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Ricoh Levels Up from Inside Sales to Digital Selling

Rick O'herron
Director CX Product Marketing

How does a 75-year-old company known for selling printers in-person transform its traditional inside sales organization into a high-performing, digital team that thrives in the world of “virtual selling?”

At the recent Oracle CX Virtual Summit, Katrina Gosek, Oracle VP of Product Strategy, spoke with Samantha Mohr, the VP of Inside Selling at Ricoh, the Tokyo-based multinational imaging and electronics company. As they discussed the changing trends Samantha had seen in her career, Samantha also shared:

  • How she went from a confessed CRM skeptic to a true believer
  • What it was like to watch reps let go of their mistrust and dislike of a CRM system
  • How her team embraces discomfort to thrive in an unprecedented sales era

This interview has been edited and condensed from its original length. 

KATRINA: So let's get started. Tell me a little bit about Ricoh. 

SAMANTHA: Ricoh has been around a long time. Most people associate Ricoh with copiers, which is a huge piece of our business. And certainly, hardware's a big part of our business. But we are also so much more, particularly services and software solutions, IT and audiovisual services. We overall want to help our customers make the best use of their information, work more efficiently, and ultimately be more successful. 

KATRINA: You've been in sales, particularly inside sales, for…

SAMANTHA: A very long time. Shh. 

KATRINA: Yeah, so tell us, how has that role changed over time? I can't imagine it's stayed stagnant with all the technology changes. 

SAMANTHA: I started a true inside sales B2B function in the office supply industry. 20 years ago, there was a lot of fear that we couldn't ever sell a pen or Post-it notes over the phone. Oh, my goodness!

I've been with Ricoh now for a little over four years. In my short time at Ricoh and throughout my career, I've seen the size of the customer has grown, the complexity that we handle has also grown, and our functions have expanded to include account management and new business acquisition. 

Where we once worried about selling a pen over the phone, today we sell a $75,000 piece of equipment over the phone. So, it’s changed dramatically in terms of our ability to contribute. As the customers got larger and products and services got more complex, inside selling tools also progressed. Today, we’ve moved from a phone conversation to screen-sharing, PowerPoint presentations and proposals, video calls, and virtual video demonstrations of large, expensive pieces of equipment and software solutions. That's evolved, especially in the last couple of years. 

KATRINA: Your inside sales team sounds like it’s been able to pivot pretty quickly during this pandemic because they were used to remote selling.  What have been the challenges?

SAMANTHA: I anticipated a potential challenge of working from home because that’s something we’re not used to. You can’t just stand up and ask your cube mate where something is or what to say to this customer. We’ve lost that, so we kind of lose some of the energy, right? So, we imposed a lot of structure early on before sending everybody home, such as twice-a-day team calls and daily leadership calls. We still have our daily 10 AM sales huddle with some goofy theme, whether it's, “are you smarter than a fifth-grader?” or whatever, to keep the energy going, even virtually. That’s been so important because salespeople crave structure. So we've tried to provide that, in addition to just what looks like an overload of communication. It's served us well so far. 

KATRINA: Let's dig into the technology aspect. 

SAMANTHA: Sure. 

KATRINA: I shared some research with you about the 500 inside sellers we surveyed about their increasingly digital roles. In a nutshell, it was pretty clear that conventional CRM systems are no match for what you do for digital selling. Sellers are working harder and harder to get their jobs done. 66% think CRM is important, but less than half of them use it. I think a typical sales rep has about eight applications open to do their job. So what's going on here? What do you see in your organization? 

SAMANTHA: I thought maybe you surveyed my team! It rang that true, although you’ve assured me that's not the case. As I explained, the job has gotten more complicated, but the tools haven’t kept up. Unlike the field sales rep, inside sales reps live in that CRM. Whether they're managing a territory or whether they've just got incoming transactions, they live in that CRM on their laptop or their PC; it's so critical. 

It's so easy as a sales leader, particularly if you haven’t sold recently, to just minimize or ignore some of the complaints reps have. Because sales reps always complain about something. But salespeople will always find a way, whether with duct tape and bubble gum, or Post-it notes, whiteboards, and Excel spreadsheets, to do their job effectively. They don’t mask the very real challenges, struggles, and lack of efficiency.

KATRINA: Bubble gum and duct tape, huh? Well, we definitely want to fix that. So you've been such a great partner for our product team to really help redesign the way our tools work with sellers. You've been an active design partner for over 12 months. What's the experience been like for you? 

SAMANTHA: Typically, a salesperson comes in and says, “Oh yeah, we can do this and this and this.” You sign, and maybe you write a check. Then, the technical people come in and say, “Oh no, we can't do that. Who told you that?” It’s the story of my life. 

What happened was Oracle flew to see us in St. Louis and spent a day sitting with our sales reps, talking to them and our sales leaders. With Oracle, the salespeople came together with the creative and the technical folks. Everybody was there at the same time. 

We said, “This is what we'd like to do.” They’d say, “This is what we can really do.” We didn't have any disconnect. That was huge. When they returned less than a month later, they articulated the reps' challenges and the potential solutions better than anyone who works at Ricoh! It was unbelievable, amazing. I can't say enough about it. 

I can't remember if I've ever said anything that positive about a vendor coming in to work to talk about a system or update a system, especially a CRM. It was unbelievable how quickly and effectively and intuitively Oracle understood their struggles and what was needed to make the inside sales rep more efficient and more effective. That drives confidence, which then drives financial results at the end of the day. 

KATRINA: We appreciate the feedback, too. Good and bad, you've pushed us to build a better product. What's been some of the feedback from your team about the digital sales application we're making generally available early next year? Because, ultimately, we want to make it a tool that they can use in their digital selling environment. 

SAMANTHA: Well, they're salespeople. So it's not like they line up and say, ooh, I can make 30 more calls now. That's not how it goes. The first is fewer clicks. Even I was surprised when we went from 17 or 18 clicks to, in theory, none. So, fewer clicks to get what you need to have your conversation. 

The second thing is everything is on one page. When I pull up a customer or an opportunity, and I want to make a phone call, I want most, if not all, of what I need to just be right there on the screen. Those are the two things, significantly fewer clicks, in some cases none, and then all of the important information that you need about a customer right in front of you. 

With newer reps, they didn’t complain about the CRM because they weren't experiencing the pain. So another telling thing that the new hires had a much easier experience overall. 

KATRINA: That's so amazing to hear. The automation and the prescriptive nature of the tool is exactly what we were hoping for. It seems like the next big challenge we have to fix is the mistrust of data that reps have for CRM. The research shows that bad data leads to some pretty embarrassing mistakes, from not knowing the gender or name of a customer to having the wrong solution for them. So tell me your philosophy there. What do you think data can do for reps and the customer experience? 

SAMANTHA: The only thing I’m more skeptical about than CRM systems is data. At the same time, good data is necessary. As I said before, if done correctly, data can help sales reps, leaders, and companies be more effective and have better conversations with more confidence. After they have those better conversations, which makes them better at their job, they make more money. And oh, by the way, the financial results for the company are also affected positively. 

But here's the thing, when data is used appropriately and done right, it makes the customer experience so much more positive. We're not wasting their time. We're not calling people who are not in any way ready to make a decision right now. We time our interactions more favorably. We have more information and relative or relevant points to make to the customer based on their business because we know those things. 

We do have to build trust with the reps. But at the end of the day, it's not just the sales reps in the company that benefit but the customer. It's a much, much better experience for them if we do it right. It just sounds natural, like what you should be talking about, right. 

KATRINA: I have one last question for you. It's hard to predict the future, but what piece of advice would you offer to the audience listening? For those who are in the sales or customer experience arena, what do you have to offer as guidance for the next three to six months? 

SAMANTHA: With what's going on right now in our country, and for everyone, is unprecedented. That's such a cliche word. But it is completely unprecedented. And so our CEO has really used it in a healthy way, as more of a catalyst to help us really move from selling products and more into customer focus and having those good conversations with the customer and understanding their business versus going in thinking, “I'm either going to sell this or I'm going to sell that.” 

Those conversations don't work. They really never have. So even though it's unprecedented in terms of maybe it's chaotic, maybe it's—you feel inefficient, ineffective. You're stuck at home. You know, I'm in a basement, right. But you can also use this time to be creative and try things that maybe in a normal world wouldn't necessarily work. 

We've made some pretty big shifts in a journey that we were already on and used it as a catalyst to get really uncomfortable, which, frankly, is the only way you change. I think it's been good. It's forced us to get better a lot faster than I think we would have. 

Watch the conversation in its entirety here.

Read how Ricoh improved customer service while cutting costs by 40% here. For more on our latest digital selling research, download the Getting Past the Breaking Point of Yesterday’s CRM report

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