How To Turn Your Sales Team Into An Innovation Engine

DJ Paoni

Today, we’re seeing a flurry of new technologies hit the marketplace at an unprecedented rate, reflecting just how short product lifecycles have become in light of ever-evolving customer expectations. Some are well-received while others fall by the wayside, leaving many business leaders searching for the critical factors that drive true, sustainable innovation. The primary metric shouldn’t come as a shock — it’s how well advancements help your customers better serve their customers.

The best way to calibrate your operation to address this need starts with your sales team, the task force closest to current and prospective customers. With daily contact and deep insight into your what keeps your customers up at night, your sales force is uniquely positioned to provide your organization — from R&D to marketing — with customer context to develop innovation that matters most to your stakeholders.

Creating this culture shift, placing a focus on developing a sales team ripe for this pivotal role, is one of the most effective ways to drive greater innovation and business results. As cloud computing became more prevalent and less expensive, SAP found we needed to pivot to identify how we could better address these changes. The first part of the answer came in spending a substantial amount of time on talent and talent management, especially with our sales teams.

Recalibrate your hiring practices

Global organizations and startups alike recognize the importance of attracting and retaining the right talent, particularly when considering the productivity gap in a highly complex position like sales. Despite the awareness, roughly 58 percent of all companies in a recent McKinsey study believe their organization is lacking the right sales talent that will be needed in the future.

This is a sobering insight, particularly for those in the technology space, where sophisticated buyers expect sales leaders to match and at times exceed their level of technical knowledge to help drive their growth strategies. Recruiters and business leaders must recognize and act on the need to hire talented, multi-dimensional sales leaders.

This starts with evolving the qualities you value most in the hiring process. Take steps to identify and weed out inherent bias in your screening, recruitment, and interviewing practices. Reimagine the perimeters you place around the level and background of talent to fill positions—you might not think that someone with a theatre or linguistics background would fit well in a sales capacity, but success in both of these fields relies on soft skills that sales professionals need to thrive.

It’s this level of diversity in background that drives a company’s ability to better empathize with its equally diverse customer base. Pew Research Center, for example, projects the millennial generation will pass Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation as early as 2019. We are already seeing the impact of this trend in the business community as millennial leadership grows in prevalence. In response, top organizations are creating programs to get ahead of the curve and attract new graduates with similar outlooks and business principles to better empathize with this growing segment.

Break down barriers to innovation

A sales-driven engine for innovation requires a commitment by leadership to break down departmental silos and encourage information sharing so these valuable customer insights can be utilized across the organization.

It’s well documented that today’s digital leaders adopt full-scale silo removal and a customer engagement strategy built on interdepartmental communication. Encouraging the sales staff to collaborate closely with R&D departments and share customer challenges is an essential component of this strategy. Creating smaller R&D teams is a great place to start; the practice fosters closer cooperation with customer representatives, builds team morale, and creates an information channel through which sales representatives can communicate specific customer challenges (and potential solutions) quicker with those in R&D who hold the innovation blueprint.

Granted, every company faces unique challenges, operations, and cultures, but those looking to take advantage of the deep insights the sales team gleans from customers every day must take appropriate measures to ensure the information reaches a company’s innovation channels in real-time. Otherwise, organizations risk missing vital resources that could help your organization stand out amongst the competition.

This article originally appeared on Medium.


DJ Paoni

About DJ Paoni

DJ Paoni is president of SAP North America. He is responsible for driving strategy, profitability, and customer success in the U.S. and Canada.