motion?
  • If my strategy is to penetrate international markets, do I have the skills or digital content to support multiple languages?
  • If I implement a fancy new CRM and CPQ system, will my sales ops teams struggle to generate reports and actionable insights? Will my sellers struggle to provide real-time pricing and packaging?


Fill those skill gaps by hiring or upskilling your team’s capabilities. This does not have to be costly. Find experts within your current organization or leverage value-based online resources such as Youtube, Coursera, and Udemy training. You might receive pushback from upper and middle management: “They don’t have time, and it takes away from more productive actions.” Respond by convincing them of the long-term potential. Minimal upfront investment will pay dividends and prepare the team for the upcoming automation and data-driven world.


Action: Be proactive by upskilling your team. It will generate sustainability and growth potential.


Putting It All Together


A digital strategy is now a core pillar of all sales organizations. Lack of a customer-focused strategy, poor sponsorship, and lack of skills to scale can prevent an organization from reaching its true efficiency and revenue gains. Drive alignment between your corporate teams and sales teams by taking a proactive approach during the entire design, execution, and sustainability process. Remember:


  1. Build the strategy by listening to your sales teams.
  2. Execute by assigning strong sponsors.
  3. Scale by investing in digital skills.


Look at SBI’s Digital Maturity Evaluation Tool for a rapid diagnostic of your organization’s sales maturity across 8 major digital areas. It will serve as a baseline by identifying areas of opportunity and focus as you undergo 2021 Annual Planning. If you have any questions, reach out to SBI to learn how our revenue growth methodology can optimize your digital strategy for growth.


Download the Digital Maturity Evaluation Tool Here


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EJ Zhang

Operating at the intersection of analytics, process, and best practice to drive growth through actionable recommendations

Prior to joining SBI, EJ worked in digital customer experience consulting, where he led workstreams and designed sales operations and customer service processes for Fortune 500 companies. As a 5X Salesforce certified consultant, he has a passion for leveraging technology and analytics to improve efficiency, scale organizations, and drive strategic growth. He seeks complex business problems and loves to problem solve through client collaboration. EJ has experience in the non-profit, aviation, manufacturing, and software industries.


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