In our latest episode of the Incremental to Exponential podcast we explore how big companies can innovate to survive and grow.
Technology entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa and I speak to Salesforce’s Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist, Tiffani Bova, about the new approaches to revenue growth that are emerging against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, and how technology continues to be a critical enabler.
As we’ve heard so many times, the pace of change that we're experiencing right now is the slowest we’ll experience for the rest of our careers, and businesses need to think carefully about the road to recovery that lies ahead.
Even the most established businesses must embrace unconventional strategies for growth if they want to exploit opportunities afforded by an era of exponential change and innovation. As Tiffani put it, even Fortune 500 companies need to be as resilient and agile as start-ups, and have open and actionable conversations with their customers, whose needs are changing quickly and continuously.
Discussing views of the most effective strategies for increasing growth in the wake of the global health crisis, Tiffani believes that the pandemic has driven sales teams to embrace digital tools in new ways: To reach more customers, seek to understand them better and create more compelling interactions with them than ever before.
During our conversation, Tiffani talked about the implications of increasingly blurred lines between ‘business-to-business’ and more traditional ‘business-to-consumer’ sales models — pointing out that, irrespective of context, enterprise buyers expect the same personalised, fluid customer experience that they have as consumers with digital platforms like Uber and Airbnb. She emphasised that decision makers also expect to be able to interact seamlessly with their suppliers and partners, without having to speak to a person if they don’t want to.
Another prevailing shift in the growth landscape is away from hard-selling products and towards building relationships founded on a genuine interest in the customer. Tiffani shared with us that Salesforce set itself the target of having 1m conversations with customers in the initial months of the pandemic and is reaping the rewards now. Importantly, these were conversations, not sales calls or demos, but they were rolled out in a programmatic way that has generated vast amounts of actionable data on customer needs and behaviours. These interactions were so insightful that Salesforce is now targeting 5m conversations for their next quarter.
We all know that today’s world has shifted from in-person networking and entertaining to video calls and virtual check-ins. Without the established ways of pitching and having face-to-face meetings, people need new skills. They need to get comfortable with conducting effective meetings, demonstrating products, and achieving participation and engagement in a fully online environment. Some things don’t change, though – you’ll still need to be able to identify people’s “hot buttons”, as Tiffani calls them, by reading the room, whether that room is a virtual roundtable or a physical boardroom.
As Vivek pointed out during our conversation, courageous and decisive leadership in the face of a revenue crisis has also been vital to success. “It's businesses where the leaders were able to react rapidly [that have experienced growth]. They weren’t in a state of denial that change was happening and trying to be defensive. They took advantage of the change and they jumped on it,” he said.
We also honed-in on three other areas of focus for leaders:
- To be on top of their data more than ever before, which means investing in technology.
- To get their heads around remote leadership, which requires new skills and approaches.
- To promote company culture, structure and ways of working that create space for innovation—we need to find the digital equivalent of water-cooler chats and corridor conversations that spark new ideas.
Content creation skills are also more important now than ever – as thought leadership moves to digital formats such as blogs and videos, and webinars replace face-to-face events and conferences. Getting noticed in highly saturated digital forums like LinkedIn takes great content, and organisations need to convey authority and authenticity in their online presence that percolates through content from all levels of the workforce.
Tiffani characterised the right kind of content as “interesting, value-based, personalised and thoughtful”, and challenged people to “rise above the noise. You have to show up with something better”, she said — be that on LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook. Leaders are rightly focused on how their brand is being positioned online, but they should also take an interest in what their employees are doing on these platforms and recognise that employee advocacy and subject matter expertise are powerful tools for growth.
I’ll let Tiffani have the last word: “Covid has been a black swan event that's been a catalyst to accelerate change that needed to happen within the business. I've had hundreds, if not thousands, of conversations where it's internal inertia that holds businesses back. And there was no hiding from it at this point because they were forced to do it. And so, we had to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Find out more about the ingredients for growth in a post-pandemic world.