How content house SDL closes deals better with devops of sales

By now most in the B2B space will have heard of devops - but what about extending that function from software into sales? Providing visibility on sales throughout an organisation is the concept behind Altify, an Irish sales intelligence business that integrates with Salesforce.

For global content delivery and translation services firm SDL, each of its regions had previously been siloed off from one another. Although its regional offices in the US and EMEA regions might have been tackling the same problems, they were setting about addressing them in different ways.

"We needed something to help us join those dots and help us provide more transparency around the way we sell, and some consistency in the way we sell," Jane Freeman, VP of global sales at SDL, tells Computerworld UK. "Three years ago I was tasked with solving this problem of how do we gain visibility across these global customers, and selling in a succinct and consistent way."

One of the early challenges was that although the company had a varied customer base it only had one or two solutions in each account. There was, Freeman says, the opportunity for "lots and lots more".

"Initially it was about looking for white space, look for where we could provide solutions rather than single-point products, and start to help increase our footprint in the existing customer base we've got."

The company looked at various methodologies for boosting their sales. One option, Miller Heiman, came up a lot, but ultimately SDL plumped for Altify. The firm "used their own" sales methodology on Freeman. They produced an "insight map" about SDL, which at the time had an incoming chief executive.

"Altify sold to me using the insight map and we ended up going from just looking at Account Manager to solve this pressing problem of selling more into our existing database, into looking at Opportunity Manager as well."

The Opportunity Manager product gave SDL the "confidence to walk away" from contracts that weren't going to deliver much value in the long run.

"I think that's a big takeaway for us - time spent on opportunities that either aren't worth winning or we can't win from day one," says Freeman. "If we're just column fodder for example, then it costs us money to work on the opportunity.

"So it gave us the confidence and it enabled us to be bold to walk away from opportunities as well at the early stages, before we'd invested too far."

And the Test and Improve function - which provides a Trello-esque work board across the company - has enabled SDL to bring in relevant parts of the organisation into a deal.

"We're an organisation of over 4,000 people," says Freeman. "If you're sat looking at your deal you don't really know who to bring in to help you solve that particular challenge. So having the Test & Improve process and having it as a very interactive forum ... we've got everyone from our Chief Revenue Officer right down to developers to project managers who are interacting with the customers at lots of different levels.

"Having that visibility and that forum to be able to talk openly about an opportunity is a real big plus, and it's enabling us to put the right opportunities on the radar of the people who can influence them as well - rather than it getting lost in a sea of unknowns, and we're simply looking at the basic Salesforce data of what sales stage is it at, when is it closing, and what value does it bring."

This aspect has allowed the company to have "more focused discussions internally" to know where it should point resources and expertise to close and carry through these sales. For example, the team based in China had been working on a Test & Improve project with the EMEA team, and although the two worked across very different time zones, Freeman says the tooling helped the teams get on the same page and put sales methodologies into practice. Or in another case, someone on the C-suite noted that he had contacts in a potential sale flagged on Test & Improve, so SDL was able to open the door to that sale quicker than they otherwise would have done.

"It is enabling us to find more opportunities, it's giving visibility to the rest of the organisation and also enabling them to participate, it's giving them ownership, it's not just down to the salesperson," says Freeman. "It is much more of a collaborative sell, which I think lends itself to the customer because the customer can see we're coming at a problem from multiple angles."

However, there were and continue to be teething pains. Freeman says that there is a "lot of change management" that needs to be done to implement products like this, especially with initial resistance from people in sales who were worried that the methodology would be a checklist.

"We're not big brother, we're not looking to see what you've done and then grill you for it," she says. "Because when we started the Test and Improve, people thought they were going to be getting into trouble where they've not filled in a certain section for example. However, after doing a few of them they've realised that it's OK to have gaps, it's normal to have gaps in your knowledge, and that's why we're doing this, to try and help fill those gaps and give you advice on the strategy you need to drive it forward.

"I wouldn't say those hurdles are completely over, the change management still continues."

However, there were other team members who have "really embracing it" and this has led them to better understanding the context of a deal, and being able to plan ahead better.

"But you do have some of your old dogs who don't really want change and don't like change and think their way is the right way," she says, "and that's just something we have to work through continually."

To address this, SDL is running a share of internal marketing to promote the solution or run interviews with people who have found success using it, or how it's helped them move deals forward.

"That is really helping us," Freeman adds. "People listen to their peers, they don't want to listen to the management, and I think if you're implementing something like this you've got to do it in a very careful way - you can't just say, 'right we're mandating that everybody has to use it' - it's got to be done with kid gloves to get the best out of it, for me to love it and see the value of it."

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