You can’t grow to be a $20 billion business if you’re not paying attention to your customer’s contract renewals until after the fact.

When Duncan Bureau, the global vice-president of sales and distribution at Air Canada, joined Canada’s largest airline company two years ago, he recognized that challenge. For the airline’s business-to-business sales, too often Air Canada was just allowing contracts to roll over, fulfilling them based on an old agreement. That’s a problem if you have a customer that negotiated pricing based on $10 million in sales, but actually on ended up spending $5 million over their contract.

“We had some massive changes we needed to make in terms of culture and how we sold,” Bureau says, discussing the project at the Salesforce World Tour event in Toronto May 5. “We had a group that wasn’t first adopters in terms of technology. So we added a number of new employees that were more likely to pick up this technology.”

As part of its efforts to scale up to an inter-regional airline that will be doing $20 billion in business by 2020, Air Canada has not only been onboarding sales staff, it’s implemented’s Sales Cloud. Deployed in June 2015 with the help of a Salesforce partner, the cloud software is now being used by 100 front-line sales people across North America. Bureau has plans to extend that out to Air Canada’s 200 other markets around the world.

Salesforce has helped the airline address some of its challenges in negotiating with its entrenched customer base, he says, a process that previously felt like going in blind.

“With Salesforce we were able to get much better information into the customer,” Bureau says. “Having a team armed with information to make good decisions about a customer makes all the difference in the world.”

For example, sales reps can now see details such as a client’s most-often used origins and destinations so they can design valuable discount offers for them. Also important is noting when a company – or even the person representing the company – is celebrating a milestone.

“One of the things we’re really trying to do is humanize Air Canada,” Bureau says. “Knowing about a milestone or a personal achievement in a career is really worthwhile to help build relationships.”

Sales reps access their Salesforce dashboards using a range of devices. On company smartphones, the Salesforce1 app serves up the relevant data. When going in to negotiate with customers, reps are carrying either tablets or laptops to review the information.

While Bureau acknowledges there was some apprehension about adopting the new CRM at first, it quickly became a part of his organization’s daily workflow. He’s also made a point to lead through action.

“I sign in and use it every day,” he says. “Dormant licences is not something I’m happy with.”

Bureau uses Salesforce to communicate with his reps, sending messages of congratulations, or asking a specific question about deals. Using the product is also part of the key performance indicators that staff is evaluated with.

While Bureau says it’s hard to tie revenue directly to Salesforce and calculate an exact ROI, he’s confident that it’s played a big role in helping the company grow $1.8 billion in revenue over the past 18 months. Now on track to do $13.5 billion in revenue this year, the 2020 goal is well within reach.

Air Canada also plans to implement Salesforce into its call centre and start using it as part of the cargo sales business, he says. Being on one platform could lead to better cross-selling opportunities between the passenger business and cargo business.


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