Sharing, Participating, Contributing – The Knowledge Shareconomy

“The more we share, the more we have.”
̶  Leonard Nimoy

This is not only true for our personal lives, but for professional selling as well. But changing to a sharing and learning organization is more challenging in sales than in other functions, because for decades salespeople have the habit of hoarding their knowledge. Sharing is a cultural shift that’s triggered by information symmetry on the Internet, by people’s increasing sense of limited resources on Earth, by information technology that empowers people to connect together on various platforms and by a broader economic concept, the sharing economy.

Driving a car or playing cello is no longer connected to owning the asset. The sharing economy allows people to have access to tangible and intangible assets without the need to own them. A common premise is that when information about goods and services is shared, the value of those assets may increase, for the business, for individuals, and for the community. Various sharing economy models exist, but all of them leverage technology to empower individuals and organizations with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of goods and services.

In the world or professional selling, knowledge is the gold standard of the knowledge shareconomy.

Capability knowledge and situational knowledge are the key dimensions of the shareconomy’s gold standard. Capability knowledge covers a provider’s products, services and solutions. But it is the situational knowledge, the deep understanding of a customer’s specific situation and challenges, their stakeholders’ specific concepts and their specific decision dynamics, that allows a sales professional to apply the provider’s capabilities into a valuable and compelling perspective for customers.

Shareconomy models are collaborative consumption models based on three core elements:

  • Sharing instead of hoarding:
    Content and learning assets, such as internal enablement content, best practices, win/loss analyses and client-facing content, are shared on a collaborative, social, and well-integrated platform. This is the opposite of hoarding content on a personal laptop, accessible for the individual only. To become a sharing and collaborative organization, many sales professionals need to change their deeply ingrained attitudes toward sharing knowledge. Changing attitudes toward sharing requires sales leadership to create a compelling transformation story that shows the sales force how they can achieve more when they share knowledge and best practices instead of hoarding them. Getting salespeople to share content developed or contributed by others is a first step.
  • Authorship instead of ownership:
    Especially for younger generations, having a car available when needed is more important than owning a car. A car is a tangible example, but the same principle is true for intangible knowledge assets. Honoring content creators and their expertise ensures that the shared value is credited to the authors. In turn, giving credit where credit is due encourages others to share. The principle of authorship and the related personal recognition is an important enabler for the knowledge     shareconomy. Reflecting the principle of authorship over ownership in performance management systems and commission plans can be of tremendous value as an organization transforms to the knowledge shareconomy.
  • Knowledge flow instead of knowledge stocks:
    A car-sharing business only works if you can get a car when you need it. Likewise, knowledge is only valuable if it can flow to where it is needed. If knowledge is kept locked away, its value is wasted. Think about all the various dead content directories in your organization, where only a few have access and even fewer know about it. Social and collaborative technologies empower knowledge to flow and people to share, re-use, exchange, and evolve knowledge in various forms and shapes. Therefore, flowing knowledge has to be an intrinsic part of the sales professional’s working environment. That is why enablement solutions that are embedded in CRM systems are highly effective in helping salespeople to share knowledge and improve outcomes for everyone.

Sharing, participating, and contributing – three levels of knowledge shareconomy engagement.

Stay tuned!  Next time, we will discuss how to embrace the knowledge shareconomy.


Related blog posts:

Why Being An Expert Requires Expertise To Make A Difference

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

Why World Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn

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Why Being An Expert Requires Expertise To Make A Difference

“The top experts in the world are ardent students.
The day you stop learning, you’re definitely not an expert.”
–Brendon Burchard

What is an expert in sales?  Often experts in sales are considered as people with in–depth knowledge about a provider’s products and capabilities. Experts in sales often have specific titles, such as solution sales, presales or sales engineers. What about the customer knowledge? How relevant are competencies to being an expert in sales?

In today’s complex and continuously changing world, defining what an expert in sales really means becomes a competitive necessity to make a difference. Defining experts in sales leads directly to a blueprint for required sales enablement services.

“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a narrow field.”
– Niels Bohr

Experts know a lot of details in a specific knowledge area. To become an expert in a specific knowledge area, lots of mistakes have to be made. That’s the prerequisite for learning what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes and continuous learning allow people to develop their knowledge and understanding to the next level. In sales, we shouldn’t work on the false assumption that an expert is only knowledgeable about a provider’s capabilities. This capability knowledge area is an entry ticket to open a door. But capability knowledge alone won’t be enough to have relevant and valuable conversations with prospects and customers. Additional areas of knowledge are equally important, such as knowledge about the market and its trends, the customer’s industry, as well as the internal landscape of methods, processes and tools.

Being an expert in products and solutions is important, but not enough. To create real value for customers, sales professionals have to be an expert in the customers’ specific business challenges

Based on the above-mentioned knowledge areas, sales professionals have to become experts in their customers’ environmental and specific context. The way to make a difference in conversations with potential buyers is knowing and understanding their specific context of business challenges, problems and opportunities and being able to connect the dots to the own capabilities. Knowing their context includes understanding their current and their desired financial performance as well as the performance indicators that are relevant and critical for them. It’s no longer enough to be knowledgeable about the ROI or TCO of a provider’s product or solution. The financial impact of the customer’s desired solution (your products and services often are only a part of their solution!) mapped to their relevant financial metrics; that’s what matters to them. Being able to provide perspectives on different approaches to creating an even higher financial impact; that makes a huge difference. Sometimes, this ability enables new providers to win deals over those who are established since years but who didn’t care enough about the specific customer’s business context.

In addition, being an expert means to understand the stakeholders’ different concepts o how to approach a challenge, how to fix a problem or how to avoid a risk. Based on the stakeholders’ functions and roles, identifying their preference to process information and their individual decision-making style makes a sales professional a true expert. Knowing and understanding the decision dynamics of a certain customer stakeholder group and being able to orchestrate these decision dynamics is often what makes the difference in complex deals. These are all requirements a sales professional, an expert in sales needs to provide perspectives for customers; relevant, valuable, creative perspectives that enable customers to achieve or overachieve their desired results and wins.

Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Being an expert requires applying the various knowledge areas, skills and strategies in specific customer situations. Expertise means to connect the dots between capabilities and customer knowledge, between skills, competencies and strategies.

Being an expert is the prerequisite for expertise.

Expertise means also to recognize when the own level of expertise won’t be enough to make a difference for the customer. Including another expert is not a weakness, it is a strength in a customer-core approach and a true sign of conscious collaboration in sales.

Last but not least – what about the “generalists”? Are they no longer required or are they experts in another area? Think about an executive account manager in a large strategic account, and think about a deal executive in a three digit outsourcing deal. These sales professionals are not necessarily experts in all the knowledge areas as described above, but they are also not generalists. They have to be experts in orchestrating large customer stakeholder communities, and they have to be experts in selling big deals in their own organizations. Additionally they have to be experts in allocating the right domain experts on their deals. Their expertise is understanding decision dynamics; their expertise is leadership and collaboration.

Do you have all the experts on board to make a difference for your customers?

Related blog posts:

How Sales Professionals Create Value for Customers

Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle


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Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle

What does “perspective” mean? Is it just a breathtaking view you can enjoy standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower or on top of the Empire state building?

In complex B2B sales, we have to deal with various customer stakeholders who come from different functions, roles, and backgrounds. Their degree of involvement regarding a specific situation is different, and their ideas about how to master the challenge are different across the customer stakeholder community. Now, let’s see what perspective means from a sales professional’s point of view.

Providing perspectives is an engagement and messaging principle that enables the sales professional to create specific customer value at each phase of the customer’s journey and for each buyer role. This principle allows sales professionals to successfully navigate complex customer stakeholder networks.

Providing perspectives works the entire customer’s journey as a main design point. While the core principle of providing perspectives remains the same, the focal points in each phase are different, which evolves the principle to a dynamic level.

Navigating change dynamics to get to a shared vision of future success is the focal point in the customer’s awareness phase

In the customer’s awareness phase, the buyer analyzes a specific situation to understand root causes, impact, and ways to proceed. From doing nothing to buying a product, from service or solution up to postponing the issue to the next fiscal year – everything is possible.

Sales professionals have to be involved early on by providing perspectives with content and value messaging that’s focused on the customer’s specific context (their situation and their desired results and wins; and the impact of doing nothing!), tailored to different buyer roles and their different concepts of how to address the situation. Case studies and success stories that show possible approaches to addressing the situation and achieving their desired results and wins are perfect at this point. The sales professional’s focus is to drive a decision across the customer stakeholder network to change the current state for a better future state – that’s navigating change dynamics! That’s “providing perspective.” Perspectives that are creative, innovative, relevant, and prove how they can achieve the desired goals are valuable and will win buyer mindshare. The client-facing content and the value messages in this phase have to connect the dots between the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts. This is not the phase for product pitches.

Navigating decision dynamics to provide the customer’s best buying vision is the focal point in the buying phase

The customer’s decision to change the current state is the prerequisite to enter the actual buying phase. New customer stakeholders get involved; others may step back. Large projects are now often delegated to a project leader. This phase is much more competitive than the previous one. Buyers want to make their best decision to achieve both, their desired organizational results and their desired individual wins. Those sales professionals who were successfully involved in the awareness phase (which means they have won the customer’s mindshare) are in a much better position to win the buying phase. Value messaging is now more product- and solution-specific and contains competitive elements, but is always connected to the customer’s desired results and wins, based on the foundation that has been built in the awareness phase. A phased approach for getting from the current state to the desired future state by leveraging products and services has to be outlined. Every business case or other financial projection has to be treated with great care and connected to the specific messaging for specific buyer roles. Providing perspectives here means to provide the best possible buying vision from the customer’s point of view, valuable, creative, innovative, profitable; always connected to their future vision of success and the related results and wins.

Navigating value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase is key to creating happy customers and building a foundation for future business

The customer’s journey doesn’t end when a deal is closed. For them, the project gets started after the buying decision has been made. The sales professional’s work is not done yet. Furthermore, sales professionals have to own the results they have sold. They have to make sure that the value gets delivered and implemented as promised. When they do, sales professionals create happy customers and potential referrals, and build a foundation for future business. Therefore, navigating the value dynamics is a discipline that has to be mastered. It’s essential, but often overlooked, that the value that has been delivered has to be communicated back to the initial executive sponsors of the project. Often, those executives are no longer actively involved, and communicating with them via steering committees and status reports will not make much of an impression. Having these conversations in person, demonstrating the delivered value, makes it personal, tangible and emotional. That’s how sales professional make sure the executives will remember them for next time.

How do you provide perspectives?

Related blog posts:

Providing Perspective: A Customer Core Principle

How Sales Professionals Create Value For Their Customers

What Excellence and Buying Have in Common

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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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