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Digital sales first - what, why and how

The Data Handbook

How to use data to improve your customer journey and get better business outcomes in digital sales. Interviews, use cases, and deep-dives.

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Hannah Nordenström



Are you still grappling to find success in your digital sales efforts? The digitalisation of sales has of course been a hot topic for many years, but due to its surge in the past year, the subject has become even more pressing. Many companies are struggling with it, expressing that digital sales is not easily adopted in their industry. However, global players like Amazon and Alibaba have proved that there is hardly anything that cannot be sold online. This means that it is not only the digitally native companies that need to focus on digital sales to provide the ultimate customer experience. So, if all sales over all industries are going digital and focusing on digital sales first, what does this mean for you? 

On the 17th of September we hosted a webinar digging deeper into this topic. Together with experts from Coop, SJ and Telia Cygate, we elaborated on the whats, whys and hows of a digital sales first strategy, and why it is important. Here follows a recap of what we learnt. Blog-digital-sales-first-hero

The importance of digital, in sales 

“It is all about the experience.”

- Amer Mohammed, Coop

Like Amer Mohammed, Chief Digital Officer of Coop Sweden, stated in the webinar, it is not a matter of you choosing your sales strategy to be digital, it’s about meeting your customers where they are already choosing to interact with you, to deliver to them the best possible experience.

In the customer journeys of the 2020s, no matter if you are operating in the D2C, B2C or B2B sector, chances are that your customers are engaging with your company online, if you enable it or not. 

No matter if your customer makes their final purchase through a phone call, in a physical store or on your website, at some part of the journey digital has touched that purchase or transaction. An in-store purchase is very likely pre-actioned by the customer researching alternatives online, finding you through a recommendation on social media, or "looking you up" on your website. In a world where information gathering and social interaction is largely taking place online, your sales are taking place there whether you realise it or not. Interacting and engaging with your customers where they are already choosing to be are opportunities you cannot afford to miss in this digital era. 

SJ AB, Sweden’s state-owned railway company, is in many ways selling the same service it always has, the simple act of going on a journey on one of its trains. However, with 98% of the tickets being sold through digital channels and having information delivered to customers in digital channels, SJ is truly a digital sales first company. Even more so today, when the customers traveling on one of its trains can experience their entire journey without interacting face to face with anyone from the company. 

“Multichannel is about the digital experience through the customer journey. You are selling a service, an experience. Getting the right information, in the right way at the right time is all part of that experience. Even if it is the physical service of taking a train, the digital experience is part of the physical experience”

- Ida Josefsson, SJ

If a train company approaching 200 years of age is proving something by being digital sales first, it is that it’s not industry or tradition that dictates where your sales take place. So if your customers are digital but you have yet to adopt a digital sales strategy, how do you do it? What do you need to get there?

What you need to succeed

Fostering the right culture and mindset 

“It is all about the mindset of the people working within the organisation.” 

- Amer Mohammed, Coop

To transform your ways of working you need to foster a culture ready for change. You simply cannot expect different results or progress in a new direction if you stick to your old ways of working, which is why you need a culture that enables transformation. 

So what does this mean? One of the biggest reasons for reluctance to change is fear of the unknown outcome. Not feeling safe enough in your work environment to trust that change will be for the better, and that you can bring value and thrive in that new environment. In our blog How to build a transformation culture and mindset, we discuss how fostering a culture of trust and open communication is key to getting everyone on board with change. Like Amer Mohammed so eloquently put it during the webinar’s panel discussion: 

“The only way to succeed today, is to fail faster than everyone else”

- Amer Mohammed, Coop

For that to be possible it's important to create an environment where people can bounce around new ideas without fear of embarrassment or of making a mistake. 

It is not a one person or a one team job to bring on change, nor is it technology’s job. Adopting agile ways of working cannot happen in silos within the organisation, it has to be company wide. With that being said, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is definitely not impossible. 

“SJ is over a 100 years old, but if creating the experience for the customer is the main objective, that has to be everyone's focus.”

- Ida Josefsson, SJ

In the blog How to build a transformation culture and mindset, you can find a transformation toolkit for leaders to establish trust and a culture that fosters change. And with the right mindset in place, you can start transforming your sales. How do you go from your traditional ways of selling to meeting your customers in the digital world?


Technology as an enabler of digital sales

"Technology is not an obstacle, you just need to adapt."

- Fredrik Modigh, Cygate

As we learned from the webinar: as sales are going digital, IT's and technology’s role is becoming increasingly crucial for success within digital sales. However in many organisations technology and complicated software programs that don't fulfil the needs of the teams using them, are often put down as bottlenecks responsible for work not progressing in the way needed to be efficient. But, technology shouldn’t be an obstacle, it is not a tool with meaning in itself. Investments in technology have to be done with a business goal or need in mind. In that way, it can instead act as an enabler of digital sales. 

With that said, complete process and system renewals seldom make sense. We have previously dug deeper into how to build your digital sales architecture in How to build the architecture for sales and marketing and Building a sustainable competitive advantage with the right digital architecture. Namely, start small. Microservices that solve specific problems can lay the foundation for long-lasting growth. Building the right digital architecture, based on a use-case approach, will yield a sustainable competitive advantage long term. When Coop ventured to launch their Scan&Pay service as mentioned in the webinar, they sourced for multiple different technologies to provide the best experience for their customers with their new service. 

Again, when building the right architecture for digital sales, the key is collaboration and cooperation between different departments within an organisation. Identifying and breaking organisational silos is laying the foundation you need to build further. This will require continuous communication between departments in your organisation to identify common needs, setting business goals, and making improvements in the most impactful areas. For a successful transformation to a digital sales first strategy, the whole organisation needs to work as a whole. 

With these ways of working, IT can be an active driver for digital sales instead of being just a back-office function. To learn even more on IT as a driver for digital sales, join our webinar on how to go from business and cost-driven IT toward sales-driven IT, on November 3rd, 2020.

How to do it in practice

Testing and rapid experimentation

We have seen that building a sales architecture is most successful when it is jointly engineered alongside running business-based growth experiments that follow direct business metrics. 

Going back to Amer Mohammed during the webinar, the only way to succeed is to fail fast. Rapid experimentation is a sure way for you to test your ideas and make sure your efforts have a real business impact.

“Testing is very important, but it has also made us very humble with our ideas - we have realised that a lot of our ideas don’t work.”

- Ida Josefsson, SJ

By using growth hacking is how you find that consistent process for digital growth. It is hands-on help in reaching your KPI's.

Customer Journey mapping

A good starting point to understand how to best meet your customer throughout their customer journey is with customer journey mapping. It is a great tool to discover pain points and broken processes as well as for recognising opportunities for differentiating from competitors and conquering new opportunities.

When your company has a strong understanding of its customers and their needs, it is considerably easier to adjust the company's offering to create maximal customer value at every step of the customer journey, and through this, increase revenue streams.

Shifting focus to that of the user and realising how they interact with your company in every step of their journey puts a spotlight on processes within your organisation and enables you to break down unnecessary silos. By extension, making it easier for different sections of an organisation to work towards common goals.

Maturity model

If you are still struggling with knowing what to do next, in our most recent blog we provide a toolkit for how to understand your digital sales maturity. In addition to helping you understand what level of digital sales maturity you are currently at, it can be used to define your target state and your roadmap to help you identify what potential cultural and technological bottlenecks you are facing in your digital sales transformation. It is a great tool to have on hand for business planning and benchmarking.

Now, a digital sales first strategy may sound like a huge undertaking and a potentially huge organisational overhaul, but remember to start small while thinking big. As the world we are living in is morphing into a digital reality, our business efforts will naturally have to follow to provide your customers with the best possible experience, and to keep them coming back. 



If you didn’t have the chance to join us for the Digital Sales First webinar, don’t fret! Watch the webinar on-demand and learn more about how you approach adopting a digital sales strategy from the expert panel in the Digital Sales First webinar.

Watch the Digital sales first webinar 


The Data Handbook

How to use data to improve your customer journey and get better business outcomes in digital sales. Interviews, use cases, and deep-dives.

Get the book