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How CIOs can facilitate the shift to data-driven sales

CIOs can use their vast knowledge and capabilities around technology, data and analytics to define digital sales and partnership strategies.

In brief
  • To operate like digital natives, incumbent organizations need to change their sales models.
  • CIOs are uniquely positioned to help define and influence the deployment of a digital native-aligned sales strategy.
  • CIOs can play a key role in building digital partner ecosystems that can drive the future of corporate sales.

In today’s digital-first environment, every firm needs to operate like a digital native if it wants to thrive. Investing in digital technologies isn’t enough to become a digital company. As outlined in How CIOs can embrace digital native company practices for their product development, CIOs are re-evaluating operating models and embracing digital native practices. CIOs can also create value and play a critical role by advising how data and technology can support sales and other key area as their organizations move along their digital journeys.


Technology is increasingly inextricably tied to core business and operational capabilities across all sectors and industries. Reimagining business and operating models for a digital world will only take companies so far. How they foster data-led sales organizations will be vital in increasing top-line growth and customer engagement.


CIOs can play an essential role in this effort, helping to create data-led sales organizations that can meet the rapidly evolving needs of their customers and help build partnerships and alliances that allow their sales functions to successfully compete in an increasingly digital-centric world.

The EY organization defines a “digital native company” as one conceived, shaped and grown online.


Chapter 1

How CIOs are expanding their roles internally with sales and product teams

The 4 steps CIOs are taking to help establish a data-driven technology foundation.

As non-digital native organizations continue to innovate and introduce technology components within their business products and operations, CIOs are slowly expanding their role with sales and product teams. They are shifting from the traditional role of primary purchaser of technology products and solutions to influencing how the company engages and delivers to its customers and workforce through digitally enabled products.


Today’s business customers can now increasingly purchase remotely. To facilitate this, companies have decentralized many build-vs.-buy decisions under new, lower-cost subscription or software-as-a-service (SaaS) models. As technology client purchasing needs change, sales practices must evolve to stay competitive.


As the custodians of data and the primary technology champion across an enterprise, CIOs can create the strategy and support emerging data-driven customer insights and sales opportunities by building strong technology foundations within their organizations. A strong technology foundation should include:


  1. The right systems to drive data to inform frontline workers. These systems will need to leverage insights from internal databases and customer sales analysis. They’ll also need to mine insights from external sources, such as customer business intelligence and market analysis, to support presales, sales and post-sales services.
  2. A flexible and interconnected architecture that supports capabilities such as big data aggregation and automation through machine learning algorithms.
  3. Data convergence from disparate systems to a single platform that enables rapid development, deployment and integration at scale to a large user base. This creates a seamless user experience that increases data insights and can improve end-user experience.


CIOs who understand the data sources, analytics and technology capabilities can help transform data into action. This, in turn, will allow enterprise clients across product development, customer experience, sales and marketing to gain value-add insights. Specifically, CIOs can help their firms organize the ocean of data by facilitating its capture and distillation across the data journey using some of the following tools:

CIOs driving data capture for enterprise clients can create insights that elicit timely and proactive responses, improve product-led growth capabilities, strengthen customer success metrics, and drive business growth. This can also lead to offering the data-as-a-service for end users at the consumer level.

A strong technology platform and data insights in action can help front-office teams take informed actions to support customers or aid product teams in making key changes. Improved access to data and insights can help the sales teams improve customer relationships, enhance prospecting, and provide upsell or cross-sell opportunities to grow revenue.

Potential areas of impact include customer retention and expansion, increased revenue generated per user, and a greater percentage of revenue that companies can retain from existing customers.


Chapter 2

Digital partnerships and ecosystems can expand product potential

How CIOs can drive the organizational shift to building a partner ecosystem and avoid common pitfalls.

To drive long-term value and spur further innovation, CIOs can also use their experience in building relationships with external partners (e.g., system integrators, outsourcing providers, strategic technology alliances) to foster technology partnerships and platform ecosystems.

Partnerships and ecosystems can help digital nonnatives access capabilities that build upon initial core service capabilities and extend the impact of product potential. Partnerships and ecosystems allow organizations to rapidly develop, distribute and integrate transformative technologies at scale.

Partnerships and ecosystems help in two key areas:

Because CIOs understand the complexity of system integration and the power of technology at scale, they are well-equipped to help their sales force, and their organizations more broadly, extend their impact by facilitating the move toward partnerships and ecosystems.

This transition requires several mindset changes. Organizations must redefine what partnerships mean and keep all options on the table. Many industries follow a single trend. Opening opportunities for co-branding, cross-licensing, reselling, long-term agreements, strategic integrations and joint ventures will create more possibilities for success.

Partnerships should also be treated as a foundational business function, much like tax or finance. They should operate across all business units and be centralized under a core leader to ease resistance to the new approach.

Three ways CIOs can lead the move toward a partner ecosystem

There are three common ways CIOs can help organizations move to a digital native approach in creating a partner ecosystem:

Multiple partnerships in action can also be seen outside of the core technology sector that are changing brand outreach, sales and scale. One example from health care is the development and adoption of security and data transmission standards for electronic health records (EHRs) and integrated medical devices through the SMART and FHIR protocols. The Substitutable Medical Application and Reusable Technologies (SMART) standard established security protocols and EHR integration standards. Fast Healthcare Interoperable Resources (FHIR) created an application programming interface (API) and data model standard for structuring and accessing data between systems and medical devices. The two initiatives converged when the two founding organizations partnered to create a developer ecosystem approach focused on improving the technology interoperability in the sector. This resulted in a long-term collaborative ecosystem model that improves health care data interoperability.

For more insights on SMART on FHIR and innovative healthcare infrastructure see How innovative infostructure can power the purpose of integrated care systems | EY - US

The optimal ecosystem choice or blend will depend on many factors. CIOs should help their organizations assess partnerships based on market potential. This can include customer assessment and market demand. CIOs will then want to help their organizations determine internal capabilities to see whether they should create a new digital capability, buy a competitor or search for an external partnership. Finally, CIOs will want to encourage partnership selection based on the alignment of values, scalability, profitability, technology compatibility and commercial agreements.

Partnership lifecycle and success

The partnership lifecycle comprises three stages, and to be effective, organizations must succeed at each. CIOs can guide the lifecycle of digital partnerships and create the roadmap to support success at each phase. These stages include:

CIOs can help the digital partnerships succeed by focusing on five areas:


Chapter 3

CIOs need cross-C-suite support for culture shift

3 principles to guide effective change management.

Ultimate success in establishing a successful data-driven sales organization and a supportive partner ecosystem requires more than installing the right technologies and capabilities. It calls for a top-down cultural change driven by company leadership.

As with any enterprise transformation, organizations need a change management approach to support adoption at every level of the organization. CIOs can advise on the change management approach based on leading practices that emphasize the following three principles for effective implementation:

As products and capabilities align to digital native practices, CIOs can redefine their roles to enhance the sales capabilities and long-term value proposition. Creating the right technology stack, fostering data-driven sales underpinned by technology and establishing the right partnership ecosystem can create a virtuous cycle to improve sales.

 Ayleen Lau, Thomas Kuklenski, Andy Youn and Jenny Guzdial also contributed to this article.


As digital products evolve, the shifting technology landscape will impact how firms sell. CIOs are uniquely positioned to understand the data and help their organizations build transformative digital sales strategies and supportive partnership ecosystems. Using their extensive knowledge and capabilities around technology, data and analytics, CIOs can help their organizations transform sales functions and pricing strategies and develop new value propositions through symbiotic digital partnerships.

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