Brad Holmes asked this question a few days ago in one of the well known LinkedIn Sales Enablement Groups. Those of you who are following my posts regularly, might have an idea in which direction my thoughts will go…
Sales enablement – as discussed many times, not only here – is still not pretty well defined. The term still means different things to different people across different industries and across different selling strategies. Due to this lack of definition, it’s a chain of reasoning that we now debate, whether the discipline should be an executive role or not. As you know me, I will try to shed light on this important question!
My point of departure is the gap between strategy and execution.
A Forrester survey with CEOs across different industries asked this simple question: “Are you satisfied that your sales force is getting your company to its strategic objectives?” The majority of the CEOs answered like this: “The selling system is not adapting quickly enough to accommodate our changing business strategy.”
What does that mean? Let’s revisit what’s happening around us: The world is changing fundamentally, our customers have already changed and will continue to change fundamentally – “the big shift”, “from inside-out to outside-in”, “from push to pull”, “outcome/result selling”, “social selling” are a few of the well known key words. That’s why our business and sales strategies and also our execution plans change in a very dynamic way. Sales leaders adjust their strategies to drive profitable growth, to become/remain valuable for their changed customers – especially considering their changed behaviors and their changed expectations on what’s valuable for them.
Let me start with a assumption: There are selling systems in place – not only a few – that are not thoroughly able to execute on a newly established sales strategy.
Imagine your sales force was designed years ago based on horizontal products and solutions, pretty much focused on short term quarterly results. No special industry focus. Now, the new SVP Sales has a changed business strategy, he/she wants to leverage the existing horizontal solutions and services with much more industry knowledge, to be able to sell higher, to create better outcomes for customers, to create more growth out of strategic accounts and so forth… Imagine also, that the new sales leader already reorganized and restructured the sales force including the first industry units. Let’s assume that nothing else changed so far, which means that for instance sales management principles, the sales force control and performance systems and the sales process, the coverage model and the comp model are still the same.
Would you agree, that there could be a certain gap between strategy and execution? Because amongst other misfits, the selling system won’t have enough vertical industry knowledge and maybe also not enough business acumen to execute successfully on the new strategy? OK, you might say, let’s hire a bunch of people to close the vertical knowledge gap. Sure, we will need to start a hiring process to get more industry knowledge into the organization. But then – what will happen? Probably, the majority of the sales people will act according to the existing sales force control system, according to the existing sales management culture – just to make their numbers. Systematic creation of mid-term new business ideas in strategic accounts in the newly created industries will probably not happen. The newly hired sales people might feel a bit confused and unable to execute on the strategy they were hired for. Are all the sellers and their managers just not capable to execute on the new strategy? That’s an interesting question, but not the first one in my opinion.
Shouldn’t the first question be this one?
“How do we design a sales infrastructure and a selling system, that can quickly adapt this new business strategy?”
And second – as we will always face new business strategies and we need to become much quicker in adapting those new strategies:
“How do we design a framework that helps us to design a new sales infrastructure, a new selling system in a simple, structured and repeatable way whenever we get a new business strategy?”
And the third question could be:
“How do we design and execute a tactical sales enablement program based on the selling system for the front line sales people and a corresponding enablement program for the sales managers?”
You might think that this is an unrealistic example… Let’s review how many similar situations like this do we know all over the place – a new sales leader arrives, a new strategy and a new sales organization are implemented, some people are hired and some get fired. Of course, I created a black and white example to make the real problem pretty clear – the lack of a well aligned sales infrastructure, of a flexible end2end selling system.
What’s often missing, is an end2end selling system perspective which covers the sales infrastructure and the entire selling system, all client-facing people and the sales managers.
This end2end selling system perspective is a “must have” to be able to
- analyze the strategy-execution gap
- design an end2end selling system according to the adjusted business strategies
- design and execute an enablement program for all client-facing people and the sales managers
The selling system perspective…
- is the missing piece in most of the sales enablement discussions and one reason why we debate whether sales enablement could/should become an executive role or not
- is not a silo and functional perspective, it’s a cross-functional, collaborative system’s view point, covering the whole value communication chain in an end2end way
- is the key differentiator for the sales enablement discipline to make it a strategic and executive level role
In my opinion, the end2end selling system perspective should cover these dimensions – based on the new business strategy, always outside-in:
- Customer experience and business results
- Processes (from prospect to contract based on customer journey)
and these topics (all are closely related to each other!):
- sales and coverage model
- selling strategies (product, solution, outcome)
- sales culture, sales force’s comfort zones
- account strategies, account frameworks, territory strategies, territory planning
- customer’s journey, mapped sales process
- sales management principles along the customer’s journey
- sales force control and performance systems along the customer’s journey
- Selling job profiles
If all that was processed successfully – then we can start to design the necessary enablement programs (demand generation and sales enablement content, trainings, coachings etc.) – all designed along the customer’s journey, and all designed for front-line sales people – and let’s not forget a corresponding program for sales managers!
Changing a business strategy is one side of the coin. Successful execution is based on more than adjusting the execution and enablement road map on a tactical level. It’s about the tricky question whether we do the right things or we do things right…
- In the latter case (“doing things right”), we are talking about a tactical sales enablement role focused on sales enablement content, coaching and training – not questioning the selling system
- In the first case (“doing right things”), we are talking about an executive, strategic sales enablement role, questioning the selling system’s ability to execute on the business strategy
What’s your view point on sales enablement as an executive role?
What’s in your opinion the right term for the role I described here?
Is that still sales enablement, something else, another term?
If yes, which one would you suggest?