Adaptive Competencies – Key Differentiator of World-Class Sales Performers

Did you watch the ski world cup in Vail, Colorado a few weeks ago? Try to put yourself in a world-class skier’s shoes and imagine being on the racing track and performing the downhill race. Knowing the racing track is one thing. Knowing that the weather and snow conditions will change while you wait for your turn is another thing. But being able to quickly adjust your decisions, strategies, tactics, actions, and behaviors to the new and changed conditions, and all of that without losing speed – that makes the difference. This is an excellent example of adaptive competencies in action. Now, what has skiing to do with professional selling? A lot.

Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time.

Customer situations, like skiing conditions, are never the same. Customers may be confronted with the same environmental context, but what counts is what it means to them. And that’s always specific. Every customer stakeholder group is different, especially the stakeholders’ different viewpoints on how to approach the situation. The customer’s desired results and wins are also different, every time. That does not mean that there are no clusters and patterns to work with. Of course, there are efficiency and growth challenges, transformational and effectiveness challenges, and the list goes on and on. Additionally, there are different, but formalized, buying processes. But the characteristics of each specific challenge and the related buying culture are different in each customer situation. And this uniqueness requires adaptive competencies to win business in a scalable way.

Selling approaches have to be relevant, valuable and differentiating – and that requires adaptive competencies

Whatever the methodology is you trained your sales force on, the difference between average and world-class goes beyond execution – it’s about salespeople’s adaptive competencies based on a learning culture. Adaptive competencies encompass the sales professional’s ability to adjust skills, shift knowledge and align strategies and behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations. For sales professionals, that means being fluent in all relevant selling skills and competencies, and being fluent in various knowledge areas (customer and capability knowledge) and their specific area of expertise. Only on such a solid foundation can adaptive competencies be developed and then applied effectively. Only world-class ski athletes can win completely different races such as the Beaver Creek race and then the Kandahar race the following week. And that’s the same in sales with your A-Players.

Building adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching

Every sales force has different and specific challenges, a unique enablement and training history and, therefore, a different point of departure. Whatever your specific situation might be, a solid foundation of selling competencies, various knowledge areas, and customer management strategies has to be in place before adaptive competencies can be developed.  This foundation is mandatory. You don’t train a ski athlete on the Beaver Creek racing track before the athlete is a highly skilled and experienced skier.

Adaptive training sessions can consist of various highly interactive sessions, including real-world simulations. Those curriculums should consider cycles of training, practice, and learning, reinforced by coaching before the next cycle begins with training. Those cycles ensure that people can learn what works for them and adjust what didn’t work so far. This approach also requires that coaching is an integral part of reinforcing and building adaptive competencies. Integrating the frontline sales managers early builds the foundation for execution and reinforcement.

Key learning objectives should include situational awareness (the twin to adaptive competencies), applying principles instead of rules, and creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking.

Adaptive competencies, well applied on a solid foundation in a learning organization, reinforced by coaching, are a key differentiator in today’s complex, constantly changing B2B environment.

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What Excellence And Buying Have In Common

Remember the last time you have written a blog post or an article. How did that go? I start with an idea and a mind map. Then I capture all my ideas as they flow, followed be rethinking the core idea. Once the focus of the core idea is sharp, I select a few sub-ideas that support the core message well. Then it’s time to write. Once the first version is written, a few more iterations will follow to get a version I’m happy with. Then, sharing to get feedback and in some cases working with a professional editor are next steps. A few more iterations will happen until the desired level of excellence has been reached.

Excellence happens in iterations – and buying too!

You may say “what?” Isn’t she always hammering home the idea of the customer’s journey? Correct. But let’s look what happens within the core phases of a customer’s journey.

In the awareness phase a problem, a challenge occurs. Imagine an organization that wants to change from an on-premise CRM to a cloud-based social CRM solution to lower IT costs and to increase sales performance. The stakeholder community gets established. People analyze the situation to understand the entire impact, to identify potential approaches to achieving the desired results and wins. They will gather data, opinions and expertise, inside and outside of their organization on private, public and other cloud service models. Of course, they will search as much relevant content as they can get. During this awareness phase, opinions will change, ideas are created, some will be dropped, and others will be honed. And the group of stakeholders can change as well. Some stakeholders may leave the group due to low impact; others will try to get into the group. With each next level of learning, other ideas will be prioritized, and approaches will be sharpened. With each new stakeholder, the group has to onboard the new stakeholder that often means to go back one or two iterations. And the outcome can change; again. The awareness phase is finished, when the stakeholder group has made a decision to change the current state for a better future state. Ideally a sales professional is already involved in this early phase to orchestrate the community to a shared vision of success.

So, you get the principle of iterations. In the actual buying phase, iterations happen as well. New stakeholders can show up, and they may question the entire approach. Another reason to go back and bring them on the same page. Additional iterations can happen until a business case, and contract are created, and the list goes on and on…

Understanding iterations means to understand decision dynamics

How organizations approach their challenges and problems happens along the customer’s journey. But within these phases of the customer’s journey, lots of iterations can happen for simple reasons – to identify the best future vision of success, to make the best buying decision and to make the best implementation. All that means striving for excellence. Excellence happens in iterations.

Understanding these iterations is essential for every sales professional. That requires understanding the decisions dynamics in every customer situation. Not only understanding each stakeholders’ role, function, power, and influence, but also their decision-making style is important to understand. And that’s the foundation to define a deal strategy to win their business. As every customer makes every decision differently, iterations and decision dynamics are also different in every situation.

As a prerequisite for “all things excellent”, excellence has to be an attitude and a level of ambition first. Excellence in complex sales requires a certain level of adaptive competencies and the willingness to learn constantly and improve from what has been practiced to achieve an excellent result.

Related blog posts:

How Sales Professionals Create Calue For Their Customers

Why World-Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn



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Enablement Mechanisms: From “Push versus Pull” To “Be Inspired!”

Providing all the content that was available to the sales force and let them search – that’s where sales enablement has its early roots. Stand-alone knowledge management and enablement platforms were invented, sold and implemented. Everything was designed to provide content on a platform for sales. Various search options and taxonomies often made it difficult for salespeople to quickly find what they were looking for. Many of us walked this sometimes painful path.

Was that a push or a pull approach? It depends…

As a sales enablement leader, you may look at this issue from this role’s perspective. Then, it is a push approach; pushing everything you have on enablement content to sales. Now, change the perspective to the salesperson, and it is just the other way around. They don’t feel pushed; as everything depends on their initiative. They have to take the initiative; they have to search to find what they need. For them, it’s more of a pull approach.

Nowadays, sales enablement strives for enablement solutions that are highly integrated with the CRM landscape. The aim is to provide the right enablement and client-facing content at the right time for salespeople when they need it, along the stages of their opportunities. It depends on enablement to create a modular enablement framework that leads to these “customer challenge/industry/buyer role/deal stage” matches. The salespeople are at the receiving end. Again, it depends on your perspective whether you may consider this as a push or pull approach. Ask ten people with different roles in the same industry, and you will get as many push as pull answers.

The “pull versus push” question actually describes a content delivery mechanism, depending on our perspective and interpretation. Why not take these approaches to a level of more descriptive imperatives from the customer’s perspective? Imperatives for salespeople, the enablement clients. Then, approaches that are based on salespeople’s responsibility to search in order to get what they need can be described as “Search & Find.” This is not exactly what salespeople like to do or what makes them really effective. Approaches that provide client-facing and internal content at the salespeople’s fingertips, exactly when they need it and how they need it, can be described as “Be Inspired!” approaches.

“Be Inspired!” models in sales enablement – think about design, content services, technology and adoption

  • “Be Inspired” design means designing a customer core sales enablement framework. The customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders are the design points. The customer’s journey has to be mapped to the internal process landscape, from marketing to sales and  services/delivery. The goal is creating tangible value for customers, to help them to achieve their desired results and wins.
  • “Be Inspired” content services are tailored to the different phases of the customer’s journey, and then tailored to the relevant buyer roles in different industries and to different situations. In complex B2B environments, it’s hard to predict what a salesperson will need in which exact combination. That’s why content modules became more and more important. Ideally, those modules are designed as templates that allow salespeople to edit and customize customer-facing content, powered by technology where appropriate.
  • “Be Inspired” enablement technology is integrated with CRM systems. Salespeople don’t have to go to another system, log in, and search for what they need. Pull technology suggests content (and related training services) based on the characteristics of salespeople’s opportunities and accounts. To make this mechanism work, the customer-core enablement framework and the content creation process as described above are an essential foundation. The future vision of success is that salespeople have one collaborative platform they are working with.  The foundation is often the CRM system that integrates enablement and playbook systems, learning content, and predictive analytics to support them along their deals. Additionally, those platforms provide the foundation for the frontline sales managers’ coaching approach.
  • “Be Inspired” adoption is the ultimate advantage. All the efforts that have to be made earlier regarding the customer-core enablement process are worth the energy. Adoption will be much easier. When salespeople don’t need to go to another system, when they get the content (and related training refreshers) they need at their fingertips, pull systems unfold their ultimate advantage – increasing productivity and performance and higher adoption rates.

“Be Inspired” enablement systems are designed for salespeople. “Be Inspired!” systems give them what they need, when they need it, on all devices and wherever they currently are, at the pace of technology.

Interested in more details? Join me for my session at the Qvidian Connect Conference, March 24, 3:15pm in San Antonio, TX.


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How Sales Professionals Create Value for Customers

In complex B2B sales, why do buyers buy? Not because a salesperson could present all the required functions and features. That was already available online and didn’t create additional value. No, buyers buy because they learned along their journey how various solution approaches would help them to achieve their desired results and wins. Somebody provided a valuable perspective – sales professionals. Let’s have a deeper look at how sales professionals create value for B2B buyers.

Sales professionals understand the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts

Sales professionals design their solutions around their customers, not around their own portfolio of capabilities. Sales professionals try to approach their customers early along their customer’s journey. For this reason, understanding their specific environmental and situational context is essential homework; followed by analyzing the involved stakeholders, their roles, functions and potential viewpoints on how to approach this situation. Sales professionals take advantage of various social selling tools to make sure that their conversations with prospects and customers will be relevant and valuable to them. Only if these preparations are done can sales professionals know what they don’t know. And that’s the perfect way to create meaningful questions for the next conversation. Showing customers the bigger picture, the real business impact of the issue they are trying to master or different approaches that could lead to better outcomes – all that creates immediate value for customers. Meaningful questions that inspire the customers to look at their situation from a different perspective – that’s what makes a sales professional an expert, a respected, valuable resource for buyers.

Sales professionals develop a shared vision of future success – with the customers

The decision to change the current state for a better future state is the most crucial milestone along the customer’s journey. Such a decision to change the current state has one key prerequisite – a better future vision of success. Often, this future vision is not yet clearly articulated, apart from the desired business metrics. What needs to be developed is a holistic big picture that considers all key aspects, tangibles, and intangibles. The challenge for the sales professional is to develop, to sharpen and to align this vision across the entire group of involved stakeholders. Once this vision is defined, the way to get to this future state has to be described. Customers need to understand how to get to their future vision, ideally in a phased approach. They need to know what it means to their business and to them personally. Only then can they evaluate the related risks. Remember when IT providers first sold cloud services? Customers simply didn’t understand the proposals. Many salespeople tried to win the business by discounting, when the customers simply wanted to understand what this new technology would mean to them. The ultimate goal in the awareness phase of the customer’s journey 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. In terms of value creation for the customers, this is by far the most impactful phase along the customer’s journey.

Sales professionals navigate the customer’s decision dynamic

Decision dynamics: That’s how a specific group of buyers/stakeholders is going to make a decision this time. As we know from research, customers make every decision differently, every time. That does not mean that there are no formalized buying processes. It means that the combination of situations, goals, desired results and wins, the group of stakeholders and their roles and functions, and many other criteria are different every time. This is one of the reasons why renewals can be challenging. For sales professionals, it’s key to understand the stakeholders’ different roles within this group, for instance who is influencing whom and why, who has the most organizational power, who is the opinion leader, etc. Sales professionals’ situational awareness, their adaptive competencies and their ability to understand complex environments make the difference in those situations. Sales professionals with those capabilities earn the buyers’ respect and trust by orchestrating the group successfully through the buying phase – to enable them to make their best buying decision. In parallel, sales professionals who have followed the steps outlined here are confident that they have offered the best approach they ever could – to make their customers successful.

Sales professionals own the customer’s outcome and orchestrate the value dynamics

Sales professionals don’t walk away when a deal is closed. They know that their success comes only from their customers’ success. Sales professionals are accountable for the value they have sold to the customers. They make sure that the value gets delivered during the implementation and adoption phase. They make sure that the customers can achieve their desired results and wins. Ideally they try to create even more value as they discover more options along the way. Orchestrating the value dynamics is the key challenge after the deal has been closed. It’s the end of the sales process, but it’s the beginning for the customer, and it can be the beginning of another sales process if the value gets delivered and the customers are happy. Customer experience just continues along the customer’s journey. Sales professionals make sure that the value gets communicated across the entire stakeholder network and specifically to the executives who were involved in the very beginning.

Sales professionals know that “after the game is before the game.”

Image source: Shutterstock

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Processes, Methodologies and Skills – How They Fit Together

Imagine you are traveling from London via Edinburgh to the famous Isle of Skye. You know where to start (London), and you know where you want to go (Isle of Skye). The map you are looking at offers various options for getting from your starting point to your destination. You can travel all the way by car, you can take a flight from London to Edinburgh and rent a car there, or you could take the train for the entire distance or for parts of the distance. Numerous options. All will get you from A to B. What to choose depends on your and your fellow travelers’ criteria and the expectations and constraints of those who may await you in Skye.

Processes define the WHAT – All steps to perform in sequence to get from A to B

This example shows what a process is. A process guides you step by step from your point of departure to your destination. It defines the activities to be performed in a certain sequence; it defines the WHAT and the WHEN. In our example, it’s London and the Isle of Skye. In sales, it’s the current state of your lead or opportunity and the desired destination, which is a closed deal and a happy customer. In case you work with different business models, you may be able to choose a specific process variant, e.g., transactional deals, large volume deals, and complex deals. Now, what’s missing? The “how” and the “why” are missing.

Methodologies provide principles to understand “why” and “how.”

Methodologies apply in two ways here: A methodology to plan your trip would guide you to find your best travel option, factoring in the current situation, the options, the travelers’ preferences and the decision dynamic of the group. Let’s say driving by car was the decision. If you know how to drive you can drive different cars (e.g., automatic or manual) to get from A to B. It’s the same with selling. A selling methodology guides you with principles and “how to” knowledge along the journey. How much easier would it then be to follow a process based on a well-known methodology? Easier, faster and more effective. Because understanding the methodology allows you to be creative, to try new variations, based on the principles.

Consequently, the methodology and the process have to be integrated to create add-on value. Many organizations struggle with that necessity: There are process implementations without methodology, which happens when CRMs are implemented first. Or methodologies are implemented but not supported by and integrated with the sales process. Both scenarios are a waste of money and resources. Having a methodology without a process is having a soul without a body. Having a process without methodology, is having a body without a soul. It doesn’t work this way. The combination of methodology and process is the foundation for salespeople to become highly effective, based on principles instead of rules. This allows salespeople to integrate their creativity and to apply their adaptive competencies to come up with valuable, tailored, and differentiating perspectives for prospects and customers.

Skills and competencies are the ability – HOW to apply the methodology to a specific selling situation, powered by process and technology

There is a third element that’s often not considered enough. Integrating methodologies and processes is one thing. Knowing a methodology, and a process, in theory, is another thing. But that’s all explicit knowledge only. Acquiring the implicit knowledge of how to apply methodologies and processes successfully is the missing element that makes the discussion a triangle. You have to drive to become a skillful driver, and you have to sell to become a great salesperson. What makes the difference is practice and coaching to evolve the skills, to combine these skills and to integrate additional skills (communication, listening, presentation, negotiating etc.). Only this triangle of process, methodology, and relevant skills allows salespeople to soar, to be different, to be valuable and to be relevant for their customers.

How do you align methodology, processes, and skills?

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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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