GE Brings Good Things to...Sales

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In a company well known for its use of Six Sigma it's no surprise that GE Healthcare's CMO Sean Burke and vice president of sales Bob White mandated two improvements to streamline sales. Two years ago the duo created a strategy involving people, processes, and tools to make it easier to buy from the company; and, make it easier to sell for the company. At the same time the division was moving to a customer-focused sales process, differentiating itself by working with customers to meet their many diagnostic imaging needs instead of just focusing on individual products.

On the buy side the company is simplifying its website and contracts, among other things, as well as rebranding itself. The sell-side changes focus on using information assets to improve productivity and sales results.

In the United States, GE Healthcare sells such products as X-ray machines, CT scanners, and MRI equipment to about 5,000 hospitals and 6,000 outpatient imaging centers. Customers within those facilities often include a mix of radiologists, doctors, and business-side executives like department managers, CEOs, and CFOs. So GE Healthcare's 200-plus account managers face a highly technical, complex sale. They're supported by about 50 marketing managers and more than 100 product specialists. But, there was no consistent way of sharing marketing collateral with the account managers. According to Nick Caffentzis, general manager of Americas marketing, product specialists acted as gate keepers deciding how to share those materials with them.

Caffentzis and his team knew that meeting the CMO and sales VP's goals meant streamlining communication and getting the right information to the sales team at the right time. So they implemented Savo to organize and manage the division's marketing materials, which they call sales assets. They examined their existing sales assets and processes, gathered feedback, and reorganized the materials in way that would boost productivity and employee engagement.

One of the first steps Caffentzis took was to create a field marketing council comprising 35 top-performing product specialists and account managers from across geographies. No marketers were invited, so the council members would be candid with their feedback. And they were. During their first meeting council members said that they and their colleagues were craving quality information and access to fresh data, but instead were often presented with materials that were old or had inconsistent messaging; some even felt forced to create their own when they couldn't find what they needed (which is risky in the highly regulated healthcare industry).

During the second meeting council members were asked to rate 220 of the 3,500 sales assets available with green (they use it), yellow (they'd use it if it was modified), or red (what was marketing thinking?). Further discussion uncovered common characteristics among the "green" assets: They could help the account manager differentiate GE's offerings, they included striking visuals, the content was high quality and credible, and they were easy to use.

Caffentzis and his team shared their findings with the rest of the marketing team, which used the information to review all of the existing assets. As a result they reduced the number of assets by 34 percent.

One of the next steps was to reorganize the content, which had been listed haphazardly in the company's "K" drive server -- in one area assets would be listed by product, but in another they might be listed by competitive set.

Caffentzis and his team met with product marketing managers to devise one consistent organizational approach. They created 25 categories into which all materials are now divided. Then they move those remaining 2,400 assets into Savo, which internally is called Compass. Now account managers can find information not only by moving through categories, but also via search and in specialized lists. For example, the vice president of sales wanted account managers to have easy access to what he calls a trunk kit: the basic information they must have for each product or account when going on a sales call. Reps who include "trunk kit" in the search with a product name with be served up a list of those specific assets.

Since launching Compass in 2007, Caffentzis and his team have been monitoring its usage. They initially tracked the number of new users and new visits, and have achieved their initial goal of getting the entire U.S. sales team on Compass at least once; about 70 percent use it regularly. About 1,000 employees in total, including senior executives and administrative people across North and South America, use it to some extent. The marketing team now tracks return users, return visits, asset usage, and assets added/retired. Not surprisingly, assets that currently receive the most use are those that support new product introductions.

According to Caffentzis, culture change was integral to employees' adoption of the Compass tool. The challenges included getting account managers to stop calling marketers and others for information and to instead look first in Compass for what they needed. One solution was finding ways to get people back to the site, Caffentzis said. Compass now includes surveys, videos, and other dynamic content.

Caffentzis' plans for 2009 include turning off access to the K drive, but first he must sell GE Healthcare's European and Asian offices on using Compass. He also plans on working with the training team to add another search option for sales assets in Compass. The goal is to organize information in conjunction with the steps in Miller Heiman's sales process. "You need to organize the information by what you want to measure," he says.

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