The next three to five years are expected to be more transformative for sales than the past 100. While many trends are driving the change, technology is enabling it. In this episode of Connected & Ready, Gemma is joined by Chris Weber, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft for a look at the current state of sales technology, the augmentative power of AI, and the role empathy plays in leadership as well as connecting with customers. Learn how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales helps teams discover actionable insights and drive authentic relationships. Talk to an expert today: https://aka.ms/AA8tgbr
Host Gemma Milne is joined by Chris Weber, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft. They discuss recent shifts in digital sales tools and what that means for the sales discipline.
About Chris Weber
As corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Small, Medium & Corporate commercial segment, Chris helps drive growth across four solution areas: Modern Workplace, Business Applications, Apps & Infrastructure, and Data & AI.
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Gemma [00:00:05] Hello and welcome. You're listening to Connected and Ready an ongoing conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeeds, brought to you by Microsoft. I'm Gemma Milne. I'm a technology journalist and author. And I'm going to be exploring trends around how companies are adapting to a disrupted world and preparing for tomorrow. We're going to speak to the innovators who are bringing products, operations, and people together in new ways. In this episode, I'm joined by Chris Weber, corporate vice president of Microsoft's small, medium, and corporate commercial segment. We dive into the recent shifts that digital tools have prompted in sales teams. How empathy plays a key role both in selling and to the digital transformation process, and why it's important to change business mindsets around mental and physical well-being so we can do more by doing less.
[00:01:00] Chris, thank you so much for coming on the show. We're really excited to have you. I wonder if you could start by just giving us a little bit of an introduction to who you are and what you're currently up to.
Chris [00:01:08] Yes. So it's great to be here. My name is Chris Weber. I'm the corporate vice president for what we call our small, medium, and corporate segment globally at Microsoft.
Gemma [00:01:16] What does that sort of look like day to day? What kind of things? What kind of responsibilities? What kind of projects do you work on?
Chris [00:01:22] Essentially, we look after the business across a set of customers from an SMB perspective. We look, there's about 72 million customers worldwide in that segment. And then our corporate segment is about thirty-two thousand accounts there. And so the daily job is ensuring we're servicing our customers, taking care of them, delivering value, and then ultimately delivering the business outcomes that the company expects through that.
Gemma [00:01:49] So I want to rewind the clock a little bit back. We’re going to be talking about sales and processes of sales teams. And of course, these processes have undergone quite a lot change over the last couple of decades. And I'm thinking about the sort of start of your career, the start of a time that you were seeing these shifts happening.
[00:02:07] I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about the shape and the process of sales teams with digital tools were starting to be adopted. What did that look like from a tech perspective?
Chris [00:02:17] That's a great question. And I think we're going through a massive transformation really starting in the last three to five years. I think the fact that we're in the middle of this health pandemic. I think it's going to accelerate that.
[00:02:29] But even pre COVID, a lot of the trends were more digital selling, remote selling, in fact, and the discipline of sales for the first time ever, more than 50 percent of sellers time is now spent remote from customers. And I think during COVID, obviously, and then post-COVID, that's just going to accelerate even more. And I think it comes from a number of different things. One, information is readily accessible to buyers. Buyers are more digitally savvy. And then the tools that are available to serve both the customers and sellers is significantly better. And then all of that being infused with AI In fact, Gemma, I talk a lot about this with customers and I do it to be a little bit provocative. But the quote I use is to say, “In the very near future, a face to face sales call will put a sales rep or a sales team at a massive disadvantage.” And that doesn't mean face to face as an important. You have to build relationships and trust, but just the tools and technology and AI that will be available selling remotely or digitally is just going to fundamentally transform the industry, I think, over the next five years, more than it's done the last hundred.
Gemma [00:03:42] I want to dive into that disadvantage point a little bit more because that is a kind of contentious idea, I suppose.
[00:03:47] And I'm sure something that gets a lot people talking when we talk about digital transformation, particularly technologies like AI and automation, a lot of the discussion is about and, you know, robots stealing jobs and people feeling the human touch is going to be lacking as a result of these technologies. But you're saying that actually if you're insisting on face to face, you're going to be at a disadvantage. So talk us through a little bit about how these – maybe sounds like these would be conflicting ideas.
Chris [00:04:12] Yes. So, first of all, I look at it is I don't see any of the AI replacing human capacity. I think it augments it and makes it better. And so let me give you the scenario that will be very real in the next three to five years since you're in the UK and I'm in Seattle, Washington.
[00:04:28] Let's say I'm a sales rep and I'm selling you Office 365. The AI real time, our conversational AI. And again, you can put privacy in those type things. You'd ask the customers to opt in. But the real time conversation AI could pick up that you're a health care customer in the UK and I’m selling you Office 365 – in real time on my screen could serve me up three case studies of health care accounts in the UK who have successfully deployed Office 365. So I would see that as a seller.
[00:05:03] It could listen to objections. Let's say you had a pricing objection and it could serve up real time offers that I could make available to you as a customer and then it be able to do things where it can coach me real time on my talk-to-listen ratio. And of course, I get a lot of coaching anyways from my team that says my talk to listen ratio is out of whack. But we know the better the listener we have, the better the seller we have as well. And so you think about all that AI that's going to make me so much more productive. And so I don't look at that as eliminating human capacity. It's just gonna augment it and make us better.
Gemma [00:05:41] One of the previous discussions we've had in the podcast about sales was with Mary Shea, and she was talking about the difference between the newer sales reps coming in, you know, at junior, sort of side, of the business versus those that were really experienced. And she was saying that, you know, some of the ones who are more junior are more adept, of course, using these digital technologies, but the ones who are more senior were better at negotiation, these kind of soft skills, shall we say that are so important about sales. And of course, you know, these are broad strokes. She wasn't saying it’s the same for everyone. How does that sort of passing on of experience and ensuring that those different kinds of skills – you talk about talking to listening ratio, for instance, which I'm sure is key in sales. What does that look like in this world where, again, face to face is a disadvantage?
Chris [00:06:26] Yes. So you bring up a very interesting point, which is, nothing I think replaces experience. And you've talked about more experienced sellers are probably better at negotiation. And I would hope the fact I mean, thirty three years in business and sales, I'm a better seller today than at the beginning.
[00:06:42] But it is interesting. We've done some studies internally and looked at our top social sellers and we used LinkedIn and Sales Navigator as part of LinkedIn. And their smart links capability as a proxy for who does social selling the most. And we looked at that, and what was interesting, our highest social seller engagers was, which is it's not just you're looking at contacts on LinkedIn. It means you're making connections, you're sharing contact, you're introducing people, et cetera. So real engagement. The data's very clear. Our best social sellers are also our highest revenue producing sellers. And what's interesting, though, as you correlate some of the data, some of our early-in-career who are digital natives, they are our best social sellers. So the trick, I think, is how do we bring them up to speed on some of the skills you talked about with more experienced sellers like negotiations, et cetera. And at the same time, our experienced sellers. How do we bring them up to speed on becoming a great social seller, which might be new skills, new tools that they're not accustomed to using? In fact, it's kind of funny, Gemma. I tell us a lot. You know, my first job in Columbus, Ohio, I was working for a company called CompuServe, which most people don't even remember who they are. But I went out in my first couple months when I landed that job and I bought a four-door car. That was the first thing I did for work. And I ask, you know, certainly our early and career sellers, like, why would I buy a four-door car? And they look at me like a deer in the headlights. The reason I did it is I needed to take customers to lunch like that was the thing to do. And they look at me like, what is that? Right. And so, you know, you just look at sort of the extreme in terms of something like that. And then where we're at today, buyers can get this information on their own. They're much more savvy. They prefer it. They're digital natives. And so we're changing and we have to change the way we sell, the way we deliver value, the way we build trust and the way we bring solutions to our customers.
Gemma [00:08:49] So you mentioned earlier that there's sort of two questions that, I guess, people like yourself are up against are trying to answer, which is how do you train those who are coming in at the lower levels and how do you upskill those who are already experienced? So how do you?
Chris [00:09:03] Well, I think to me you can do it two ways. You can say we require you to be a social seller. I think that has limited benefit. I think you have to show them the benefits, the capability, the way they can scale their own capacity.
[00:09:17] And then I think once they see that and they're successful, then it's self-sustaining because they're doing that. And so what we find is showing people the data, showing them the tools, how to use it, etc. has been very powerful. In fact, with my group, where we have, you know, thousands of digital sellers in our sales centers or today working from home. We've done a set of small snackable videos that we've shared with everyone in the company on what tools they use, what are the best practices to be a digital seller. Now with the health pandemic and the fact that everyone is a digital seller today, I think everyone's been embracing that. And so I think the good news on that is everyone coming out of it, whatever our new normal is, everyone will be a more powerful or successful digital seller.
Gemma [00:10:05] So you've mentioned that pandemic twice now. So let's dive in and have a little chat about that. What has evolved or accelerated in recent months? What's that evolution looked like and what's going to stay versus things that have changed or they're kind of they are just for survival?
Chris [00:10:19] First of all, I think the stating the obvious is everyone is a digital seller today, so everyone's having to work remote.
[00:10:27] And I could tell you within our company, there's been some people who are passionate, diehard believers in digital selling and remote selling, as myself. There's others who have lived in the field model and believe in the face to face as the only way. I think a lot of opinions are changing as we're seeing, hey, we can do this and a lot of times we can do it more efficiently. So number one is, everyone's a digital seller. They're starting to embrace the digital tools. The way to do that. The second thing that I think is really profound is, obviously with COVID, our customers have given us permission to sell and work remotely, in fact, they prefer that. And so I think even as we come out of COVID, I don't think we'll go back to the old normal. I think it'll be a new normal. Now, it doesn't mean it's as extreme today where we never see a customer face to face. But again, I think as I talked about even before COVID, we saw a lot of data that said more and more selling is happening remote. I think that will continue. And we're seeing some of the efficiencies, which is the amount of time we have to travel, which is inefficient from a cost perspective, not great for the environment, takes us away from our customer face time. Digital selling also breaks down the geographic boundaries that you have with a field-based salesforce. I think all those things are goodness. But I don't want to come across as saying, hey, digital selling exclusively is the way of the future. It will always be that digital remote selling augmented with the face to face and field. I just think the balance will be heavily on the digital and remote coming out of this.
Gemma [00:12:06] And of course, some digital selling, remote selling, was something before the pandemic. There's plenty of companies or even just divisions within companies that were either already fully adopting or experimenting with this. But of course, what's happening right now has forced everyone to jump in, as you said.
[00:12:22] So what have you seen as maybe some of the biggest challenges in this shift, particularly from a leadership perspective?
Chris [00:12:29] So I think the remote work conditions as we're in this health pandemic, I think is very challenging, even for my team, which were historically based in sales centers.
[00:12:40] Now, everyone working out of the house and, you know, the obvious challenges are you can have a working spouse also at home raising kids, home schooling, taking care of elderly parents. I mean, I know I fall in some of those categories as well. So the amount of disruption and interruption that you have in your work environment I think is quite significant. And so those things, I think, have been quite difficult for people to actually get something that's sustainable, working, etc.. The second thing is people do miss the human to human connection, whether it's in the office or with customers or our partners. And so, you know, I think it's difficult when people stare in front of their monitor for, you know, 8, 10, 12 hours a day without that human connection. I think people miss that. And then the third thing I think we're you have to pay a lot of attention to is burnout, mental stress, physical stress, et cetera. And, you know, this is one I've sort of had to rewind thirty-three years of business experience where in some respects, we set aside sort of the personal and business. And we had this demarcation that says, don't ever think about the personal side. It's all about business. And I think we're going to have to really pay attention to this because when you're working from home, the work is always there. And so I think the risk is people could be getting burned out. I think the mental stress as we're going through this, we're going to have to be careful and attentive to that. And the thing I've been encouraging with my leadership team is give yourself permission and carve out time for your mental and physical well-being, because the more we can do that, I think individually, the better we can serve our employees, our customers and the business.
Gemma [00:14:19] I want to move on to this idea of organizational or team culture. And I think sales from an outsider perspective can probably be seen as a very individual career. Right? You have you at your target is you're an individual going out there trying to kind of create sales. But of course, in all companies, there's so much less churn, ideas out there about how to create really great cultures, to obviously enhance individuals. So, specifically with the sort of sales department and sales teams, what role does this organizational team culture play?
Chris [00:14:50] Yes, I think it's very interesting because I actually think sales is a team sport.
[00:14:55] In fact, even the way we're organized in my group, we’re in what we call PODs, where we have a collection of sales reps, solution specialists and technical specialists that are in a POD. It could be physical, but this is really more figuratively where they are all assigned to a set of accounts or a cohort of accounts. And so that team is goaled on the same business, the same customers, etc. And I think there's some amazing things that happen in there. And then as much as everyone sort of has their individual goals. I think when you can get the collective team, particularly where your customer centric and you're addressing the needs of the customer, uncovering needs and bringing solutions to them, I think that is the magic of sales. And quite frankly, my definition of sales is pretty basic, which is, you know, understanding the customer's business, or challenges and bringing them solutions to solve that. I think it's quite simple. And so I think getting that team concept, I think yields much better results, both for the customer and the business, itself.
Gemma [00:15:59] And what does this this sort of team culture look like? Does it help or hurt when you're adopting new digital techniques?
Chris [00:16:06] I think it helps a lot, because if you start to look at the number of tools that our digital sellers are using and the AI that's coming in, it's quite profound. And those digital tools I sort of put into two categories, which is: what are those ones helping us connect, communicate, collaborate, and deliver value to the customer? And then what are those tools that are allowing us to do the same thing within our team? In fact, we're just implementing some new technology within our group that you could think about -it is next best action within the team. And so we could set up different sequences, whether it's for a new customer acquisition or contract renewal. And we can define, I'll call it 20 steps, however many steps you want, that gives the highest probability to close that opportunity. Things like call the customer, connect on LinkedIn, share this content, do a demo, send the contract proposal. And as we define those sequences, those are managed automatically for the sales rep. So when they log in to their CRM system, Dynamics 365, they basically see a list of activities and tasks for the day that they can obviously automate and close, or as they do those things, calling the customer, they can close those and it goes to next best action when we do that, both for the individual and team. Because I will tell you, every sales rep has a to do list each day when they come in the office. Sometimes that could be a set of Post-it notes. It could be, hey, they're just keeping it mentally in their head. Some keep it in Outlook, Word, whatever those things are. But the issue is one is there's not a centralized way to define that. And two, there's not a consistent way. So Rep A might have seven steps to close up. Rep B might have 15. We're now we can do it in one centralized way. We can put analytics in AI to say what is actually working the best. And so the tool set that's available to our sellers today to both deliver value to the customer, but also communicate, collaborate, and drive activity internally is significantly different than, let's say, it was three to five years ago.
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Gemma [00:18:42] I want to go back to another thing you mentioned earlier, which is about burnout and mental stress. And as you said, having to maybe perhaps unlearn or relook at your years and experience in the business. And one of the things I think technology has an interesting kind of role in is it helps offload, as you say, perhaps to do lists or the organization of to do lists or e-mails or whatever it is. But because technology allows you to do that more easily, the expectation of more to do is being able to be done during the day, obviously goes up. So how do you think about that from a leadership perspective, managing technology to enable to give people more time and manage their mental stress vs. also ensuring that it allows for that productivity lift?
Chris [00:19:27] It's a great question. And this is one honestly, I'm having to rewire myself. And I still remember when I was at Nokia, we had a gentleman whose name was Doctor Aki Hintze.
[00:19:38] Unfortunately, passed away from cancer a couple of years ago, but he was working with the leadership team on basically physical and mental health and how to get balance and how we could make, if you participated in these activities, how you actually become better as a leader. I remember going to lunch with him once over in Helsinki, Finland, and he asked me, “What do you do to prepare for big meetings during the week, whether those are internal or customer?” And I said, “Are you kidding me? I'm just coming from the last meeting.” And he said, “You all in the corporate world, you're crazy.” He said you're on this treadmill. Seven by twenty four. And somehow you think that's more productive and better.” And so he gave me an exercise to do for the week I was in Finland. He said, take three big meetings that you're going to participate in either internal or customer meetings, take 30 minutes before each meeting, block it off on your calendar or get into a room by yourself in just 1. destress. Think about what you want the outcome of that meeting to be and then what's the value you're going to bring to that meeting? And it was stunning to me when I did that, I felt like it was some of the most productive meetings I've been in and actually where I contributed, added value, brought some new energy, etc.. And so you sort of bring up this thing around mental well-being and physical well-being. I think we're gonna have to rewire ourselves to say less is more. Because that's not what we historically have been taught and thought about and role model in the corporate world where we just say, hey, let's get on that treadmill and as many activities we can get done. And then if you have time, let's do more. In some sense, I think we're fooling ourselves that were productive and we're doing the highest value-added activities and being a high-performance team, leader, sales rep, et cetera. And so I'm of the mindset now and, again it's a journey for me, is where we really give ourselves permission and carve out time each and every day to take care of our physical well-being and mental well-being. And I find that balance because even in COVID, you know, I've had to do that. I actually feel like I'm more productive today than I was pre-COVID because I've carved out that time and I think I have a little more balance in my life than before. But again, it's a mindset. It's easier to say than do because in the corporate world, the mindset is more, more, more. And I think we're gonna have to think and look and say less is more, balance is better, and we can serve ourselves, our customers, our employees and ultimately the business better through that model.
Gemma [00:22:14] So we're talking about this idea of, you know, being able to do less, even though and tech can let us do more. And right now, particularly and with what's going on in the pandemic, you know, teams are facing burnout. Home and work is kind of becoming one. There’s obviously a lot of personal things popping up. You mentioned, you know, home schooling and childcare and all sorts. You can imagine that's quite a lot to be putting on to teams. So from a leadership perspective, you know, how do you get your teams to really believe that they have permission to do less when tech can do more?
Chris [00:22:45] Yeah, it's a great question. I don't know if I have the magic answer, but I think it starts with role modeling because you can say it all you want. But if you don't role model it yourself and it's both the big things and little things. Right? It's as an example, one of the things we're doing this year just on readiness and investing in ourselves.
[00:23:05] Every Friday, all our leaders are carving out two to four hour blocks with their team that they're participating in, whether it's readiness on like technical skills or product skills. But they'll also bring in external speakers on mental health, physical health, those type things. And so role modeling to me rules the day on giving people permission to do that, because if you say one thing and don't act it, then I don't think it happens. And I think it's even little things. And I'll give you one example. I have someone of my leadership team, and she had submitted her fiscal year twenty-one priorities, which are what are the goals and metrics that she's going to drive the business and I should hold her accountable for. And the last thing she had on there, she's a big runner. And so she put into her commitments to ensure, you know, running it was three or four days per week and getting X amount of mileage in because she felt like she hadn't done it the last year. I commended her one for putting that in her commitments, but it was at the very bottom. And so I said to her, I love that. But we're going to put that is number one, because if you don't do that, you're not going to be successful at the other things. And so, again, I think it's little things and it's big things and it's role modeling those and then constantly showing through your actions that you're giving them permission and letting them carve out the space for that. But again, even for myself, as I talk about it, it's a complete rewire from what I've done. Let's call it 32 years of business, but it's exciting because I feel like it's liberating. I found this whole new world of productivity I can tap into that is more sustainable and I think better for me individually, like personally as well as a business and leadership.
Gemma [00:24:49] What's number one on your list?
Chris [00:24:51] For me, it's really physical activity, ensuring I get that in daily. I'm a early riser, so making sure I do that. But as I told the team, one of the things I'd done when I work at home, because, again, the work is always there. In lunch, I eat lunch very quickly, but I make it a point everyday at lunch to go do something physical, whether it's go ride the bike. I do a lot of paddle boarding. And so I've been doing that in the middle of the day. I would never do that, you know, if I was in the office to give myself permission. And so I love it. I feel healthier for it. It makes me, I think gives me more energy during the day. And so, again, talking about that and sharing it and then at times, look, I'm not perfect and there's days where, you know, I'm in the office 12 hours a day, but it's reflecting on that and saying that's not sustainable either. And so it's a constant journey. I don't think we ever get there and say we've arrived. I think we have to keep investing in ourselves day in and day out.
Gemma [00:25:43] There you go. You heard it here. First paddle board your way to success, it seems.
[00:25:48] Love that. And I think, you know, the more people like yourself saying things like this on podcasts and keeping banging the drum and then repeating these narratives, hopefully that will start to change hearts and minds. I want to move on to the topic of empathy. I know this is something that you've been thinking about for some time. And I wonder if you could just tell me what is it that made you start thinking about empathy, particularly, you know, what role that plays both in sales but also in the digital transformation process?
Chris [00:26:14] Yes, I think it's related a lot to what we just talked about, which is even as you're leading and managing teams or selling to customers, like to me the word of the day is empathy. Like, really understanding. Even early in my career, if there were performance problems internally, I didn't readily think, hey, maybe there's something outside of work getting in the way of that person's potential or performance of those things. But today, when we have performance challenges or we're having trouble even breaking through with the customer, I think the more empathy we can have to really understand what's happening, what's going on in that person's life. What can we do to help more? I think, again, it makes us better as an organization, makes us better as a leader, as a seller. Whether that's internally or working with customers. And so, again, it's one of these things where I think in the corporate world has sort of been taught that says, hey, we're almost a robot, we're on this treadmill, we separate personal from business. But I see our greatest leaders where they integrate those things together. And it starts with empathy. And, you know, we talk a lot about Satya, our CEO, who I think is one of the greatest leaders on the planet, and he's one of the smartest people I've ever seen. But that's not what makes him a great leader. It's his empathy. It's his human characteristics, et cetera. He's one of the most empathetic leaders I've ever seen, and that's what distinguishes him. And so, again, if you want to look at in terms of how to be successful, how to lead, etc.. Empathy is that differentiator.
Gemma [00:27:50] So how do you teach empathy or how do you teach your teams and the people working in teams, but also the leaders of those teams to employ a more empathetic approach?
Chris [00:28:00] I think this is a hard one. I think in terms of how do you teach? I still remember, you know, my first management job. Empathy wasn't the thing when I came out of my management training that was top of mind for me was, Hey, how do we get the business going? How do I get everyone as a high performer, etc.? And so I think we have to give people permission to use empathy more in the workplace. I think we have to role model it. And then I think as leaders, we have to make ourselves really vulnerable in showing that humanistic side and where we make mistakes. Being the first ones to showcase that, because then I think people will just follow the behaviors that you're doing. I still remember my first management job, the person I worked for. We were in a meeting and his supervisor was in the meeting. And I remember my boss gave him some really hard feedback, like I was completely shocked he would use some of the words he did. And I was like, wow, he really gave some unfiltered feedback. And after the meeting, my boss's boss came over to me and said, “What do you think about the meeting?” This is my first one. I said, “I thought it was great.” He said, “What do you think about Frank, who gave me that hard feedback?” And I said, “It was hard feedback.” And he said, “If I don't give my leadership team permission to give me the real truth and the hard feedback, etc., and then people start giving me what I want to hear, not the truth, people are just gonna follow them.” So the culture he was trying to build was they should feel like they can give the unfiltered truth, the hard feedback, that constructive feedback, because he said if he didn't do it and showcase that, people were just gonna follow those behaviors. And I thought it’s a great lesson learned in my first management meeting, which is what's the behaviors I'm role modeling because you're people are just gonna follow and do the same thing.
Gemma [00:29:45] So speaking of that, then, going beyond empathy, what other skills and techniques do you feel are critical right now, both for the team and leaders and perhaps skills that are maybe new or underserved that they've not really been talking about so much.
Chris [00:30:01] I use this, I call it the magical model, which I talk to my kids a lot about this. I have one who is just going into the business world, just graduated. I have a son is going to be a sophomore. And I talk to him about the model I think about which is this balance between IQ, EQ and AQ. So IQ the intelligence side. And again, this one I think in job interviews and companies, we overemphasize that constantly. That's not a place I see where we have performance issues. It's on the EQ side. So I really emphasize the emotional intelligence. And then I added the AQ, which is just sort of the attitude, the work ethic. And I say it's the balance of those three that I see make the best performers, best leaders, et cetera. But when I talk to our people internally about leadership, every failure that I've seen from individual contributor early in career to the most senior levels in a company, the failures always are because of EQ. I never see it because of IQ. Were we said that person is just not smart enough or they don't understand the business that each you sign. So what I tell people early in career, if there's one thing you want to emphasize, it's that easy to side. Like how do you communicate and collaborate? Are you vulnerable? Are you humble? Do you have empathy? Are you known as a great collaborator in the company? Do you break class, those type things? And so I think this EQ side, and I go back to Satya is the exhibit A of why such an amazing leader, it's that that side.
Gemma [00:31:34] What's the role of tech in all this? You know? Can it help teach us some of these skills? Is it eroding some of these skills? Are tech skills themselves overhyped or over exaggerated?
Chris [00:31:44] So I think you could say it helps or hinders. I think depending on the approach and the way you embrace them, I don't think there's going to be technologies and products or those things that if someone doesn't have EQ to make them better on EQ. Or if they're really high on EQ, it's not going to take away from that. And so in some respects, I think it's you have to separate those things. But I think the technology can help augment those things just seen from a communication and collaboration perspective. Take Teams as an example. You know, one of the things I find in our internal meetings with Teams where we're not face to face. Everyone's getting to participate in those meetings and have a voice. Because if you think about a face to face meeting, let's say we had 10 people in the meeting room. Normally there's one person talking or maybe it's two in there. Where today with Teams because you have the chat window there. Everyone has a voice where they can contribute. Now, that's amazing technology. But as a leader, if I'm not recognizing those voices or encouraging those voices, then the technology doesn't help. But it's an amazing capability. And I find our meetings in many respects other than just missing the human connection, are more productive over Teams because everyone in that meeting has a voice can contribute whether they're talking or not.
Gemma [00:33:05] Amazing. I want to do a little bit of future scaping. How do you see the future of sales and leadership within, say, sales evolving.
Chris [00:33:14] Yes, I'm really bullish on this as I talk about is I think over the next three to five years, the discipline of sales is going to transform more than it's done in the last hundred years because of the technology that's happening.
[00:33:29] I'll just go through some of them. Today, I talked about that next best action, I think, for a high velocity scale sales engine that I'm running. That next best action, I think, can be the single biggest productivity gain for individual sellers of any product I've implemented. When you start taking and infusing things with AI, so, for example, in Office 365, there's something called workplace analytics that gives me incredible optics in terms of how much time we're spending with customers by roll, by geography. What levels within the customer are we engaging, what levels that Microsoft are engaged with the customer. And so what it's done for me is it allows us to look and say I want us to be more customer centric because I can also see - what are the activities we're spending internally. And so it was very clear there were a number of things where our sellers were spending too much time tracking down support incidents. They were spending too much time working through the tools for customer funding programs. So we built systemic things where we invested into take that off our sellers time. Lo and behold, over the last 12 months, we've increased our customer engagement face time by over 30 percent. In fact, in COVID, our Q4, which just ended June 30th, we had the highest customer engagement time we've had in the history of the company. Take forecasting for example, outside of the big deals that, you know, fluctuate the run rate business. We use an AI model to do all that forecasting and then we overlay it with Dynamics 365, where we look at the forecast and we look at the amount we've engaged with that customer and we can signal whether that's a red, green or yellow on the forecast because just take the extreme where we forecasted a significant deal. But the amount of engagement we've had with the customer and at the executive level has been very low. That highlights something that says, hey, you have some risk in the forecast there. I mean, that is amazing because, again, I don't want our sales teams spending all their time predicting the future or predicting the quarterly forecast. And so now it allows us to use those tools that allows them to spend less time on that, more time with customers. There's just so many examples of that. And then again, I talk about this real time conversation intelligence. I sort of think about the seller in a cockpit of AI where even as I called you today, it could say, hey, make sure you can congratulate her on the quarterly results, her promotion, ask her what this reorg is on the marketing side. I mean, it’s so many things, I think, that come together that can make our sellers better, more productive and able to serve the customers in a new and different way.
Gemma [00:36:22] So you spoke about these sales tools that can predict next best action for the sales reps. Thinking about sales organizations, people that might be listening to this podcast, who work for companies who may not be quite so technically advanced to some other companies that are really wanting to avoid being laggards in this space and just wanting to not only survive, but then thrive after the next three to five years. What's their sort of next best action?
Chris [00:36:48] I think it starts with customer of records system, or what we call it CRM. I think for a sales leader, if you don't have a robust system, customer records, because everything gets built off of that. So it's data driven. That's where the AI comes from. And so I would make sure you have that foundationally. You believe in that you're committed to the platform and then everything you talk about, whether it's next best action AI forecasting, looking at, you know, efficiency of the sales force, customer engagement et cetera, all comes off of that system to give you a 360 view of the customer. So that is the place I think it starts and ends, because if you don't have that, it's going to be very hard to infuse anything with your sales force around a high productivity enhancers, et cetera. That is step number one. And I think once you have that data driven approach, then you can build off of that from there.
Gemma [00:37:45] So I guess your final point there is about making sure your data is strong, clean, there before you can even put it to use.
Chris [00:37:53] Absolutely. Because, you know, as you look at AI, my boss likes to say, if your data state is not in order and this is one that your customer data is not an order, AI is just going to allow you to make wrong decisions with a higher degree of confidence. And so it starts all with the data customer system of record and then everything gets built off of that.
Gemma [00:38:17] Amazing. Final question for me. For the people who are listening to this podcast, whether they're leaders of sales teams or in the middle or even just entering the world of sales right now, what would be your piece of advice for people to make sure that they stay kind of, I guess, future relevant moving forward?
Chris [00:38:35] Yes, I think they really have to look at in their sales environment. There's a couple things. One is how do they think about customer segmentation? I think it's so important because I think what comes out of segmentation is what's your go to market model and then what is your cost of sale for each of those models? And we've gone through a lot of work over the last five years to transform our sales and marketing model at Microsoft. And so I talked to a lot of customers about this. And so the first thing I'd encourage them to do is really think about segmentation - their go to market model and then do they have well-defined cost-of-sale models, and then look at that and say, where's that going over the next three to five years? Because I think things are changing radically. And then how does technology augment all of those models? You know, what resources do I apply to what set of customers? What is the opportunity? How do I think about direct versus channel? How do I think about field versus digital sales? How do I think about even when I have additional investment or OP EX? Do I put that in additional headcount? Do I think about that as AI technology, etc.? I think all of those things for a sales leader. In fact, I was telling Satya recently, when I think about it, if you said three years ago someone gave me additional OP EX, I would look at that and say, how many headcount am I going to hire? And I would determine how much is in the field versus digital sales today where I am able to come up with additional OP EX. I would say 90 cents on the dollar. I invest that in AI technology, particularly through our D365 platform, because it makes our people so much more productive. And so I think getting that go to market model, ROI, and looking at how technology can be an enabler again to participate. What I think is going to be the greatest transformation in the discipline of sales ever. It's very exciting.
Gemma [00:40:31] Amazing, Chris. Thank you so much for joining us on the show and sharing so many insights with us today.
Chris [00:40:35] Thanks, Gemma. I really appreciate it.
Gemma [00:40:40] That's it for this week. Thank you so much for tuning in. You can find out more about Chris's work and indeed some of the broader themes we discussed today in the show notes. Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast and tune in next time to continue our conversation about innovation, resilience, and our capacity to succeed.
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