Tiffani Bova

It's time to Flip the Funnel

Tiffani Bova, Global Customer Growth & Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce tells WOOL's Deepak Sharma and Bianca Ghose how sales organizations must turn the tide on traditional practices. Bova talks about the methods, measures and mindsets that will better serve digital customers, and a book that changed her life.

WOOL: Thank you for being a part of this edition of WOOL! In the age of disruptive technological advancements, what are some of the key challenges for large sales organizations?

Tiffani: People constantly talk about how disruptive technology is but I believe that the customer, not technology, today is really the disruptive force. People are using technology in new and innovative ways to shop, search, transact, order food, pay bills, buy airline tickets; it is their behavior and adoption that is unsettling the buying and selling cycle. Technology is just an enabler here.

The challenge in traditional selling organizations is that people tend to run it from an inside-out perspective; they decide what their sales process should be, how they want to bring their product to the market, how they want to sell it, and even how they hope the customer will engage with it. They don’t necessarily think about it from the perspective of the buyer.

This rather rigid and linear process is mostly organized around measurable milestones and activities. I am talking about the clearly defined processes put in place to manage productivity and performance of sales resources. Activities such as how many calls representatives have to make in a day, how many people they must follow up with, monitoring the pipeline and what stage they are in the sales cycle etc. While each of these are important, the approach is internally focused, with little connection to what customers actually want sales people to do. With digitization, we have to reimagine our historical point of view and flip the (sales) processes that we are accustomed to on its head.

WOOL: And how can one do that? What are the elements of sales that need transformation, in your opinion?

Tiffani: Sales teams have to start by evaluating what customers expect at each stage of their buying process, not from the lens of the company’s sales cycle. Mapping out buyers’ journey can be a window into the opportunities available that will improve overall customer experience.

The highest impact areas to tackle would be things like

  • Personalization
  • Predicting what a customer may want next
  • Meeting them in preferred buying channels
  • Engaging with the right level of touch and content

People constantly talk about how disruptive technology is but I believe that the customer, not technology, today is really the disruptive force.

WOOL: Will that translate to using more technological innovations and maybe even establishing different guidelines?

Tiffani: Historically, people have turned to technology to fix these problems. I'd say that the solution has everything to do with people and processes and less to do with technology. Technology is an enabling tool so that they can be more fluid, responsive and intelligent. But if people are not willing to change their behavior, the system can only improve performance in a limited way.

If companies face a people-oriented issue, simply deploying new technology will not deliver desired results. Companies must be willing to innovate not only with the technology they use but also with who uses it (people), and how they use it (process). Unfortunately, they are worried that if they mess with what is a historically proven process, they will affect sales performance. While it is true that there is some risk associated with this level of transformation, it is necessary if you want to get the most out of what technology is able to deliver to sales, marketing and customer service organizations.

WOOL: How would you advice sellers to embrace technology instead of fearing it? Further, is there not a sense of overburdening the sales force with technology in the hope that it will help improve quota attainment?

Tiffani: It’s true that within a sales organization, there is some fatigue around the usage of technology. Over the past decade, ‘more’ tools have been deployed, with the promise of improving performance. However, I don’t believe any have been as impactful as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning can be in helping sales reps be

  • Smarter (with their time)
  • More engaged & prepared with customers
  • More predictive to future needs.

Let me give you an example. I used to show up to work and call my required 100 people without much insight into what they had done to warrant a call from me. It could be from a purchased list, a warm lead from an event or a demand generation campaign; often I had no information beyond the basics. I might have even had to login to multiple systems to work through the list, enter similar data into those systems without much confidence that the data would actually help me make better decisions the next time I reached out.

Today, if you let technology fix the process and get those data sources connected, the system should tell you where to look for leads. I should get an alert that these are the ten people to call based on where they are in the pipeline and on their behavior since I last spoke to them because the system is watching and listening - so that allows my approach to be more targeted. Using AI and automation, I can use predictability to tell me what I can do, which is going to have a greater likelihood of success. That way I can spend more time selling, being a more valuable and trusted adviser to clients because the process itself will be more predictive than responsive.

There is no dearth of data but few analyze and layer it against a hypothesis. We are still planning annually. One cannot change plans daily but no customer waits a whole year to change his/her behavior. They are moving fast and sales representatives need to keep pace.

WOOL: How much weightage would you put on social selling for number conversion?

Tiffani: This is one of my favorite topics. Look, if you have a sales representative who isn’t very good offline, it’s going to be far worse online.

If sales teams are not responsive, ill prepared or they haven’t been listening to customers and you let them loose on social, the outcome can be catastrophic. If you have a bad sales call with one person, it is bad enough, but it is still restricted to a one-on-one conversation. If you post something on social media, the conversation instantly becomes one-to-many

Managements should begin to measure activities that are important to customers, not just internal productivity. They need to incentivize and motivate the right behavior from their sales team.

WOOL: Great point! Do you think the role of small data is getting ignored, getting caught up in the web of larger data sets?

Tiffani: Well, there is no dearth of data! But very few are analyzing it or layering it against a hypothesis. We are still planning annually. Of course, one cannot change plans daily but no customer waits one whole year to change their behavior. They are moving fast and sales people need to keep pace with their response.

WOOL: Let me then ask you what your top three recommendations are for companies that want to switch from reactive to predictive responses, with a technology lens to it.

Tiffani: Sales organizations have been in the reactive mode for a very long time. If someone sends an e-mail or we get a phone call or someone shows up at our booth, we respond.

  • In order to be more predictive, we have to get much better at listening, whether it is to the customer or the data.
  • Data for data sake is not so interesting to me. Data has to go through the refinery of Analytics and then Intelligence has to be applied to make it a powerful tool.
  • The most important one, particularly if you are attempting to pivot from a product led to a customer led company is the willingness to respond to data and intelligence and not go by historic actions, or gut or intuition.

WOOL: In altering how sales organizations are measuring productivity and performance, what do you think is the biggest hurdle?

Tiffani: The biggest hurdle is the sales management because they still want you to call 100 people, led by a historic process even though it is known that making those many calls is not the best use of a sales person’s time. Managements panic when the number of leads they generate drop from 3000 per week to 1000 per week. It does not seem to matter that those 1000 leads are better quality leads; one might convert 750 out of those 1000 because there is focus on effort in the right direction.

Managements should begin to measure activities that are important to customers, not just internal productivity. They need to incentivize and motivate the right behavior from their sales team.

WOOL: How can organizations adopt the new mindset? How do they create room for this new way of working?

Tiffani: The best practice is to institute a pop-up team. The trick here is that you need enough people in this team to give you the ability to test new ‘processes’ and metrics. If you are able to do that, this is a great way to watch customer facing resources use the tools in real world situations. Further, removing the metrics for a period of time will help them focus on using the new systems in the right ways without worrying about hitting daily productivity goals. This effort will also give management the opportunity to get more comfortable with different metrics. 

Ultimately, you want sales representatives to say that the systems and tools are making their lives more productive and efficient in a way that they cannot imagine working without them. Even from the perspective of delivering quarterly numbers, a pop-up team is a good strategy because it enables experimentation before broad adoption.

Overall, organizations need to remember that everyone in the sales process has a role to play in the overall customer experience. Without a holistic and customer led design, an unintended consequence will manifest itself. Remember that sales, service and marketing are a powerful combination that can deliver greater customer satisfaction and ultimately support high growth businesses.

Organizations need to remember that everyone in the sales process has a role to play in the overall customer experience. Without a holistic and customer led design, an unintended consequence will manifest itself.