B2B Digital Transformation: Best Practices in Sales & Marketing Teams

B2B Digital Transformation: Best Practices in Sales & Marketing Teams

For a recent Forrester report on the B2B digital transformation, the team interviewed senior execs from global corporation giants GE, IBM and Cisco Systems. The report highlights key themes arising from the move to align sales teams with the new reality of the digital world.

Why B2B Digital Transformation?

B2B digital transformation is driven from the buyer’s side as companies seek to attract digital buyers. Previous articles suggest that the root cause of sales and marketing misalignment is a lack of understanding of the buyer. Some practitioners explain that closer alignment between sales and marketing could even shorten sales cycles.

Therefore, global leaders like GE, Cisco and IBM have taken steps to reevaluate sales and marketing strategies and to enable new ways of empowering direct sales teams. Part of the reevaluation is a digital transformation. According to the Forrester report, key areas of best practices are experimentation, collaboration and innovation. Similar practices apply to any change management programme including social media and technology adoption.

BOOK: The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisation

In this blog post, I will summarise the three case studies: GE, Cisco and IBM to draw out key insights.

Cisco: B2B Digital Transformation through Collaborative Innovation

Cisco aims to tie innovation to business outcomes and to de-fragment pockets of innovation throughout the business. The goals are:

  • Meet customers where they are
  • Reach new markets more efficiently
  • Give sales teams more time for actual selling activities

Focusing on innovation and collaboration, Cisco executed its B2B digital transformation as follows:

  • They built and piloted new tools, managing the innovation from incubation to scale. The new tools were based on increased efficiency and higher quality interactions with potential and existing buyers.
  • They established collaboration and shared goals between sales and marketing. For instance, they paired marketing’s sentiment data with sales data. These create insights that tie to opportunities for the organisation.

GE: B2B Digital Transformation through Centralised Innovation

GE is a complex, matrix organisation with several products being sold across different divisions. Therefore, the emphasis for the industrial giant are:

  • Centralise new technologies
  • Form new collaboration partnerships across the divisions
  • Reduce sales cycles by 50%

Some of the positive benefits of executing the initiative were that:

  • Centralising enables scaling of technology. For instance, it allows the reuse and recycling of successful tools and processes. It also provides a 360 degree view of interactions at all levels across the organisation, hence increasing collaboration on opportunities.
  • Collaboration enables sales to respond to customers 50% faster. For instance, GE built an app to reduce time that sales teams spend addressing forecast questions. Salespeople can input information on the fly through voice text solutions. Overall, GE’s sales teams are spending more time on customer-facing selling activities.

IBM: B2B Digital Transformation through Data-Driven Sales Innovation

IBM saw significant incremental sales revenue from putting data scientists in sales teams rather than at corporate level. The success from leveraging data science can be attributed to:

  • Making data scientists part of the sales team. The organisation developed deeper understanding of buyers due to a more scientific approach. For instance, salespeople could differentiate between a motivated buyer and a latent buyer. Also, the teams could more accurately assign sales cycles and measure the impact of new tools and tactics.
READ: Seven Ways to Revive Your Corporate Culture


  • Identify pockets of innovation in the sales team then empower salespeople who already have digital affinity to test new approaches. This drives a culture of innovation starting with early adopters.
  • Seek out tools that increase efficiency in the sales team, enable more personalised engagement and provide rich buyer/seller/relationship analytics.
  • Have at least one data scientist that aligns with sales.

To read the full report, contact Mary Shea, PhD or visit Forrester.com

Feature Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

What GE Oil & Gas did to supercharge employees on social media

What GE Oil & Gas did to supercharge employees on social media

GE Oil & Gas supercharges its social media presence

A few years ago, GE Oil & Gas, one of the world’s leading equipment and services’ providers in the oil and gas space, embarked on a series of online experiments. The oil equipment giant trained a cohort of 20-40 high potential leaders to engage online. Becky Edwards was Chief Communications Officer at GE Oil & Gas during this time. I spoke to Becky about GE’s approach to digital interactions. She explains:

The GE team asked this question early on: what would it be like to take this cohort and supercharge them digitally?”

Becky started at GE in 2010 as Global Employee Communications Leader. She describes the internal environment she joined as ‘socially-enabling-digitally’ and employee-driven. Existing internal GE systems allowed employees to comment and even retract offensive comments. She remembers that in 2010, the ability to request a retraction was a progressive capability at that time.

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GE Oil & Gas empowers high potential staff

By 2012, GE had put together a robust set of guidelines for external social media activities.  This set the scene for Becky and her team to develop a specific training programme for the high potential cohort. The programme focused on how they might use their influence in a digital world. As part of the training, Becky and her team prepared the cohort to showcase their digital know-how at the GE Oil & Gas Annual Meeting normally held in January/February of every year.


The team covered topics such as the importance of content marketinghow to create content for social media and where to publish the content once it is created. They also co-created content with the cohorts. The cohort, now digital ambassadors, applied their knowledge from the training on social channels such as Twitter. They could provide a glimpse of the annual meeting for those not present.

GE Oil & Gas enables more online conversations

Becky explains that having set guidelines isn’t enough. As a result of the experiment, Becky says the team realised they needed to visibly and deliberately give people permission. Contrary to the idea that only the most senior person in the team can have a voice, Becky says,

“We needed to tell employees that it’s OK to have a voice, own what you know and share it”

What would be a good outcome for GE Oil & Gas? Becky explains that social media is an enabler that allows the organisation to:

  • Do more commercial transactions that stem from digital interactions
  • Generate goodwill and positive mind share such that people looking for information can find positive information
  • Position GE Oil & Gas employees as thought leaders in their field
  • Draw potential and existing customers into a deeper conversation

Traditionally, technical experts share their knowledge through conferences for instance. At conferences, the conversation would be one to many people sitting inside a room somewhere. Becky says,

“Thanks to social media platforms, more people can now fit inside that room”


Check out other employee social media examples: Rackspace

Check out tips for starting a social media pilot: 20 tips

Photo credit: momoneymoproblemz, CC 3.0 license, 2014, General Electric Sign, Fort Wayne, Indiana
I interviewed Becky Edwards on September 2015. This is a modified version of a blog originally published on LinkedIn on December 15, 2015
Customer Segmentation Models – Robots Inc. Example

Customer Segmentation Models – Robots Inc. Example

Customer segmentation models are a great way to develop an efficient sales approach in a B2B context. It is valuable when you have a small sales team responsible for a wide customer base. Strategic marketing techniques could be an insightful lens when you need every effort to count. Here’s an example of a customer segmentation model. I have changed the name of the client and their customers as well as the data to retain anonymity.


**Robots Inc. has a small sales team operating globally in the B2B marketplace. They try to go after every lead within existing customers. But conversion rates are low; the team is overstretched.


To help the sales team identify high-value leads. And to create an effective approach for each customer segment.


I created customer groups based on data that reflected:

  • Strength of the relationship between Robots Inc and the customer. Are they passive, loyal or detractors?
  • Past revenue from the customer over the past 12 months. How much business have they done with Robots Inc. in the recent past?
  • Potential revenue from the customer over the next 5 years. What is the likely spend on robots and associated services with any vendor in the longer term?
  • Results

    Here is a representation of the customer data.
    Example of customer segmentation by YO! Marketing
    I identified four main customer segments within Robots Inc’s existing customer database. Let’s discuss the graph to explain how I achieved customer segmentation.

    The Y-axis represents the potential future value of each business customer. And the X-axis is the perceived loyalty of the customer to the Robots Inc. brand. Bubble size represents how much business the customer has done with Robots Inc over the last 12 months.

    To achieve a four-way segmentation, I worked with sales, commercial and product teams to develop a better understanding of each customer and what we consider to be high vs low customer value. For instance, let’s assume £40,000 over five years is the the cut-off between high and low customer value. A negative number on X-axis represents customers that are passive, or detractors. A positive number is a promoter and a more loyal customer.


    Each of the four segments requires a different approach for customer acquisition, retention and support. The top right customers are your stars. They are loyal and are high value. Some of them may not have spent a lot with you in the past but you want to keep them close and happy going forward. Let’s call them “Partners”, for example, Electronics Ltd.

    Top left customers are not loyal but they are high value. You want them to do more business with you. Look out for customers who are not happy (negative loyalty) but have spent significantly with you in the past. You might be on the verge of losing them. Consider what customer support they have been getting. Perhaps it’s time to improve that relationship. Let’s call them “Celebrities”, for example, Vintage Conglomerates and Plastics-X Ltd. Here’s a summary of the segments.

    Example of customer segments

    Using this, Robots Inc adopted a set of sales and marketing approaches for each segment. For instance, “Celebrities” require a strong acquisition strategy if they are not doing a lot of business with you already. This might include content marketing, case studies, testimonials, attending relevant trade shows and speaking engagements for visible thought leadership. Robots Inc might keep “Partners” close, providing ongoing support, account management and inclusion in product development. “Supporters” could be powerful in providing referrals and case studies from past projects even thought their future value is low. This low value could be for economic reasons e.g. low oil price so be careful that you don’t discard them over it.

    “The Exes” are usually transactional. You might want to conserve your efforts with them. For instance, don’t send an employee from France to Australia to visit this customer if you can avoid it.

    New Customer Segmentation

    New customers are automatically on the left side of the graph. This is a starting point as your sales team begin to better distinguish “Celebrities” from “The Exes”. Over time, new customers should ideally move to the right.

    If you think that this kind of analysis could be valuable insight for your business, don’t hesitate to contact us.

    **Robots Inc. is a fictional company. Any similarities with an existing company is purely coincidental. Different kinds of variables could be applied depending on data availability, business goals and the required complexity of the model

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