Digital marketing to open new sales channels…

mark bicknell Published by Mark Bicknell – 23 January 2023

smooth, fast, and easy… until you actually try to do it!

I would like to share with you our experience in a digital transformation project and use an interesting academic report as a counterfoil against which to analyse this experience.

I recently came across an interesting article in the journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, (VOL. 41, NO. 2, 130–149 by Paolo Guenzia and Edwin J. Nijssen)

“The impact of digital transformation on salespeople: an empirical investigation using the JD-R model” and will quote and summarize some of the key findings I gleaned from this useful publication.

The background:

Digital transformation (hereinafter, DT) is currently a top priority in 87% of companies, and 67% of executives say that to stay competitive, their firm must become significantly more digitalized (Connealy Weber and Hanrahan 2017). However, 70% of DT initiatives fail (Hatami et al. 2018). These trends hold true for sales organizations as well.

The article applies the JD-R theory looking into the Job Demand-Reward aspects related to Sales Digital transformation: Simply put how much effort and stress versus how much reward.

 They quote that many- 54%- of companies believed even before Covid in the effectiveness of virtual selling methods but the forced acceleration of distant selling during Covid was not due to any technological innovation but merely the need to connect overcame previous individual resistance to the method.

So now that for most of the world we can choose between F2F and virtual selling let’s go back and explore the motivational issues:

What are the uncertainty reduction methods to improve the success of a Digital Transformation project?

  1. Involving the front line in the design of the workflow
  2. Management listening during the implementation phase
  3. A clear understanding of the drives before and after the DT project.
  4. A consistency between the KPI’s and the workflow and workload changes necessary to achieve the goals

By the same measure the pre-requisites to facilitate a successful adoption include:

  1. Allowing the employees to perceive the change as being in their interest. (the famous WIFM “what’s in it for me”)
  2. Involvement: being able to exert some influence the new working methods
  3. Aligning planning and control methods which implicity recognizes the impact of the new system
  4. Open communication to confront issues and solve operational problems during the implementation phase.

Additional suggestions include:

A detailed analysis of workload and success drivers before and after the transformation project. Clarity in interfunctional roles and responsibilities can also be essential. I can think of cases where such projects create a new working relationship between sales colleagues and logistics, marketing and even IT (customer pick ups, inter-store purchases etc).

The case study:

We have been asked to accompany a digital transformation project in the HVAC sector in which a producer needs to ensure that their independent network of installer partners were willing and able to convert leads generated thanks to advertising activities in both traditional and social media. They uses SFDC as the lead management tool.

The challenge consisted in training 2 waves of roughly 300 installers ensuring

  1. They understood the workflow and were able to access and modify an instrument which is of course alien to their daily activity.
  2. They modify their communication mode to the new context. Installers traditionally work almost exclusively on referrals. The leads generated are thus much less hot.
  3. Achieve the target conversion rates.

The project designed consisted of

Virtual classes of 12 people from different companies for 3 sessions. One related to the project, its goals and the workflow. Two sessions on how to manage the telephone contact to ensure that the installer had a follow up appointment to be able to close the sale. There were coaching sessions both synchronous for the workflow and asynchronous for communication skills.

If we apply the JD-R model to this course, we worked on resistance and stress reduction by ensuring thanks to the individual coaching sessions that competence and familiarity with the tool were ensured.

We also ensured that the expectations in terms of speed of response, ranking methods (for future priority assignment) and conversion rated were explained and understood.

Much delicacy was needed to avoid the Uber ranking perception syndrome

On the positive, or the Reward side:

 We dedicated some 25% of the training time to share the strategic importance and the long-term benefits for the installer to add this selling process to their existing channel.

We shared current conversion rates from referral sales call to recent experiences with lead Management to enable each participant to orient their efforts understanding the relationship between leads and appointments needed to arrive at the sales conversion goal.

This of course allowed a financial quantification of the benefits of the leads created by the producer.

 We endeavoured to transmit the fact that the communication skills needed for the outbound call for lead management were in any case added value for other customer interactions.


I found that this model and the indications on the research paper are a useful prism against which to judge this and other cases of digital sales transformation.

As with all such change projects the war is won employee by employee and the enlightened managers ensure that necessary budget (time and resources) are allocated to the last sales mile of their digital investments.

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