Buying Iterations And What It Means For Sales Force Enablement

shutterstock_280725407Do 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.

How To Enable Salespeople To Navigate B2B Buying Dynamics

shutterstock_310254482Sailing 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:


This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 29, 2015.

The Trouble With Bad Lead Management Behaviors

shutterstock_137312927What was your last bad experience as a prospect – just a short time after you downloaded something from a website? Maybe this example sounds familiar for you, too. I was interested in a report that had been published on a vendor’s blog. I downloaded the document. Less than an hour later, I got a call to “follow-up.” Would I be interested in the vendor’s products? Bad, very bad. I asked her if she had checked out my LinkedIn or my Twitter profile to prepare this call? Of course, she did not. Even more interesting, she made this call for a large provider of social technology. Ouch.

What’s wrong? The call was out of any context, not connected to my role, my potential challenges and the company I’m working for. Not valuable for me. And not relevant.

I care about lead management behaviors for two reasons. First, because I care about all things sales force enablement and how to get more effective in a “customer-core” way. Second, because I work as an analyst in this fascinating space and I do believe that successful sales enablement begins very early along the customer’s journey. So, I have skin in the game.

Bad lead management practices like this follow-up call happen every minute a thousand times. These practices not only ruin your brand reputation, but they also wreck potential future business opportunities.

According to our CSO Insights 2015 Lead Management and Social Engagement Study (login required), increasing new customer acquisition is the number one marketing priority. Additionally, social media and website design/content are the main areas for more investments in lead generation.

Quantity over quality leads only to more bad calls – focus on effectiveness first

The problem with so many bad lead follow-up calls has one cause: measuring quantity over quality. Why should it be the right way to measure the number of calls instead of the outcomes of those calls? Yes, we have to be quick with follow-up calls. And yes, we need to know how many calls are made by person by time frame. But there is a difference between a bad call half an hour after the web page interaction or a much better call within the next few hours. But more bad lead follow-up calls are not effective, regardless how efficient they are processed. Even worse, bad follow-up calls damage not only your brand reputation, but they also block this customer’s potential future interest in any of your products and services. Whether you conduct those lead follow-up calls internally or with an agency, measuring success must be based on effectiveness, not on efficiency only, if you want to move the performance needle in any way.

Call preparation begins with – social media

“We have no time to prepare our calls.” I hear you. Please explain to me why you have time to make lots of bad calls with poor outcomes? Why not make fewer calls with better outcomes? Please ensure just one mandatory step: The person must check the prospect’s social profiles before the call (not just taking the mapped CRM data, or even worse – nothing) such as the prospect’s current role, potential areas of interest and challenges to connect the dots to your products and services. Only then can the salesperson open the call in a smarter way that connects the dots to the potential prospect’s role and context. A much better idea in the case, as mentioned above, could have been to say “Hello…, we appreciate your interest in our content. How was the XYZ document valuable or relevant for you? … As I have seen on LinkedIn, you are working as an analyst. So, what’s of specific relevance for you in your role?” Etc…

Needless to say, I would have been much more engaged in such a conversation than the above-mentioned bad examples, and with no damage to the vendors’ brand. What’s so difficult about doing it this way? It only requires evident homework, preparation that would prove that someone would care about me as a potential customer. Instead, I felt treated just like another damned prospect.

Making lead follow-up calls effective with coaching

This simple step helps to sort out prospect roles that are not relevant as a potential buyer (e.g., me in an analyst role) which reduces the number of calls to make and increases the potential effectiveness of those calls. Now, let’s look at how to increase the effectiveness of those calls. There are lots of ways to get the necessary insights for coaching sales or marketing people running these calls: riding along, analyzing recorded versions, and so on, always combined with predictive analytics regarding call outcomes from the prospect’s perspective. Also, compare the approaches different people on the team may take. Understanding what works and what doesn’t, and where and how to make the necessary changes, is key to success. Maybe the messaging has to be adjusted for specific buyer roles; maybe the guided script has to be changed. Or maybe, just more and better practice and coaching is the key to more effectiveness. Understanding what works and what doesn’t, adjusting the activities and behaviors. Only then, when we know that we process the right activities in the best possible set-up, can training, practicing and coaching really improve the effectiveness of those calls.

Don’t disable sales with bad lead follow-up-call behaviors. Instead, enabling sales begins exactly here.


This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine Sept 1, 2015 

Redefining Enablement In A Dynamic, Strategic And Holistic Way

shutterstock_249255058“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
― Socrates

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:



SFE Definition Final

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


First CSO Insights Sales Enablement Survey Launched: Help Us Help You!

shutterstock_127077851In 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!