Thank YOU For An Amazing 2014!

Last year at this time, I made an amazing announcement – it was the beginning of changing perspectives from a practitioner and executive role to an analyst role at the MHI Research Institute. This change was also driven by the ambition to take the specific topic of sales enablement to a more strategic next level, to connect the dots between experience, research and strategic thinking.

And here we are – one year later! 2014 was a truly amazing year. Changes are always a great opportunity to reflect, to learn and to grow.  I’m glad that I had the opportunity to enjoy a few weeks for myself before I started at MHI this January. So, I had time put all my experiences and lessons learned covering the last 20+ years into my backpack, looking very much forward to what and how to unpack and to integrate with my new role.

I’m deeply grateful that I could make such a smooth switch in the analyst and research world. I could unpack lots of things I carried with me in my backpack. It wasn’t so much about re-using these things, it was more about taking them to a new level. It’s a fascinating combination of deep “brain” work, penetrating a topic and challenging it from different perspectives, and then connecting the dots to our customers’ world and to my real world experience. That’s a truly amazing role, and it’s a pure joy to make a difference this way. Making a difference also means to travel a lot, conference seasons are travel seasons, followed by “content creation” seasons.

Of course, all this didn’t happen on my own – I’m grateful that I’m gifted to work with such a great global team and the best coach I ever had, Joe Galvin. His wisdom and his experience in this space, as sales executive and as an analyst can hardly be topped. He coached me step by step into my new role. “This is another note” is still a running gag, we are laughing about, when I try to put too many thoughts in one research asset. After one year, I developed my own sense on “this is another note” …

It’s also time to thank YOU – again! Thank you for following my journey that changed from a sales enablement practitioner perspective to an analyst and research perspective!

Thank YOU for reading and sharing my ideas and thoughts. Thank YOU also for challenging my thoughts – doing so in a constructive way is key to grow – for all of us. And it’s necessary to what we all want to achieve – evolving the sales profession!

Thank YOU for making this blog a silver medalist @ the Best Sales Blogger Awards 2014. Thank YOU for making this blog one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Blogs, and myself one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers.

Thank YOU for the excellent collaboration within TopSales World!

Wishing you a happy holiday season, and a healthy, happy and successful 2015 – whatever happiness and success mean to you. It’s like value for customers; we shouldn’t assume it; we should discover it – and it’s always in the eyes of the beholder.

  • May your visions become true
  • May you walk in gratitude
  • May you walk in balance
  • May you walk with lots of creative energies and a clear focus in the New Year 2015!

Those of you who know me in person, also know that I not only care about sales and world-class performance, but also about animals. In case you are looking for a great purpose for your year-end donations, here is my suggestion to cover both areas – world-class performance and animals:

Fiona Oakes is the fastest woman to ever run a marathon on every continent, and she is also a triple world record holder (Guinness), the fourth world record was just announced a few days ago. If that’s not world-class performance, what is it then?

Now, Fiona is on for the greatest challenge you can ever imagine, the 777 quest:
7 marathons, in 7 days, on 7 continents.
Fiona’s cause? It’s her Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, where she takes care of almost 400 previously unwanted and rescued animals, only with the help of her partner Martin Morgan.

There are different ways to help:

Thank YOU!

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Connecting The Dots Between Sales Enablement And Coaching

How do you learn a new sport? You attend regular training sessions to learn techniques and methods, you practice regularly and you figure out what works and what doesn’t.
You get coaching sessions to adjust your practice based on specific lessons learned and your individual progress, and you get coaching to focus on specific skills that are complemen-ting the practice to leverage your potential. And all these elements of practice, training and coaching are well connected to each other.

In sales, people are sent to training sessions that are perceived as events rather than elements of an ongoing development journey. Often coaching doesn’t happen. If coaching happens, it is often disconnected from salespeople’s daily practice and the training sessions they attended. Furthermore, the trained sales methodologies are not reflected in the enablement content salespeople should work with. The problem is that all these elements are isolated; not based on one integrated approach to drive sales execution. The big picture is missing. A general design point is missing. What happens is that salespeople cannot get the expected value from all these different elements that should help them to sell, and guess what – they don’t use it. They just switch off the noise.

Enablement and coaching frameworks have to be based on one design point – the customers

A customer core approach is one of the non-negotiables to evolve sales enablement to the next level, to sales force enablement. That means, to focus on the entire customer’s journey and all relevant buyer roles at each stage and at all levels. Given this customer’s journey as a core design point, enablement services have to be tailored to the specific phases and the relevant buyer roles. That’s true for client-facing content and pure enablement content. Additionally, sales training (sales process, sales methodology, product training, and competencies) has to map all their services the same way, to be clear about what is only relevant at a specific phase of the customer’s journey and which services are relevant for all phases.

When it comes to frontline sales managers’ regular coaching practice, we focus on tactical coaching that’s based on leads, opportunities and accounts. If we want a frontline sales manager to coach their salespeople along the entire customer’s journey, it’s obvious that the coaching framework has to follow the same design point – the customer’s journey. If we look at the enablement services as the specific services for salespeople, the frontline sales managers’ coaching guidelines work as an embedded reinforcement element of implemented enablement services. Coaching guidelines are a natural mirror that helps to reinforce and to sharpen the impact of the implemented and provided enablement services. Designed this way, both services – enablement and coaching – reinforce each other and make sure that the investments create sustainable business impact.

Connecting enablement and coaching – mapping the customer’s journey

Connecting both services requires mapping the customer’s journey to the internal process landscape that covers processes from marketing to sales and to service/delivery. The relevance for enablement and coaching is to get a clear understanding of the gates between the different phases of the customer’s journey. What is it we need to see fulfilled; when is this phase fulfilled? How do we know that this specific gate has been passed? An example could be that we look at the end of the awareness phase for signals that the customer community (not only an individual) has confirmed organizational pain. Additionally, we want to see a decision to change the current state and to enter the actual buying phase. Additional criteria can be defined. Defining the gates that mark the passage from one phase to the next one simplifies the mapping to the internal processes. Adjustments, if necessary, should be done internally, as customers won’t change how they want to buy.

Having defined these gates opens the way for another level of clarity for enablement services (gate descriptions are definitions of purpose for enablement services) and for coaching guidelines. Questions can be designed to lead coaching conversations towards this clarity – where are we really along the customer’s journey. What has to be adjusted, what needs to be improved and what’s just fine.

Customer journey mapping is often a challenging step. Performed correctly, it is the foundation for connected enablement and coaching services. I t is the foundation for simplicity, clarity and highly valuable services that reinforce each other. Connecting enablement and coaching this way is a steppingstone to World-Class Sales Performance.

Related posts:

Frontline Sales Managers – Key Role, But Poorly developed And Enabled

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

 

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Frontline Sales Managers – Key Role, But Poorly Developed And Enabled

Look at any world-class sports team. Is there any public debate if the chief financial officer has been replaced? Not so much.

But there are big public discussions if there are any decisions around the team’s coach to be made. In business, it’s different.

Frontline sales managers are a sales team’s coaches and salespeople’s most important ally to leverage their own potential. FSMs are the key role to build world-class sales teams. When do we take time to discuss their role and their impact and – most important – how do we evolve this role to world-class performance?

Frontline sales managers – the key role to develop world-class sales teams

FSMs have a greater impact on sales execution, sales productivity and sales transformation than any other role. What makes the FSM role so demanding is the continuous challenge to balance between three often competing areas – customer, business and people [Link to triangle post]. Having been the best salesperson does not qualify an individual to be a stand-up top frontline sales manager. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is an untenable situation for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals. World-Class Sales Organizations understand  that  it’s  not  about  adding  costs  to  the  bottom  line, but adding growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the cost of doing nothing is much bigger.

Reality looks different – what we learned

At the MHI Research Institute, we run Executive Forums for sales leaders two times a year in different cities around the world. These forums are focused on the latest research and on one topic that has been prioritized by our customers. “Frontline sales managers” (FSMs) was the most prioritized topic for our forums in October and November.

FSM’s role and scope:
While people agree with the huge relevance and the big leverage effect of FSMs, there is not much clarity on the role itself, its scope and the challenges associated with it. This was clear from our Forum discussions on the FSM’s triangle and the most important FSM activities, ranked by our clients. Mapping the FSM activities our clients had prioritized to the three elements of the FSM triangle (customer, business and people) was an eye-opening experience. This visualization helped people to understand how broad and how complex the FSM’s scope actually is. Imagine “managing customer escalation during buying phase” – this activity will impact all three elements, customer (how to get the customer relationship back on track), business (what does the escalation mean in terms of business impact) and people (how to better coach salespeople).

Rear view mirror versus wind screen perspective:
The FSM mantra “manage activities, coach behaviors” initiated a discussion on what is it really a FSM can control in his/her role. It turned out, that there is still way too much focus on asking for and measuring sales results, instead of coaching the quality of activities and behaviors to make sure that the results will be achieved. Our clients’ feedback showed that this situation is always combined with poor coaching, and too less focus on how to get to these results – managing the right activities and coaching the behaviors. One of the root causes we learned is a focus on the wrong performance indicators to look at, too many lagging indicators, and not enough leading indicators that help to adjust activities and coaching early along the way. This issue is closely connected to the previous issue, the lack of clarity on role and scope.

Current state on FSM development programs:
The discussion created a lot of clarity around the current state of FSM development programs. Those who indicated they have a FSM development in place also indicated that these existing programs were either HR driven general management programs, or specific programs that focus on one element of the FSM triangle only – on business management aspects or on coaching. If those programs are isolated from the sales system (e.g., a general business management program) or from the sales enablement approach (general coaching programs), they are costly investments with little to no outcome. The challenge here is to design integrated FSM development programs that connect the dots across these elements and that are based on the FSM triangle.

We will continue and focus our FSM research on the here addressed challenges.

Related blog posts:

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors

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Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Part 3 – Enablement In Transactional And Complex Sales Environments

The series on this thought provoking question “Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid?” continues.

In case you missed the first two posts, click here for Part 1 which discussed auto-pilot versus strategic thinking and here for Part 2 where we discussed sales enablement role’s on value messaging. Today, let’s consider another key question that was raised a few weeks ago in Atlanta on a sales enablement panel at the Sales Force Productivity Conference.

How does the need for enablement tools change in transactional versus complex sales environments?  When, if ever, is guided selling or following a script critical?

Transactional sales environments may not have more than one key decision maker involved and the products or services are easy to understand. Typically these buyers can find all required information to make a purchasing decision online, and the transaction itself can be made online. B2B buyers are used to making those buying decisions on a regular basis. Often, salespeople are only involved very late along the customer’s journey, if at all. Instead, service roles become more and more important in those transactional environments to connect to the customers’ concepts.

Complex selling environments are primarily defined by two criteria. It’s the complexity of the customer challenge to be mastered. And it’s an increasing number of involved stakeholders from different functions and roles. These buyers often make purchasing  decisions in parallel to their day-to-day roles. Various dimensions, such as customer-specific situations, the stakeholders’ different concepts, the buying network’s decision dynamic and a provider’s complex portfolio of capabilities to design tailored solutions are connected to each other and have to be considered as a system.

Different requirements in both selling environments

Enablement content services have to address different needs in both environments. Based on the criteria above, the sales content for a transactional environment is focused on the actual buying phase and the service phase, tailored for the key buyer role. The awareness phase, which is essential in complex environments, is something buyers often process on their own, and online. Complex sales environments require modular and dynamic content and messaging approaches, not only to cover the entire customer’s journey, but also to address different buyer roles adequately. Therefore, enablement content designed for a transactional environment is easier to provide and can guide much more precisely than in a complex sales environment. And that’s why the competencies in transactional sales roles are different from those in complex sales roles. The level of critical and strategic thinking that is required from a salesperson to connect all the dots in a complex buying situation is very different from what a salesperson in a transactional sales role will ever need.

Scripting – who wants to be in a “scripted” conversation?

Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes – would you tolerate a scripted conversation for more than two minutes? There is a possibility to script typical conversations to help salespeople to be more effective. That can work in a more transactional environments, but only if related training services help people to play with these scripts and ultimately get away from the scripts. But very often the training part doesn’t take place, and conversations sound just “scripted.” Does that differentiate anybody in anything from competitors? No, not at all. So, come full circle with scripts or don’t work with scripts at all.

To be successful, guided selling requires strategic thinking – embedded in a sales methodology

Guided selling works backwards from typical patterns of customer challenges and problems, and is responsive to different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey. That requires a modular and dynamic content approach which has to be organized in a collaborative way. Often, that doesn’t happen, and salespeople are overwhelmed by the variety of content that’s available. If so, they’re likely to just switch off the noise. In this case, content packages or interactive playbooks for different customer challenges can guide salespeople along the customer’s journey and help them to find the right entry point for different buyer roles and different situations in different industries.

But in all these complex selling and buying situations, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by content and messaging. Strategic thinking is the key to connecting the dots across a large stakeholder network, and to analyzing and synthesizing the specific customer context and each buyer’s concepts. Critical and strategic thinking requires a sales methodology that can deliver scalable results. A sales methodology explains the how and the why, and guides people through different steps to create or manage opportunities.

Related posts:

Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Auto-Pilot Versus Strategic Thinking

Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Sales Enablement’s Role In Value Messaging

Understanding different buying environments – where are your customers?

Posted in Sales, Sales Enablement, Sales Enablement Challenges, Sales Enablement Definition, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Rethinking Renewals

A big deal is in the funnel; a must win, a secure deal – it’s a renewal. This one will make the quarter a great success. We all know this situation and the feeling when such a “must win deal” is lost. Hectic win/loss reviews are conducted to understand what has happened. Often, a competitor came out of nowhere, changed the game and won the deal.

Every customer makes every decision differently – every time

Underestimating this fact – that every customer makes every decision differently, every time – can lead to four “renewal pitfalls,” especially in complex sales:

  • The sales team feels over-confident and doesn’t pay enough attention to the current buying situation. Copying the previous approach is a dangerous behavior. Every buying situation is different.
  • Sales managers don’t pay enough attention to renewals, especially in the early phases of the deal when coaching can have the most impact.
  • Sales professionals are not involved early enough, based on the false belief that there is no customer awareness phase in the renewal. That’s dangerous, too. The awareness phase for renewals exists, but it is different.
  • If the renewal is based on an RFP, many sales organizations have a tendency to declare the deal a must win deal and to announce executive sponsors. But that’s too late to make a real difference in terms of approach and value creation. The customers have already made up their minds how to approach the situation this time.

The lesson here is that a renewal is a deal, and it must be sold, just like any other deal.

Context matters, and context is different in every buying situation

The sales team has to engage with existing customers very early in their new customer’s journey. The key is to analyze the current customer’s context precisely, from an environmental and a situational perspective. What has changed and what hasn’t? Are the decision makers the same? What is different or no longer relevant to the customer? Is the capability being used to its full potential? How happy is the customer? Has the expected value been created? What are their desired results and wins this time? Analyzing the customer’s current financial situation and how it may have changed since the previous contract is an essential foundation. Understanding the current business strategy is another key element. The approach has to be connected to the customer’s business strategy and to their financial situation. Often, a deep understanding of these elements opens additional possibilities for creating new value for the customers. A renewal should be treated as a new opportunity with all the advantages of knowing the past and the ambition to create extraordinary value for the customers.

Orchestrating the customer community to build a shared vision of future success

In complex buying environments, sales teams have to orchestrate and lead many different stakeholders that build the customer community. If buying decisions involve different functions, such as technology and business, very different buyer roles with different concepts about this particular purchase have to be aligned. The challenge for any sales professional is to establish a shared vision of future success, together with the network of stakeholders, the customer community. Based on the unique context and understanding the stakeholders’ different concepts leads to a deeper understanding how this customer community is going to make a decision this time. Building a shared vision of future success requires a salesperson’s individual expertise to address each buyer role with content and messages they need to feel comfortable in their role to make a decision to change. Without this shared vision of success – that will be different from the last contract – the customer community will never make a buying decision. Some salespeople believe that a renewal has nothing to do with changing the current state or solving an issue. That’s not the case. If your services are not required to achieve a certain result or a better future state, customers will never buy. Why should they?

Developing a customer community by providing perspective

Developing a customer community doesn’t happen by accident. It’s based on a systematic customer core engagement and messaging principle called providing perspective. Dynamic value messages play a central role, tailored to each stage of the customer’s journey and to each buyer role. Sales enablement not only has to provide those value messages; it also has to make sure that salespeople learn how to apply those value messages effectively. Sales professionals who can successfully provide perspective bring to the table their experience and professionalism, their skills and competencies, their knowledge base and their adaptive competencies. They know how to quickly adjust behavior, activities and messages to a specific situation. That also includes addressing different buyer roles, even if it feels uncomfortable. Sales enablement’s job is to develop salespeople’s messaging capabilities to feel comfortable in those conversations. Applying providing perspectives as an engagement and messaging principle helps to establish a shared future vision of success and to win the customer’s business – again.

Change the renewal game on your own – before a competitor does!

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Last call to share your insights and to receive research in return – 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study

Three weeks to go – three weeks to share your insights and to receive research in return – immediately after taking the survey and with first-access to the results in Q1/2015.

For us at the MHI Research Institute, we begin with giving and sharing our findings from the 2014 MHI Sales Best Practices Study. In my last post featuring the study, I discussed a framework of world-class sales performance, consisting of three organizational attributes and three connected individual behaviors, each pair connected by a cultural component.

Today, let’s take a deeper look at one of the individual behaviors – providing perspective. What it is and how it works – that was the core topic of Top Sales World Magazine’s cover story, Oct 28.
Dr. Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World, interviewed me and we discussed the defining difference of world-class sales performance. This defining difference, according to our research at the MHI Research Institute, is based on the combination of the organizational attributes and the individual behaviors. Learn more about this framework here. But there is one behavior that plays a special role when it comes to how you connect and engage with your prospects and customers. And that’s providing perspective. Please download your exclusive copy of last week’s Top Sales Magazine’s interview and learn more about providing perspective as a customer-core based engagement and messaging principle. Dr. Farrington also asked me what the success factors for providing perspective are. Read more about the relevance of coaching, value messaging and collaboration as part of a successful providing perspective approach.

From giving to receiving – this is where we ask you for your help!

The 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study is still open until end of November. We kindly ask you to take some time to take this survey. We need your data and insights now to complete this state-of-the-art research early in 2015. Participants will have first access to the results.

The MHI Sales Best Practices Study, now in its 12th year, is the world’s largest survey for complex B2B sales, covering all regions and many different industries and roles in sales. In case this is important to you, this is NOT an MHI client study. Less than thirty percent of all past participants have been clients.

What you can expect from the study as a participant:

  • Timely business intelligence—exclusive, first access to the full study results when they’re published in Q1 2015
  • A complimentary report from the MHI Research Institute, Perspectives on Productivity: The Next Level of Transparency
  • Entry into a drawing for a World-Class Sales Performance Gap Analysis – an opportunity to take advantage of a service provided by the Institute’s research analysts that compares the participant’s organizational behaviors to those of World-Class Sales Performers as identified in this study.

Click here to get to the study – it’s open until Nov 30, 2014.

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Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Part 2 – Sales Enablement’s Role In Value Messaging

In Part 1 of this series we discussed the question: Do salespeople rely too much on the organization to get things right at the expense of strategic thinking? This was a panel topic a few weeks ago in Atlanta, at the Sales Force Productivity Conference, organized by the Sales Management Association. Today, let’s consider another question the panel discussed:

Has sales enablement led to an inability to communicate value messages?

Thought provoking, indeed! Our research at the MHI Research Institute shows that the inability to communicate value messaging is year over year the biggest inhibitor to sales success. On the other hand, one of sales enablement’s main goals is exactly that: Equipping salespeople to have more valuable conversations with prospects and clients along their entire customer’s journey – to increase sales growth and performance. Something seems to be wrong. Let’s take a deeper look.

Value messaging is dynamic and modular – but not scripted

Value messages express the business value of a product, solution or service, mapped to the customers’ specific challenges and their desired results and wins. Furthermore, value messages have to be tailored to the different phases of the customer’s journey as well as to each buyer role.

There is no “one size fits all” value message or value proposition. To be effective, value messages have to be focused on what a product, solution or service means for the customer’s specific situation and their desired results and wins, rather than what a product is and what it does. As the customer’s focal points change along the customer’s journey, the value messages must also change. Additionally, they have to be tailored to different buyer roles and often per industry. That requires a dynamic messaging approach that helps salespeople to quickly access and customize value messages for specific selling situations.

But dynamic value messages – just as any other piece of sales content – can never be used without the salesperson’s strategic and critical thinking (see Part 1 of this series).

Creating value messages has to be changed first

We design value messages by working backwards from the customers’ journey and their specific challenges.  This may feel counterintuitive for product and marketing people who have done it the other way around for decades. Often, different product (marketing) teams compete against each other to get salespeople’s attention for what may be product-centered sales content. That’s simply not how buyers buy. Buyers buy the value of products and services to achieve their desired results and wins.

Changing the design point in content creation and value messaging from a product to a customer core approach is a serious change process that shouldn’t be underestimated. Such a transformation should be orchestrated by a strategic sales enablement function that understands both the customer and salespeople.

Applying value messages effectively is an ongoing training and development issue

It’s not enough to get the creation process right and to provide value messages on an enablement platform. To be effective, salespeople have to be trained to deliver the value messages effectively. This is a challenge that’s often overlooked. Messaging training has to cover two dimensions in parallel: knowledge transfer and behavioral change because value messaging is different from pushing products.

Sales enablement per se doesn’t lead to salespeople’s inability to communicate value messages. Only the inability to change does.

Sales enablement can create real value if the messaging creation process is changed and if salespeople are trained to deliver those value messages in different situations.
Often overlooked, but key to success: The front line sales managers’ coaching approach has to support exactly this transformation to reinforce continuous improvement – training, practicing, coaching, adjusting, practicing -> learning.

Finally, salespeople are always responsible for the messages they use in front of customers. Only they can decide, based on synthesizing the customer’s context, the different stakeholders’ concepts and their specific decision dynamic, what kind of messages will create value and support their perspectives.

 

Related blog posts:

The Inability To Communicate Value Messages – Biggest Inhibitor To Communicate To Sales Success 2014

Sales Enablement: Customer Core Framework to Provide Perspectives

“The Expert” – Why Understanding Your Customer Is Key To Provide Perspective

Providing Perspective – A Customer Core Principle

 

Posted in Content Management, Sales Enablement, Sales Training, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Auto-Pilot Versus Strategic Thinking

It’s conference season. I’m back from our Miller Heiman Client Summit in Denver, the Sales Force Productivity Conference in Atlanta and Dreamforce in San Francisco. In Atlanta, Bob Kelley, chairman of the Sales Management Association, invited me to attend a panel discussion with the provocative headline, “Is sales enablement making salespeople stupid?” Without hesitating, I accepted the invitation. I love controversial and thought-provoking topics, and that’s one of those.

This blog post will be the first blog post of a series to cover the questions we discussed on this panel with Joe Gustavson, CEO and Founder Brainshark, and Joe Gruttadauria, VP Worldwide Sales at QStream, led by Bob Kelley. I will share my perspective, based on my experience and based on the latest research we have done at the MHI Research Institute. And please – feel free to chime in and share your thoughts!

Before we start this “after panel blog post series,” let me quickly define what we are talking about, as we did in Atlanta. We define sales enablement as a cross-functional discipline to drive sales performance and sales force transformation. Therefore, sales force enablement equips salespeople with all relevant skills and competencies, and provides content, messages and strategies for every stage of the entire customer’s journey, tailored to different buyer roles, with the aim of generating more valuable conversations and developing more and better business. Additionally, sales force enablement provides coaching guidelines for frontline sales managers to reinforce the enablement approach systematically.

Today, we discuss the first question of the panel.

Are reps relying too much on the organization to get things right at the expense of strategic thinking?

This question touches one of the most essential issues regarding sales enablement: How much can sales enablement ever prepare for salespeople and what will always be each salesperson’s responsibility to adjust, tailor or customize? The degree of what can be prepared in a “ready to use” way is very different in transactional and complex selling environments. In theory (and it happens in practice), selling situations can be scripted. But put yourself in your buyer’s shoes: Who wants to talk to a person who sounds like a robot that has learned the text? If this idea was successful, we wouldn’t need salespeople in the first place. We could record the message beforehand.

What happens in reality, salespeople in transactional sales environments have become an endangered species. Buyers can find what they need online, and make their purchases online. But in complex selling environments where various different stakeholders from different levels and functions are involved in buying decisions, conversations don’t follow a script. Critical, strategic thinking and adaptive competencies are key elements for sales success. Mapping a provider’s capabilities to the customer’s context and to their concepts requires a thoughtful, strategic and tailored approach.

Sales force enablement, set up the right way, provides content and messaging tailored along the entire customer’s journey and tailored to different buyer roles. Ideally, training on selling competencies and “how to use content assets” is provided as well. But tools and training do not equip salespeople to function on auto-pilot. They must always be responsive to the customer’s specific situation and the stakeholders’ different concepts about how to approach that specific situation.

Every customer makes every decision differently, every time, so there is always a need to adjust, to customize and to tailor content, messages and strategies. Examples include adjusting the content wording to fit the customer’s terminology, and helping the customer clarify or even redefine the objectives and desired results they want to achieve. Sales force enablement can only design content and messages for pre-defined buying situations and buyer roles. Mapping to the real buying situations and mapping to the real buyers, the individuals – that makes the difference. That requires adaptive competencies, and that is always a sales professional’s responsibility. That’s living a customer core approach.

Now, sales methodologies come into play. They guide salespeople to create and manage opportunities, and they help them prepare conversations in a structured way and to develop deal strategies by analyzing and synthesizing all different aspects of situational knowledge. Sales methodologies are based on principles and values. They explain the process behind sequences of activities and force salespeople to think strategically about how to approach a specific opportunity. World-class sales force enablement teams connect the dots between content, training and sales methodologies.

Once the dots have been connected – in other words, once sales enablement has done its job –each salesperson must make effective use of the content, training, etc. This is the route to sales success. Applying sales enablement services effectively requires a certain level of adaptive competencies. It requires the ability to adapt quickly to a new, changing or complex situation. Sales force enablement can also help with adaptive competencies as part of training.

But sales force enablement is not responsible for sales professionals’ ability to think critically and strategically. In complex sales, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by sales enablement.

There are no shortcuts to success.

 

Related blog posts:

Sales Force Enablement – See you in Atlanta, Sept 17

Enabling Principles To Develop Salespeople’s Adaptive Skills

Sales Enablement: Customer Core Framework to Provide Perspectives

 

Posted in Sales Enablement, Sales Enablement Definition, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

The Inability To Communicate Value Messages – Biggest Inhibitor To Sales Success 2014

At the MHI Research Institute, we have asked this question in each of the past three years: What are the biggest inhibitors to sales success?
Our 2014 data delivers a consistent message: The “inability to communicate value messages” is again the biggest inhibitor to sales success, as it was in 2013 (22%) and in 2012 (23%). The second biggest inhibitor is the “inability to attract new clients” (16%) followed by “more complex buying requirements” (15%).

Value messaging needs a clear design point – the customer

Before the Internet existed, a salesperson could create value for customers by presenting functions, features and benefits. But now buyers can find all this information online, and value messaging has to change. Executive buyers in particular are not interested in what a product is and what it does; they need to know what it means for their business and their desired outcomes. This evolution in the buyer’s world changes the design point for value messaging. It’s no longer the product; it’s the customer. The customer’s journey and the different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey are the main design point for value messaging.

Value messaging needs to be dynamic

The times when static value propositions were successful are gone. Value messaging has to be dynamic to address the customer’s different focal points along their customer’s journey. In the beginning of the customer’s journey, value messaging has to focus on the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts regarding how to fix a problem, how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Salespeople can create significant value if they help customers to better understand their challenges, the root causes and the real business impact, and if they can provide tailored perspectives on how to approach the challenge in different ways to achieve the desired results. In these stages, there is no room for product-focused messages.

This changes in the actual buying phase. Here, the decision dynamics have to be orchestrated. Value messaging often has to address additional stakeholders with very purchase-focused concepts. Competitive and product-oriented messages are now more important, but must always be mapped to the customers’ desired results and wins. The goal in this phase is to be perceived as the buyer’s best option against all competitors to achieve their desired results and wins.

It changes again in the implementation and adoption phase. That’s right: value messaging doesn’t end when a deal is closed. Now, it is important that the value gets delivered as promised. Owning the customer’s outcome means making sure that they can achieve their desired results and wins. Furthermore, it’s important to orchestrate the value dynamics during this important phase. Different stakeholders will perceive value differently, based on their different roles and concepts. And often, projects are delegated for execution. So, it’s even more important to make sure that the stakeholders and the initial executive buyers know how the value was delivered and which customer results were achieved. Following these steps can easily open a window for new opportunities within this account.

Value messaging and creating new business

The inability to communicate value messages is not only the single most important challenge year after year; it’s also the underlying cause of at least two other inhibitors. Those are the inability to attract new clients, (reported by 16% or our survey respondents) and the inability to expand in existing accounts (7%). Taken together, these three factors comprise 48% of the inhibitors to sales success. This makes value messaging a top priority for every sales leader to care about.

Value messaging, sales enablement and homework

As described above, the secret to successful value messaging lies in a dynamic customer core approach. It is sales enablement’s responsibility to provide messaging frameworks that are easy to access and to customize. Sales enablement and sales training have to make sure that salespeople know how to use the messages effectively, and that they are trained to present messaging that’s focused on business issues rather than on product. Messaging training has a lot to do with role plays and simulations, ideally based on real opportunities. As in sports, it takes a while to get familiar with the basics of a new sport. It’s the same with new value messaging that’s focused on business issues. It requires a different language that addresses different patterns. New skills have to be learned to achieve a certain level of proficiency.

Furthermore, creating new business begins very early along the customer’s journey. First, your strategic account planning must lead to a solid account growth strategy. And the customer has strategic initiatives of their own; it’s essential to understand these and to connect the dots to your own capabilities. Identifying the right buyer roles within new accounts and also within existing accounts is critical to success. Then homework and research has to be done to identify a valid business reason for the first conversation, and all conversations must be prepared for in advance. At that point, value messaging can work successfully—if all other selling competencies are in place.

Related blog posts:

The Biggest Inhibitors to Sales Success

“The Expert” – Why Understanding The Customer Is Key To Provide Perspectives

Providing Perspective – A Customer Core Principle

 

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Give The Gift Of Data And Get Research In Return – The 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study

Sharing is the first step of collaboration, receiving is a natural follow-up. Collaboration leads to receiving more than the sum of the given pieces. Across industries, peer-to-peer networks, communities and the sharing economy are based on this collaborative principle – you have to give to get.

For us at the MHI Research Institute, giving begins with sharing the highlights from our 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study. The year before, our research identified three attributes of World-Class Sales Organizations, each corresponding to a cultural component that drives the behaviors and attitudes of the organization. Building on the three organizational attributes – Customer Core, Collaborative Culture and Calibrated Success – as defined in the 2013 study, the analysis of the 2014 data identifies three categories of sales behaviors that define World-Class Sales Performance – Provide Perspective, Conscious Collaboration and Performance Accountability. Connecting those individual behaviors with the attributes of World-Class Sales Organizations creates a framework for a performance-oriented sales culture. A culture that knows how to connect and engage with customers, how to work together and what to measure, recognize and reward.

Provide Perspective is the next level of connecting and engaging with prospects and customers. The engagement and messaging principle is a pure customer core approach. It’s based on the customers’ situational context and the different concepts of each impacted stakeholder. Then, it takes into account that especially in complex buying environments, every customer makes every decision differently. This specific decision dynamic has to be well understood, before the sales team can map all these findings to the own portfolio of capabilities, products and services. Configuring a solution through the lens of the customer’s context, their concepts and their specific decision dynamic is the prerequisite to come up with a specific, customized solution that enables the customer to achieve their desired results and wins.

Conscious Collaboration begins with the customers. The purpose of collaboration is to achieve better results in a shorter amount of time. It allows individuals with different areas of expertise and roles to work together through a common language and strategic frameworks. Collaboration connects teams, organizations and companies. Collaboration frameworks are an approach to multiply individual contributions. Collaboration objectives are different for a strategic account environment compared to an inside sales team. Therefore, collaboration has to be defined specifically and that’s a sales leadership task. Sales leaders must establish guiding principles for different collaboration situations to create the foundation for conscious collaboration.

Performance Accountability is the metric that separates world class from all others. World-class sales performers hold themselves accountable for their customers’ success. They know that the customers’ success is the foundation of their own success. World-class sales performers hold themselves accountable along the entire customer’s journey. There is no walking away after a deal is closed. Instead, performance accountability means to identify even more possibilities to create add-on value for customers. Performance accountability means also to be accountable to the standards and expectations set by the front line sales managers.

From giving to receiving – this is where we ask you for your help!

The 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study is now open until the end of November. We kindly ask you to take some time to take our survey. The Sales Best Practices Study is the world’s largest survey for complex B2B sales, covering all regions, different industries and different roles in sales – now conducted in the 12th year.

What you can expect from the study as a participant:

  • Timely business intelligence—exclusive, first access to the full study results when they’re published in Q1 2015
  • A complimentary report from the MHI Research Institute, Perspectives on Productivity: The Next Level of Transparency
  • Entry into a drawing for a World-Class Sales Performance Gap Analysis—an opportunity to take advantage of a service provided by the Institute’s research analysts that compares the participant’s organizational behaviors to those of World-Class Sales Performers as identified in this study

Click here to get to the study – it’s open through Nov 30, 2014.

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