Interview with Lisa Dillon – Microsoft

by Mark Taylor

We sat down with Lisa Dillon, General Manager EMEA Digital Sales at Microsoft, to hear more about the transformation journey Microsoft embarked on recently and how AI has radically improved the way their sales teams operate.

Hi Lisa, could you give us some clarity on your role and the selling environment Microsoft operates in?

I'm general manager of EMEA digital sales. I joined Microsoft over two and a half years ago to set up an EMEA digital sales centre. In the team we now have over 700 people, based in our new state-of-the-art campus in Dublin. Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. Constant innovation is at the core of what we do, and just over two years ago we went through a sales transformation. We've segmented our customers into three main segments based on potential and propensity. We have the enterprise segment, which is field-led, the corporate segment – which is a hybrid model of field and inside sales, and then the SMB segment, which is partner-led.

What is the role of your team specifically?

The area I lead is the EMEA digital sales team, serving the corporate segment – which is really a mid-market segment – and the customers we reach out to are a combination of IT professionals and decision-makers. It’s about 12,000 customers across EMEA, spanning all of Microsoft’s solution areas In our team we have account executives, technical specialists, solution specialists and commercial executives.

In terms of mid-market expectations, what are some customer trends you’re seeing in terms of what they're expecting of B2B sales teams?

The customer’s needs are changing, and the methods via which we reach them are evolving as well. Customers want a personalised experience and expect their account manager to address their business challenges and opportunities. They want to be engaged at the right time on their digital journey to help drive business success, and they expect their account managers to have deep insights about the industry and be a trusted adviser.

You mentioned you've been on a transformation journey at Microsoft, can you talk us through more detail on the key areas you've been focusing on?

The reason why we have undergone this sales transformation at Microsoft is because cloud dynamics are changing how we run our business. We asked ourselves five questions at the beginning of this sales transformation:

  1. Are we focused on the right account?
  2. Are we investing enough in our top accounts?
  3. Do we have scaled capability?
  4. How do we differentiate between selling and consumption?
  5. How does rewards and recognition align to the company strategy?

So there are a number of areas that we've transformed in; I would say the main areas would be the segmentation and the industry focus we have, and the other would be our scaled capabilities that we've set up. Previously, there was a real lack of global consistency, and now we have defined sales motions and consistent roles. We also had very low quality leads, whereas now we have quality leads and artificial intelligence-driven engagements; so it was really all about transforming the way we sell at Microsoft.

What are you using artificial intelligence for in enabling sales? How has it led to improved outcomes?

We wanted to use technology to increase seller productivity, and to help drive business success for our customers. So we're enabling our sales force to leverage rich data analytics and insight, which allows us to meet the needs of customers and our partners. This is so we engage them at the right time in their digital journey and it helps drive business success. We use ‘Deep CRM’, an end-to-end AI platform which has optimised the demand funnel via digital marketing lead enrichment functionality. It picks up signals on any prospect’s behaviour, and has real-time lead scoring prioritisation and scheduling – even to the point where it will tell you the best day and time to call a prospect. It uses over 200 data points to assess each lead – it has internal and external metrics, incorporating data such as marketing interactions, customer engagement metrics, firmographic, demographic, and the likelihood to close the deal and the value it will be. It looks at all of this and gives each lead a unique rating – the more granular you can get, the better. It's now 85% accurate in predicting the next best leads, and we've seen a two times uplift in lead conversion to opportunity using that tool.

The other one we have is Daily Recommender. Our reps could have 60-100 accounts, and every night the AI will go through their territory and come up with predictions so that when the rep comes in the next day, it's actually picked a recommendation for all of the accounts in the territory, using over 1000 data points. It’s saving the reps a lot of time, and we're increasing opportunities by about 40%, and productivity of the calls we’re making with customers by about 60%.  

What can you share about some of the challenges or lessons learned around getting new technology embedded into new ways of working?

First off is executive sponsorship, that's really important. Secondly you need cross-organisation alignment, ensuring you’re leveraging all the resources across the organisation. I think the third thing which is really important is to start small. Start with one model, something very basic – for example, lead scoring – prove its value, and then broaden it. The fourth area would be to really work from the sellers experience; it's really important to get the feedback from the sellers all the time on what's working, what's not working and what problems they're seeing. And training is critical. I can't emphasise that enough, because you need the sellers to trust the system and to understand the mechanics of it. Finally, you need to be able to show the ROI of it; monitor that and measure the investment and the output.

How long did it take for you to see results from your transformation?

First of all I'd say this is a journey we started this two and a half years ago, and at Microsoft it's about having a growth mindset, which means we're always learning. So it's continual, but I would think it probably took about six months before we really started seeing the impact, because it does take time to train reps and for people to trust in the systems. I actually don't think it's ever ending, because there's always going to be new technology and new ways of doing business that'll improve productivity and give sellers ways to give their customers better insight.

– Interviewed by Mark Taylor

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