CenturyLink digitally revamps sales framework

The difficulty of navigating information silos during the sales process and high customer churn prompted CenturyLink to adopt new digital tools that get the right information to the right sellers

Global technology firm CenturyLink has digitally revamped its sales framework to foster greater unity between business units and promote better information-sharing internally.

Founded in 1930, CenturyLink was initially a telecoms provider, but has developed over the years into a complex ecosystem of technologies and digital services.

With over 52,000 employees globally, including about 3,500 sellers across three business units, CenturyLink’s leadership realised that the organisation’s internal tools and resources would need to be scaled as it continued to grow.

While CenturyLink’s growth is primarily attributable to a long history of mergers and acquisitions, this also created a number information silos that prevented sellers from accessing the necessary account information.  

This presented a major challenge for the company, because the lack of readily available information led to a high degree of customer churn, and created a situation where the knowledge of any particular account would be lost if the seller moved on. This, in turn, also made it more difficult to on-ramp new sellers to the company.

To transform its sales framework, in 2018, CenturyLink turned to Upland Altify’s Customer Revenue Optimisation (CRO) platform – a set of native Salesforce applications designed to automate the selling process by guiding employees through it.

The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) to turn the data collected by CenturyLink into actionable insights, essentially nudging human sales people about when to take a specific action.

“For a medium-level business account rep on, say, 60 accounts, they need all the help they can get knowing where to focus their time,” said Mat Singer, senior director of sales operations at Upland Altify, who previously worked at CenturyLink during its transformation.

“They need AI insights to understand the kinds of triggers telling them which customer they should reach out to, and then look for other buying signals that can be reasons to go back and contact the customer. We like the prospect of leveraging activity as a way to give our frontline managers insight into what to do next, and AI helps drive that.”

The company opted to use Upland Altify’s opportunity manager and account planning applications, which it chose primarily to promote “the right rigour in the business”, said Moe Goodman, CenturyLink’s senior director of sales enablement.

“We were finding that we were losing a lot of good information as we churned out of the business, and in some areas of my business we were seeing churn at 20-30%,” he said.

“We felt like if we put this into a tool, now it becomes something that is proprietary for CenturyLink, so when that person leaves, the next person that comes aboard can inherit all of that information that we put in the tool, and so not only does our churn issue hopefully start to go down, but also the amount of on-ramp time for that new seller decreases because they already have content available to them.”

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Within three months of implementing the CRO platform, CenturyLink developed $250,000 a month in recurring revenue from one opportunity manager implementation, and a 350% funnel increase from top 40 accounts with account planning.

Goodman said a major benefit of the implementation was the high level of accuracy it gave CenturyLink to make sales forecasts, which helped sellers to refocus on deals that were more attainable.

“Before, we were just going off what the seller said – ‘Hey, I think we’re going to bring this in’ – and they would forecast based on that, so our level of accuracy in how we forecast has increased,” he said.

“Because of that, there’s also the major benefit for the sellers in that they’re not chasing deals that aren’t really going to happen. We have a ‘whale’ mentality among our sellers in that they’re looking to catch the big whale, but sometimes they’re hoping on it so much that they ignore the signs that it isn’t going to come.”

But the scale of the change presented problems at first, as the back-to-back roll-out of the opportunity manager and account planning components left CenturyLink’s sellers feeling fatigued, leading to a brief lull in usage after the initial adoption.

“It really gave us some pause as to how we roll out in the next round,” said Goodman. “We definitely phased it a little bit more to give them time to adapt to one or the other.”

He added that he was of the opinion that it was better to roll out account planning before opportunity management. “That’s something we started to tweak as well, because you get the foundation of the account first, and then the opportunities layer into that.”

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