Innovating at the Speed of Sales
Despite a pandemic, inflation, chip shortages, a burdened supply chain, and global conflicts, the market slows down for no one. And it requires constant reinvention. Many companies reinvented themselves during COVID, but not all survived.
What was the secret of those that did? The likely common denominator? A commitment to and a structure that makes constant change possible.
From Bespoke to Sustainable
About ten years ago, I experienced a pivotal moment in my career. It happened at a training class on modeling processes that I thought was going to be a waste of time. Instead, it opened my eyes to a core capability we were missing, changing the way I—and now MarketSource—approach how we serve our customers, some of the most iconic brands in America. The resulting embodiment of this revelation is what we now call our Innovation Center, and it’s revolutionized the way we serve our customers and has dramatically expanded their success.
In the past, we customized our programs around each customer’s unique environment and individual needs, an obviously unsustainable model. Armed with my new insights, we set out to create and operationalize a system that empowered us—and therefore our customers—to innovate at the speed of sales. Let’s talk about what this means.
Outperformance Through Innovation
McKinsey identifies insights, agility, talent, and technology as the core characteristics that drive sales growth performance. We designed our Innovation Center to give us the capacity and mechanisms to address each of these areas, equipping our customers to remain resilient—no matter the market conditions.
We call it the Innovation Center, and it’s involved in every aspect of our business and the sales process, from demonstrating our unique capabilities to prospective customers, to identifying gaps and implementing continuous improvement for existing customers. It’s core to how we go to market and deliver for our customers. It’s not a thing. It’s a way. It’s our way.
The charter of our Innovation Center is to identify and close gaps in our performance by:
1. Implementing ongoing process improvements
2. Training sellers to increase skill/acumen
3. Leveraging technology to help sellers become as productive and efficient as possible
It’s not just a philosophy we follow—it’s an entire department comprised of:
Business Process Engineers (BPEs). These people are focused on reducing red (administrative) time and maximizing green (selling) time. They define the end-to-end sales process to gauge where tech can have an impact by charting out a day in the life of a sales rep. They look at every single sales process, including the data inputs and outputs, and they identify the resources salespeople are using for each individual process. From there, they decompose each process to serve sellers’ actual sales motions and introduce efficiencies. For example, they configure Salesforce to trigger next sales steps, such as visit follow-up emails and subsequent meeting invites, so the rep doesn’t waste precious time on common, repeatable tasks. Salesforce becomes more than a tool to simply record customer interactions. Instead, it guides the seller to perform the next step in the sales process. They also apply territory planning methodology to ensure optimal client coverage
Instructional Designers (IDs). The members of this team identify the skills and acumen salespeople need to perform at the highest level possible. Armed with the latest skills assessment and scoring platforms, they pinpoint opportunities for improvement. They then ensure continuous improvement through blended training methodologies. IDs are skilled at training adults how to learn through preferred methods. They’re also skilled at teaching salespeople how not just to use technology solutions, but how to use them optimally, so sellers are more effective, and the tech you’ve invested in doesn’t go to waste.
Technology Specialists/Salesforce Developers. We’ve all implemented technology that sellers either abandon or misuse, whether from poor user interfaces, unclear use cases, or confusing recommendations from leadership. Since we select, deploy, and align our technologies with each sales process, seller adoption levels of our Kick-A$$ sales technology stack are consistently high.
Business Analysts (BAs). All these efforts mean we’re constantly introducing change to the sales process. BAs measure the impact of those changes on the overall sales ecosystem. They take a snapshot of program metrics before and after implementation and look for any increase in productivity (activities, phone calls, conversations, call reports, leads, opportunities) and profitability (revenue, market share, margins). They monitor both leading and lagging indicators to find a net positive impact and ROI. They’re able to spot points in the sales process not only where technology fits best but where it can give clients an edge. If they identify an opportunity that can benefit multiple clients, it becomes part of our toolbox, and we replicate it to other client programs.
Each of these teams may be approaching a sales mission from different angles, but each is looking at it simultaneously, through a sales lens. This holistic approach and these complementary skill sets empower the team to work together to solve customers’ problems.
Think of it like lasagna, where no single ingredient is more important than the other. Every ingredient matters equally, and they collaborate to produce the symphony of flavors you get in each bite. You achieve this by making sure not only that all the ingredients are in place and work together, that you’ve only considered those of elite quality, sourced from the highest caliber providers, and you’ve selected them through a rigorous vetting process against discerning, uncompromising standards.
Our culture of improvement is pervasive. It’s a mindset that permeates our organization and how we serve our customers. In the business review meetings we hold with every client each quarter, clients consistently share that they’re stunned to see all the levers we’ve tweaked to evolve their program and achieve incremental improvements in their results.
Able to Absorb Market Quakes of Any Size
To position our customers to adapt to market disruptions of any magnitude, we cannot be satisfied with the status quo. To prevent complacency and ensure we prioritize change, we’ve instituted a culture of innovation and Relentless Incrementalism. Relentless Incrementalism is the constant, persistent pursuit of improvements of any size, with the knowledge that small improvements yield exponential improvements across the organization. It’s an ongoing process, and we encourage our leaders to think about it every single day. You can read more about Relentless Incrementalism here.
Relentless Incrementalism™ is the constant, persistent pursuit of improvements of any size, with the knowledge that small improvements yield exponential improvements across the organization.
The commitment to always-on innovation and change underpins our Innovation Center. We rely on it to make sure our customers never experience “services half-life.” Services half-life is the name for the phenomenon that the perceived value of your service decreases by 50% each year if you fail to introduce change—change to the processes by which you serve your customers, to the expectations of your team, and to what you deem to be satisfactory results.
Our persistent commitment to change and innovation goes beyond technology. For example, we hold continuous improvement workshops, where our team walks through processes that sales reps perform to achieve goals and objectives. We then identify what is working for the reps and what they need to do differently, better, or more. We then assign action teams, whether around data, training, or process, and we apply the tools from our Innovation Center toolkit that we feel will achieve the improvement our customers need. We apply the Six Sigma methodology to prioritize those changes having the biggest impact and can be completed in the least amount of time, then build a 45- or 60-day process improvement plan, and we implement these changes across the client program.
With the current pace of change occurring in light years, the Innovation Center positions our customers to be competitive in a continuously evolving marketplace. Through it, we deploy people, processes, and technology in innovative ways to drive revenue and increase market share for our clients. Whether they need to bring new services or products to market, sell more of their existing products or services, or increase market share, the marriage of innovation and improvement gives them a greater competitive advantage.
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Author: Steve Bonvissuto
Steve is Vice President of Innovation at MarketSource. He is an accomplished executive with more than 30 years of experience translating strategy into results for Fortune 500 companies. Steve leads, motivates, and mentors to continuously improve the delivery of services to create more value for customers and employees.