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Microsoft transforms sales planning process using the Power Platform


“Microsoft Power Platform has been a game changer with respect to helping us identify, iterate and ultimately digitize new processes that help drive our commercial sales business” – Tom Verhasselt, Director of Business Programs, Microsoft

In this blog post we look at how the Business Process and Tools Team within the Microsoft Worldwide Global Sales and Marketing Operations organization (WW GSMO) used Microsoft Power Platform to digitally transform the account planning process for thousands of enterprise accounts covering an annual $80+ billion book of business. The solution uses Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, Common Data Service, Azure SQL, Office 365, Microsoft Stream, LinkedIn, Dynamics 365 and Azure workloads.

Account Planning is the core process by which account teams come together to develop their sales strategy for driving digital transformation across Microsoft’s top enterprise customers, and securing alignment across v-teams and executive leadership. The process of putting the plan together used to take a seller one to three days to execute as they navigated multiple systems, spreadsheets and offline reports. Previous multi-month efforts to transform this process had proven to be unsuccessful. With an agile low-code approach using Microsoft Power Platform, the team was able to build and deploy an initial version within just forty-five days. They’ve continued to iterate on it over the past two years, scaling adoption to where more than a thousand sellers might use it in a single day during peak planning periods. The time it takes to put the plan together is now down to a few hours, along with several additional benefits, such as a new set of business and customer insights, close monitoring of a customer’s digital journey, and easy visibility of plans for senior sales leaders.

In addition to the business benefits for the Microsoft sales org, the Account Planning solution has served as a showcase to highlight the power of low code and Microsoft Power Platform. We are grateful to the GSMO Process and Tools team for spending time on an almost weekly basis demo’ing the solution and sharing their experience with Microsoft customers looking to learn about the possibilitie of the platform. To quote a customer’s reaction after seeing the Account Planning tool in action – “You guys are the absolute benchmark and you have seen our reactions, there is a lot of value with Power Apps and you have shown it in a very practical and pragmatic way for supporting an account planning methodology.”

Ben Gibbons demos the Account Planning app

Watch Tom Verhasselt’s 15-minute presentation and demo of the Microsoft Account Planning solution at this MBAS 2020 session – https://aka.ms/MBAS/MicrosoftAccountPlanning (15:30 min mark).

MEET THE WW GSMO PROCESS & TOOLS TEAM

The World Wide GSMO Process & Tools team’s charter is to standardize and automate business processes for over 20,000 Sellers, Managers & Leaders worldwide across an $80+ billion commercial business. They partner closely with Commercial Marketing & Sales Engineering to deploy core sales capabilities on primarily the Dynamics platform, and often directly enable last mile processes leveraging the Power Platform. They work closely with both HQ and field sales leaders to understand business process needs, partner to incubate new ideas to reduce inefficiencies in the business, and help to operationalize at world wide scale.

Below are the core WW GSMO team members that were responsible for initially launching the Account Planning process and tool.

From left: Tom Verhasselt, Ben Gibbons, Tasha Scott, and Sundar Gomanthinayagm from the WW GSMO team

 

BUSINESS SCENARIO

Each fiscal year, the field sales teams are required to prepare an “account plan” for each customer. It is imperative that the account planning teams, consisting of sales reps, sales managers, and sales leaders, have a solid understanding of their customer’s industry, gain a deep knowledge of their customer’s business, and align themselves with their customer’s top priorities in order to come up with this plan. This process has several key elements:

  • During each planning cycle, sellers do a lot of research – about the customer, the competitive landscape, and more.
  • They capture a wealth of information in the form of structured and unstructured data.
  • They create detailed plans for each customer, which need to be reviewed by sales managers and leaders.
  • The final plans also need to be living documents that can be updated on a regular cadence.
  • Additionally, to support executive visits, such as when senior sales leaders within Jean-Phillippe’ organization meet with key enterprise customers, Word documents need to be generated on the fly that capture and summarize the account plan.

In addition, while it was critical for the account teams to be as efficient, grounded and in sync with the customer’s digital transformation strategy as possible, it was also equally important for the sales organization to define a new digital process as a positive step toward driving change in Microsoft’s internal sales culture.


An overview of the Account Planning process

 

BEFORE POWER PLATFORM

Prior to the Power Platform solution, the account planning process was managed mostly using PowerPoint and SharePoint. It was manual and had several inefficiencies. Sales teams were forced to go to many different places to pull together a variety of information with little to no automation. Plans would become stale over time and were rarely refreshed until the following year. Critical customer information captured in account plans was not integrated with the core Microsoft Sales Experience (MSX) system, which made it difficult for all members of the account team to be grounded on the customer’s strategy, and to coordinate and collaborate around it. There was no standard worldwide process in place, so when sales teams requested additional sales support services, such as MTC or EBC sessions, Digital Win Rooms, etc., they were forced to reenter a lot of information that was already present in the offline copy of their local account plan. It was also a challenge for managers and leaders to review the plans and integrate it in their weekly and monthly rhythms. Finally, there wasn’t the ability to capture insights on the planning process at an operational level. Most importantly, all these activities took away from time that would have otherwise been spent directly engaging with customers.


A summary of the various challenges that existed prior to the Account Planning Tool

 

POWER PLATFORM SOLUTION – Account Planning App

The GSMO Process & Tools team started their Power Platform journey with the Microsoft Account Planning App in early 2018. Within forty-five days, an initial version was deployed for managing a few strategic customers, and after it was stabilized was subsequently rolled out across all commercial customer accounts. The app was built directly within the business using low-code technologies such as Power Apps and Power Automate at a fraction of the cost of traditional IT development cycles. The team has continued to iterate and expand on the app. It has now been in active use for over two years, with over thousand sellers using it daily during peak planning periods. Version two was launched recently, which provides an enhanced user experience and deeper integration with the core sales ecosystem.
Let’s take a look at how the Account Planning App, which deeply integrates with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Sales, Office 365 and Azure, is used across four main personas – sellers, sales managers, sales operations, and sales leaders.

Sellers
Sellers use a Power Apps canvas app to build the account plan using information that is collected and collated from various sources. They are guided by industry insights curated by the worldwide industry team and other industry resources. They use the tool to review customer objectives, identify executive level relationships, and map out the customer’s digital transformation and technical solution area priorities. Key actions are defined across the v-team, with go-to-market strategy and partner solutions that help drive business value.


Account planning Power Apps canvas app used by sellers to create and manage plans

Sales Managers
Sales managers use the Account Planning Reviewer app to review the account plan, provide feedback, and ultimately sign off on the plan. Power BI dashboards are embedded within the app.

 

Power BI dashboards used by Sales Operations team

Sales Leaders
Account plans are exported into Microsoft Word using Power Automate. These word documents are reviewed by sales leaders as they prepare for customer visits.


Word document with summary of account plan for sales leaders and executives is generated using Power Automate

 

SOLUTION ARCHITECTURE

Power Apps: End user facing app used to create and manage the digital version of the account plan, review and collaborate on plans and additional low-level administrative tasks. Connects into several data sources across the enterprise.
Power Automate: Used to export plans to a Word document for leaders to review while preparing for a customer visit
Power BI: Used to create dashboards for the Sales Operations team
Dynamics 365 Sales: System of record for customer accounts, contacts, and opportunity pipeline
Common Data Service (CDS): Maintain additional data sets needed to drive process, data mashups
SQL Server: Connect to compete intelligence and account assignment data
Office 365: Get user profile data, images, and contact information via Office 365 connector
Microsoft Stream: Used for contextually relevant bite-size training videos for app capabilities
Bing: Used to bring in relevant and contextual news about a customer
LinkedIn: Used to bring in contact profile information for customer contacts

IMPACT AND BENEFITS

By leveraging Microsoft Power Platform, the WW GSMO team was able to realize several key benefits:

Increased development agility:

  • Initial version built in forty-five days as compared to prior unsuccessful effort that took nine months
  • Able to respond to market dynamics in days/weeks versus months/years
  • Able to rapidly prototype and iterate directly with end users
  • The business was able to incubate the first version and move to IT after reaching enough scale and stability

Cost savings:

  • Took 1.5 resources to build the first version, as compared to large development teams and millions of $$ in IT spend
  • Led by business program managers with direct process knowledge versus expensive IT engineering resources

Increased efficiency in account planning has resulted in more time spent with the customer:

  • Digitized process is 70% automated and takes 3 hours as opposed to 1-3 days

Integrated approach:

  • One single tool as the repository of data for account planning, reviewing and updating
  • Bi-directional flow with MSX Dynamics 365 Sales system, MSX remains the one source of truth with fully automated data roll up throughout MSX insights

Increased agility in plans – account plans are kept updated with new customer information:

  • Integrated live feeds with industry data, press releases and customer updates
  • Enabled team to respond to market dynamics in days/weeks vs months/years

 

The following quotes from Microsoft Account Executives further highlight the benefits from the app:

“As I said to the EC Leadership Team recently, and with more than 30 years of Account and Sales Management, I think we have here the best Account Planning tool on the market (and I used to be a SFDC fan).”

“The Account Plan used to be a check box for me. I have been at Microsoft for 12 years and finally, I am finding value in the Account Plan. In fact, I am falling in love with it! I am working across my v-team more efficiently! I am able to track everything that is going on in my accounts! I love the rooms in the house, I can see where I need more focus (empty rooms) and review with my customer where we are partnering! I can see my compete AND my total address market, right from the Account Plan! There is so much value in using it!”


Summary: Before Power Platform (left); After Power Platform solution (right)

In addition to the benefits for the GSMO team, the Account Planning solution has served as a showcase to highlight the power of the Power Platform with Microsoft customers. Members from the GSMO Process and Tools team regularly demo the app and share their experience with Microsoft customers looking to adopt Microsoft Power Platform. These sessions have been very well received. To quote a customer’s reaction after seeing the Account Planning tool in action: “You guys are the absolute benchmark and you have seen our reactions, there is a lot of value with Power Apps and you have shown it in a very practical and pragmatic way for supporting an account planning methodology.”

ADDITIONAL SCREENSHOTS – Account Planning App

Additional screenshots from the Power Apps canvas app that highlight the user experience and functionality:

Perform research activities on industry and customer


Manage contacts for key stakeholders


Manage partners for key stakeholders


Map sales pipeline to customer priorities

LOOKING AHEAD

Now that the process definition has been stabilized, the account planning solution is in the process of being handed off to the Commercial Software Engineering Organization (aka Microsoft IT) so that it can be integrated further into the core Microsoft Sales Experience (MSX). Additional items on the roadmap include but are not limited to:

    • Executive Briefing Experience – mobile experience when senior members of the Microsoft executive team are requested to meet with a customer – data from Account Planning will help drive the experience.
    • Automated Customer & Industry Insights – working with 3rd party data providers to help sales teams get proactively notified on industry and customer trends within their sales territories.
    • Guided Selling – machine-learning driven recommendations that help support top of the funnel activities, such as customer health trends and recommending contact relationships.

 

Additional Solution – Pipeline Hygiene Assistant

Following the success of the Account Planning tool, the team quickly pivoted towards solving another large business problem with speed and scale. The Pipeline Hygiene app, while not as complex as the Account Planning tool, was a scenario that was perfectly suited to be digitized by Microsoft Power Platform. Traditionally, it has been difficult for our field sellers to maintain an accurate sales pipeline that was free of exceptions. The exceptions would cause opportunities to be dropped from the sales forecast. This lack of visibility impacted a variety of processes such as critical coaching conversations between sellers and managers, weekly and monthly rhythm of the business (ROB) processes, and HQ check-ins with the field.

Using a combination of Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI, an individual in the business developed an end-to-end solution within 3 weeks. The Pipeline Hygiene Assistant helps sellers ensure their pipeline is the most accurate, while not taking precious time away from meeting with customers and partners. Once released, the solution gained viral adoption and is one of the most used Power Platform solutions at the company. As a result, over 22,000 exceptions have been corrected using the app and the team has seen a 35% reduction in pipeline hygiene issues. Over $500 million forecast revenue corrections have been handled in the app, and the Sales Excellence Leads/BSO community have gotten at least 2-4 hours back every week by automating this process.


Screenshot of Pipeline Hygiene Assistant app built as a Power Apps canvas app

 

For more Microsoft Power Platform stories, see the Real World Stories section at https://aka.ms/PowerPlatformResources.