Sales Enablement Perspectives
Why do you invest in technology? To drive efficiency? Or is your goal to increase sales effectiveness as well? Often, we simply want technology to help us do things faster by automating steps that we’ve been doing manually. But ultimately, investments in sales technology should also achieve better business results. So it is with investing in enablement technology. As a productivity boost, enablement technology is a prerequisite to achieving your sales performance goals. Ideally, enablement technology builds on a prepared foundation, which would be, in this case, for instance, a “cleaned-up content basement.”
How does investing in enablement technology help?
Looking at all respondents from our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the most important goal was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (35%), followed by “sharing best practices across the sales force” (32%), and “improving cross-selling and up-selling” (30%). The list continues with improvements ranked with less than 30%, such as “improving sales and marketing alignment” or “reduce search time for content and collateral” and “improving ramp-up time for new hires.” No surprises in these results so far. Most of these key improvements are focused on productivity only. But let’s first look at the differences in the regions.
Different focal points in North America and EMEA
In North America, the top improvement desired, regardless of respondent category, was: “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools (46%).” Then, the second most important improvement was “reducing the search time for content and collateral” (33%), which is for many people probably the most common immediate result they want to get out of enablement technology. Two improvements were tied for third place: “reducing ramp-up time for new hires” (29%) and “improving sales and marketing alignment“(29%).
In EMEA things are perceived a bit differently. The top improvement in EMEA was “Improving cross-selling and up-selling” with a pretty high ranking of 52%. In the category of all respondents, this improvement was ranked third with 30%. But looking at North America, this improvement was only ranked ninth with 17%. The second most relevant improvement in EMEA was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (44%) which was overall the number one result and in NA the number two. “Improving ramp-up time for new hires” ranked third with 28% — almost the same as in NA.
Some of these improvements, such as improving ramp-up time, and cross-selling and up-selling, are linked to a prerequisite: the integration of sales enablement solutions with CRM systems. Integration drives adoption and is an enabler for faster searches and better content access because people no longer need to work with multiple systems.
Integration of enablement technology drives productivity and adoption and is an indicator of enablement maturity
“Be Inspired” is an enablement delivery mechanism that requires enablement technology to be integrated with CRM systems. This means salespeople don’t have to go to another system, log in, and search for what they need. Instead, technology suggests content (and related training services) based on the characteristics of salespeople’s opportunities and accounts. To make this mechanism work, a customer-core enablement framework and a properly defined and implemented content creation process are essential. The future vision of success is that salespeople have one collaborative platform they work with. The foundation is often the CRM system that integrates enablement and playbook systems, learning content, and predictive analytics to support them at every stage of their deals.
Now, what does reality look like? Overall, 46% reported having this kind of integration, 41% said they did not, and 13% planned to implement it within the next twelve months. That looks like a pretty balanced status quo with lots of room for improvement. Here, the differences in the regions are much bigger.
In NA, 54% reported having this kind of integration, whereas only 28% in EMEA said so. Consequently, many more respondents in EMEA plan an integration initiative within the next twelve months (24%), versus North America (12%).
Enablement is perceived differently in different regions, and organizations are at different maturity levels. EMEA has an opportunity to learn from those who have already done enablement integrations.
A critical dependency that cannot be fixed by technology: content quality
Salespeople perceive technology and the embedded content as one system, which is valuable for them or not. They don’t distinguish between technology and content quality.
The critical dependency that is often overlooked is the quality of the content. What does that mean? Sales content in a world of rising buyer expectations has to be aligned to, for example, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the relevant buyer roles, and the business challenges that are addressed with your products and solutions. This alignment of content with customer journey forces organizations to assess their entire content landscape to see the gaps, the redundancies and the areas that need adjustment. It’s not to create more work for you. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity to achieve performance goals. Organizations with high levels of customer journey alignment achieve up to 9.1 percentage points better revenue plan attainment, and up to 13% better quota attainment.
To provide highly effective content, a “customer-core” enablement content strategy is mandatory, and that requires a “customer-core” enablement framework. Only then are you able to tailor your content services accordingly. Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain relevant and successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.
This article has been published first @ Top Sales Magazine June 2016 edition
Imagine salespeople have to learn a new skill, for instance, how to apply newly developed value messages in different customer interactions. In this case of behavioral change, a training session can only be the beginning of a longer journey. Lasting behavior change requires ongoing reinforcement.
This is where coaching comes into play. And frontline sales managers.
Coaching has to be formalized to be effective
At CSO Insights, we define coaching as a leadership skill to develop each salesperson’s full potential. To be effective with coaching, world-class performers build on coaching frameworks. Our 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study showed that a discretionary or informal coaching process did not have a significant impact on win rates, but a formal coaching process did: by nine percent. Ambitious sales leaders know immediately what a nine percent better win rate would mean in their organization. They also know that their frontline sales managers’ ability to coach is a critical element to sustainable sales performance. And yes, they also know that a formal approach to coaching is the differentiating element to become world-class.
Sales Coaching Framework Defined
The CSO Insights Sales Coaching Framework sits between the customer’s journey and the sales professionals’ journey (sales process). It requires that the customer’s journey has already been mapped to the organization’s sales process. For each gate on the customer’s side, there has to be an equivalent step on the internal side. This mapping is a key prerequisite to creating a coaching framework and the related coaching assets such as coaching guidelines, questionnaires for various buying situations and coaching training sessions for sales managers. Our coaching framework consists of four coaching layers, each corresponding to a different coaching area.
- Lead and Opportunity Coaching: The coach and sales professional examine a lead or opportunity to determine where it is along the customer’s journey and to identify activities that will keep the deal flowing through the funnel toward a successful conclusion. The earlier the coaching begins, the more valuable it is. In the awareness phase, sales managers can help the sales professionals get better at identifying and addressing opportunities, and they can coach them to develop and execute winning deal strategies. Plus, they can spot areas where the sales team needs to stop investing time and effort in deals that cannot be won or will require more resources than they are worth.
- Funnel or Pipeline Coaching focuses on the structure of a salesperson’s or the sales team’s funnel, identifying the most valuable deals that can be won and helping to manage risks and allocate resources accordingly. Funnel coaching also helps the salesperson understand how the shape of their funnel translates into quota attainment and determine how best to improve their funnel performance. During funnel coaching, the sales managers must assess the types of opportunities in the funnel, e.g., many small opportunities or fewer large volume deals, as well as the assumed close dates, stages, and risks of each opportunity. Most importantly, the coach must weigh the value of the opportunities against their probability of being won. Clearly, this coaching area builds on opportunity coaching and can only be successful if there is clarity at the opportunity level.
- Coaching on Skills and Behaviors: In today’s complex selling environments, customer behaviors are constantly changing. As a result, salespeople often have to make significant changes to their selling skills and behaviors. For example, the transactional, product-oriented approach no longer works in many selling scenarios, and sales professionals must adopt a value-based approach that focuses on the customers’ business outcomes. This is an area where sales managers should work closely with the enablement teams. Creating value for prospects and customers requires tailored value messages that are tied to the customer’s journey phase, buyer roles and their business challenges and goals. Enablement’s job is to provide these value messages and the related training, but sales managers must also coach to reinforce what has been taught to ensure adoption. This requires coaching on leads and opportunity and coaching on improving the sales professional’s messaging skills.
- Account Coaching is often overlooked, but it is equally important if an account strategy is in place. It’s mainly about coaching on identifying new business opportunities within the account (lead identification) and mapping the account strategy to the current achievements within an account (also from a customer’s perspective) and making adjustments or changes to strategy, focus area, relationship development, etc. The frequency of account coaching sessions depends on your and your customers’ specific rhythm of the business.
- Territory Coaching is even more overlooked, but equally important in the case of a territory strategy. It’s more than saying “work your territory.” Instead, territory coaching is all about focus: focus on the right targets and customers, and on the most relevant buyer roles. Also, in territory coaching, lead identification plays a key role. As soon as leads are qualified, they are coached by the overall lead and opportunity coaching process as mentioned above.
As soon as such a coaching framework is defined, the missing coaching assets for both content (coaching guidelines, coaching questions, coaching learning content, etc.,) and training (that make up a strategic frontline sales manager development program) have to be created.
In an ideal world, sales leaders understand the huge business impact of their frontline sales managers when it comes to execution, performance, and transformation.
And that’s why they invest not only in their sales managers’ coaching capabilities but also in a scalable platform for performance and productivity that includes a coaching framework as a critical component.
Related blog posts:
All life on Earth evolved from water. Water is the key prerequisite for life. We humans consist of eighty percent water. What water means for all of us, that’s what content could mean for the 21st century’s buyers. An adventurous hypothesis? Maybe. Let’s see what story our latest CSO Insights research will tell us.
How effective is client-facing content? The results are multifaceted.
In our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, we asked the participants to rank the effectiveness of various enablement services, such as client-facing content, in four categories: “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “needs improvement,” and, the lowest ranking, “needs major redesign.”
The content types that showed the biggest need for major redesign (26.5%) and improvement (45.7%) were business value/ROI justification tools. The next content asset, third-party endorsements, follows with less need for major redesign (18.9%) but the same need for improvement (45.7%). Email templates, customer case studies, and presentations showed a similar result, with more than 50% of both, need for improvement and major redesign.
Interestingly, the most effective client-facing content type was the technical product presentation (“meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations” aggregated at 60.1%), followed by product collateral (51.9%) and proposal templates (50.9%). References and customer presentations show a multifaceted result. While they seem to be the content types with the highest “exceeds expectations” result (10.2% and 9.9%), they also show considerable needs for major redesign (16% and 15%).
The transformation from product-selling approaches to more value and result-oriented sales approaches is still the main challenge in many organizations across all industries. And that’s what we see in the data. These data points have also incorporated what salespeople are used to using rather than what they should be using. This challenge, here focused on client-facing content habits, is not only a sales challenge, but it’s also an enablement, content strategy, and content management issue.
Let’s keep this multifaceted information in our minds, and look at the business impact of effective-rated, or rather ineffective-rated, client-facing content.
The effectiveness of client-facing content impacts the relationship organizations can develop with their customers.
Now, what impacts effective content? How do we get there? What hinders organizations from creating effective content?Overall, there is a significant correlation between the effectiveness of client-facing content and the level of relationships that can be achieved with clients. The more effective client-facing content is, the more likely providers can develop a high-level relationship with their customers as you can see here. Content ranked as “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations” is more likely to lead to a strategic partnership (63%) or a strategic contributor role (59%). In this “effective content” category, only 29% ended up as a preferred supplier or as a supplier (13%). Instead, content that is ranked as “needs improvements” or “needs major redesign” makes it very hard to develop a high-value relationship with clients such as strategic contributor (22%) or strategic partner (9%). With ineffective content, it’s more likely to end up as preferred supplier (45%) or supplier (60%). Simply look at the two different stair-step patterns in the chart here. The difference is quite significant.
The alignment of internal processes and frameworks to the customer’s journey is a prerequisite to creating effective content.
According to our data, organizations made lots of progress in aligning their internal processes to the customer’s journey: 54% reported to be mostly aligned, 19% to be fully aligned, 22% to be minimally aligned, and 5% not aligned at all. Overall, the high degree of alignment is surprising. Looking deeper in the data and in some of the interviews we made, it turns out that even if organizations have made some of the customer’s journey mapping exercises, it does not necessarily mean that they use these results on a regular basis in their sales process implementations and their enablement frameworks.
This fact might be one of the reasons why even a relatively high degree of alignment does not necessarily translate into effective enablement services, designed with the customer’s journey at the core. The time distance from mapping to translating to seeing measurable results might also be a reason many organizations seem to be in the middle of this transition.
Content matters. Content in the customer’s context matters even more. A well executed “outside-in” strategy makes the difference.
As the data says, the quality of client-facing content is a key element that significantly impacts the level of relationship you can achieve with your customers. The quality of your client-facing content is determined by your ability to tell your story from THEIR perspective (their customer’s journey, their context, their challenges, etc.), and not from the perspective of your products and services. Because customers don’t buy products. What they buy is the value they can achieve with your products and services. Now, what is the implication of this analysis?
Client-facing content must become a top priority on every sales leader’s strategic agenda
Having client-facing content on top of the sales leader’s agenda opens a window of opportunity for enablement leaders to establish a) an overall customer-core strategy and b) a sales force enablement framework with the customer’s journey at the core.
Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.
This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine April edition.
What’s the impact of a prospecting email that has nothing to do with you, the recipient? It’s precisely zero. Even worse, bad messaging hurts the brand that sends it. Why is this still happening, over and over again? It’s the era of social selling, isn’t it? Why are the easiest tools and approaches still not applied, not to mention common sense?
It’s astonishing to see how many salespeople, often driven by their managers, waste their time sending out countless prospecting emails that are completely useless. Just like this one, which I received a few weeks ago. I changed everything that could identify the sender; I have no interest in blaming somebody. My focus is to evolve the sales profession and to learn from examples.
Here you go:
I’m writing to follow up with you about XYZ. We help over XX,000 salespeople every single day with our platform.
We work online, offline, on any device, with any OS, and integrate with any CRM in the world. We’re the most flexible tool you’ll ever use! Check out our Brochure to see why we’re the best on the market.
Let me know if there is any interest in XYZ, or enhancing existing sales tools. I’d love to set up a quick call this upcoming week.
All the best,
How would you react to this message? How would you feel? Inclined to respond? Probably not, because the message has nothing to do with you.
Prospecting goes still wrong in so many cases, even though we have all the technology and all the concepts that can help us to avoid the biggest mistakes. Just trying harder with old approaches that were already questionable a decade ago is not a winning strategy, nor is it a best practice. Why should we ever increase a bad practice, such as sending countless, but useless, prospecting emails, hoping to achieve a different result? As Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.
Lead generation becomes more and more a sales priority. According to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study, improving lead generation effectiveness is the most important sales management priority (47.9%), followed by the ability to improve and show strategic value (34.7%). Yes, sales leaders focus more and more on the volume and quality of leads entering their funnel. They also know that marketing cannot create all the leads that are necessary to achieve ambitious growth goals. Sales has to generate 45.9% of the leads on their own, and marketing generates 25.2%, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Performance Management Study, followed by referrals (20.4%), and customer service (8.5%).
Lead generation quality can only be achieved if there is an approach in place that is focused on the potential buyer’s role and challenges, leveraging all information that’s available to make sure to create the highest possible impact with a tailored message. Let’s see how to get there:
- Use a personal salutation: “Hello” is nice, but omitting the recipient’s name is a missed opportunity to make it personal.
- Do your research: The salesperson didn’t do enough research. I might be in their CRM, or in a bought buyer database, but this data has not been verified for years. My previous role as VP of global sales force enablement and transformation ended in 2013. My current role as an analyst should be of interest for this organization, but not as a potential buyer.
All that is available right at a salesperson’s fingertips. The tools are called LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, etc. It’s not difficult to find me online, and the minute it may take, just to verify my current role and my employer is not a “nice to have” option, it’s essential. Not leveraging these tools shows that you don’t care.
- Tailor your message to the prospect: Whatever message you want to get across, can only be successful if it happens in the context of the person’s role and challenges. What’s wrong with the message above? It’s only about the vendor, how awesome they are. There is not even the attempt to connect the value they promise to my role and what it could mean for me, my challenges and my goals. The impact this vendor-centric message makes to me is precisely zero.
Prospecting is a team sport, and salespeople need support to get better every day: from enablement and their sales managers.
- A note to the sales managers – less is more: I know you are often measured by the craziest metrics (as our data says), but please stand up and help to end this insanity. Prospecting cannot be successful if we measure primarily the quantity of activities, as the number of emails or calls. The collateral damage of this behavior, which impacts the brand as well, is way too big, and often not considered. And the value you get in return is too small. So, it’s not efficient; I’m not even talking about effectiveness. Collaborate with marketing and enablement to provide your teams with buyer-centric value messages, ideally specific to role and industry. And coach them along the way. Less is more.
- A note to sales enablement leaders – provide value-based messaging templates: In case this wasn’t on your agenda so far, now it is. Value messaging for prospecting purposes has to be provided to sales teams. The value messaging here has to be consistent with the value messaging that’s used throughout the entire customer’s journey. Ideally, sales enablement is the function to orchestrate this endeavor, together with marketing. Collaborate also with the frontline sales managers to ensure that their coaching is consistent and that they measure more quality than quantity, more outcome than output, more effectiveness than efficiency.
These are basic steps to improve lead generation effectiveness, focused on one example: emails to prospects. Please check out my blog posts regarding value messaging criteria, the impact of different buying scenarios, and the various value messaging types along the customer’s journey.
This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine March edition.
I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Jonathan Farrington, CEO Top Sales World, together with Jay Mitchell, President and Founder of Mereo LLC. This interview was first published here: Top Sales Magazine, February 2016. In my humble opinion, this interview provides a rare blend of our research at CSO Insights, and a lot of experience and practical implementation tips.
TS: Yes, the term “enablement” needs clarification, depending on an organization’s context and current maturity level. But the common ground is to equip sales forces’ ability to evolve their “how to sell” approach according to changed buyer behaviors. That’s why we came up with a new definition:
Sales Force Enablement is a strategic, cross-functional discipline, designed to increase sales results and productivity, by providing integrated content, training and coaching services, for salespeople and frontline sales managers, along the entire customer’s journey, powered by technology.
This definition belongs to the recommended maturity level, what you should be doing. Organizations who are currently focused on either the content or the training stream (required maturity level) should begin to align and integrate their enablement services (“no training without content, no content without training”), based on a solid “customer-core” enablement framework. That means to map the customer’s journey to the internal process landscape before defining the scope of enablement. Then, enablement services can be tailored to different customer’s journey phases, buyer roles, and more.
JM: While there has been a mountain of research done in the last 3-4 years indicating the journey for B2B buyers is shifting, there has been very little talk about selling differently in these changing times. The way many sales professionals sell today is not much different than the B2B selling hey-day of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Why? Because too often sales leaders don’t know what needs to change, don’t have a model for a new approach or don’t know how to equip their sales teams appropriately. At Mereo, we have the honor of working with dozens of organizations trying to embrace the new dynamic of buyer and seller. The most successful of these companies address sales enablement as an operational discipline, rather than an independent function of their go-to-market operations. They employ cross-functional resources to deliver interdependent messaging, sales ready assets, training and coaching to their sales channels in a way that is synchronized with their client’s buying journey.
JF: That’s a comprehensive definition! Let’s look at the goals. What are the specific goals of enablement apart from increasing revenue that lead to sales performance?
JM: For most organizations, the macro objectives are fairly straightforward: to grow profitable revenues and increase quota attainment/revenue delivered per sales professional, while lowering cost of sale. While those are absolutely accurate, the market leaders we serve benchmark sales enablement success by the tenets that power revenue performance – that is, metrics such as elevating average deal size, enhancing the wallet share captured from each client, accelerating the on-boarding window for new sales professionals and shortening the sales cycle.
Beyond those traditional sales metrics, there are some clear measurements of marketing’s impact in sales enablement. For example, a recent CMO Council study revealed sales professionals waste two days per week creating their own messaging and tools. It is no wonder that the inability to communicate value messages to customers and prospects is still the biggest inhibitor to sales success.” Measuring marketing’s contribution to sales enablement may be “softer”, but it is still a fundamental gauge of success.
TS: Our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study (membership required) shows that enablement is a multifaceted discipline with a wide variety of goals of similar importance. Increasing sales efficiency was reported to be the most important goal (82%), which is the equivalent to lowering the cost of sale, as Jay mentioned. The second most important goal was increasing revenue as both of you mentioned (76%), and increasing new account acquisition (69%). The list continues with performance goals such as increasing the win rates, the reduction of sales cycle length and increasing revenue in existing clients. It’s important to understand that enablement goals have two critical dependencies: context and maturity. Context examples are, e.g. a growth path versus defending a market position, disruptions, or tech innovations. All have one in common: they impact and change how buyers want to buy and what’s valuable to them.
JF: The obvious question I have to ask: Where does enablement belong in the organization? In marketing or in sales?
TS: For years, in the absence of data, the question has been “Is enablement in sales or marketing?” Now we have to reframe the question to “where in sales is enablement?” based on the data of our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study. More than three quarters (78%) of all surveyed organizations placed enablement within sales – executive sales management (53%) or sales operations (25%). Only 7% indicated their enablement function to be in marketing while another 15% said enablement reports to various functions such as product/portfolio management, training, HR and others. There is an interesting difference for large organizations, above $250b in revenues: Also here more than three quarters (77%) report into sales, but less to executive management (36%) and more to sales operations (41%). And more of these large organizations have their enablement function within marketing (11%).
JM: As I mentioned earlier, we find that the top-performing organizations view sales enablement as a cross-functional discipline that engages resources (budgets and people) primarily from sales, marketing, solutions/products, services and training. That said, the leadership for the sales enablement team most often resides in sales, either reporting directly to the senior sales executive or to one of his/her chief lieutenants, in many cases sales operations. An important attribute we are finding in many of our clients is the importance sales enablement plays on the radar of the CEO/General Manager. For our most successful clients, when the CEO/General Manager takes a keen interest in the significance of sales enablement to their overall plan, revenue growth naturally follows.
JF: Let’s switch to what enablement teams provide for the sales force. A specific term that’s discussed almost everywhere is the term “playbooks.” For which purposes do I need a playbook, and how does that look like today, in the age of technology?
JM: The backbone of sales enablement is a consistent, well-tuned sales process aligned with the ideal buyer’s journey, as it provides a framework from which the key outputs of a sales enablement platform resonate. We see two key pillars of sales enablement, underpinned by a critical cultural tenet. The first pillar is a value-based messaging framework, which includes the ideal client profile, the pains ideal clients are encountering, discovery questions for igniting those pains and differentiated messages that are not only unique and provable, but also valuable to the audience. Ideally, these value proposition fundamentals are encapsulated in an interactive playbook that serves as a guide for sales to navigate the sales cycle with messaging that supports each conversation. Ultimately, messaging manifests itself in customer-facing, sales ready assets, such as prospecting talk tracks, pencil pitches and even proposal language and presentation templates. Once the messaging – the content – is in place, training sales to use the sales kit in context of their sales process is next. The second pillar of sales enablement – training – includes LOTS of role-plays where applying the messaging and sales kit is modeled and practiced. Which brings us to the critical cultural tenet of sales enablement – coaching. This is the most important facet in a sales enablement program and is predicated on sales managers intentionally learning the messaging, using the tools themselves and then practicing with their team, while providing relevant counsel.
TS: Amen, Jay! The term “playbook” is often as confusing as “enablement.” Playbooks are one of many content services, of course, an important one, mostly used in complex environments. Playbooks are interactive tools that guide salespeople along the entire customer’s journey with the right value messaging, content and sales tools, ideally tailored to any specific buying situation, powered by technology. A playbook is not a big book nobody will ever read. It’s a digital tool that’s ideally created per opportunity, depending on its stage, industry, buyer roles, business challenge, etc. And that requires a solid content management framework that’s designed along the customer’s journey.
We asked the participants of our enablement study to rank enablement services’ effectiveness. Playbooks and other enablement services that have to be designed with the customers at the core were reported rather ineffective compared to “old-fashioned” product sheets or product training services. While organizations made progress in aligning their sales processes to the customer’s journey, there is still a lot to do to translate this advantage into effective “customer-core” enablement services. And that requires a mindset shift.
JF: Enablement cannot be discussed without technology. What’s the state of the industry and what are the trends?
TS: There are many enablement vendors out there, and the market continues to grow. Years ago, you saw lots of enablement point solutions; desktop focused. And just a few years later, enablement solutions are available on any device, mostly integrated with CRM Systems. Furthermore, enablement technology equips salespeople with suggested content and training sessions right at their fingertips, allows them to share content (also videos) with prospects and clients, while customer interactions and buyer behaviors are tracked in parallel, as a foundation for often already integrated coaching features. Furthermore, enablement technology allows content creators (not only marketing) to define and maintain content management frameworks. An aspect that’s often underestimated, but when organizations want to provide tailored content to specific buying scenarios, they have to have a content management framework in place that’s defined along the customer’s journey.
JM: Tamara nailed it. It has evolved from point solutions, to technology purposely used for sales enablement and synchronized with the CRM system. The most effective solutions deliver the messaging, the sales enablement assets and even role-play training at the sales professional’s device – often a tablet or iPad. We have partnered with a number of vendors in this arena, and have seen our clients develop proprietary solutions for it. The established, proven solutions have delivered better results almost every time.
JF: To create all these enablement services, collaboration must be a big challenge and also an important “enabler” for enablement. How does the reality look like?
JM: The biggest obstacle to sales success, according to sales managers, is the sales team’s inability to communicate value messages, based on CSO Insights research. For me, this means too many organizations are not synchronized on the real purpose of sales enablement— to equip the sales channels to create more value in EVERY interaction with a prospect/client. As I’ve already mentioned: sales enablement is a cross-functional discipline that is rooted in an alignment between sales, marketing, solutions/products, services and training as the primary contributors. Alignment is the key word here. When these, often disparate teams are united by a common mission — to enable the sales force to serve their audience first — unleashed revenue performance is guaranteed to be the result.
TS: The survey results on collaboration were as surprising as the question where enablement belongs in the organization. More than 80% of the participants reported to collaborate on an informal (42%) or an ad hoc basis (41%) which means that they have no formal collaboration, collaboration framework or model in place. Only 12 % of the participants reported collaborating on a formal basis. Interestingly, a snapshot on larger organizations delivered the exact same results. In reality, organizations allow themselves NOT to leverage a huge potential for efficiency, which is a prerequisite to achieving sales performance goals. From opinions to data: there is a significant correlation between collaboration and quota attainment. Between those with an ad hoc and a formal collaboration approach, there was a 21% difference in quota attainment. Which sales leader can allow not to leverage such a quota attainment potential?
Related blog posts:
Taking research on enablement to the next level
2015 was a challenging, inspiring, and successful year for me. My focus was to build on the research and content foundation I created the year before. Building on this foundation allowed us to conduct our first global sales enablement study, to analyze the data, and to create our first sales enablement trends report. The data we got are amazing, challenging and thought-provoking at the same time. With data, it’s no longer about having an opinion. With data, we could debunk myths, identify trends, analyze core challenges, and provide models and frameworks how to tackle these issues – that’s exactly what I love about my work! Stay tuned, you will hear more about the results and deeper analysis in early 2016.
Lots of recognitions!
2015 was a year with lots of recognitions of my work. In November, I was surprised, happy and grateful to win the Best Sales Blogger Award 2015, initiated and conducted by Il Commerciale. But that wasn’t the only one. When the 2015 Top Sales Awards were announced in December, I couldn’t believe my eyes: winner of the Thought Leader category and winner of the Best Blog Post category. And our CSO Insights blog won a bronze medal in the company blog category. And there was more to be speechless: Together with our customer Showpad, we have won a gold medal for the 2015 sales enablement trends report. More than anybody could ever ask for. Woohoo!
I’m very happy and deeply grateful for these recognitions, as they underline the constant focus, dedication, and passion, I’m putting in my work. These awards also show that my sometimes thought-provoking thoughts, ideas, and system-based approaches are respected in the industry. Even more important, these recognitions set the bar for 2016: creating, even more, value, based on research, for our customers and partners, in every interaction. Digging deeper in specific enablement and sales management areas where we have identified the biggest need for clarity or an increasing need for models and frameworks to master these challenges in an effective way.
- Thank YOU, for following my work, my blog posts here and on our CSO Insights blog, where you can find the biggest part of my work.
- Thank YOU for reading and sharing my blog posts.
- Thank YOU for inspiring my brain and for challenging my thoughts – doing so is the key to growing for all of us. Getting better in everything we are doing, every day – that’s what we need to evolve the sales profession to a true customer value creating role!
- Thank YOU for all your ongoing support. I wouldn’t be where I am without YOU!
My best wishes for you
I wish you a happy holiday season, and that you can make peace with whatever happened in 2015. It’s over and cannot be changed anymore. I wish you a healthy, happy, inspiring and successful 2016, whatever happiness and success may mean to you, with lots of opportunities to learn and to grow.
- May you walk in peace towards your visions
- May you walk in gratitude
- May you walk in balance and beauty
- May you walk with lots of creative energies and a clear focus in the New Year 2016!
Doing something for those who need our voice and our help: the animals
As last year, I would like to draw your attention to a great cause. Those of you who know me in person, also know that I not only care about sales and high performance but also about animals, their rights, and well-being. In case you are looking for a great purpose for your year-end donations, here is my suggestion to cover both areas – high performance in marathon running and rescued animals: Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, led by Fiona Oakes. I’m supporting the sanctuary and Fiona’s work for a couple of years now, and I’m also supporting some of the promotional work that is crucial to keep the sanctuary going.
Fiona Oakes is the fastest woman to ever run a marathon on every continent. She holds 3 marathon world records and 4 marathon course records. She is the fastest woman to run a marathon on each continent plus the North Pole. Furthermore, Fiona completed 6 marathons on 6 continents in 6 days in 2015.
Fiona’s cause? It’s her Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, where she takes care of almost 400 previously unwanted and rescued animals, only with the help of her partner Martin Morgan. There are different ways to help:
Christmas Feed Delivery: with just a few pounds, you can buy a bale of hay, some carrots, straw, or other food for the rescues.
Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary: here you can find all different sorts of donations: animal adoptions, calendars, monthly donations, and many more things.
As in sales, so it is here for the animals: every action counts. Every dollar, pound or euro counts!
The donations are entirely used to cover the feed costs.
The animals, as Mr. Geoffrey, say Thank YOU!
It’s only when notes are assembled into a specific arrangement that they can properly be called music. In the hands of a master composer, these assembled notes can tell a compelling story.
That’s the same with building a business case for frontline sales manager (FSM) development.
Foundation: Four main reasons to invest in frontline sales managers
- FSMs are the linchpin to performance: They have the biggest leverage effect in any sales organization, based on their span of control. Additionally, they have to navigate multiple priorities at the same time, across three often competing dimensions — customers, business and people — in a constantly changing and complex environment, sandwiched between leadership and the sales team.
- Coaching can increase win rates by 9%: Coaching is not a required capability for individual sales professionals, but it is the key leadership capability for FSMs to develop salespeople’s untapped potential. Our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study shows that coaching, closely connected to the sales process and methodologies, can improve win rates for forecasted deals by 9%.
- Shifting the FSM’s focus: As sales leaders shift their focus more towards what’s coming into the pipeline (see CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study), FSMs have to shift their focus as well to the early stages of the customer’s journey, to prospecting and creating new opportunities. Furthermore, FSMs also have to walk away from only measuring results to managing the right activities and coaching the related behaviors throughout the entire customer’s journey.
- Forecast accuracy is key to sales effectiveness: Organizations with higher forecast accuracy have better revenue plan attainment (2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study). The better the forecast, the more focused an organization is on the deals they can win, and the deals they want to win (e.g., resources, investments).
Additional components: key influencers, data in context and current FSM maturity
Based on the four main reasons to invest in FSMs, three additional ingredients are required. A group of key influencers and early supporters must be created. Ideally, this group will consist of sales enablement/training, sales operations, and HR professionals as well as a few high-performing and interested FSMs. The reasons for FSM development as detailed above must be connected to the organization’s context by mapping the business strategy to the current sales execution plan. This will help identify strengths, gaps, and weaknesses. Additionally, the organization’s current FSM maturity level should be assessed to establish a starting point for development and to identify priorities. The CSO Insights FSM Maturity Model can provide guidance.
Composing the Business Case
Just as a piece of music has structure, so does the business case for prioritizing FSM development. The “right” structure depends heavily on the audience and setting, in this case, the sales leaders’ personalities and preferences and the organizational context in which the case is being made. However the case is structured, it needs to answer these questions:
- Why should we reprioritize investments? The answer to this question connects the dots between sales strategy, current sales challenges, ongoing strategic initiatives and the FSM assessment results and conclusions. Bringing data in the organization’s specific context, that’s the key challenge here.
- In what are we investing? The business case must provide at least high-level details of where sales leaders are being asked to invest and what will be delivered. For many organizations, this is a rough outline of an FSM development program (modules, sequences, content, etc.) that is based on the initial assessment and connected to the organization’s challenges.
- How much do we need to invest? Sales leadership will need to know how much they are being asked to invest in FSM development. Most organizations find it helpful to break this down into an average per FSM per year. Details on annual investments can be found in the CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study. These investments should also be mapped to the expected results.
- How will we develop and deliver the program? What combination of e-learning, m-learning (mobile learning) and classroom training will the program offer, and how much time will FSMs need to spend in training per year? Additionally, how will these programs be developed and delivered – with internal resources, with partners, or completely outsourced?
- How will we measure success? Metrics has to be defined for both the expected behavioral changes and the business results. For example, if the initial assessment determined that coaching needed to be formalized and the related coaching capabilities developed, then coaching must be measured, e.g., coaching time, frequency, purpose and quality. Then, the expected business impact, such as increasing win rates, can be measured and put into context.
- How will we get there? Not only is a common vision of success required; sales leadership also needs to be shown how they will reach their destination. The roadmap should outline the different developmental phases for each of the different FSM target groups, including pilots and roll-outs across additional regions and business units.
Logically, it makes sense to invest in FSMs, as they are the linchpins to sales performance. However, sales leadership’s natural bias toward investing in individual sales professionals is a hurdle that must be overcome. This requires a compelling business case composed of research and a thorough, current state analysis that shows sales leaders how reprioritizing investments can help them reach their business goals.
Related blog posts:
Experienced chefs don’t need a separate recipe for each menu variation they create. For example, once they have learned to cook a risotto, they can create lots of different variations with ingredients such as mushrooms, pumpkins, zucchini or spinach. They simply adapt the basic principles. Sales enablement leaders must define the principles of how to create value messages. Then, salespeople can adapt specific value messages (recipes) to suit the individual buyers’ contexts and concepts.
The inability to communicate value messages is a key inhibitor to sales success.
Three years of surveys have shown that this is the top inhibitor to sales success. Improving the ability to show strategic value is now an urgent sales management effectiveness priority, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study.
Organizations still struggle with value messaging. Value messaging training is not ranked very effective, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study: 53.4% reported that value messaging training needs improvement or major redesign. Also, messaging guidelines seem to have similar challenges regarding effectiveness: 52.6% reported that messaging guidelines need improvement and major redesign. It’s interesting that the training services and content types we’ve all known for decades, such as product training, process and methodology training, product sheets and brochures are ranked as much more effective. While the results might reflect respondents’ “comfort zones,” there is no doubt that organizations have challenges providing and executing effective value messages.
Value messages are only effective if they are designed from the customer’s perspective and tailored to different buyer roles and customer’s journey phases.
Buyers are not interested in getting information on something they already know, such as features and functions. Instead, they want value messages that focus on their issues and business goals, messages that create value by highlighting how they can achieve their business objectives better and faster. But it is precisely this “customer-core” approach to value messaging that remains a challenge for many organizations.
Many organizations are still designing around products. This leads not only to product-focused content (and training), but also to a situation in which product management and marketing teams compete against each other to get the sales force’s attention, not to mention the customers’ attention. In these inside-out, product-oriented environments, it’s difficult to drive change towards a customer-core approach, and to create value messages based on the customer’s journey, the related buyer roles and customer business challenges.
There is no “one size fits all” value proposition – value messaging goes dynamic
Customers decide how they want to connect and collaborate with salespeople, and they also decide how to calculate value, their value. In a nutshell: every customer makes every decision differently, every time. Consequently, we cannot expect to be successful with “one size fits all” value propositions. Instead, in our customer-centric world, organizations need dynamic value messaging frameworks that consider the relevant messaging criteria and different focal points and goals in different buying situations throughout the entire customer’s journey. Examples of messaging criteria include the relevant buyer roles, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the customer’s context, the buyers’ different approaches to how to tackle the issue and the desired business results and wins.
Furthermore, value messaging also depends on the specific buying situation. If a customer is in a renewal situation, they know exactly what they want and don’t want. But if they have to tackle a challenge they haven’t dealt with before (such as buying their first virtualization software, or their first business process outsourcing), they will need different value messages, and they’ll need them earlier along their customer journey.
The value messaging types along the customer’s journey are value hypothesis and value propositions in the awareness phase, specific value propositions in the buying phase and value confirmations in the implementation and adoption phase.
Building a dynamic value messaging framework
The enablement effort to design, create and deliver dynamic value messages must not be underestimated. The complexity of various elements that impact the different value messaging types (as defined above) can be overwhelming. The core idea to drive efficiency is to create messaging modules that can easily be tailored by salespeople. A few criteria help enablement leaders to build their messaging framework initially:
- Enablement production process as a foundation:
Such a process defines how and from whom value messaging content is designed, created, localized, provided and tracked.
- Defining messaging modules:
The most important buying situations and buying roles should be identified to increase the value of modules and limit the number that need to be created.
- Consider the organization’s business and sales model:
The more vertical the business, the more likely messaging modules by vertical will be needed even if the organization’s products and services are horizontal in nature. Campaign, territory or account-based sales models have to be considered as well.
- Establish a process of trigger events and feedback loops:
Establish a messaging lifecycle process to keep the value messages up-to-date. Such a process should include trigger events such as new products, changed buyer behaviors, feedback from salespeople and their managers, and regular check points.
The “right” design for the value messaging framework and for the value messaging modules depend not only on the various value messages that are required along the customer’s journey, but also on the specific selling and buying context and on the design of the sales organization.
Related blog posts:
This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine: Dec 1, 2015
Do you remember the last time you made a significant buying decision as a consumer, such as a decision to buy furniture or a car? How structured and organized was this decision-making process? Or was it perhaps a more iterative process or cycle, because you heard something here and learned something there, and all of sudden, a different, but amazing, offer came your way. If you have professional B2B buying experience, reflect on some of those decision processes. How many were linear, without iterations? Probably not a single one.
Buying happens in iterations, and the buying dynamics have to be navigated
I remember one of my biggest buying decisions in a large corporation, which was about an account management system that should support a newly implemented customer-core account planning and management cycle. The whole buying process took two years, from scoping to developing the solution, to the pilot, up to buying (not including implementation). From start to finish there were phases that were straightforward… until something happened. It might have been a budget freeze, the appointment of a new sales leader, or the IT department changed its strategy. Some stakeholders left the project; others joined, and both the exits and the entries impacted the specific context of the project, based on their different viewpoints and even different goals.
Was that a linear, straight buying process that could be simply managed by following the process? No. Not at all. It was an iterative process with moving targets and various stakeholder changes, and on a global level. Lots of dynamics happened that could not be managed by applying learned mechanics. Those dynamics had to be navigated, situationally, based on a changing context, moving targets and a changing buying team with changing thoughts and expectations. Overall, it was an iterative, dynamic process that had to be navigated carefully, in a very focused way, and with lots of situational awareness, creativity, and adaptations.
More information does not necessarily lead to more understanding – context is often missing
Customer behaviors have fundamentally changed and are still changing, and their expectations are rising. There is no doubt that buyers are much more informed than ever before; exactly as salespeople should be much more informed about their customers and competitors, etc. But often more information does not necessarily lead to more knowledge on the buyer side – it leads to more confusion. Why? Because lots of information is without any context. And context matters. Context is queen, if not king. And that’s where the value of a sales professional comes into play.
Buyers decide how to connect, collaborate and calculate throughout their customer’s journey
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study reports that today’s buyers decide how they want to connect, how they want to collaborate with salespeople and how they calculate value. Selling is no longer about products; it’s about the specific value customers can achieve through a provider’s products and services. Value is always specific to the customer, dependent upon their situational context and the buying teams’ approaches on how to tackle the challenge. Professional B2B selling must be dedicated to creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for each impacted buyer role. Click here to take the survey for the 2016 CSO Insights Sales Best Practices Study.
Customer-core strategies for enablement leaders
Knowing and understanding how buyers want to buy is essential for every enablement leader. Understanding the customer’s journey and working with the customer’s journey and the impacted buyer roles has to be the foundation of any enablement strategy, mapped to the specific challenges of the sales force.
Reflecting these buying dynamics throughout an often formalized, but iterative customer’s journey, three key strategies should be applied by sales enablement leaders:
- Implement a dynamic customer-core engagement principle: Such an engagement principle – we call ours “Providing Perspective” – defines how to connect and engage with different buyer roles throughout their customer’s journey related to the buyers different focal points in each phase. Furthermore, such an engagement principle sets the stage for a dynamic value messaging approach that also has to be tailored to the customer’s journey phases and the different buyers’ needs in each phase.
- Align and integrate content and training services: It’s not enough to provide content such as playbooks, messaging guidelines, new case studies, brochures, etc. Salespeople need to know how to use which asset most effectively in which customer interaction. Short videos, featuring salespeople explaining to their peers how to take advantage of a certain asset, are one of the most credible ways to drive adoption. Connecting content and training with small, but impactful steps is always a winning strategy.
- Build salespeople’s adaptive competencies: One of the biggest competitive advantages a salesforce can have is the ability to shift strategies, activities and behaviors to changed, complex and new situations, fast and effectively. Developing salespeople’s adaptive competencies becomes more and more a strategic necessity to develop a salesforce that can create additional and differentiating value to their prospects and customers – in their context, addressing their desired business value.
Last but not least, the internal process landscape must allow iterations exactly the same way as customers process their iterations. To adapt internal processes this way, collaborating with sales operations is essential, to better integrate principles and to remove one-way rules.
How do you deal with buying iterations, from a sales and a sales force enablement perspective?
Did you already adjust your internal processes; and if so, how?
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October 27, 2015.
Sailing requires a lot of capabilities. As a sailor you learn various mechanical principles – how the equipment works, and based on that, what to do on the sailboat. You have to become an experienced sailing practitioner to be able to sail the ocean. But these mechanical skills aren’t sufficient. You also have to learn the essentials of how to navigate.
Sailing experience is actually built on all the things you can control – managing the sailing mechanics on the boat – and on your ability to navigate all the things you cannot control – nature’s dynamics.
Mechanics are predictable. Dynamics are probabilities in uncertainty
Imagine the mechanical steps you take to create a new account or a new opportunity in your CRM system. Mechanics describe precisely in which way something has to be done. Mechanics have a lot to do with “if/then” clauses. In this example, you need the account data before you can create your opportunity. Mechanics are pretty predictable. If all the required data are entered, a new account or a new opportunity will be created.
Dynamics instead represent probability, possibility, and uncertainty in often complex environments. Imagine your recent conversations with different B2B buying teams. Were these situations predictable? You have probably developed a few scenarios to get prepared for the conversations. But at the end, a slightly different scenario may have happened. Dynamics are not really predictable.
Navigating different dynamics along the customer’s journey
- Change dynamics in the awareness phase of the customer’s journey:
A challenge occurs, the situation gets analyzed, and options for tackling the challenge are discussed. Customer stakeholders often come from different functions and roles, and have different approaches regarding how to address the situation. The key question is, “Do we change the current state for a better future state: Yes or no?” The decision can be “yes,” “no,” or “not now.” For sales professionals, the biggest challenge here is to provide perspectives that help the stakeholders make a decision to change the current state for a better future state.
- Decision dynamics in the actual buying phase of the customer’s journey:
The buying team may change, because some senior executives may delegate the project and procurement people may join the buying team. Decision dynamics are focused on how to make the best buying decision as a team with different perspectives and approaches to achieve the best results and wins with the lowest possible risks. Decision dynamics have different characteristics than change dynamics. For sales professionals, the biggest challenge is to contribute to the customer’s value calculation in a way that’s beyond TCO or product-driven ROIs to be perceived as the best possible buying option. Business value ideally tackles the top or the bottom line.
- Value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase:
When the implemented products and services deliver the value that has been bought, thoughtful value confirmations tailored for each buyer role are they key to developing future business. This step is often overlooked, but as buyers have different approaches regarding how to tackle a situation, they will also have different perceptions of value.
For sales professionals, the biggest challenge is to get back to the initially involved senior executives, even if they have delegated the project for implementation. These value confirmation conversations can lead directly to new opportunities.
What makes the difference in these situations? Mechanics or dynamics?
Mechanics, as we defined the term above, are everything that can be controlled by the sales professionals. Dynamics are what happens in reality, in complex situations with different stakeholders, and their different approaches, changing objectives and an often-changing situational context. In those complex, often unpredictable environments, sales professionals need a solid foundation of skills and competencies, customer, market and product knowledge, strategies and specific expertise – just to remain in the game. What makes the difference is their ability to quickly adjust their strategies, behaviors and activities to new, changed and complex situations. That’s navigating dynamics.
Navigating dynamics requires adaptive competencies – a key challenge for sales enablement
Developing adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching Whatever the specific challenges in a sales organization 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. You don’t train a new sailor to navigate the ocean before learning the basics.
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, applying principles instead of rules, and creativity, as well as critical and strategic thinking.
Adaptive competencies are what sales professionals need as an add-on to their mechanics. Adaptive competencies enable them to navigate the dynamics of today’s ever-changing, complex, buyer-driven world.
Questions for you:
- How do you navigate complex B2B buying dynamics?
- How important is the alignment of your sales process to the customer’s journey to successfully navigate buying dynamics?
- How does your engagement principle reflect buying dynamics?
Related blog posts:
- Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
- The Customer’s Journey Matters, Or How To Avoid Seller and Buyer Misalignment
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 29, 2015.