What’s your focus when designing and creating sales enablement services? What are the sales enablement frameworks you work with? And what do they look like? I’m constantly amazed at how often the customers are not even mentioned, nor included in sales enablement frameworks and approaches that are applied.
“But sales enablement is about sales!” I hear you. However, to be successful in the age of the customer, salespeople must adapt their strategies, their messaging, their skills and techniques to the way their buyers want to buy. So, sales enablement should always have the customers at the core of its efforts. “But how do I address salespeople’s challenges?” Things will fall into place if you give me a few minutes to explore the matter.
In the digital age of the customer, a high-performing sales force is not optional. It is mandatory. Effective selling requires sales professionals to align their strategies, activities, and behaviors to the customer’s path.
In the age of the customer, salespeople have to deal with well-informed, over-informed, and also misinformed prospects and customers. Also, the specifics of the business challenges their customers are dealing with, matter as well. Is the business challenge new to the buying team, or is it well known? And how risky is the challenge for their organization and their individual careers? Highly successful sales professionals know how to create value at each stage of the customer’s path for all involved buyer roles, based on their specific business challenges.
Creating value means different things at different stages of the customer’s path, but it’s always centered around being relevant, valuable and differentiating to help prospects and customers move forward with their decision-making process:
- Creating value in the awareness phase is about creating clarity regarding the actual business impact of a challenge, and it’s about providing perspectives as to how prospects and customers can achieve their desired results. In this phase, all efforts are focused on helping prospects and customers to decide to tackle the issue or not.
- In the buying phase, creating value means providing detailed information about how the customer’s desired results can be achieved with your solutions. It also means providing all the required financial data to be integrated into the customer’s business case. Yes, into the customer’s business case, because cost savings as such are only the door-opener to business impact.
- In the implementation and adoption phase, creating value could mean providing implementation assistance and tips for successful usage, tailored to the customer’s steps. It also means ensuring that all initial executive buyers know about the value that has been created. That allows you to establish a foundation for additional business.
These examples show exactly why all enablement services have to be aligned with the customer’s path. This applies to not only the content salespeople use but also the training services around skills, methodologies, processes, and product. Even if certain skills are the same (such as value messaging), they have to be applied differently in the different phases.
The two steps: Successful sales force enablement leaders align their enablement services first to the customer’s path and then to the sales force’s specific challenges
Working with an enablement framework that is based on the customer’s path is the foundation of sustainable enablement success. If you design your enablement frameworks around your products or your internal challenges only, you lose the necessary focus on the customers. Your ultimate design point should be your customers and how they approach their challenges, how they want to buy, and how they prefer to use/implement/adopt your products, services, and solutions. The customer’s path is not your only design point, but your first one. Consider your customers and their customer’s path as your “true north.”
Study results show: Dynamic alignment of sales processes to the customer’s path drives double-digit improvement in win rates and quota attainment
The data from CSO Insights’ 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study showed a 13.6% improvement in quota attainment (compared to the study’s average of 55.8%.) based on dynamic – formal, responsive and adaptive – alignment.
In 2017, the results from CSO Insights’ much broader World-Class Sales Practices Study showed virtually the same result – 13.5% quota attainment improvement. Furthermore, the 2016 data showed an improvement of 15.0% in win rates for forecast deals with dynamic alignment. In 2017, the results from the World-Class Sales Practices Study showed that win rates for forecast deals can be improved by 10.1%, compared to the study’s average win rate of 51.8%. While there is a difference, both results show a double-digit improvement that cannot be ignored.
As you can see here in the examples and in the data, aligning the sales processes and all enablement services to the customer’s path is key to success. Value messages that are in every single piece of content have to be tailored to the different phases of the customer’s path. What works in the awareness phase is misplaced in the buying phase and the other way around. Once this is done, your sales force’s specific challenges determine how you shape the related content and training services, and the coaching services for the sales managers.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, March 2018.
Sales enablement is a very fast growing discipline: In 2013 19% of our study participants reported having an enablement initiative or function. In 2016, it was one-third, and this year it’s 59%. Unfortunately, enablement success is not growing at the same speed. Only one-third of our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study participants reported meeting or exceeding their expectations. It seems that the need for enablement clarity has never been greater than today.
Enablement clarity step 1: Defining the space
With our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study, our definition of sales force enablement has evolved.
Sales Force Enablement — A strategic, collaborative discipline
designed to increase predictable sales results
by providing consistent, scalable enablement services
that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers
to add value in every customer interaction.
We have omitted the list of enablement services (“content, training and coaching services”) and focused on what they need to be: consistent for salespeople and scalable from an organizational point of view. And the target audience has been expanded to “customer-facing professionals and their managers” (it was “salespeople and their managers”). This target audience, including the frontline managers, is also the reason why we call it “sales force enablement.” At the end, we have skipped “powered by technology” because it’s obvious that every single enablement service is based on some kind of technology even if it’s only PowerPoint that has been used to create a training presentation. Instead, we wanted to focus on what really matters: to add value in every customer interaction, which also expresses the remaining design point of sales force enablement: the customers and their entire customer’s journey.
A definition serves as a frame of reference to bring all stakeholders together on the same page. However, no definition is a sufficient guide for creating an enablement practice that allows you to achieve your desired results. This is where our newly developed sales force enablement clarity model comes into play.
Enablement clarity step 2: The Sales Force Enablement Clarity Model
The clarity model builds on the definition and serves as a guide as you assemble your sales enablement discipline step by step. Enablement leaders can assess how they are doing in each enablement facet and make better decisions about how to improve their efforts for better results. Wherever you choose to begin, getting to the next level is easier if you keep the holistic vision represented by the model in mind.
Imagine your enablement practice in your organization as a rough diamond. Leverage the clarity model to cut and polish your enablement diamond based on your context and your particular challenges.
Customer – In the age of the customer, your sales force can only be successful if they approach prospects and customers based on their preferences: how they handle challenges, how they want to interact with salespeople and how they want to work with your products and services. The reason is simple: whatever we automate internally, customers still make buying decisions.
Customer-Facing Professionals and Their Managers – While alignment with customers takes the top facet of our clarity model, your sales force enablement practice has internal customers, your target audiences. These target audiences include not only salespeople but also those roles that are focused on business and sales development as well as the roles that are focused on serving customers after a deal has been closed. Furthermore, we know that reinforcement and adoption of enablement services can only be achieved if sales managers lead and coach their sales teams accordingly.
Sponsorship, Strategy, and Charter – Next, we’ll drop down to the bottom of our diamond and look at its foundation. Of course, you need to start with a strategy, but even the best sales force enablement initiatives fail if the team has the responsibility, but not the authority, to enact their strategy. This includes gaining the all-important executive sponsorship.
Effective Enablement Services – We put effective enablement services in green because these are the services the discipline provides to allow the organization to reach its desired results. If you think about customer-facing roles as your internal customers, this is the only facet they see. If someone outside the organization were to ask a sales or service professional what enablement does, it’s likely that they would talk about how they perceive these services, usually around training, content, and coaching.
The remaining three inner facets focus on the mechanics necessary to design, produce and deliver these services as well as manage the discipline.
Moving from an ad hoc enablement discipline to a more strategic function, the three inner enablement mechanics – collaboration, technology, and enablement operations – are essential to drive consistency, scalability, and effectiveness:
Formalized Collaboration – We talk about sales force enablement as a discipline and not a function or a department because no one team can cover it all. Sales force enablement teams orchestrate the process, enlisting the aid of many other functions within the organization. Imagine that content, training, and coaching services have to cover the entire customer’s journey. Therefore, you have to collaborate with many other functions to ensure enablement services are aligned and consistent.
Integrated Enablement Technology – Sales enablement technology is NOT the same thing as sales enablement, but these days, the right enablement technologies, deployed in the right ways, can extend your competitive advantage tremendously. This facet is all about integrating enablement content management solutions, learning technology, coaching tools, analytics, often supported by artificial intelligence into your CRM system. And, on top of integration, provide mobile access is mandatory.
Efficient Enablement Operations – Enablement operations is often seen as a “black box” because it includes the behind-the-scenes functions of the discipline, but this is where all the enablement magic happens. As it is poorly understood, it is also a facet that is often overlooked. Enablement operations cover three areas: enablement governance, an enablement production process that is closely aligned with the collaboration model, and enablement analytics: how do we measure success?
More questions? Download your copy of our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study. As you will see, the clarity model serves as a structure for our 2017 study.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, December 2017.
Jonathan Farrington interviewed me for Top Sales Magazine to discuss my takeaways from the Experience Sales Enablement conference in Dallas.
JF: You attended the Experience Sales Enablement conference last week in Dallas. What are your impressions?
TS: The #SESociety conference was amazing, inspiring, and transformative, completely organized by volunteers focused on the attendees’ experience. On the first day, enablement was discussed from different perspectives. Bestselling author Ori Brafman shared his wisdom about the power of decentralized networks based on individuals promoting agility versus existing command and control structures. His brilliant keynote pointed out that “the opposite of control is enablement.” Sales Enablement Society founder Scott Santucci alerted the audience that we are living in a completely different economy but that we still apply old paradigms to our current business challenges. Dr. Howard Dover, UT Dallas, pointed out that the sales function as it exists today in most organizations is about to implode.
JF: How fast is the sales enablement movement growing compared to previous years?
TS: The Sales Enablement Society has gathered enablement professionals at the right time. In previous years, when I was myself an enablement practitioner and leader, the movement was rather small and not growing that fast. Based on our CSO Insights data, in 2013, only 19% of organizations had an enablement initiative or function. Last year, it as one-third, and this year, it’s almost two-thirds. That’s a tremendous growth rate. Many new people got into enablement roles in a very short amount of time. And that’s the phase of any movement when the need for clarity is greater than ever before.
JF: What’s different about the Sales Enablement Society compared to established industry associations?
TS: The Sales Enablement Society is by no means just another association. The society’s culture – and that’s what its members have created – is driven by creativity, innovation, and an infectious spirit of trying new things and doing things differently in a highly collaborative manner, following a decentralized and agile networking idea.
JF: That sounds amazing. Could you share an example of that spirit?
TS: Sure. Take the enablement definition project as an example. This project, led by one of the local chapter presidents, analyzed all enablement definitions out there and identified via a member survey the four favorite ones. These were the definitions from Forrester, ours from CSO Insights, and the definitions from Sirius Decisions and IDC. Then, they invited various delegations, such as for example academics, analysts, and vendors, to do the same. Organizations that are competing against each other contributed for the greater good of standards for the relatively new sales enablement profession. In Dallas, the members voted for the suggested definition, created based on the evaluation. This is an amazing, bottom-up achievement.
JF: Did the conference change any of your perspectives about sales enablement? If so, which ones?
TS: It didn’t change but enhanced and enriched my perspectives. The discussion on “who is responsible for growth?” in several sessions was inspiring, as well as the discussion on the future home of enablement teams. Is it executive sales management, is it the CEO or another C-level role, such as the customer experience or chief growth officer? As an analyst, I’m used to talking to many enablement leaders, and each one has a unique approach based on similar patterns and challenges. In organizations where enablement is already established as an accomplished strategic function, the C-level expectations are huge. Consistency, scalability, adaptability, and effectiveness are key success factors. Those senior executives expect their enablement teams to do things like successfully onboard newly acquired sales teams in just a few weeks.
JF: Is there now more acceptance that sales enablement has to be a strategic approach?
TS: Absolutely! The conference definitely contributed to much more sales enablement clarity. There is consensus that sales enablement has to be strategic in nature to drive sustainable results, and that includes achieving growth targets. It’s also consensus that enablement should have an orchestrating role along the entire customer’s journey across various enablement services, targeting all customer-facing roles, which includes for instance service personnel as well as managers. And that scope requires enablement to collaborate with many other functions, not only with sales and marketing; this is a fact that was also confirmed by our data.
JF: As one of the leading thought leaders in the world on sales enablement, how was your session and what do you expect next?
TS: One of the trends that I already discussed years ago seems now to become a mainstream discussion: Will it still be “sales enablement” in a couple of years, or will it become “buyer enablement” or “customer enablement”? In more practical terms: how to evolve enablement to a more strategic function will be THE key challenge. The session I had the pleasure to lead was all about providing a framework, such as our enablement clarity model in the form of a diamond, that allows enablement leaders to perceive their enablement function as a rough diamond that has to be cut and polished based on the organization’s context and challenges, addressing various enablement facets.
JF: Can the implementation of sales enablement arrest the downward spiral in quota attainment (down 10 percentage points in 5 years)?
TS: Yes, there is a downward spiral, according to our research, and the research of many others. However, our 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows a different trend. Organizations that already focus on sales enablement are not always as successful as they expect to be. But they already show slightly better quota attainment numbers: 57.7% instead of 53.0%. However, measuring a sales force’s performance only by quota attainment does not necessarily reflect their real performance. A set of KPIs including leading indicators provides better insights.
Download your copy of our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study here.
Imagine how you are driving now as a skilled driver and years ago when you just got your driving license. There are a lot of specific skills that must be mastered before a driver reaches the level of unconscious competence, e.g., what certain signs and symbols mean, who has the right of way, how to parallel park, and how to master European roundabouts. While all of these skills are important, some are more vital than others because they are critical to success. For sales managers, coaching is such a skill, regardless if they lead a field or an inside sales team.
For most people in sales, coaching is perceived as opportunity coaching even though there are many more aspects of the sales role that must be coached. Furthermore, many salespeople, not only in inside sales, don’t feel “coached,” even if their managers call it that. Let’s start by defining what sales coaching means:
Sales coaching is a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential. Sales managers use their domain expertise, along with social, communication, and questioning skills to facilitate conversations with their team members that allow them to discover areas for improvement and possibilities to break through to new levels of success.
As importantly, sales coaching is not asking things like, “What’s your forecast this month?” or telling a salesperson, “You need to build more pipeline.” Instead, effective sales coaches consider the salesperson’s personal goals, their style, current strengths and weaknesses before engaging in a dialogue. Then, the focus of such a structured conversation is to discover areas for improvement regarding behaviors and activities that should lead to the desired results.
Coaching areas have to be defined: lead and opportunity coaching, pipeline coaching, coaching skills and behaviors, account and territory coaching
If coaching is reduced to opportunity coaching only, the organization misses out on much of the performance benefits of coaching. At CSO Insights, we separate coaching into five different areas that can be implemented step by step, according to your context:
- Lead and opportunity coaching
- Pipeline coaching
- Coaching skills and behaviors,
- Account coaching
- Territory coaching
However, in most organizations, sales coaching is currently focused on lead and opportunity coaching only. It’s remarkable that the majority of sales managers in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study said they spent less than an hour a week coaching leads and opportunities. Lead and opportunity coaching is a great starting point. But it should soon be enriched by coaching skills and behaviors as a foundational coaching layer. Especially for inside salespeople who are working most of their time on the phone, lead and opportunity coaching should always be enriched by coaching skills and behaviors.
Coaching needs to be formal to be effective
Now as you have defined your various coaching areas, it’s about developing a coaching process that follows the customer’s journey. Ideally, your customer’s journey should be mapped to your internal process landscape. If that’s the case, your coaching framework sits directly between the customer’s journey and your internal process landscape, bridging between both sides.
There are four levels of sales coaching maturity:
- Random: There is no coaching process defined. Coaching is left up to each manager.
- Informal: Coaching guidelines are available, but there is no formal coaching process. Managers are told that they should coach, but there is no monitoring or measurement.
- Formal: Coaching areas and the coaching process are defined and implemented. Sales managers are expected to coach accordingly, and there is a formal effort to develop their skills. Periodic reviews help optimize processes and guidelines.
- Dynamic: The coaching process is connected to the sales force enablement framework to ensure reinforcement of sales enablement efforts. Sales managers are required to coach; they are measured and compensated accordingly. Ongoing reviews help to not only optimize the process but also to adapt it to market dynamics and the changing selling environment.
In our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, almost 50% of our study participants reported operating based on a random coaching mode. A quarter is working on an informal basis, but only 21.7% have implemented a formal approach, and only 5.3% have made further efforts to align their coaching process with their enablement framework. Our study shows that the coaching approach matters a lot.
Almost 75% of sales organizations waste resources due to random and informal coaching approaches, and only about one-quarter leverage the huge performance potential of formal and dynamic coaching.
If coaching is left up to each manager, sales organizations have a hard time achieving even average performance. Let’s look at win rates for forecast deals as an example. Organizations that use an informal approach end up 4.5 percentage points below the average win rate of 46.2%. That is an actual decrease of 9.8%! Informal approaches start to move things in the right direction, but they lack formal implementation and reinforcement, which leads to a result that’s around average. However, when the approach gets formalized, the win rate improves a significant 5.3 percentage points above average for an actual improvement of 11.5%. The results are even more impressive for a dynamic approach that is based on a holistic sales force enablement program that connects the enablement and the coaching frameworks. In this case, the win rate climbed by 12.9 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 27.9%.
How could a sales leader ignore a 27.9% better win rate? Investing in sales force enablement to build coaching frameworks and develop sales managers accordingly, especially their coaching capabilities, is the key to achieving the kinds of performance improvements sought by sales leaders everywhere.
This article has been initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 2017 issue.
Image source: Unsplash Images
In an ever-changing world and complex buying environments, traditional selling skills and competencies are no longer sufficient to drive sales performance. The ability to quickly adjust and add skills and to align behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations is what sets world-class sales professionals apart from the rest. Developing these adaptive competencies is a key challenge for sales enablement leaders to drive sales performance.
“Adaptive” in evolutionary biology
Adaptive competencies refer to the process that organisms follow to survive. The main components applied to sales are to maintain competencies, knowledge, and strategies that are important to be successful, to remove or modify elements that are no longer useful, and to develop competencies that lead to future sales success. As in biology, so it is in sales; it’s evolution, not a revolution. Triggered by changing environments, adaptive competencies become a key differentiator.
Case for Adaptive Competencies
We all know that what products, services, and solutions are and what they do – compared to each other – is no longer differentiating in today’s buying environments. Differentiating, relevant, and valuable for customers is to learn what a provider’s products, services, and solutions could MEAN for them: their specific situation, their challenges, and their results. Working backward from the customer’s specific context and the involved stakeholders’ specific concepts require salespeople to quickly adapt relevant knowledge, activities, and behaviors to the customer’s specific buying situation. And the term knowledge covers both: capability knowledge and situational knowledge. Additionally, the specific decision dynamic how an individual customer network is going to make a decision this time determines the engagement, the selling strategies, activities, and behaviors.
Even within the same account, every buying decision is made differently. And that’s why a situational selling approach matters. More than ever before. This situational dimension requires adaptive competencies that will determine future sales success.
Adaptive competencies enable sales professionals to quickly connect the dots across selling skills and competencies, various knowledge areas and strategies, regarding customers and opportunities.
Being fluent in different customer situations, that’s how we perceive sales professionals with highly developed adaptive competencies. Prerequisites to develop adaptive competencies are two-folded: Fluency regarding skills, knowledge areas, methodologies, and processes, as well as curiosity, open-mindedness, the joy to share and learn and the pursuit to become better every day.
Specific adaptive elements have to be developed to unfold the power of adaptive competencies. These elements are situational awareness, principles, creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking, relevant along the entire customer’s journey:
- Situational awareness is a salesperson’s holistic perception of a given situation. It’s the ability to quickly catch and realize a situation in a holistic way, and then to focus on the relevant elements and dimensions. This situational awareness enables a salesperson to quickly draw the right conclusions how these elements fit together what’s relevant and what needs to be clarified. Situational awareness combined with a customer management structure boosts salespeople’s ability to quickly explore the customer’s situational context.
- Principles instead of rules: Applying customer management principles instead of following strict process rules brings the accountability back to the salesperson. Principles require interpretation to be applied accordingly to a particular situational context. Engagement principles such as providing perspectives require salespersons to deeply understand the mechanisms to apply them successfully according to a particular customer situation. Salespeople must have completely internalized those principles beforehand. It requires them to be fluent regarding methods, skills, and competencies. Additionally, principles have the side-effect to widen the boundaries and to open a space that doesn’t exist in the world of strict rules.
- Creativity: The open space between strict rules and principles should be filled with a salesperson’s creativity to create differentiation, relevance, and value. How to provide perspective for customers, how to tackle their business issues and how to show them that alternative ways may lead to better results for them – the space is wide open for salespeople to be creative on how to develop new perspectives for clients and how to orchestrate a group of stakeholders to a shared vision of future success.
- Critical and strategic thinking: This ability is highly relevant in complex buying environments that are always changing. Based on a salesperson’s fluency especially in sales methodologies, critical and strategic thinking are the ingredients that allow a salesperson to sharpen the deal strategies. This ability is closely connected to questioning the status quo and asking the tough questions, internally and at the customer. That’s what makes the difference between a thought-through deal strategy and a wishful-thinking approach.
Building adaptive competencies is a journey with several steps. All adaptive elements require specific learning methods. As an example, situational awareness requires exercises that show people what they don’t see but what’s happening combined with techniques how to improve these awareness skills. Creativity requires to understand what creativity really is, and lots of different exercises how to unleash people’s hidden potential of creativity. Critical and strategic thinking requires a focused development approach to unleash this potential and to put it in the context of specific sales situations.
The adaptive elements, based on the prerequisites, have to be put together in context-specific, highly interactive, simulation-based training scenarios. Situational awareness, for instance, to be valuable requires applying principles accordingly, strategic thinking and creativity to sharpen deal strategies and to adjust activities. The potential of all adaptive elements is much bigger than the sum of its parts.
This article has been written for Top Sales Magazine, the July 2017 edition.