“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
Imagine a group of people in a business meeting who are discussing a certain topic that seems to be familiar to everybody. But somehow, the meeting goes on and on. Then it ends with – no decision. We all know those unproductive scenarios. People assume that all others have the same (their own) understanding of a certain term. But this is often not the case. Then meetings end nowhere, the time has been wasted, and no decisions have been made.
This is why definitions are so important. Definitions are a productivity booster rather than a waste of time. Most important in our ever-changing and complex world of selling and buying is that definitions have to be adjusted, changed, and evolved to remain valuable.
And that’s exactly the case with sales enablement. How enablement began its journey several years ago may no longer be appropriate to create sustainable and scalable business value in today’s ever-changing environments.
Let’s analyze how a world of rising buyer expectations requires that enablement evolve to a more dynamic, strategic and holistic discipline.
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that world-class sales performers involve an average of 5.8 stakeholders at the customer, and 4.6 within their own organization. That’s significantly more than average performers, who only involve 4.4 stakeholders at the customer and 3.8 people internally. More people involved leads to more complexity to be mastered. But more people involved also leads to better sales performance. That’s counterintuitive, but this world-class segment outperforms all others in terms of increasing customer retention rates (+5.8%) and sales performance (+23%), measured by various sales metrics. What are they doing differently?
World-class sales performers adapt better and faster to rising and changing buyer expectations in a customer-centric world.
World-class sales performers know that understanding the specific customer’s journey, and all involved stakeholders, is the foundation for providing valuable perspectives. World-class sales performers create value at each stage of the customer’s journey for all stakeholders, each of whose involvement may be different. They provide valuable perspectives on how to achieve even better results and wins, and collaborate with customers to calculate their specific business value. World-class sales performers know exactly how to navigate the different dynamics along the entire customer’s journey, and they don’t walk away after a deal has been closed.
That’s why enablement needs to be refreshed and redefined in a strategic and holistic way – Sales Force Enablement
All these findings on world-class sales performance require a dynamic, strategic and holistic enablement approach based on the customer’s journey as the main design point. That’s why I came up with a new and comprehensive definition. Many years in different sales roles, as an executive in the enablement space evolving the topic from a program to a strategic function in a large corporation; and working for many years with peers in the same space plus working with our clients, have led to this sharpened approach. Here we go:
A few soundbites for you on the definition:
- Strategic means that the business strategy is mapped to sales execution to derive a specific enablement scope that’s tailored to addresses an organization’s weaknesses, gaps and strengths to execute the business strategy successfully.
- We call it a discipline, as enablement can be organized in many different ways depending on your context and maturity. Enablement, whether it is a program or a function, is always cross-functional. The orchestration of tasks and processes – such as content creation and distribution or training design and delivery – always involves several functions and often external providers.
- Sales results and productivity are the quantitative metrics by which an organization assesses the performance of their sales function. Specific goals always have to be defined based on your organizational context and your specific point of departure. Make sure to cover both, effectiveness (first) and efficiency metrics.
- Providing integrated content, training and coaching services helps to ensure consistent messages across the sales force. There is no training without content, and no enablement content should be provided to the sales force without at least a “how-to-use” video.
- As a consequence of providing coaching services, frontline sales managers are a key target group to ensure that coaching can reinforce the enablement efforts. No sales leader can afford to put enablement investments at risk by not aligning enablement and coaching.
- As discussed above, what separates world-class performers from all others is their ability to make the customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders their main design point.
- Last but not least, sales force enablement is powered by technology from the creation and production of enablement services (content, training, and coaching) up to their distribution and integration in CRM systems with mechanisms that provide relevant services at salespeople’s fingertips.
As an MHI research member, please check out the related Research Note that explains the definition in detail. You can also have a look at my keynote from the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit 2015 to learn more about the underlying maturity model that covers a required level (where we have all started to organized certain domains), the recommended level (that’s the sales force enablement definition) and the world-class level (our ambition), which we call customer-core enablement.
This article was first published in Top Sales Magazine, July 28th 2015
Related blog posts:
Missing Something in Your Sales Enablement Approach?
Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
The Customer’s Journey Matters, Or How To Avoid Seller and Buyer Misalignment
Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle
In a complex, ever-changing world of rising buyer expectations, the business need for sales enablement is growing every day. There is no sales leader’s agenda without enablement challenges.
In our customer-centric era, selling means creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey. That requires sales professionals to know their prospect’s industry, their business, and their specific roles and challenges as well as their relevant metrics. Only with this customer knowledge can sales professionals create value for them at each stage of their customer’s journey; and not waste their time. World-class sales performers know how to adapt to these rising buyer expectations. They shift their knowledge and adapt their skills, strategies, and expertise fast and effectively, tailored to the specific situation.
This is where sales enablement comes into play. This kind of adaptive value creation for prospects and customers requires strategic, dynamic and scalable enablement strategies for organizational execution.
It’s time to evolve sales enablement from a tactical “fixing a quarter” approach to setting up a platform for productivity that ensures sustainable sales results.
Are you leading a sales enablement program, initiative or function?
Are you leading a sales training, sales readiness, field readiness, sales effectiveness, etc., program, initiative or function?
If so, please read on, because our CSO Insights Sales Enablement Study could provide you with valuable data and insights on a number of questions, such as:
- What are best-in-class organizations doing differently when it comes to sales enablement? What can we learn from their approach?
- What kind of enablement services really move the sales performance needle?
- What’s the role of enablement technology and what metrics can be improved by technology?
- What are the real investments in enablement, mapped to the sales results?
- How mature is enablement as a discipline, and what are enablement maturity levels?
- How is sales enablement organized in world-class organizations?
- How does sales enablement manage cross-functional collaboration effectively?
- To what extent are enablement approaches “customer-core”?
- Are frontline sales managers considered as a target group? If so, how does sales performance look different?
What is the overall business impact sales enablement can create? And what is the difference between world-class and others?
Please take 15 minutes to complete our sales enablement survey. It’s a “help us help you” approach. We will conduct a detailed analysis of your data, and we will share study results with our participants first. Those results are highly valuable assets for you on how to evolve your enablement practice. Also, these data points help you to sell your enablement strategy internally.
What’s in it for you?
- Immediate Thank You: Upon completing the survey you will be able to download the CSO Insights’ 2015 Sales Management Optimization Key Trends Analysis
- In October 2015, you will receive the 2015 Sales Enablement Study Key Trends Report that will provide you answers to the questions above and more
Here is the link to the survey. Thank You!
This application management deal is a “must-win” deal. We have the best solution, we have a great relationship with the customer and we save them a lot of money with this new cloud-based service. We all know overconfident sales statements like this one, don’t we? But then, all of a sudden, the deal goes south. The customer makes a decision for a competitor. Why? Because this competitor offered a much bigger business impact, connected to the customer’s relevant financial metrics. It’s a disaster for the sales team, the funnel and the quarter.
Cost savings are a translation of features and functions into a financial equivalent. Cost savings don’t connect to the customer’s desired business results per se. They are a prerequisite for getting to their specific business value.
Cost savings are still in the category of what a product, a service or a solution IS (features and functions) and what it DOES (saving money), but not what these cost savings MEAN to the customer. The typical question of a CFO kind of role will be: “So what?” In our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study, we identified critical customer behaviors. One of these behaviors is that customers decide how they calculate value. In this year’s study, 61% of the world-class sales performers indicated that their customers require formal calculations on business value (ROI, TCO, and specific business cases, etc.) before making a buying decision, compared to 39% the year before. Look at this huge hike from 2014 to 2015, and consider that only 35% of all respondents indicated the same customer requirement (versus 26% in 2014). Now, what are world-class sales performers doing differently?
World-class sales performers know that their products, services, and solutions are only one element in the customer’s approach to solving a problem or mastering a challenge.
Value always lies in the eyes of the beholder, the customer. As customers make every decision differently, every time, the customer’s desired business value has to be different from the provider’s product-oriented cost savings. There is a natural gap by definition. This gap is one of the reasons why traditional ROI calculators never impress a customer stakeholder who has a financial focus. Those ROI calculators are, most of the time, product-oriented, which means they only cover one element of the customer’s solution, the provider’s offerings.
World-class sales performers map their product’s cost savings to their customers’ broader business value calculation.
That means that in the customer’s business case, the offered product’s cost savings will often be only one line item. World-class sales performers know how their cost savings can impact other financial metrics in general. Their expertise in understanding the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts allows them to figure out which financial metrics are important for this buying team, this time. They also identify the strategic business initiatives and connect the dots between their product-based cost savings, the directly impacted financial metrics and their impact on the customer’s strategic business initiatives.
Understand your customer’s financial performance and identify financial metrics that matter to them
Many sales professionals were trained to focus on their ROI and TCO as discussed above. That worked as long as (in our example of a cloud-based application management), IT departments and technical buyers made the decisions alone. Now, as we observe a huge shift to business buyers and cross-functional and complex buying teams, business value calculations become very different. Why is this the case? Because there are no IT projects anymore. Every IT project that exists has at least one business reason, why it exists. Consequently, business values are calculated differently. In general there is a switch from efficiency and budget optimization to effectiveness and investment thinking.
Understanding your customers’ current financial performance and their goals are the first step to identifying metrics that make a difference to them. Financial reports, analyst views, strategic initiatives are great sources to educate yourself. Learning additional financial metrics such as e.g. return on assets (ROA), return on equity (ROE), operating costs, cash flow, EBIT and EBITDA, as well as net and gross profit margins are essential to create outstanding value for your customers next time.
Create a value mapping chart for the entire buying team
Such a document includes the business reasons for every buyer, their desired solution and their desired tangible results and intangible wins, and how they measure success. Then, map back to the relevant metrics of the strategic initiatives, identify alignments, gaps and maybe inconsistencies. Then, come up with an overall approach to your customer’s business value calculation, integrating the stakeholders’ relevant metrics. Being prepared like this shows that you work backward from the customer’s context, and the stakeholders’ different concepts and that you made a lot of efforts to create extraordinary value for them. That’s the entry ticket to have effectiveness and investment focused conversations on eye-level. This is where you should be to win the next deals.
Related blog posts:
Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle
Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
How Sales Professionals Create Value for Customers
This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine June 30th, 2015
Frontline sales managers (FSMs) are the most important role in any sales organization when it comes to sales execution and driving sales force transformation. Just think about their span of control in your organization. This role can decide what sales professionals sell, where they sell, to whom they sell, and how they sell. This is why frontline sales managers have such a huge leverage effect, why it makes good sense to invest in developing their effectiveness and their productivity.
However, our research shows that developing frontline sales mangers is still not a high-priority investment in sales productivity. Only 55% of sales productivity investments (data from our 2014 MHI Sales Performance and Productivity Study) are dedicated to developing frontline sales managers. At the top of the list (82%) are still investments in the skills, competencies and knowledge bases of individual contributors.
This disconnect has to be solved with holistic frameworks that address the FSMs’ challenging role, where the three key areas of customers, people and business compete for their attention. Our FSM Triangle is one such framework that has proved to be effective in frontline sales manager development. Our FSM Mantra is another valuable framework; it helps shift the frontline sales manager’s focus to what really matters and what they can control directly in their role. And that’s all about managing the right set of activities and coaching the related behaviors. FSMs often feel like they are on a motorway without speed limits: How should they divide their attention between looking ahead and looking behind? So, we will talk about “rear view mirrors and windscreens” – when and where to focus.
Developing frontline sales managers can be done in different phases. But the most important capability that has to be developed right away is coaching. Coaching is a capability that’s not required in a sales role, but it’s the must-have capability that makes all the difference. Not many people are born coaches, but many have become great coaches. To do that, there is conceptual homework to be done; ideally by enablement and training teams to define a coaching framework and coaching guidelines. And the homework has to be implemented successfully.
And then, it’s about enablement technology that can advance coaching capabilities to the next level. Technology can provide leading indicators for FSMs, to help them to understand what activities work or don’t work. Furthermore – and this is state-of-the-art technology – FSMs can see what interactions salespeople have with clients and prospects and how these prospects and clients interact with their salespeople. It’s another very valuable way to adjust activities immediately and focus coaching on the behaviors that have to be improved to ensure sustainable and scalable sales results.
Enabling frontline sales managers is one of the four pillars that lead to the next level of sales enablement, sales force enablement.
Have a look at this webinar or the related slide deck, where I discuss these pillars in a joint presentation with Showpad.
Join us in London for our MHI Global Sales Leadership Forum, June 18; in association with Top Sales World, sponsored by White Springs and Showpad. I will deliver a keynote on the frontline sales managers’ dilemma and how to solve it, and Pieterjan Bouten, Showpad’s CEO, will show how enablement technology can drive the FSM’s coaching capability to the next level of FSM effectiveness.
Have a look at our Agenda, and check out the additional key notes by Top Sales World’s CEO Dr. Jonathan Farrington and White Springs’ CEO Gary White as well as highly relevant “how to” workshops on funnel management and coaching.
See you in London, June 18th!
PS: Jonathan Farrington and I discussed the frontline sales manager issues, prior to our event. Click here to listen!
A few weeks ago, I signed up for a video conferencing service. The reason was simple: I was invited to a video meeting based on this service, so I needed an account. I signed up for a two-week free trial, the only option I had. I loved the service; the setup was easy, and the video service during the meeting worked pretty well. So far, so good. But then, the situation became strange. I got a message from a salesperson beginning with “Hey there” which is not my name, obviously. If the salesperson knows to whom he or she sends a message, why making it as impersonal as possible?
Then, a few nice sentences, followed by “I would be happy to assist with licensing options for you. Could you also answer a few questions so I may better understand your company?” A list of bullet points followed regarding the number of employees and technology workers (what’s that?), country headquarters, number of room video conferencing systems, collaboration tools used today and timeframe for making a purchasing decision. The message makes pretty clear that the salesperson assumed me to be in a buying process, without even questioning that.
Misinterpreting an individual interest for an organizational pain leads to misalignment and misunderstanding
Signing up for a free trial, or downloading a whitepaper are signs of an individual interest. Not more. Not less. At this point, nobody should even assume an individual pain, not to mention an organizational challenge that needs to be tackled. There is no proof point. Problem number one is making false assumptions such as putting a prospect in a buying process who didn’t even enter the awareness phase of the customer’s journey. Problem number two is not listening and not observing. Subscribers of free trials are normally tracked and monitored. In my case, it was easy to figure out that I used this service only once to be able to attend a specific video conference. Also here, the false assumption “a subscriber is always a prospect pretty close to making a buying decision” led to this misleading email message. Problem number three is not questioning these assumptions. In this specific case, the core mistake was not questioning my motivation to sign up for a free trial. I just had to attend a video meeting that was based on this service. I didn’t have a problem to solve, and I didn’t have an organizational challenge to master.
The buying process is one phase of the customer’s journey. Best practice is to identify the prospect’s position along the customer’s journey, not the buying process only.
The customer’s journey begins with an awareness phase in which a need, a challenge or a problem occurs. The situation is analyzed, diagnosed, and evaluated. The customers’ involved stakeholders must first decide that the situation is both important and urgent and need to be tackled. Next, they must have a vision of a better future state that will allow them to solve a problem, master a challenge and achieve or overachieve their goals. Only then will a decision to change the current state be made. Avoiding a risk can also be a reason to change. And this decision to change the current state for a better future state is the “must-have” prerequisite to entering any buying phase. No decision to change the current state, no buying process. It’s as simple as that.
In this case, world-class sales professionals would have tried to discover my real motivation, and my role in my organization to identify where I was along the customer’s journey and where my organization would probably be. The result would have been that I’m at the very beginning of the awareness phase, dealing with an individual issue that is not at all an organizational pain at this time. The best practice would have been to show me the business value of these services, to provide me with a potential future vision of success, but not proposing a solution with features and functions I didn’t even ask for.
Relationships matter – especially those that are based on the business issues that are relevant and valuable for the prospect
The salesperson not only missed the opportunity to discover my context and my motivation, but also to build a relationship, to create value for me and my organization. Creating value couldn’t happen as the salesperson did not invest time to discover what my specific situation was and what would have been valuable and relevant for me. Opportunities have to be created, and that’s work, often hard work. Opportunities don’t fall from heaven.
Furthermore, my experience was that I as a human being didn’t matter at all. Not my context, not my motivation, nothing. If they don’t care about me as a prospect, how will they treat me as a customer?
Customer-core engagement principles look differently. Providing Perspectives is a dynamic engagement and messaging principle that is based on the customer’s journey and the involved stakeholders as the main design point.
Related blog posts:
Providing Perspectives: A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle
Providing Perspectives: Customer-Core Principle
This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine May 26th, 2015