Providing Perspective – A Customer Core Principle

Playing football/soccer on a regional level is different from playing football in the Premier League or the Champions League. Mental preparation, fitness, agility, training, coaching – all these requirements build on each other, but their characteristics and their intensity are different on each level. It’s a journey to get from one level to the next level.

In professional selling, we have come a long way. The industrial age was about mass marketing – product, place, promotion, and price. Product pitches were the results: “This is what we sell to you.” Then, selling solutions and invisible services became the core challenge. Capabilities were mapped to verticals and typical customer challenges. Selling evolved to presentations, meaning “this is what we sell to people like you.” Now, we are in the relationship economy, the customer age – you name it. More important than different names is what they all have in common. It used to be that sales professionals knew more. But since the internet changed the world, there is no longer a significant information asymmetry between sales professionals and customers. That does not necessarily mean though that because buyers are more informed, they know a whole lot better. Often, they are more confused, because their context, their concepts, their specific situation are missing. The consequence must be to change the design point of “how to sell.”

Changing the design point to the customer at the core

Providing perspective is an engagement and messaging approach that works consequently backwards from the main design point – the customer’s journey and the stakeholders’ network. It’s about “this is how you can achieve your goals.” It is about understanding the specific situational context, understanding the stakeholder’s different concepts on how to fix a problem, and how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Context and concepts are essential, but not enough to design a unique perspective. Understanding how this customer is going to make this decision at this time – this is the key differentiator to orchestrate an entire stakeholder network toward a shared future vision of success.

Based on context, concepts and the specific decision dynamic, the mapping process to your own portfolio of products and services takes place. The purpose is to design a unique approach that connects the dots to this specific buying context, the stakeholder’s concepts, their situational dynamic, and enables them to achieve their desired outcomes.

Providing perspective requires more than enabling a sales professional with content on products and services and product training. Enablement functions need to sharpen their scope to improve a sales professional’s skills, his or her knowledge on verticals, challenges, buyer roles and their challenges, and specific customer management strategies. Additionally, leading and orchestrating large stakeholder networks is a differentiating skill – especially in complex buying environments.

Enabling perspectives requires sales enablement to evolve the discipline to the next level – that means to shift the design point from the customer core, to integrate currently missing elements and to redefine the scope of enablement content and training services.
Enabling perspectives and defining the next level of sales force enablement – Join me in Chicago for the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit, April 15-17!

 

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Missing in Sales Enablement – Customer Core

Getting prepared for a five-mile/km run is one thing; getting prepared for a marathon is a totally different challenge. The context is different, the requirements and the success criteria are different. Basic running training will get you to the five-mile run. But just trying harder is never enough to successfully get you through a marathon. Preparing for a marathon requires a different approach, a well-thought through concept and a consequent execution.

So it is with buying environments that become more complex and uncertain every day. And so it is with today’s buyers who are more – but not always better – informed, who are often more confused, but definitely much more demanding than ever. With more people involved with different points of view, different levels of experience and diverse knowledge bases, sales professionals need a higher and broader knowledge level, specific business acumen and a mastery of their customer management strategies. Buying teams expect relevant, valuable buying conversations that build on their specific context, their concepts and their way to make a decision this time.

Today’s sales enablement leaders face a multitude of diverse challenges, especially if they have a regional or a global responsibility in a large corporation. However the role may be defined, this person will spend a lot of time with activities like: dealing with content creators, negotiating with technology and training providers, creating and managing budgets, etc. Much time is spent conducting cross-functional meetings, orchestrating different, often siloed views to aligning critical messaging, market insights and customer requirements into meaningful enablement services. All that to create impact for the sales professionals to drive the business. And the list goes on and on. Sales enablement leaders often feel like they are either executive cross-functional program managers or VPs for Internal Selling.

The concept of customer-core rarely exists in a sales enablement leader’s daily work. Many approaches are still designed around internal design points such as products and services, which are mapped to the customer’s journey, but only on the last mile. That’s a customer-oriented approach, not an approach with the customers at the core.

A customer-core enablement approach is designed from the customers to the internal universe. The customer’s journey and all the relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders along this journey are the main design points. The different stages along this journey have to be defined for your customer’s specific buying environment. Then, these stages have to be connected back to the sales process. Next, enablement requirements for the different stakeholders have to be derived for each stage along the customer’s journey in terms of enablement content, client-facing content and the related training services. The goal is to have valuable conversations based on the customers’ context, concepts and decision dynamics at a certain stage with the relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders. How to shape these enablement services, this is where your sales force’s current maturity level has to be considered.

The idea of a customer-core sales enablement approach is to facilitate the customer’s journey to help clients make their best decision to achieve their desired outcomes and wins. Integrating a provider’s products and services in those buying visions and perspectives – that’s providing perspective, that’s putting your customer at the core of your business.

 

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Sales Enablement and Sales Operations – A Relationship With Great Potential

Your skeleton – what is it for? The bone structure provides a framework for the body. This framework supports the body and keeps the organs in their proper place. And muscles that are connected to the skeleton let us move our bodies.

Sales operations is the skeleton in any sales organization, with a few core functions: 1. Sales operations shapes and supports a sales organization’s customer management strategies, their design and integration in systems and tools; 2. Sales Operations provides a sales performance management framework to measure, predict and influence sales performance. Those core functions define the sales force’s foundation and enable people to create movements in an orchestrated way. It’s a foundation on how to sell, how to collaborate and how to focus on different customer segments, industries and territories.

Connecting the dots

But defining how to sell, and providing blueprints and infrastructure are not enough. To create well-orchestrated movements for your sales organization in executing your sales strategy, people have to be equipped with content and training, and they have to be coached to improve their practice continuously. That’s connecting the dots between operations and enablement. Sales enablement has to build its frameworks on the foundation defined by sales operations. It has to incorporate and build on the customer management strategies to create impactful enablement services. Sales enablement shapes what sales professionals need to know and how to apply this knowledge effectively. That means sales enablement defines how the sales professionals should train their muscles, and which muscles they should focus their training efforts on. It also equips front line sales managers how to coach to reinforce the efforts. How this shaping by enablement looks like depends on your buying and selling environment and on your sales force’s maturity level.

Flex the muscles that matter

There is one single muscle, that shouldn’t be trained anymore – the product selling and pitching muscle, the “it’s all about me” muscle. Instead, the “provide perspective” muscle that builds on the customer’s context, their concepts and their specific decision dynamic is the most important one that has to be trained to win the business of today’s demanding buyers.

Mapping is mandatory

Sales operations and sales enablement have different design points. Whereas sales operations has an internal view, sales enablement has an external design point – the customers and their journey, and the stakeholders. Sales enablement should build on the sales operation’s foundation by defining the tie points and interfaces. That requires sales enablement to map the different stages and gates along the customer’s journey back to the sales process. This mapping is mandatory. Consistency makes all the difference, whether your enablement services appear to stand alone, or well integrated and value adding.

We forget the powerful relationship between sales enablement and sales operations. When tapped, it has such a great potential to provide significant value for sales professionals and front line sales managers. There are synergies to be leveraged that require conscious collaboration from both disciplines to improve sales productivity. And there is the often overlooked potential to create much more value together – and less noise.

 

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Sales Enablement: Game-Changing Conversations To Drive Revenue @ BrightTalk

Valuable sales conversations that provide perspectives for prospects and clients have never been more important. Today’s complex challenges require new and innovative ways to engage buyers across all stages of their journey. Join a panel of sales enablement experts to learn how to develop a systematic program that enables your sales professionals to have valuable conversations that set them apart from competitors.

Register today for a top expert panel discussion at BrightTalk:
“Sales Enablement – Game Changing Conversations that Drive Revenue”

March 19, 2014: 4pm GMT, 5pm GMT+1, 9am PT, 12pm ET

I’m very happy to be part of this excellent panel with top sales enablement experts and professionals. Every panelist is looking at these challenges from a different perspective with a different background, bringing a foundation that should provide significant value for the audience.

Moderator:
Jim Moliski, Senior Vice President, Strategic Services, Launch International

Presenters and Panelists:

  • Pat McAnally, Research Director, Portfolio Marketing Strategies, Sirius Decisions
  • Craig Nelson, Founder and Principal, Sales Enablement Group
  • Tamara Schenk, Research Director, Miller Heiman Research Institute

We will discuss different approaches and best practices around these topics:

  • How to deliver knowledge and insights needed to have valuable conversations
  • How to create a systematic approach and roadmap to sales enablement success
  • How to equip frontline sales managers to become excellent coaches

Additionally, we will answer your questions!

To join us on March 19, register here!

 

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Understanding Different Buying Environments – Where Are Your Customers?

Buying office supplies for an SMB organization on a regional level is different from buying office supplies for a global Fortune 500 corporation. There are differences regarding processes, volumes, required signatures, etc. But the well-defined and standardized products remain the same. Do these buyers need to talk to a sales professional? Not necessarily, but it’s more likely in the global scenario.

Buying an application management service, a CRM system or a collaboration platform are, by definition, complex projects, but even more so if scaled from a regional to a global level. It’s the same when buying new robot technology required for a local plant only versus for different regions.
How well informed can a buyer be merely by browsing the Internet? Do these buying teams need to talk to a sales professional? Absolutely.

What does your customers’ buying environment look like? Differentiating between two extremes, a transactional and a complex buying environment, is important before evaluating different opinions that are painting a colorful picture of “Buyer 2.0” as always well informed and self-directed for making a decision. What’s missing is context–the buying environment:

  • In a transactional buying environment, it’s about defined products and services that can be configured and ordered online. The problem to be solved is well defined. The people running those buying processes are category or vendor managers. The number of buying influences is small and their focus is budget optimization and efficiency. The decisions have a tactical rather than a strategic character; their business impact is at most moderate. The buying focus is mostly on budget optimization and efficiency. Exactly – think about the example regarding office supplies, about a private cloud service, about the renewal of a phone contract. These buyers can find functions, features, benefits, services, configurations, comparisons, pricing and an order form all online.
  • In a complex buying environment, it’s different. Complex challenges have many different dimensions that are all connected to each other. How to approach these challenges has to be developed along the customer journey, and the required products and services have to be derived once the solution is defined. These complex challenges may have similar patterns, but their context is always unique. So are the decision criteria and the buying decisions – always different, every time. Buying influences are cross-functional, with different roles, from different levels with different perspectives. They are involved in these teams as part of their day-to-day job because they are all responsible or impacted stakeholders regarding the outcomes to be achieved. Those buying decisions have strategic relevance and a significant business impact and are focused on effectiveness (recall the above examples on business-process outsourcing or new robot technology for a manufacturing plant).

Completely different worlds.

Some of your buyers may live in a transactional environment, and others may live in a complex environment. And most of your customers may live between both extremes. Understanding and applying the implications of your customers’ specific buying environment is key to achieving World-Class Sales Performance. It requires tailoring customer-management and growth strategies. It also requires tailoring your enablement strategy and your enablement services accordingly. Content, messaging and training requirements are different in transactional and in complex buying environments.

Being conscious about where and how to play the game are decisions of strategic relevance. You cannot play football and baseball with the same team at the same time.

 

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Why Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement

Michael Jordan is one of the most brilliant basketball players ever. His discipline to become world class, to achieve the brilliance that inspired millions of people, is well known. But he wasn’t nearly that successful as a coach.

It’s the same in sales organizations. It’s not necessarily the best salesperson who makes the best manager and leader. Both roles couldn’t be more different from each other. Managing one’s own performance versus coaching a team to its best performance requires a completely different skill set—self-management versus leading others. Look at Vince Lombardi–not the best football player, but definitely one of the best coaches ever.

Many newly appointed frontline sales managers are thrown into the new role with little-to-no training or coaching. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place—between competing challenges that come with the new role, such as customer-management strategies; becoming a business manager; and becoming an effective coach. The resulting consequence is an onboarding time between one and two years. What sales organization can afford that? None.

When it comes to increasing sales productivity and executing your sales strategy, frontline sales managers have the most important role in any sales organization. Let’s assume a 1:10 control span and then imagine the business damage a bad frontline sales manager can cause versus the business wins an excellent frontline sales manager, acting as a great coach, can create. As a sales leader, you should leverage this potential – with the right first steps.

“But we have enablement and training functions.” I hear you. Unfortunately, most enablement functions don’t consider frontline sales managers as a specific target group. If they do, most of the time they offer the same content and training services that are provided for frontline sales professionals. That actually falls more in the category of information sharing rather than effective role-specific enablement. But it is exactly in this area where the synergies are the biggest and where the low-hanging fruits couldn’t hang any lower:

  • First, build a task force of excellent frontline sales managers who are well known for their coaching skills, along with enablement experts who also cover sales methodology. They should take the existing enablement services on content and training that are provided along the customer journey for frontline sales people and then define the must-haves for each stage.
  • Next, the frontline sales managers get coaching guidelines to be used in conversations with their team members as they proceed along the customer journey.
  • Finally, the top frontline sales managers can act as mentors for the new managers and help them learn how to coach effectively based on these guidelines.

That’s an investment not only in equipping your frontline sales managers with the tools to increase their effectiveness. You are also ensuring that what the sales professionals learned in training is now getting reinforced on a regular basis due to coaching by the frontline sales managers.

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
–Vince Lombardi

 

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The Buyer’s Dilemma in a Complex Environment

You are responsible for an IT organization and your main goal is to outsource your own function as part of a corporate EBIT optimization program, which means processing many different tasks and issues—fact-based and change-related—that are all connected to each other. You’ll also have conversations with providers who understand your situation and your desired outcomes as well as others who just want to sell cloud capacity. If you ask the latter about the impact on implementation and adoption, they may come back with a cheaper price. Who is the provider that creates add-on value with new approaches? Who can map your specific context and people’s different concepts to the specific situation to achieve tangible results?
Comparable scenarios could include buying new robot technology for an assembly line or buying a new enterprise software for core processes.

More data, information and content – but more meaning?

  • There is no such thing as the “well-informed, self-directed” buyer who is always prepared to make a good decision. Some buyers perform a lot of research, others don’t. A few conduct too much niche-only research, or in the wrong direction, and come up with ideas that are not suitable for solving the current problem. Shopping versus buying. Buyers are often still confused, but on a higher level.
  • Business impact can be difficult to determine from the content that’s provided in the public domain, even if the content is focused on business challenges and impact. The reason is that most ROI calculators determine the potential value of the provider’s solution, but not the ROI of the buyer’s desired solution, which requires more than typical data–it requires situational context.

Internal selling – the buyer’s most challenging job

  • Internal selling for buyers sounds strange, doesn’t it? But influencing and orchestrating across the buying community–selling your story, your future vision of success–to senior executive sponsors and to all sorts of committees to secure their buy-in is challenging and requires a lot of virtual leadership skills. •
  • Internal selling is also orchestrating potential partners. Where and how can a potential partner help you change a buying influence’s perspective? A partner’s specific knowledge and experience can be very valuable, especially regarding questions on ROI calculations and outcomes. A top sales professional’s value lies in helping you discover areas of potential value creation you didn’t see before. Involving potential partners at this point is helpful for getting to a better decision quicker.

Buyers in complex environments still have a dilemma, but it has changed. Before the Internet, they had an information deficit; now they are suffering from information overflow
and are looking for the specific value and meaning for their specific buying situation. Leadership and conscious collaboration are required on both sides–from the relevant decision maker whose job is to orchestrate the buying team and from the sales teams working with those buying teams.
Leading a buying team toward a future vision of success is the decision maker’s responsibility.
Orchestrating a buying team–understanding their context and concepts to be able to provide perspectives the buying team didn’t see before in order to help them achieve their desired outcomes–that’s a sales professional’s responsibility.

Related posts: Context Matters

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The Evolution Of Sales: The Survival Guide – New eBook!

Is the glass of water half full or is it half empty? Well, it depends on your individual perspective how to look at it. In my opinion the glass is always full, it just depends on the amount of water and air in the glass. But that wasn’t the question, was it? Exactly, but I wanted to add a new perspective how to look at the glass – by considering an element that wasn’t the main focus so far.

It’s the same with the evolution of sales. There are many different aspects to be considered, the changed economy, a complex and dynamic world, the big shift, the changed buyer, information overflow for all of us, technology, technology and even more technology. Technology is definitely the main driver for all these changes and there are more to come.

Decades ago, technology wasn’t considered as a key element in sales, apart from the phone and the car. That has changed radically and it will change how we sell even faster. Technology is the air in the glass in sales – it’s now an essential element to survive in sales. But it has to be used wisely, it changes our foundation how to create new business, how to engage with customers and prospects more effectively and much quicker as proceed along their customer journey. But technology doesn’t replace selling skills – instead, it’s adding new skills that have to be mastered and integrated. For some people this evolution still sounds like a threat. But it doesn’t have to be like this, because:

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”
—Heraclitus

Changes are actually great opportunities to achieve better results, to create more value for customers and to grow personally. The question is always, how to look at such a change – and that’s your decision. Here is your survival guide:

Evolution of Sales: The Survival Guide is a fascinating eBook with seven different articles that look from different perspectives at the evolution in sales. Learn more about the new era of the cold call (Jonathan Farrington), the survival of the fittest (LinkedIn), how our “old brain” works and what you need to know about it (Colleen Stanley) and the social content kingdom, which is my contribution to this eBook – you may remember the content is king and context is queen analogy I’m often using. Furthermore, enjoy a compelling infographic on the evolution of sales by the numbers, learn more about the video evolution with BrainShark and the virtual fire pit with HubSpot.

Click here to get your copy – and share your thoughts and comments!

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The Difference Between Simplification and Simplicity

If only it was this simple: Hire to a sales stereotype, give them a pitch and turn ’em loose. Sales experience – not necessary. You need critical thinkers preferably without a sales background.  How did the sales profession miss something so… simple? Or maybe it just looks that simple on the chalkboard.

Simplification has its roots in math, following strict rules. The purpose of simplification is to make something easier to understand. Who wouldn’t want that? Simplification done the right way is a useful process to reduce an existing matter to its essentials, stripping away everything superfluous and redundant, which requires some heavy duty critical thinking.

Unfortunately nowadays simplification is often performed by people without sales experience ignoring the above. Taking the fast track in this case leads to “Experience doesn’t matter anymore.” An excellent example what can happen with a serious topic – oversimplified. Leading people in the wrong direction. Creating more confusion than value. As a sales leader, you cannot afford to follow a misleading approach based on overhasty and wrong conclusions.

Simplicity is different, it’s a holistic approach.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
–Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity is based on clarity, which comes from a complete understanding of the issue to be simplified. Applying simplicity correctly means to define the different elements of sales experience in the first place, such as knowledge in different areas, conversational, questioning and social skills, collaborative and competitive behaviors, attitude, business acumen, vertical knowledge and others. Simplicity would require to look deeply at your sales system and at the buying systems your organization has to deal with. Then, simplicity would require to analyze all dimensions from both perspectives, then synthesize both views before making conclusions.

Then – and this is the visible difference – simplicity creates a framework in the beginning how to look at the topic from different perspectives to make it easier to understand and to navigate a complex issue. Simplicity would probably come up with a different framework for transactional sales and for complex sales. Simplicity doesn’t allow that important dimensions are not considered at all. That’s exactly the trap with simplification, that right in the beginning, relevant dimensions are taken out of the equation – ironically in order to “simplify”.

As customers make their decisions differently, every time, because their situation is different – so do sales leaders. There are no silver bullets. Every sales organization’s challenges are specific. Every sales organization’s customers are different. The way how your specific customers want to engage with your sales organization is different as well.

Simplification is taking the fast track – which includes the danger to be wrong, not to add the value you possibly could.

Simplicity requires more thinking in the beginning to create a framework which helps people to navigate a complex issue really easily – but only to create the biggest possible value at the end.

Simplicity is pure and precise.
Simplicity strives for perfection.
Simplicity requires critical thinking.
Simplicity accepts no excuses.

This blog post was first published at  The Sales Thought Leader Blog.

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Context Matters

My Blackberry Is Not Working!” is one of the most brilliant sketches, especially when it comes to context. Imagine a fruit and vegetable shop. A customer comes in the shop, starts complaining that his BlackBerry wouldn’t work. Then, he puts a piece of fruit on the table. …
You get the picture. In this case it’s fun–but not a successful sale. Being out of context can be even worse: Imagine you are driving at 140 mph on a pretty wet highway at night. That’s driving out of context with a high risk of crashing due to aquaplaning.

“We don’t sell out of context.” I hear you. … But wait a minute. Let’s see why context in sales matters more than ever and where the challenges are.

Our research says that 89 percent of top-performing sales organizations clearly understand their customers’ issues before they propose a solution to solve their problems. Doing so requires a deep understanding of the customer’s specific context, because customers don’t buy products or services. They buy the value they get from a provider’s capabilities to fix a problem, to accomplish their goals, or to avoid potential problems.

This is why customer context matters in every single interaction. This is why the customer context along the customer journey has to be a major design point regarding selling methodology, sales enablement and execution.

Nevertheless, many customers still complain that sales professionals are very knowledgeable about their own products and company, but not sufficiently knowledgeable about the specific customer’s industry and specific role and challenges, or how to approach the customer.

There seems to be a gap. A variety of challenges must be considered:

  • A generic foundation of customer context can be prepared by sales enablement or marketing in various forms and shapes, ideally in content modules that are easy to customize. This covers all information describing the conditions of a certain market/industry, typical roles and personas you have to deal with, their typical business challenges and patterns, and how to approach them.
  • The situational customer context, which makes the real difference, requires salespeople. It requires that they know where to find the context data and–even more important–how to adopt the generic findings effectively to the specific selling situation. This is why providing content on context is not enough. As long as people don’t know how to use it effectively, it doesn’t create any value.
  • Frontline sales managers have to coach their team members the right way. This is a very powerful key to increasing sales productivity that is often overlooked. As context is changing along the customer journey, it’s important that coaching on specific opportunities is always focused on understanding the changing context picture in order to completely understand the implications and to take the right actions.

Context is the opposite of working with assumptions. Context is the opposite of guessing. Context is about getting precise and specific. Understanding and applying customer context is a prerequisite to providing valuable perspectives to your customers in order to win their business.

This post was written for TopSalesWorld, Feb Magazine, and published @ MillerHeiman Blog

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