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May 27, 2019 10:02:05 AM

Agile sales in big organisations – challenges and learnings

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A panel discussion with Helsingin Sanomat, Posti, Elisa and Reima


As part of our recent Growth Forum event, Columbia Road gathered experts from four of Finland’s most well-known businesses, to hear their thoughts and experiences on how to make sales agile in large organisations.

The panelists included:

  • Veera Siivonen, CMO at Helsingin Sanomat
  • Pasi Ilola, VP of Digital Commerce at Posti
  • Matti Liski, Head of Online Sales at Elisa
  • Heikki Tiittanen, Director of Solution Sales at Reima

They discussed the specific challenges of implementing agile, how to overcome a company culture very set in its ways, and how to get senior managerial buy-in for implementing change.

Established brands in a disruptive world

Reima is 75 years old, Helsingin Sanomat and Elisa have been around since the 1890s, Posti’s brand soon turns 400. Whilst there is a certain amount of tradition tied to this longevity, in today’s world a company culture founded on the idea that “we’ve always done it this way” is a recipe for disaster.

In order to survive in the internet era, these brands have had to learn to respond and adapt. And fast. Yet wholesale changes do not happen overnight. They must be approached as a step by step process or, to use Pasi Ilola’s analogy, by transforming your company “one hoodie at a time”.


It’s vital to ensure no one feels left out, and that all internal stakeholders understand their opinions on the subject do matter. Part of this communication challenge comes from the fact that in larger organisations people in different teams often work towards different goals. Thus setting and agreeing on company-wide targets everyone can get behind helps galvanise efforts and kickstart change (finding your North Star Metric).

Be an enabler

As a leader bringing about disruptive change, you need to set an example. Enable your team to be courageous, help them understand that there will be failures along the way—and that that’s ok. Don’t let a culture of insecurity develop, rather support them in their experiments and creativity. You could always, for example, try and counter a heavy meeting culture with something like Gamestorming (a technique Heikki Tiittanen has used to great effect).


You’ll also need to be humble. Accept that regardless of your experience, or years on the job, things change all the time. Recognise the fact that there are things you don’t know but will have to learn, and understand the relentless pace of change in the digital world. Give up your illusion of total control, and give enough freedom to your team to do what they do best.

That said, make sure you provide a clear plan of action and defined targets—your team needs to understand what and where to focus their attention on. In terms of scope, keep your initial tests small. They will be quicker to get done, and any failures that happen will thus be on a much more localised level. If not, your tests will end up taking too long and the failures will be too big. Run multiple tests and ensure you keep the pace of testing consistently high.

100 days to convince the CEO

Once you’ve got the ball rolling it may well be that you need hard evidence to convince your boss that things are moving in the right direction. So, on a practical level, what can you do to get managerial buy-in with limited time, a capped budget and the weight of expectation on your shoulders?

First up, you need to map out the limitations of what you’re able to do and to determine what really matters in terms of results. If you have a fixed time to work on the project don’t pick things that are technically complicated, rather focus on smaller things you can get concrete results from.

People are also key. Try and track down a few internal “thought leaders”, people within the company who others listen to, as well as a few people who are experienced with what your company offers (technical/subject matter experts). If you’re able to get them excited about what you’re doing, convincing colleagues company-wide will be a lot easier.


And as growth hacking is a probability game, at this stage your targets should not necessarily be directly measured in revenue or increased profitability. Try and define the number of tests you want to run, base them on hypotheses that show the potential for increased earnings (as opposed to directly resulting in it), then make sure you’re able to get learnings from your tests that back this up.

In other words, set outcomes for your tests that you are directly able to control, and use these results to convince senior management of the need for more tests, with a bigger remit, that will bring even better results.

Keen on learning more on growth hacking? Learn how growth hacking can benefit your organisation and how you can incorporate it into your work and processes – Get your own copy of our popular Growth Hacker's Handbook below!

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This blog was written by our guest blogger John Hills, who is a Growth Agent and a freelance writer for Business Insider Nordic. Get in touch with him.


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