Switching to the Fast Track

NEC Unified Solutions Changes Course with Oracle CRM On Demand.

by Ann C. Logue, February 2009

Founded in 1899, NEC Corporation, the Japanese electronics manufacturer, has thrived for more than a century. In 2007 its U.S. marketing arm, NEC Unified Solutions, recognized that it needed to recast its product offerings and its sales team in order to remain competitive in a rapidly changing market. Based in Irving, Texas, NEC Unified Solutions sells infrastructure, applications, and services, including communications systems, to businesses of all sizes—especially hospitals, educational institutions, and hotels. Its market changes fast, and its customers are savvy about technology. As new competitors and solutions emerged, the fight to maintain leadership became even fiercer. The company had to change quickly or risk turning into a commodity operator.

The stakes were high: North America is the largest market for NEC outside of Japan. NEC Unified Solutions has 34 offices employing 1,400 people in the U.S. “Transforming NEC Unified Solutions was critical to the success of NEC,” says Kevin Raybon, NEC Unified Solutions’ general manager of sales operations.

Transforming Sales, Transforming the Company

NEC Corporation’s expertise is hardware—everything from PCs and computer displays to refrigerators and semiconductors. The company’s focus in North America is on business communications equipment. But NEC recognized that hardware alone wasn’t the company’s strategy for this century. “Early in 2008, NEC announced UNIVERGE360, our approach to bringing solutions to market that focuses on more than the hardware needed for communications,” says Raybon. “The UNIVERGE360 approach acknowledges that people, not technology, should be the beginning of every communications solution design. It also establishes a framework for how NEC builds solutions to meet the unique communication needs of each person based on their job roles.” Taking the UNIVERGE360 model to market would be a challenge. NEC would need to transform the way it sells, provides supply chain transparency, and introduces new products and partners, while also finding new ways to help customers get full value from their existing hardware investments.

 

The U.S. staff had to retool its product line and sales methods to create complete solutions that would help customers communicate better; merely listing the prices, features, and benefits of the product line wouldn’t be enough to close the sale. The company’s managers realized that they even had to add some outside products to the mix, taking offerings from Juniper, Cisco Systems, and others to assemble complete technology packages. In addition, NEC purchased Sphere Communications in late 2006 to add software-based communications to its portfolio. This created new challenges both in training salespeople and supporting the customer relationship management (CRM) and sales force automation systems. In short, NEC Unified Solutions was transforming, and the support systems had to change as well.

Customers not only wanted solutions to help them better communicate on the job—they also wanted new ways to communicate with NEC Unified Solutions. The company’s sales staff found that customers had a lot of background information about products and capabilities. The customers were happy working remotely on virtual teams, including with their technology partners, and this changed the nature of sales calls and developing responses to proposals. They had also accepted Web 2.0 communications tools and wanted their partners to do so as well. Many clients were happy to be reached via text message, but NEC Unified Solutions’ sales approach was still based on an older model of personal visits.

Meeting Demand and Supporting Sales

Between the product changes and the customer changes, NEC had a unique opportunity to reinvent its U.S. operations. But this transformation would only succeed if everyone worked together.

 

“We approached this from a different angle. We had gone through a transformation in our value proposition,” Raybon says. Individual salespeople had to improve their performance, but the entire organization had to change to support that improvement. “To use an analogy, sales is like baseball. Before a player can hit the ball, the team has to get the player up to bat,” says Raybon.

NEC Unified Solutions’ new sales cycle has five stages: targeting, demand creation, demand shaping, order capture, and fulfillment. When a potential customer wants a new way to communicate via voice, video, or paper, sales has to show why NEC’s offerings are the best choices. They need to find the appropriate clients and contacts, use consultative selling to show why an NEC Unified Solutions system is a good investment, shape the solution that works best, capture the order by creating a strong business case for the customers, and fulfill the order successfully so that the client sees the newly created value.

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