9 challenges in digitizing the sales force

Very few of us embrace change.Most of us would try our best to avoid any change in the status quo. Especially if it drastically impacts the way we work.

Hence any initiative to convert an offline banking/insurance sales channel into a digitally-enabled online one, is sure to face a lot of resistance from the existing teams and one must be prepared to weather these strong head-winds. While there is no single solution which you could adopt, but a deeper understanding of what causes this overall resistance, would help you understand what needs to be done in your specific instance.



Here’s my list of 9 challenges you might face in digitizing the sales channels at your bank/insurance company

  1. Sales force was not kept in the loop. Implementation was just thrust on them one fine day. Time and again we see that the lack of confidence-building measures lead to a clear mistrust in the new system and its capabilities. As the CIO or project owner you should start engaging with the end-users early on. Talk to the sales managers, their executives and articulate the clear value-add this would bring to their lives. Tell them how this system would make them more productive and help them grow in their art. Keep them posted about the progress of the implementation. If possible try and incorporate their feedback in the design/feature specs of the chosen solution. This would create local evangelists for your project and make your implementation so much smoother.
  2. Fear within the sales team, due to the sudden transparency. One of the key reasons, most enterprises wish to move their sales teams onto a digital platform is to bring transparency in the sales engine. There is an accurate real-time understanding of the key business metrics and hence a realistic estimate of the business pipeline. While this might be great for the Head Office staff, this is a matter of great fear for the sales executives and junior sales managers. They know that such a system would mean that anyone can drill down deep into a specific case and verify the details. Or the fact that the country head can also track each person in the sales machinery. This can be really intimidating for a junior sales resource. Imagine a magician’s trick being laid threadbare by a scientist – surely the magician would feel kind of naked. The way to address this fear is to ensure that the senior management refrains from micro-managing the sales team in the early days of the implementation. They should control the urge to dig-out a specific case, jump all hierarchies and talk directly to the sales manager. If your organization is not already used to a hands-on approach by the senior management, such jumping-of-hierarchies would spell disaster.
  3. Information Overkill. One of the advantages of any digital solution is the fact that it can store a whole wealth of data on the prospect, customer, channel and hopefully churn out beautiful reports in the process. If one gets carried away with such beautiful-reports-promise, the system might tend towards an information overkill.And the sales staff would be wasting time collecting “un-necessary” information when they should be out there talking to your prospects. Hence try and look at the system implementation as a phased journey. Get the basic feature spec out, build traction and revisit for further enhancements. It might be a good idea to read the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) approach now being promoted by most Silicon Valley Start-ups.
  4.  Non-existent or inefficient mobile interface. This is really relevant for enterprises where the sales happen face-to-face rather than on the phone etc. If your sales team is expected to be out in the field, your solution should go along with them. Many enterprises fail to imagine and develop a mobile solution and then focus on work-arounds. There are companies that expect their sales teams to call up a central number after each visit and update the details. In some others, the agent first notes the feedback on paper and is then expected to come to an e-enabled site (branch or café) and update the system online. In today’s world with such a high smartphone and 3G penetration, a mobile-first-interface would show a clear value to the sales teams.
  5.  Cluttered Design or too many screens. Unlike the glamorous world of consumer solutions, enterprise solutions have not been blessed with the talent of awesome designers. I personally feel this is a big big drawback because end of the day, the enterprise solution user is the same person. He would react the same way to a better design. If he has a great intuitive interface on his Gmail, Dropbox and Facebook, why not on his Leads Management System (LMS).
  6. Complicated Incentives. Increased transparency of the sales engine, suddenly throws up a bunch of metrics that the business managers love to track. While the incentives are simple to calculate and manage in the offline world, a LMS implementation usually comes with a highly complicated incentive plan. Most sales agents fail to have confidence in a new incentive system if there is no baseline. DO NOT coincide your system go-live with an incentive model change. Better idea would be to track the metrics for a while, show the agents how they are anyways performing on these metrics and then gradually build these metrics into the incentive system. Such an approach would mean that the sales team can “calculate” their possible incentives on Day 0 and be motivated to stretch their performance.
  7. Lack of helpful features. This usually stems from the lack of an agent-centric design (which is discussed separately in pt 8). Build features that really help them sell better, help them save time (e.g. tablet based insurance quotes means zero error in policy submission and hence no rework).
  8. Lack of agent-centric design. Enterprise solutions usually fail to deliver on their promises because of their inherent design (or architecture). Many an enterprise CRM solutions are not designed with the customer at the center. Similarly if our sales systems are not designed by keeping the agent at the core, it surely would see a lot of resistance and would fail to deliver. A good design where agents were involved from a very early stage, would take care of most of the issues mentioned above.
  9. System Roll-out plan
    • Lack of training before and during roll-out. Even if you are working under serious budget constraints, find a way to train the end-users. Build a knowledge repository, run a small help-desk for them to call/reach for any immediate help.
    • Find and promote early adopters. Even better find evangelists who carry a collective sense of ownership in the system and its promise. This needs to be done at all levels. I remember when I was rolling a LMS for the bank that I was working for, I had to convince the business head about the need for such a solution. All the usual advantages of a scientific way to run the sales channel couldn’t cut any ice. I had to finally show him the maths around system’s ability to uniquely pull-out non-contactable cases from his tele-calling units and hence a smaller base to work on for subsequent months. This simple feature was powerful enough (with enough cost savings on back of lower manpower requirement) for him to get excited and seek his business as the first one to cut-over.
    • Version 2.0. Do you hear what your users are saying? Are you evaluating the impact for the new features or changes they are asking? How soon can you give them a version 2? Its not so much about the number of days they end up using the version 1. It’s more about how soon, they start believing that this is their system and the company hears what they have to say.
    • Study how your users are actually using the system. Try and shadow some of the end users to see if they come up with their own work-around, own ways of using a feature for something that it wasn’t really meant for. What are they not using at all. Why? This is usually a great surprise and teaches most system designers a whole lot of stuff they had never imagined or seen before. Try and document these observations. Analyze and see if they can help you in a more acceptable version 2.0.

In summary, some level of resistance is inevitable once you decide to digitize your sales team. But how you design your solution, how you engage with the end-users and how the enterprise uses in the early days, can decide if this will be a success or not.





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