How Technology Is Transforming Sales & Marketing

As customers increasingly interact with organisations via digital channels, forward-looking businesses are recognising that this shift is creating significant opportunities for the sales and marketing functions to enhance and streamline operations. As a result, the internal relationship with the IT function is evolving as sales and marketing functions move to take control of their technology destinies by defining new solutions that take advantage of emerging trends including mobile computing and social media. This whitepaper explores how technology is impacting the sales and marketing functions and why organisations need to refocus the collaboration between these departments in order to develop lasting strategies and effects.

“Sales has long been the pioneer of mobile computing, with the issue of laptops and the first mobile phones in organisations traditionally going to this division. It is now routine for remote sales to have smartphones, laptops and/or tablets loaded with analysis tools that are effectively integrated with the back-end line of business applications so that it is possible to access data such as stock levels and lead times from suppliers,” Longbottom told CIO.

Within sales there has been a big sea change over the past ten years in terms of IT

“Within sales there has been a big sea change over the past ten years in terms of IT. The function has long been a significant focus for technology investment. Now the majority of large organisations have deployed sales systems that are usually the most up to date in the business – the latest innovations such as mobility, cloud, and big data are being widely leveraged. We are seeing these new technologies in sales far ahead of deployment in other divisions such as HR and finance. Sales represents one of the jewels in the crown of corporate technology innovation.”

The extent of this impact of technology on the sales and marketing functions was highlighted by a recent report from the Economist Intelligent Unit. This study entitled, Sales, marketing and technology: Tackling the digital challenge, is based on a survey of 272 senior, Europe-based executives and senior managers. Of these, 50 had responsibility for sales and 34 for marketing. More than half (61%) of sales and marketing respondents work for companies with annual incomes over $500m, and 54% were of C-level or greater seniority.

Delivering deep insight into customers’ behaviour

According to the survey, 50% of marketing executives and 46% of sales executives say that they believe that their business processes are more reliant on technology than those of other departments in their organisation. It added that, from a marketing perspective, technology was leading to traditional surveys and focus groups being superseded in this digital world as the main way to promote products and services. Instead deep analysis of customers’ and potential customers’ behaviour across digital channels provides previously unobtainable levels of actionable intelligence to both sales and marketing professionals.

Over 50% of executives cite social media as a major driver of change in commercial operations

Mobile technology, social media and digital marketing were identified by respondents to the EIU pan-European survey as the technology trends driving most change in the way the corporate divisions of sales and marketing work. In terms of the respective impact of these new technologies on sales and marketing some 61% of executives in both functions identified mobile computing as the most important development. For sales executives, digital marketing comes next, cited by 55% of respondents. Executives from both functions agree on the scale of the impact that social media is having: it is quoted by 51% of sales executives and 50% of marketing executives as a major driver of change in their commercial operations.

The impact of social media in this context has been particularly profound as interaction through digital social media channels is now taking over from traditional media as the principal way in which customers learn about products and services. Social media also providing a way for these customers to share their opinions of organisations with a wide audience of peers.

Mobile computing and social networking lead the way

“Social media marketing is vitally important. On the outbound side organisations are able to use Twitter, Facebook and other sites as part of marketing and sales campaign to attract users and potentially drive sales. On the inbound side valuable data can be harvested from sentiment analysis based on user postings about the organisation and its products or services. Using social networking is becoming highly strategic for forward-looking companies,” added Longbottom.

Redefining the relationship between sales, marketing and IT

The profoundly disruptive nature of this process of “customer digitisation” means that sales and marketing functions are taking more responsibility for their technology, a process which is having a significant impact on their relationships with IT. More than four out of five respondents to the EIU poll from the sales function (81%) believe they will have either “slightly” or “significantly” more influence over technology-related decisions in the next two to three years. Some 54% of marketers shared the same belief.

The research revealed that both sales and marketing are “relatively satisfied” with the service they receive from the IT function. When asked to what extent they agree with the statement that ‘the IT department is able to provide business units with the technology they need’, in sales, 48% agree and 22% strongly agree. In marketing, 44% agree and 25% strongly agree. But while sentiments regarding the relationship with IT were very positive across both sales and marketing, poll respondents from the respective functions disagreed to some extent on whether collaboration with IT is improving. Some 81% of marketing leaders agree that it is getting better – a higher proportion than any other business unit – while 68% of sales leaders expressed the same opinion.

Breaking down divisional barriers

While it is clear that sales and marketing are becoming more involved in both the operational and strategic management of their own technology, there is widespread recognition that close collaboration with the IT department plays a vital facilitation role in enabling them to leverage technology solutions to more effectively interact with digital customers.

It is becoming apparent that, in the era of improving engagement with the new breed of digital customer, enhancing collaboration between sales, marketing and IT department is becoming an increasingly pressing commercial priority and forward-looking organisations are working to develop strategies that remove divisional barriers.

How Sales and Marketing Are Taking Control of Technology

Sales and marketing were once seen as primarily intuitive pursuits. But as digital technology has permeated our personal and commercial lives, the customer relationship is now mediated by all manner of gadgets, systems and information services. Those business leaders who are charged with managing that relationship have a lot to take on board – and they can no longer rely on intuition alone.

Social media, for example allows customers to share their views with their peers, changing the dynamics of market sentiment. Mobile technology, meanwhile, provides them with an immediate link to brands, which they carry with them wherever they go.

According to Thomas Brown, associate director of research and insights at the UK-based Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), technology that brings these departments closer to the customer is putting pressure on the two departments to react to customer needs faster than ever before. “Greater proximity to the customer sounds great on paper, but it demands a level of attentiveness and responsiveness that they’ve never had to demonstrate before,” he says. “There’s no point in starting a conversation if you then walk away and are not there to respond when a customer comes back to you with a comment, an enquiry, an issue or a criticism.”

Unsurprisingly, then, social media and mobile technology were identified as significant change drivers by senior managers and executives from both sales and marketing in a recent survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit.

In the face of this technology-change, sales and marketing leaders are unsurprisingly keen to have more of a say in technology decisions. More than four out of five respondents from the sales function (81%) believe they will have either “slightly” or “significantly” more influence over technology-related decisions in the next two to three years, while 54% of marketers believe the same.

The two departments are in closer alignment when it comes to confidence in their departments’ ability to manage technology—78% of sales respondents describe themselves as “very” or “somewhat” confident, as do 75% of marketing respondents.

How will greater autonomy affect the way in which sales and marketing professionals use technology? For sales leaders, the most commonly cited benefits are faster access to technology and a greater chance that the technology they implement will meet their needs, both ticked by 46% of respondents. For marketers, improved return on technology investments is the number one benefit, with 50% of the sample.

But there could be downsides to increased levels of influence and control: the primary concern among sales respondents is an increased workload, cited by 48%. The marketing leaders, by contrast, are more concerned with the drawbacks that threaten the information they handle, perhaps reflecting the increasingly data-driven nature of their work. Poor integration of departmental applications with existing systems, deterioration of data quality and information security risk are each cited by 45% of marketing leaders in the survey.

These concerns shed light on what it is that departmental heads will look to the IT department to provide in future.

[Download PDF to see Graph]

The relationship with IT

As sales and marketing take more control over technology decision-making, their relationship with the IT department will inevitably change.

Both departments are relatively satisfied with the service they receive from the IT department. When asked to what extent they agree with the statement that “the IT department is able to provide my business unit with the technology it needs”, in sales, 48% agree and 22% strongly agree. In marketing, 44% agree and 25% strongly agree.

Kirsty Andrew, head of sales at Cosworth, a UK engineering firm, is one executive who is happy with what the IT department can provide: “Here at Cosworth our IT department is very responsive to our needs.”In particular, she says, they are swift to provide assistance in matters relating to data. “If we’re looking at analysing data in a particular way, for example, to help us look more closely at customers, or margins, or the success of some promotion we’ve run, then they’re very good at supporting us by writing the programmes to produce reports in a format we can use.”

Indeed, data integration is one area in which Ms Andrew expects IT to provide leadership. “At a time when everyone in sales wants to work smarter, not harder, we look to IT to provide us with the integration we need because, when it comes to providing us with a joined-up view of customers and sales and products and channels, IT has to be the guardian of the bigger picture.”

Happily, the majority of respondents believe that collaboration with the IT department is improving, although again sales and marketing were exactly alike: 81% of marketing leaders agree that it is, a higher proportion than any other business unit, but only 68% of sales leaders believe so.

[Download PDF to see Graph]

Matteo Battaini, vice president of global marketing at Pirelli, the Italian tyre manufacturer, has no complaints with the level of collaboration he enjoys with the company’s chief information officer, Alessandra Banfi.

After all, he says, the two have been working together since 1996, during which time they’ve jointly steered the implementations of a major enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, various decision-support systems and a range of business intelligence and data warehousing initiatives. “It’s been a very productive partnership over many years,” says Mr Battaini.

“A rich mixture of expertise is needed to create an organisation that can really get the most out of newer sales and marketing technologies”

Mr Battaini is keen to see this level of partnership replicated throughout the sales and marketing function. To that end, he has established specialist project management teams that bring together representatives from sales and marketing and IT to work together on technology projects. “A rich mixture of expertise is needed to create an organisation that can really get the most out of newer sales and marketing technologies,” he explains.

Many respondents, particularly those from the sales function, see value in appointing technology specialists within their own department. In the survey, 56% of sales executives say that appointing such specialists within their unit would enable them to manage IT better, which is notably higher than the survey average of 46%. This is considered more important by sales respondents than staff training (cited by 52%) or devising a departmental technology strategy (50%).

For Ms Andrew at Cosworth, however, what is most important is that sales and marketing and IT work on building up a common language with which to communicate. “As sales professionals, there’s an onus on us to speak the language of the customer in order to make a sale—so we inevitably get frustrated if, when speaking to someone from the IT department in our own organisation, the same kind of effort isn’t made.”

She has seen that situation before at previous employers, and it is not one she is keen to encounter again. “It’s totally avoidable. We just have to interact intelligently between our departments to get the outcomes that the whole company needs.”

“The digital challenge is huge for everyone,” Ms Andrew adds. “This is our best chance of success.”

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