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
Does it matter if your organisation has a social CEO?

Does it matter if your organisation has a social CEO?

If you work for SalesForce, General Electric, or Hewlett-Packard, you are one of few employees who has a social CEO. You might take it for granted. But research shows that as at 2016, 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs had no social media presence at all. However, CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella are active on Twitter. And General Electric’s Jeff Immelt and Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman have more than 100,000 followers on LinkedIn. It is not always possible for your company’s CEO to be a social media guru, but it does make the marketing team’s job a lot easier.

Social CEO Logic: Successful Employee Advocacy Is About Culture And Leadership

YO! Marketing employee engagement social media As I prepared to write my book, I interviewed social media and marketing professionals in ten companies. These companies included GE, SAS, and IBM. It became clear that some companies had a head start with employee advocacy. This was partly due to their inherent company culture and exemplary leadership. Leaders like Salesforce.com’s CEO Marc Benioff have done an outstanding job of being present on social platforms  in a way that encourages his employees to follow suit. It’s a sign that says, “Hey, I buy into this!” Other companies have struggled to generate the level of employee participation required to make social media employee advocacy sustainable. Part of the challenge is getting their business leaders to walk the talk. Over recent years, more reasons have been uncovered as to why CEOs should be social that dispute some of the risks involved in putting one’s self out there.

Social CEO Problem: Research Shows It’s A Good Idea But It’s A Hard Sell

YO! Marketing social media CEO employee advocacy The 2016 Brandfog Survey on the Social CEO reveals the perception that executive participation in social media leads to better leadership grew by 15% between 2013 and 2016. Respondents to the survey also believe that it builds brand trust. This is probably why 85% state that having a socially active C- Suite leadership team can mitigate risk before a brand reputation crisis occurs. How might you encourage your CEO to be more social? A recent article on IF suggests that training your CEO is out of the question and recommends fitting social around the CEO rather than trying to fit the CEO into social. A fair bit of researching and convincing needs to be done to move a non-social CEO into social media. This is the reality.

Social CEO Reality: Your CEO Is Probably Too Far Away Anyway

YO! Marketing social ceo team work employee engagement Top executive support inspires employees. However, one global social media manager at a top social brand told me that it is more important to have a layer of middle managers that support social media employee advocacy programs. A social CEO might be just too far away to be an effective role model to those lower down in the organisation. In addition, the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer: 52% of consumers trust an “average” employee more than a CEO, a statistic that rose 30% between 2009 and 2014. And this % has probably grown since then. Perhaps middle management is more influential—not just internally, but externally too.

Social CEO Trend Line: The Future Of Employee Advocacy

YO! Marketing employee engagement During the interviews, I found that managers reinforced values by talking about them and behaving in ways that supported them. Employees are empowered by this. With the appropriate guidelines and support, employees start to participate. A recent article in Fast Company shows that employee advocacy programs have grown by 191% since 2013. Perhaps we can expect similar growth in CEO participation on social media.  Are you a social CEO or do you work for a company that has one? Leave a comment to tell us if it makes a difference.

All these images are free from pixabay.com
This is a modified version of a blog originally published on the openfor.business blog on 22 February 2016

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