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Conversation with Arthur Filip, HCL Technologies
A mobile app for sales executives at HCL Technologies was designed to make them more effective in their work. In this interview with Arthur Filip, Executive Vice President and Global Head of Sales and Marketing at HCL, he explains how the app, dubbed “Merlin,” is also helping to transform the sales role – from task-oriented and responsive relationship manager to big-thinking and proactive digital consultant.
So, what exactly is Merlin?
Merlin consolidates on a single mobile platform more than 20 previously existing applications, backend databases, and other methods that sales people use to deal with various aspects of their work life. These include everything from scheduling travel and submitting expenses to tracking leads and sales targets to calculating pipeline and project profitability. Merlin eliminated unnecessary or duplicative tasks required in different processes. Following HCL’s “1-2-3” design approach, the most critical information needed for action is on the first screen, and 80% of the actions are no more than three clicks away. By giving people smarter and faster ways to get tasks done, the app frees up time to focus on the needs of existing and prospective customers. But Merlin is much more than this. It is both a reflection of and an enabling tool for changes in the way we, as a company, engage with customers. And in that sense, it is helping to redefine what you might call the sales lifestyle.
What do you mean by “sales lifestyle”?
Traditionally, our sales people have focused on selling existing products or services to customers, often staying on during the delivery of those services to manage the relationship and upsell additional offerings. Sales teams have been organized by industry or product category or geography, usually with little interaction among those teams. Often, more than one team was working with a single customer organization. But as industry boundaries dissolve and as customers seek outcome-based solutions to problems rather than set products or services, the old sales model no longer works. At HCL, we have reorganized our sales function so that a single client partner works with a customer to determine its needs. The client partner then creates unified solutions that can integrate several traditional product categories and that draw on expertise from across HCL’s global organization. As client partners and sales teams gain a deeper understanding of the customer’s business and competitive landscape, they can even propose solutions to challenges that the customer isn’t yet aware of.
This new approach means a big change in the sales role. Our front-line people need to do more than come in with a preconceived notion of what they want to sell. They need to go far beyond the stereotype of someone who sets up a golf or dinner meeting, who invites in experts – who is basically a relationship coordinator. We want our sales people to be so knowledgeable about both the customer’s challenges and about HCL’s broad range of capabilities that they can put together innovative solutions that match those challenges and capabilities. We want them to come to a customer with a point of view about that customer’s business and competitive environment, with sharp insights that connect the dots for customers – including dots that the customer may not have yet seen. This transforms sales executives into digital consultants, whose ability to predict customer needs makes them as much thought leader as salesman. Note that this doesn’t only help HCL. It transforms sales people into valuable resources, allowing them to develop their personal brand with customers.
But what does Merlin have to do with any of this?
Well, first the app puts in the hand of a sales person access to information that previously would have been locked in organizational silos. This increases the sales person’s understanding of HCL’s capabilities and expertise across traditional lines of business and geographies. For example: When you click on an account, it will show the name of all HCL contacts that the customer has dealt with in the past, along with the opportunities that were discussed. This kind of information makes it easier for client partners to integrate multiple solutions from various HCL practices.
But Merlin doesn’t just offer information. It also offers insights. The app’s analytic features help sales people to anticipate customer needs and bring new ideas to the table. Drawing on customer data from different sources across HCL – data about both a particular customer and other customers in the same industry – sales people can spot patterns that point to relevant solutions a customer, now and in the future. The app arms sales people with the information and analytics that enables them to take on this consultative role.
How was Merlin developed?
We started by closely studying current sales practices. Through extensive interviews with people in various sales roles – client partner, account manager, business development folks, and others – about their daily activities, we mapped more than 450 processes that defined people’s jobs. These included everything from tracking progress toward your quarterly bonus to planning meetings and customer visits to evaluating which business opportunities to pursue. Arranging these processes on a control impact matrix, we were able to immediately eliminate certain processes and enhance or consolidate others. But development didn’t stop with the release of the app in 2016. Rapid iterations based on user feedback have occurred every 15 to 30 days.
Of course, as in all digital transformation, technology is just the starting point. The initiative – both the Merlin app and the transformation of the traditional sales role – has presented major change management challenges. So, we also spend a lot of time with sales people working through the human aspects of using the new technology and the business insights it can provide. As people ingest these changes from a human rather than an IT point of view, we see real breakthroughs in how we conduct our business.