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IBM - Award for Innovation in Sales


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Company: IBM, Armonk, NY
Company Description: IBM is a values-based enterprise of individuals who create & apply technology to make the world work better. Today, more than 400,000 IBM employees around the world invent and integrate hardware, software and services to help forward-thinking enterprises, institutions and people succeed on a smarter planet.
Nomination Category: Sales Awards Achievement Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Award for Innovation in Sales - Technology Industries

Nomination Title: SCORE - Improving Sales Win Rates with Cognitive Modeling and Process Automation

Tell the story about your organization's innovations in sales or business development since the beginning of July 2017 (up to 650 words). Focus on specific accomplishments, and relate these accomplishments to past performance or industry norms. Be sure to mention obstacles overcome, innovations or discoveries made, and outcomes:

Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), IBM has created a sales opportunity passing solution that has exponentially improved the process, resulting in $32M in additional revenue over the first half of 2018.

Much of IBM’s business is conducted through our wide network of Business Partners (BPs) who are highly invested in IBMs solutions. Historically, the responsibility of selecting a BP for a specific sales opportunity fell on the IBM seller, who often has limited knowledge about which BPs represent the best choice for a given opportunity, resulting in a delayed process and revenue impact.


IBM’s Chief Analytics Office (CAO) partnered with IBM Research Ireland to create a solution that provides recommendations for BP selection. Called the Smarter Cognitive Opportunity Recommendation Engine (SCORE), this engine uses AI techniques that allow it to learn from sales data and operational feedback from IBM Sellers, BPs and clients to recommend the optimal BP to receive each lead.The project team was very meticulous in including all stakeholders such as the IBM Sales and BP Operations Teams in the model development to ensure that as much operational expertise as possible was included in the resulting recommendations.

Prior to SCORE, BP recommendations were based on a model that was limited in scope and based predominantly on business rules. Many in the IBM Sales Team lost trust in the engine, instead finding other ways to select BPs. Newly developed elastic search algorithm is focused on the main characteristics of a successful BP:

(1) Historical Performance;
(2) Product Experience,
(3) Customer Experience;
(4) Industry Experience;
(5) Deal Size;
(6) Proximity to the Deal; and
(7) Social Network of Sellers and BPs.

This algorithm is then enhanced with a feature that incorporates feedback from sellers to continuously improve recommendations. The model is retrained weekly to account for the recent activities of BPs. A high-level overview of the model architecture can be found on slide 1 of the supporting materials included.

This process ensures opportunities are passed to BPs in a timely manner while allowing the operation to maintain control over the passing process. Keeping the seller in the loop also provides a mechanism to collect feedback on the recommendations and incorporate that into future versions of the model.

Organizational Transformation and Creative Tools

Because this was a cross-enterprise initiative, many steps were taken to accelerate transformation and mitigate the risk of sellers missing the notifications and opportunities being sent without their knowledge. (1) Lead Governance Teams were established for the launch of the system. These Lead Governance Teams are individuals in each geography who are familiar with the BP landscape and are in place to help sellers pass opportunities to the correct BPs. These teams were utilized to monitor the health of the opportunity passing ecosystem throughout the launch of SCORE. (2) Weekly checkpoints were held with all Lead Governance Teams and stakeholders to collect, discuss and incorporate feedback from around the globe for continuous improvement of the models. (3) Daily Hypercare notifications were prepared and sent to the Lead Governance Teams and executives to allow for more visibility around which leads were scheduled to be auto-passed that day. These Hypercare notifications included justification for the recommendations made in plain text to provide perspective to the seller. And finally, (4) an Opportunity Passing Executive Board was established to update executives from each geography and business unit on the current progress of the system and to address any concerns.

Business Results

Since SCORE was incorporated into the sales process, the results for the first half of 2018 have surpassed expectations:

Financial: The percentage of IBM opportunities passed has increased from 13% in 2017 to 17% in 2018; SCORE has also improved the win rate on opportunities passed to BPs by 5pts

Productivity: The number of days to pass opportunities have been reduced by 50% from 2017 to 2018