One factor that can undermine success in high-stakes deals is the sheer complexity of enabling and making decisions. According to research from Corporate Executive Board, buying decision teams have an average of five or more stakeholders on them. In some cases, the number of stakeholders and influencers is much higher.
On the supplier’s side, you may have multiple specialists of various kinds that must collaborate to clarify a problem, design a solution, put together a proposal, and address all customer needs and concerns along the way. As a result, your sales rep or account manager can become a bottleneck in the process. When stakeholders on the buying team can’t promptly get the answers they need from specialists in your organization, deals can get held up or even collapse altogether.
But this need not be the case. Increasingly, companies are relying on social technologies to facilitate collaboration in a customer decision cycle. Robert Racine, vice president and global head of sales enablement at Wipro, describes his company’s approach: “We implemented something we call ‘auto communities.’ “
As he explains, when his company is pursuing a large opportunity, it employs a system that creates “something like a Facebook for the deal. It plugs in all the people involved in the deal so they can share knowledge, insights, and documents. They can collaborate by having three or four people working on the proposal at the same time – seeing each other’s edits and being able to provide feedback. That level of digitization will produce huge advantages in terms of productivity and efficiency.”
Indeed, such approaches can enable all parties – on both supplier and buyer sides of the equation – to work together in a highly visible and coordinated fashion. Where once there were barriers to impede discovery, design and solution discussions, now all parties can operate in parallel and in a shared online space.
As such, they can surmount barriers of time, availability, expense, organization, and geography. In this new valuesphere, specialized selling teams and specialized buying teams can work together to make high-stakes deals far more successful.
Consider an example shared by SAP’s Anthony Leaper, senior vice president of enterprise social business. While working a large deal with an airline headquartered in the Gulf States, he and his team demonstrated what a powerful role the firm’s own social collaboration technology, known as “Jam,” could play in the customer engagement process.
With Leaper in flight and offline for nearly a dozen hours, specialists on his team fielded a series of buyer requests for business projections, technical specifications, and information on other matters.
But here’s where Jam had a significant impact. As opposed to a flurry of fragmented emails and calls, virtually all communications were now visible and accessible – housed in a collaborative space that makes it clear who is participating in the deal (on both sides), what requests are being made, who is responding, and what is getting accomplished.
When Leaper finally arrived at his destination and went online, he learned how far the deal had progressed in his absence. When he met with the company’s decision-makers that day, his team’s speed and thoroughness was immediately cited as a reason for moving forward. “We won the deal largely because of the agility and responsiveness of the team,” he says.
But SAP has taken this idea beyond the realm of technology. It recognizes that productivity and performance are often undermined when processes are ad hoc, business systems are fragmented, and expertise is disconnected from the challenge at hand. With this in mind, it has married collaboration technology with a concept it calls “work patterns.”
Work patterns go beyond mere collaboration, putting social interaction in the context of particular types of work or business processes. To enable sales organizations, there might be work patterns around account management, deal support, or customer engagement. Still other work patterns that SAP supports relate to employee onboarding, training and coaching, and channel support.
In terms of virtual selling and buying, such approaches remove friction – facilitating communication and collaboration while ensuring key customer priorities, issues and concerns are surfaced in a visible and addressable way.
Even in a highly distributed environment, you can draw on your team members in a responsive, coordinated and cost-effective way. “You can increase the likelihood of deal success by enabling agile teams,” says Leaper. “You can discover and leverage the value in your entire organization to support deals. And you can connect your customers to the people and information that can add value.”