How Microsoft Transformed Its Sales Practices with Relationship Selling

April 4, 2019

Microsoft and LinkedIn Sales Navigator

A version of this post originally appeared on Microsoft's Customer Stories Microsite

As software customers become better informed through their own online research, sellers must adapt their sales practices to engage with them at the right time and with the right insights to deliver value. By adopting a relationship sales approach that encompasses social listening, customer research, and innovative technology, the Inside Sales team at Microsoft has undergone a digital transformation that drives better interactions and establishes a model from which both partners and customers benefit.

"We’re ready to meet our customers at the right point in their journey, with the right touch at the right time to drive business success. With this approach to customer engagement, we’re creating an industry standard in digital selling," says Debbie Dunnam, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft.

Digital transformation within sales

Across industries, sales is a fast-moving game where the rules change as quickly as technology evolves. Every communication tool, social media platform, and sales insight package offers sales professionals a chance to know their customers better and more efficiently connect them with the solutions and services they need—or may not yet know that they need. Adapting sales practices to new technology may even bring about entirely new paradigms of selling to effectively gauge and anticipate customers’ needs in order to meet them wherever they are in their sales journey.

As more companies embark on their own digital transformations, Microsoft recognized the need for a new approach to traditional software sales. “Increasingly, customer needs are shifting to a digital engagement model,” Dunnam says. “They want to engage with us in a timely and straightforward way and talk to a knowledgeable and very-informed seller.”

At the same time Microsoft supports customers on their path to digital evolution, it also continues to innovate its approach to sales. By using its own leading-edge software platform and the Microsoft Relationship Sales solution—featuring Dynamics 365 for Sales and LinkedIn Sales Navigator, which includes PointDrive—Microsoft has equipped its sales teams to take a socially focused, relationship-oriented approach to selling in the digital realm.

Social selling to optimize sales outcomes

With a new strategy focused on relationship building, the Inside Sales team at Microsoft can offer each and every customer a personalized, streamlined, and consistent experience across channels. Customers’ self-service explorations through product information can lead seamlessly into a conversation with a seller who has, at their fingertips, the skills and information they need to answer questions, offer suggestions designed to solve the business problem the customer is trying to solve, and drive the sales conversation toward completion.

Customers are doing more self-educating than ever before; they’re doing their own research and engaging with content. They may connect with peers through LinkedIn and ask questions and get referrals as part of their decision-making process. For this reason, it’s crucial that sellers utilize the same resources.

“Our inside sellers may never meet a customer face to face and shake hands, so we want to give them the best possible digital sales tools to optimize every interaction,” says Jen Sieger, Inside Sales Strategy Leader at Microsoft. “It’s critical that they have a social presence, engage in social listening, and do everything they can to understand their customers’ needs.”

The Inside Sales team uses LinkedIn Sales Navigator to gain those important insights about potential leads. “Before picking up the phone, we want our sellers to use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to understand as much as possible about the customer,” says Sieger. “The more they educate themselves about that specific individual, what their role is, and what the company is focused on, the better they can tailor their pitch when the time comes to have a conversation.”

Within LinkedIn, Inside Sales also uses PointDrive to package relevant content for customers in a professional way and then track customer engagement and interest in the content. The seller can then leverage this insight to better fine-tune a follow-up email or phone chat to focus on specific customer needs.

Social selling is a great way to drive the completion of a sales transaction, but the relationship doesn’t end when the contract is signed. “You want to make sure you keep the engagement going with your customers,” explains Sieger. “You can follow them, set them up as leads, comment on their articles, like their posts, and share resources and content that might be helpful to them. You continue to engage.”

Making the effort to engage socially with customers has the added benefit of giving Microsoft deeper insight into the company’s online reputation. “By taking a seat at the social discussion table, we understand what other customers, prospects, and competitors are saying about us,” says Kelly Obach, Senior Manager for Inside Sales at Microsoft. “So when it comes time to talk to customers, we can dispel rumors or speak to things that others are saying because we’re out there actively participating in the conversation even before a customer engages with us.”

Key sales data at sellers’ fingertips

As the Inside Sales team moved away from traditional sales models to a more relationship-oriented, personalized approach, consolidation of data became crucial to effective customer engagement. Without an effective and efficient way of storing, organizing, and presenting that information, individual sellers could be drowning in a sea of data about each lead. With Dynamics 365 for Sales, the Inside Sales team can easily gather all relevant data about a lead and surface it at the right time to understand the customer at a deeper level and engage with them on their terms.

“Managing our customer relationships within Dynamics 365 for Sales gives us a tremendous advantage when it comes time to contact a customer,” says Seth Young, Sales Development Specialist for Microsoft. “Everything I need—records of past conversations, customer notes, and other historical information—is all in one spot. And the tools we have help me understand their business priorities and industry and build rapport right off the bat when we have a conversation. It puts the customer at ease.”

Adds Elise McCullough, Sales Development Specialist for Microsoft, “It’s easier for me to predict what a customer is going to need if I see all the materials that they’ve accessed in the past, such as white papers, product trials, or webcasts.”

Because Dynamics 365 for Sales is a flexible and extensible environment, the Inside Sales team is able to utilize custom-built tools that make sellers’ jobs easier and drive more personalized interactions. One such tool—the Daily Recommender—uses Microsoft Azure Machine Learning to evaluate incoming leads so that sellers can focus their efforts on those deemed most likely to result in a successful sale. It can even make intelligent recommendations for the next best product offering for the customer, based on the experiences of other customers in similar situations. Inside Sales believes that enhancing its platforms with digital selling capabilities transforms the customer engagement.

Using Dynamics 365 for Sales as a central organizing point for all customer data is also an advantage in situations where the sales team connects a customer with a member of the Microsoft Partner Network with specialized expertise. “When we send the information to the partner, they need to know the customer’s full story,” says Drew Davis, Sales Development Specialist for Microsoft. “Because all the notes and customer data are stored in Dynamics 365, everything is passed on to the partner and they can hit the ground running with the customer—the conversation transfers seamlessly.”

The customer at the center of sales

With its new relationship-oriented approach to selling, the Inside Sales team at Microsoft puts the customer at the center of all sales efforts. And by embedding innovative technology within this new approach, sellers are better prepared than ever before to help customers find solutions that will drive their businesses forward now and in the future.

It doesn’t take a company with the resources of Microsoft to make this sort of digital transformation—Microsoft is hoping that the success within Inside Sales will also serve as a model for others. “We’ve built this streamlined engine of engagement that modernizes the way that we do things,” says Sieger. “I think it’s really critical for our customers, our partners, and our partner community to be thinking about how they can enable this same kind of engine to fuel their own efforts.”

This success has not gone unnoticed within Microsoft. “Inside Sales is a critical asset for the future success of our company,” says Dunnam. “Digital transformation means we can now engage with customers at scale while fostering a much more personal relationship with them. This differentiated customer experience is an exciting development that represents untold value and unlimited potential.”

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