Are you missing out on the biggest short-term driver of growth for your business?
At Accenture, we believe the number one growth lever, applicable to all industrial companies in the next two years, will be digital sales transformation.

However, in our recent survey of sales and marketing executives around the world, we found that only 7% of industrial companies are likely to make this change in the next two years. This is both astounding - it’s an incredibly low number - and encouraging for those companies who take the lead. What makes this statistic particularly surprising is that the same survey found that nearly 90% of respondents’ customers see clear benefits in digitizing B2B sales processes and are willing to use the new tools. Industrial customers increasingly expect Amazon-like purchasing experiences, thanks in part to changes made necessary by the pandemic. In fact, in the next two to three years, we project that 29% of industrial sales activity will be online.

So, industrial companies that transform their sales operations can gain a huge competitive advantage. To get more flavor of just how transformative a digital sales agenda can be, I spoke to Accenture clients Jenny Bofinger-Schuster, SVP Sustainability and Operational Excellence at Siemens and Karina Chavez, Customer Operations SVP at 3M and Accenture’s Global Industrial Lead, Thomas Rinn, at our second Industrialist Live event.

Both Jenny and Karina operate some of the most complex industrial sales portfolios you can find, so what are some of the golden rules that they’ve learned?

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We're never going back

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Pandemic-related changes aren’t temporary; they are here to stay. People are on a new journey in which our digital and real world lives are ever more integrated. This is re-shaping the norms of what sales in the new world will be.

As Karina said, “now that 3M’s customers have experienced a virtual setup, they’re not going back.” Jenny agreed highlighting how the pandemic greatly accelerated the acceptance of digital sales and that customers will continue to expect the speedy responses that digital sales have provided during the pandemic. Even after the pandemic is over, Siemens’ salespeople will never again travel as much as before. In this context, Thomas highlighted the positive side-effect of increased productivity experienced by many clients, something all companies will want to maintain even as travel restrictions ease up again.

It is said that it takes 40 days to create a new habit and we’ve had over 365 days working and conducting business in a new and different way. There are things we all miss, but at the same time, we have embraced a fundamentally new way of working and interacting with our clients. Sales has been at the heart of this change and the new norms are here to stay.

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Customer journeys are the foundation of future growth

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I found it fascinating how an increasing group of 3M’s customers have expressed a preference for pure-play digital sales models. Karina likened the customer preference to a pendulum that swung all the way to one side very quickly and then stopped there. It’s a unique moment and “a great opportunity for redefining our sales effectiveness model, as well as our engagement model with our employees.”

Jenny agreed “Customers want us to be fast, they want us to be easy to do business with, they want to be understood, so that we also know everything that we should know about them.” At Siemens, “what we really focus on—and I think is key—is the customer journey. We need to make it as individual as possible, making sure that we not only understand the digital experience, but also the physical touchpoints in the journey.  So, first comes identifying and understanding these touchpoints. Second, though, comes optimizing them, and that’s a very detailed work that you have to do and plan for.”

For Thomas, the message was clear, “there is a major change in sales ahead and the journey needs to be thought through from a customer perspective, to be integrated end-to-end and connected. The emerging portfolio of sales platforms and tools, deployed with speed and commitment are going to be the foundation of competitive advantage, in the increasingly complex and personalized digital sales world we operate in today.”

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Get ahead with your technology

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Selecting the best technology for sales will prepare your teams and give them a competitive advantage.

3M is tying technology into everything that it does and redefining what the customer experience is, as the key cornerstone of how it’s repositioning sales. They’re also working on “changing from just the sale of a product to the sale of an experience that also includes the delivery of a service,” Karina explained.

Siemens has also reverted to data science to enhance the traditional, relationship-based sales model. They want to offer their sales teams everything they need to serve the customer well, quickly, and in a virtual environment. “Customers want to have customized solutions and answers,” Jenny said. “And I do believe that, of course, technology is very much helping us to get there.”

“Our clients have operated in a very different environment during the pandemic and are experiencing five major challenges,” noted Thomas. First, they have different ways of coping with the struggle of setting up the digital customer experience journey. Second, even those that have achieved some measure of success are still in a reactive mode, doing general sales – there is still a long way to go before they can offer customized solutions. Third, most companies still need to make great strides when it comes to mine data to predict customer needs and behaviors. Forth and fifth, there’s still work to be done when it comes to automating processes and eliminating silos to establish cross-department collaboration. There are companies out there that have transformed in an unbelievable fast way, but there are also others that still find themselves on the sidelines, just watching what others are doing.

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It's a people revolution

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People got shaken to the core during the pandemic. But they also adapted and changed faster than the business systems and processes around them. This ability to adapt fast needs to be at the heart of the new digital sales agenda.

Jenny noted that at Siemens the COVID acceleration has put “sales teams in a very prominent focus.” “Their work gets even more recognized and valued. The customer relationship gets more and more attention from the business.” In addition, salespeople at Siemens showed a high interest and acceptance for change and innovation because they are also selling digitalization and innovation to customers. It’s about walking the walk and talking the talk. But a clear vision for change, clearly communicated milestones, and training everyone remain key factors.

During the pandemic, 3M used engagement programs to incentivize its sales team to embrace a new, virtual way of working. They put together a formal curriculum around digitization that explained how to use the new tools and seamlessly integrated this into their traditional backbone of sales curricula. In addition, 3M focused on recognition by senior executives across the board. All of this helped employees transition to a digital sales mindset.

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Two years are like 50

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I hope it’s clear that any company that doesn’t have plans to transform its sales department in the next two years should make new plans. Why wait? “In this digital age, waiting two years is like waiting for half a century,” says Thomas Rinn.

If that is true, there has never been a better time. And given what we learned is possible during the pandemic, any objections to transformation should have faded by now. Companies that are really moving on this digital sales journey will take the lead, while the rest miss out on what could be the key strategic lever for short term growth.

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Watch the Industrialist Live video replay

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Industrialist Live: High-Voltage Digital Sales

When it comes to digitizing sales successfully, only 7% of companies are ahead of the game.

Watch the replay of our Industrialist Live series episode 2, and find out from our guest speakers, Jenny Bofinger-Schuster, SVP Sustainability and Operational Excellence at Siemens, and Karina Chavez, Customer Operations SVP at 3M, how the most successful industrial companies are transforming to deliver.

View Transcript

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Dave Allan

Co-chairman and Founding Partner, Managing Director – ?What If! | Part of Accenture

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