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Apr 12, 2021 6:08:37 PM

Influencing revenue from IT: Building relationships with sales

Niina Reponen

Managing Consultant, Full Stack Marketing

Download The Digital Sales Handbook for leaders in IT

blog-it-relationship-sales-heroThe best way to understand anything in life is to live and breathe it. How much time have your IT experts been spending with your sales experts? If your IT function and you as your organisation’s IT leader haven’t been very active in developing the digital sales of your organisation, it’s time to get on it.

This blog is part of our book: The Digital Sales Handbook for leaders in IT. Be sure to claim your own free copy of the book.

Author introduction:

Niina Reponen, Managing Consultant, Full Stack Marketing & Strategy
Passionate about growing businesses through digitalization, Niina loves diving into complex business challenges and solving them in cross-functional teams.


Let’s be real. This transformation is no small endeavour and developing digital sales will take time and effort. To put it simply, you need to first build mutual trust, which will then pave the way to a fuller understanding between IT and the digital sales organisation.

Those who are in leading IT roles genuinely need to understand the objectives, pains, gains and everyday life of their sales directors. Only then can you start developing the relationship and collectively operating in a revenue-driven way and enabling impact in the organisation. 

Open dialogue and strong communication efforts between an IT leader and the sales team are crucial aspects of this.

“One of our objectives here at Columbia Road is to change the way companies set up their sales and marketing, with digitalisation at the core of it.” — Niina Reponen

Five recommendations for all IT leaders

Let’s get right to it and dive into Columbia Road’s five concrete recommendations for any IT leader and their team to build a strong relationship with the sales leadership and team.

1. Align objectives and priorities

This is a crucial starting point. Quite often an IT organisation and sales organisation will have different goals, within their own teams.

But what about thinking from the organisational perspective? Ultimately the organisational goals should always be the same most commonly, driving revenue growth and improving profitability. To align your objectives, it’s time to start figuring out and answering the following questions, together:

  • What are the priorities from a business perspective?
  • What is the strategy the company is aiming to achieve?
  • What are the steps to get to those objectives?
  • What are the sub-objectives for different customer journey (or sales funnel) phases?

2. Create a road map

You’re already used to “together” because you’ve just taken that big collaborative first step in aligning your objectives and priorities across your IT and sales organisations.

Creating a road map together is a natural next step. IT roadmaps have traditionally been developed based on very IT-driven perspectives. Instead, let’s stay in the theme of togetherness because now that the objectives and priorities have been aligned with sales, your newly-created road map will be a more business-driven IT road map.

While this kind of road map should be ambitious, it needs to also be realistic. If your organisation isn’t involved in any digital sales at the moment, don’t expect to completely transform the company in a short amount of time. It’s not fair to expect that and it’s not reality. You’ll need to identify what steps will take you where you want to be.

Of course, the most important aspect of creating your road map is that it needs to be fully aligned with the business objectives and the overall company strategy.

In creating the road map together, you’ll identify the role of both IT resources and sales resources needed for implementing some of the projects and what kind of collaboration is required. If you want to develop these digital sales capabilities, it won’t be enough to have just your own IT team working on it.

Real commitment from the sales team is vital.

Planning is necessary and you need to make sure that the sales team can allocate resources to these projects. If the sales team isn’t committed to spending time on these projects, the projects will fail. That’s a promise.

On a very practical level, when the sales team is needed to test some of the new tools, be responsible and respectful of their time by ensuring that this doesn’t overlap with their busiest time of the year. Take a long-term approach and consider the practical scheduling of resources.


3. IT and sales teams must work together in cross-functional collaboration

It’s not all on IT and sales leadership alone. The larger teams need to be involved. 

Let’s take, for example, a new CRM platform that’s being implemented. It’s not enough that the directors speak to one another. The developers who are building the solution must talk to the salespeople who will be the ones using the tool. How else are they going to get the early feedback? The collaboration needs to happen on a very granular level.

This way, when both teams work together, you ensure that the objectives are aligned again, and people are working towards the same goals. Again, we’re not talking just the director level here. Results don’t just happen in some secret meeting room between the leaders.

Consider the software developer, who’s coding and developing something but not fully understanding why. They are just coding away with no knowledge of the end solution and what importance it plays. A crummy place to be, actually. But once that developer understands that their work will transform the way the company is achieving its digital sales targets, and once they hear from the salesperson how the sales team will be using this tool, all of a sudden that software developer’s eyes shoot wide open. They see the bigger picture and feel part of the solution. In a collaboration of all levels, everyone must understand the objectives.

4. Ensure continuous small wins together

IT projects tend to get extremely large, extremely long and extremely expensive. You probably can think of many organisations that have experienced these IT projects that feel never-ending, where they always end up consuming much more time and money and resources than expected. Perhaps you’ve even experienced this first-hand. Or perhaps you’re even [GULP] involved in one of those now.

The way to break out of that enormity is to develop an agile way of working. Take this cycle of developing something fast → then test it → then modify → then test again → then repeat.

This kind of minimal viable product (MVP) approach breaks it down into small and quick wins. Perhaps the solutions aren’t perfect and are even far from it at the beginning. But this way, you can start collecting internal feedback and testing functionalities and even receive that important feedback from real customers. Buying something is a complex cognitive phenomenon and the only way of knowing if something will sell is to start selling it. Still, most importantly, you will start generating actual revenue from early on. 

We’ve talked about the small wins releasing something and creating measurable impact. Break these ginormous projects into smaller milestones, and then celebrate when they are reached. Shout it out loud. WOW. Each of these wins is triumphant and should be honoured as such. And each win truly helps to build the collaboration and team spirit between IT and sales.

So if your company decides to invest in developing digital sales capabilities, it will take some time before it truly reaches a digital way of doing business. And yes, it will feel overwhelming at times. But once you start breaking it down to smaller elements and celebrate the small wins together along the way, it will keep the teams motivated.

5. Be visible

Traditionally IT may have been visible only when there have been major system integrations, software updates or tool changes within an organisation. What if you as an IT leader or as an IT organisation want to take a more active approach? Great idea! What if you start actively participating in sales meetings and making IT visible as a driver of change when it comes to digitalisation? Terrific!

Getting involved in sales is a great way to be more visible. It puts IT and sales side-by-side and actively shows the leadership that IT is willing to be the driver of the digitalisation of sales and digital business transformation.

Why is this critical? Because in many people’s eyes, IT can unfortunately still be seen as “just” a support function and not the driver of change. When the IT team starts to participate in sales meetings, it’s not only a great opportunity to bring up what the IT team is doing, but to be listening to what is happening within the sales team. It’s feeling their pain points, feeling their successes, receiving feedback from them, and staying on the pulse.

This brings us full circle to where we started. It takes some time to build trust and build leadership. It won’t happen overnight. And of course, there could even be some push back in the beginning and a disconnected feeling — “What’s this IT person doing here in our meetings?”

Fortunately, we’re seeing more digital sales teams being intrigued by the latest IT developments and eager to learn from them. As they should be. After all, we’re talking about implementing the most modern tools and processes that will help sales teams reach their goals in the future.

The time is now, or else ...

So, if your IT organisation has been quite passive in the past, it’s going to take time. And if your IT organisation has not yet started developing that trust, now is the time.

And quite honestly, an IT entity that still isn’t ready to embrace these ways of working will lag behind more and more, with faster organisations well into the digitalisation and eating up their competitors’ market share.

This blog post is part of the Digital Sales Handbook for leaders in IT. The Handbook is a crystallisation of the key themes leaders in IT need to understand in 2021 to push their digital-enabled sales forward. The book includes interviews with industry experts from companies including Stora Enso, SAS, UPM and Tiger of Sweden. Learn how your IT can become an active driver for digital sales!

Download The Digital Sales Handbook for leaders in IT

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