World-class Sales Performers Have Clarity of Vision and Purpose

“It is the skill of having a clear and decisive vision for the future
whilst staying focused on the present that makes the real difference
when it comes to performing under pressure.”

Keeping the balance between staying in the present and having a clear vision for the future is not only a challenge for athletes, but also for every sales professional. I will tap again into the wisdom of Steve Backley, English Javelin athlete and three-time Olympic medalist, and map his wisdom to the world of professional B2B sales.

Short-term tactics are only successful and sustainable when they follow a broader strategy. Short-term success, which is often driven by quarterly pressures, creates the freedom and trust for executing long-term strategies to create new business in new and existing accounts. Both aspects are equally important to build sustainable sales performance.

“Whilst you will be effective in the present, as a champion, you will take control of the future by planning for what may be over the horizon.”

Balancing present and future in opportunity management

Being effective in the present (current opportunities) means understanding the customers’ present as well as their desired future. It means deeply understanding the customer’s current environmental and situational context, their stakeholders’ different viewpoints and their desired results and wins. Understanding the customer’s specific context is one essential element in designing ways and approaches to a better future state. The next element is the impacted stakeholders’ different concepts that reflect their present understanding. These concepts have to be analyzed, understood and internalized before they can be mapped to the provider’s products and services. Only then can a shared vision of future success be created, including a path to this future state to help them to achieve their desired results and wins.

That means a sales professional has to build a bridge between the current state and a better future state. Sometimes, customers have already done that on their own. This is possible when the challenge they deal with is well known. But if the challenge they have to master is new, complex and more risky, they need a sales professional to show them different ways to achieve their desired results and wins, to understand the entire impact of the situation and to create a shared vision of future success.

Creating such a shared vision together across a customer community requires lots of adaptive and leadership competencies, but it is highly valuable for both. For salespeople, a shared vision of success is the prerequisite to enter the actual buying phase and to increase significantly the probability of a win. For customers, salespeople who provide perspectives this way are highly valuable because they provide an understanding of the bigger picture, the entire impact and the best way to achieve their desired results and wins. It helps them to make their best decision.

“You will make informed decisions about your chosen path based on relevant details that you see around you. While others become obsessed by things that are unimportant, you will have a great understanding of what is appropriate. You will possess the ability to assess a situation and plan for the future almost simultaneously.”

Balancing present and future in account management

Taking the issue of balancing present and future to another level, requires understanding how account and opportunity management fit together. Account management done the right way is not about creating plans nobody is using during the year. Instead, it means understanding entire accounts from their perspective as an entity (e.g., vision, business strategy, strategic initiatives and challenges, industry trends, financial performance, etc.) and to derive a portfolio of new business ideas – so-called account leads. That is the blueprint for executing your account strategy. Also here, it is about their context, concepts and decision dynamics to derive valuable new business ideas. Analyzing and understanding the existing relationship network to identify needs – where and how to improve and to grow this network – are additional key prerequisites to derive new business ideas. In particular, understanding an account’s specific decision dynamic is highly valuable when it comes to designing engagement approaches. There is a difference between decision dynamics on a single opportunity level versus a decision dynamic culture within an account that gets manifested in various opportunities.

The main purpose of account management is strategic; it’s identifying new business ideas to create additional value for an account. These business ideas then have to be developed into leads. The best ones will make the conversion into an opportunity. Then, the cycle of balancing opportunity and account management begins again. It always requires making informed decisions based on understanding the present and the future – in both dimensions, the single opportunity and the entire account.

“Your focus determines your reality.”

Source of quotations:
Steve Backley – The Champion in All of Us

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What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 3: Developing Frontline Sales Managers

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
– Harvey S. Firestone

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”

That’s the question we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. In the last part of this series, we discuss one remaining data point: 55% of our participants consider the deployment of dedicated sales manager training and development programs as a focus this year.

The leverage effect of frontline sales managers (FSMs) defines their huge impact on sales execution

The frontline sales manager’s role is where sales execution happens. Think about their average span of control in your organization, and you will quickly realize how huge their leverage effect is. This role decides where salespeople sell, to whom they sell, how they sell and often also which parts of the portfolio they sell. What makes the role so demanding is the need to continuously balance between areas that are often competing against each other: customer, people, and business. The FSM triangle offers a framework to deal with this challenge. FSMs have to become a frontline coach, a leader and a business manager at the same time. It is more than evident that the FSM’s role is different from a sales role and different from other management roles. What about their training and development?

Integrated FSM development don’t seem to be a top priority

Eleven percent of our participants indicated that they had already implemented sales manager development programs in 2013 or earlier. For another 55%, it was or is a priority in 2014/2015. What the numbers say is that the topic is somewhat a priority but still not a top priority – comparing this 55% to the 81% and 82% of investments for salespeople. If we truly understand the FSMs’ relevance and their leverage effect in any sales organization, these priorities have to be changed.

Leaders are not just born… they have to be developed

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have
certain charismatic qualities or not.
That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”
–Warren G. Bennis

What happens is that poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is not acceptable for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals. World-Class Sales Organizations understand that developing FSMs is a wise investment with a huge leverage effect to add growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the costs of doing nothing is much bigger.

Holistic development programs for FSMs are mandatory to drive productivity

The challenge to develop world-class FSMs is to design a holistic program based on three pillars:

  • First, the program has to reflect the three areas – customer, business and people – and how to balance them, which requires an additional focus on building adaptive competencies.
  • Second, the program has to address the FSMs’ specific focus – managing the right activities and coaching the right behaviors, based on leading indicators. That’s why general management programs don’t apply.
  • Third, the FSM development program must have an interface to sales force enablement regarding the “people” area. This is where coaching comes into play. The FSMs’ coaching approach should reinforce the overall enablement approach to driving adoption. Therefore, the FSM coaching approach has to be derived from the same design point as the customer’s journey.


Related blog posts:

Investments in Sales Productivity – Part 1 Sales Enablement

Investments in Sales Productivity – Part 2 Sales Operations and Technology

What Triangles Have To Do With Frontline Sales Managers

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

Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled

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What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 2: Sales Operations and Technology

“Stressing output is the key to improving productivity,
while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.”
–Paul Gauguin

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s the question we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study.
In Part 2 of this series, we continue with the investments in changing the coverage model (62%), the compensation and quota strategies (60%), deploying new CRM systems (48%) and new sales productivity applications (54%).

Coverage model – foundational business management element

Investments regarding coverage model, compensation and quota strategy have to be derived from the business and sales strategy and then adjusted to the sales execution plan to create tangible value for the sales force. Adjusting the coverage model often goes hand in hand with strategic and organizational changes. It is a core design element of an organization’s sales system and one of the most foundational business management elements. Sales operations have to make sure that the coverage model follows and enables the sales strategy and the sales execution plan – how an organization wants to connect and engage with prospects and customers.

Compensation and quota strategy – How should your performance culture look like?

Also here, there is an ongoing need to adjust these strategies based on changing business strategies. But often, it doesn’t happen as it should, and both elements do not support the business strategy well. Compensation and quota strategies are areas where cultural differences come into play – more or less competitive cultures. The strategic versus the tactical focus has also to be considered. When quotas are adjusted several times a year, the tactical focus is the main trigger. That sheds light on what needs to be decided by the sales leadership team beforehand: How should our sales performance culture look? What is it we want to measure, to recognize and to reward?

CRM systems and sales productivity applications

Implementing CRM systems isn’t about technology. It’s always about people, change, adoption and communication. And it’s about sales leadership. All this requires a broad alignment across the entire salesforce: what a CRM system’s value will be for salespeople and how the future workflow will look. Never forget to show which elements will be replaced by the CRM. One of the most critical issues is not creating real value and productivity gains for salespeople. Answers must be more specific than “increase productivity.” In addition, wrong assumptions about CRM systems are out there. Without mentioning all of them, just consider this:

Technology does not replace selling.
Technology does not replace leadership.

Sales leadership is the key ingredient for successful CRM implementations. Change processes have to be led and orchestrated – but not by change management, but by sales leaders! Leading by example.


Related blog posts:

What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

What Are The Leading Investments In Sales Productivity?


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What Are the Main Investments in Sales Productivity? Part 1: Sales Enablement

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence,
intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
–Paul E. Meyer

“Where have you or do you plan to invest to improve sales productivity?”
That’s what we asked the participants of our 2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study. Investments in improving process, skills or competency training (81%) and investments to improve product knowledge, market and competitive intelligence (82%) are the leading investments for 2014 and 2015.

We will focus today on the enablement topics. The other productivity investments in sales operations, sales technology and sales managers will be discussed in Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.

No training without content, no content without training

These investment areas cover both, knowledge transfer and behavioral change. The former is primarily addressed with content services, the latter with training services. But two one-way roads in parallel don’t lead to more productivity. These services have to be connected to create value instead of noise. Connecting the dots is important to make sure that content and messaging for the salespeople are customer-focused and consistent at any time, without redundancies and gaps. Providing content alone is not enabling the salesforce. Enablement has to make sure that people learn how to use different content resources effectively. For sales training, it is essential that the supporting content is available, on-demand. Product training has to be well aligned with enablement content and client-facing content. Connecting the dots sounds simple, but it is a huge challenge, especially in larger organizations where different functions contribute to these services. If so, enablement is ideally positioned to take on the orchestrating role across different functions with the bigger picture in mind and knowing what salespeople need.

Connecting the dots between content and training

Regarding knowledge, content is the leading enablement service (portfolio, industries, competitors, customers, internal, etc.). Training comes into play in two ways: First, product training should build on the internal and client-facing content that salespeople will use later on, regardless which function is responsible to provide product training, as mentioned above. Orchestrating that is enablement’s responsibility. Second, some pieces of content, such as newly designed playbooks, content packages or new ROI or other sales tools, require a “how to use” training service, to make sure that people understand how to use these resources effectively. Short video clips are the first step to making a big difference in terms of value and adoption.

Training on skills, competency and processes is more focused on behavioral change. Content has a supporting function. Nevertheless, salespeople should have access to this supporting content at any time, but in a valuable way. Providing supporting content in small chunks when needed (depending on the stages of the opportunities salespeople work on) creates add-on value. The next step would be to create small, on-demand training modules to refresh what has been learned, depending on the sales person’s selling context.

Stay tuned: Part 2 will cover investments in sales operations and technology.


Please have a look at the related blog posts:

Sales Enablement: Auto-Pilot versus Strategic Thinking

Enablement in transactional and complex sales environments

Sales Enablement’s Role in Value Messaging

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10 Ways to Gain a Competitive Edge in 2015 ― Your Customers’ Success is your Success

LiveHive and leading sales community, Top Sales World, have put together an eBook of best practices from prominent industry sales experts. This eBook will help you:

  • Learn best practices on working smarter
  • Get tips on relationship building
  • Find out how to speed up your selling process
  • Understand how a fast start gets you to a big finish

Click here or on the image and get your free copy of “10 Ways to Gain a Competitive Edge in 2015”.

I’m happy to be in such great company with Joanne Black, Jonathan Farrington, Joe Galvin, Barbara Giamanco, Jill Konrath, Dave Kurlan, Linda Richardson, Keith Rosen and Matt Sharrers.

Here is my contribution to the ebook:

Your Customers’ Success is your Success

What should be different when you begin this new sales year 2015? As every year, last year’s performance doesn’t count anymore. Think a moment about the usual set up for a new year. Territories are adjusted; account segmentation has been changed and so has the responsibility for those accounts. New sales tools may be introduced; commission plans are communicated, and you will receive your quota for this year. The list goes on and on.

What do all these things have in common? Correct, they are all internally focused. But selling does not work like that. Every single success in sales can only happen with the customers, never without them.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself: How would you feel along the entire customer’s journey from the first conversations up to delivery or implementation? However you will feel, focus now on one key principle: Your customers’ success is your success.

  • Focus on the customer’s context and the stakeholder’s concepts:
    In the early awareness phase, it’s about their specific context, and the stakeholder’s different concepts about how to approach the situation (versus doing nothing). A deep understanding of the situation, showing them the real business impact, is highly valuable for them. Then, approaches for tackling the issue can be presented, always with the focus on how they can achieve their desired results and wins. This phase is not about product pitches. The goal is to establish a shared vision of success, because without the customer’s decision to change the current state for a better future state, no buying phase will ever happen.
  • Manage the decision dynamics:
    In the actual buying phase, the decision dynamics have to be understood, managed and orchestrated. In formal buying processes, new stakeholders may show up and ask for additional cases, technical details, financial projections, etc. It’s key to look at the decision process from their perspective. A bad decision always has a much bigger impact for this organization and for this group of stakeholders personally than it will ever have for you. Understanding this fact, and the specific risk evaluation they have to deal with, helps you to focus on the right activities and the right conversations early enough to be perceived as their best buying option. The higher the risk, the more value has to be created, and it has to be messaged differently to different stakeholders.
  • Own the customer’s outcome and manage value dynamics:
    Make sure that the value that has been sold gets delivered. Meet your customer’s expectations, or better, exceed them. No excuses are acceptable here. Orchestrate your internal operations, service and delivery team the way you want to get served as a customer. Often overlooked, but essentially to creating follow-up business, is to make sure that you communicate the value that has been delivered to all the initial and current stakeholders. Doing this creates the entry point for new business.

“After the game is before the game.”
–Sepp Herberger

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Why World Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn

It rarely happens that I’m impressed by motivational speakers. Too often, they cannot build a bridge that enables people to tap into their wisdom right after the conference. Steve Backley, English javelin athlete and three-time Olympic medalist, offered a very different experience at our Miller Heiman Sales Performance Summit, based on his book, The Champion in All of Us.
“Clever people, like you, value relationships and develop a team of people around you whom you trust. You will understand the power of perspective and, therefore, will be keen to understand the ideas of others.”

Relationships do matter – in sports, and across the sales team and the customer organization. The team you prepare yourself for the Olympics with and the sales team you work with – it’s a similar situation. Even if you are opponents during a competition or when it comes to promotions, you work together to get better every day, led by a coach. This is how we all can learn from each other’s viewpoints, approaches, thoughts and most important – from each other’s mental attitude and professionalism. Relationships are based on being valuable for each other. That’s the same principle in sports and sales. No buyer makes time for a coffee meeting anymore, if there is nothing valuable added to the coffee. Developing existing relationships and building new relationships with prospects and new buyer roles is a key competency of any top sales performer.

Why is that so important? Look at our engagement principle “Providing Perspective.” To understand the customer’s specific context, every different viewpoint and any relevant information a salesperson can gather adds value to the big picture and enables the salesperson to provide an even better perspective. Furthermore, understanding each buyer role’s different approaches and ideas, especially if they come from different functions and have different organizational roles, is essential to co-create a shared vision of future success together with these groups of buyers. Understanding and learning from others’ ideas and taking that to the next level is a key differentiator. Therefore, analyzing, understanding, interpreting and synthesizing across the network – that’s what top sales performers do before they provide a tailored solution to help the customers to achieve their desired outcomes.

“Champions do this by seeking to consult and understand others and by networking well. You will not only learn from the relevant people around you, but will be able to reapply their skills in an even better way. The point here is not the ability to store or regurgitate facts that you have learned from others, it is the application of the understanding of the key principles that matters. Sustained performance is not about learning something parrot fashion, it is about understanding others, interpreting and then applying knowledge.”

Learning new techniques in sports or new methodologies in sales, the process is very similar. Learning and practicing to become a top performer has to be guided by regular coaching. Coaching, done well, improves the athlete’s technique and performance step by step, leveraging his/her potential. That’s always an individual journey with common milestones. The first milestone is that the athlete/salesperson can repeat and perform the new method or technique pretty well in familiar situations. The second milestone, though, is to coach the athlete/salesperson in a way that he/she can adapt the newly learned techniques in any new, changed or complex situation. That’s much more than practicing new stuff in a repeatable way. To achieve this level, athletes and sales professionals have to develop their adaptive competencies. That’s their ability to quickly adjust their behavior and their activities to different situations. Developing adaptive competencies – in sports and sales – can be done in different ways, in simulations within the same professional area or completely different areas. That means working with people, often out of the business context, so that they learn how to better connect the dots between their left and their right brains. Adaptive learning experiences in other fields may be beneficially transferred back to a business context.

A prerequisite to applying adaptive competencies successfully is situational awareness. Situational awareness means understanding a given situation and quickly noticing what’s happening in this situation. Then, adaptive competencies enable us not only to know but to understand the situation with all the involved people and elements. Even more, adaptive competencies enable us to synthesize all findings into a bigger picture and to draw the right conclusions. In sales, that means providing a tailored, differentiating and highly valuable perspective for a customer to help them to achieve their desired results.

Adaptive competencies are based on identifying the underlying principles and adopting these principles to different situations. Champions learn, practice and adopt what they learned and take it to the next level, based on those embedded core principles. That’s the main difference between the top performers and the ordinary performers on the team, in sports and sales.

“Champions also consult opinion across industries. It is never about who is right or wrong; it is about what is best.”

This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, January 5th 2015.

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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, represented as the FSM triangle. 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

Posted in Front Line Sales Managers, Sales Coaching | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

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?

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