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.
There is not a single day the topic of simplification, simplicity, or the imperative “make it simple” regarding sales force enablement is not discussed with great passion. And most of the time, it’s a relevant topic. Especially when it comes to sales force enablement. Who doesn’t want things to be simple? Salespeople prefer simple solutions and approaches, simple content assets and training services, simple tools, and simple value messages, etc. There are just a few small details most people overlook in the discussion:
- First, there is the macro view: The markets most sales organizations sell into are not simple. Most markets are complex environments with many different dimensions impacting them at the same time. Examples are trends and innovations, emerging markets here, saturated markets over there, politics and legal issues, trends, and regional and cultural differences that require tailored approaches.
- Second, there is the micro view: Our clients’ environments are not simple either. Most customer organizations are complex environments, and each one is unique. Their context is specific, their challenges, goals and desired outcomes are different, and the roles that are involved in the buying decision and the implementation are different as well.
For sales force enablement, this means tons of work, because the complexity of the customer and market environments cannot be “reduced.” We can’t simplify without first understanding this complexity in its entirety. The customer’s complexity cannot be reduced but only navigated.
The focus should be on all the complicated things you can influence and you can simplify. And that means you can reduce the complicatedness in your own organization because that’s a self-inflicted problem.
Making things simple for the sales force is a highly challenging, often difficult, and always time-consuming responsibility for sales force enablement teams! Not easy. But worth doing it.
- Make the customer’s journey your design point
This may not sound relevant here, but it is. Align all your efforts to what really matters, which is how your potential customers approach challenges, make buying decisions, and implement or use your products and services. That’s the beginning of the move toward simplicity. Changing the perspective within your organization is key to success. For example, it’s not about aligning sales and marketing to each other, but aligning and integrating them both with the customer’s journey. Because the customer’s journey is where your sales force has to be successful at the end of the day.
- Build a robust, simple process and methodology foundation with the customer’s journey as the design point
A sales process, ideally an integrated process chain from marketing to sales to service, should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. Don’t fall into the “simplification trap” and skip things that are important because you want to make it “simple.” That leads to the wrong results. Examples are, for instance, when organizations try to fix everything with “one” process even if they have very different use cases from transactional to complex selling scenarios. The answer for a simple approach (and this means simple for the salesforce, not easy for the enablement resource!) requires the enablement and ops team to create process variations and a simple configuration that allows salespeople to get to the right process variation with a few clicks.
Don’t forget to integrate your sales methodology into the process. A process defines the sequence of events, while the methodology details what to do and why. This will take a lot of work for the enablement and operations team. But the outcome for the salesforce will be simple, because a method that’s integrated into the process, and ideally all in one place (one CRM), makes their life more productive. This will be a change they’ll welcome, rather than another time-consuming “add-on.”
- Assess your current enablement services and throw away what’s no longer relevant:
This is an exercise that doesn’t make a lot of friends, which can make people avoid or overlook it. But it’s a necessary step to throw away all different versions of content and training assets that exist on multiple platforms. Throw away all content assets that are no longer relevant, that are not tailored to the customer’s journey, or that are not valuable for whatever reason.
- Develop an enablement production and collaboration process to provide enablement services along the customer’s journey:
You have to collaborate with many different departments, not only with marketing. So, defining collaboration goals and defining a simple process (such as “define, create, localize, provide, measure”) for producing the desired services, and identifying which role is accountable for which content or training type, is essential to ensure a scalable and efficient approach.
- Invest in an integrated enablement content management solution:
For salespeople, enablement is only as simple as they perceive it. And the biggest obstacle is often that they are required to go to different places to find all the content they need. There is a marketing portal and an operations portal, and there is the one from product management and from legal for the contract attachments. And, most organizations (48.3%) still email their content to the sales force or have it accessible on multiple repositories. Only 10.5% work with an enablement platform that is integrated into their CRM. But that’s the way to go if you want it simple. For the sales force.
I could list another five topics to look at in terms of simplicity, but that might “complicate” this article!
So, first things first: Implement a solid, simple, robust foundation based on the customer’s journey.
Only then will the other four steps be effective.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, May edition.
Did you know that the women’s right to vote is a challenge that took more than 200 years and is still not achieved everywhere on the planet? The movement began in the 18th century.
But most countries only allowed women to vote starting in the early 20th century – the UK and Germany in 1918 and the US in 1920 – after decades of very painful processes. Many countries in Europe and around the world only followed decades after WWII.
I normally don’t write about gender equality and gender collaboration, simply because it’s not my research focus in my role as research director for CSO Insights. Today is an exception, because we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, and because we have the March edition of Top Sales Magazine written entirely by women contributors. Furthermore, and this is probably the most important reason: Women cannot take anything for granted, including what we have already achieved, as recent political trends unfortunately show.
In general, there are always two sides to gender equality. One is the legal part as mentioned above, with the women’s right to vote as an example. The other one is our cultural reality in all aspects of our lives. This cultural dimension is much more important because it shapes the political and the business landscape and the decisions that are made in parliaments and organizations.
Women in sales and sales force enablement – where are the women in sales?
It’s still the sad truth that there are too few women in sales, especially in sales leadership roles. Data provided by LinkedIn suggests that women occupy 39% of sales roles, across the globe and across industries. That means there are far more women in typical female industries such as education and healthcare than, for instance, in technology or high tech. And the number of female sales executives is much smaller; the gap in sales is bigger than in other functions.
When I look at my current role as an analyst, I have to say that the number of female clients I work with is below 10%. And the few women I work with have marketing, sales enablement, sales training, or L&D roles. Just to give you an impression. Why are women so often found in enablement roles rather than in sales roles?
Women prefer a collaborative working environment
This is a personal experience as well as a perspective I hear from many women. Doing great work and creating great results in a collaborative environment seems to be much more attractive to women. And this is a prerequisite for working in a sales enablement role.
Based on our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, sales force enablement is a highly collaborative discipline that requires enablement leaders and practitioners to collaborate with up to eleven functions. It’s much more than aligning sales and marketing only. Furthermore, the need to set up collaboration in a formal way has a tangible impact on sales performance: Quota attainment is 21% better compared to organizations with “ad hoc” collaboration only.
Based on my own experience in my previous role as the VP of sales force enablement in a large IT organization, setting up collaboration in a formal way across several departments, countries, and cultures is a huge challenge that must not be underestimated. It is by no means a “soft issue” that can be done with second priority or “when we have time” (which never happens in sales as we all know). Instead, it is a mission critical task that requires a clear vision, practical smaller steps, time-consuming calls, meetings, and discussions, and process development and adjustments. Finally, the different players find their “new” place in the game and recognize that they can now achieve even better results than before. Women are often, not always, of course, predestined for leading those processes.
Communication, listening skills, and empathy are excellent for sales enablement roles
All these skills are important for being successful in sales. And as women are often highly gifted with communication and listening skills as well as with empathy, they have great prerequisites to be successful sales professionals. Especially in the age of the customer, connecting products, services, and solutions to the buyers’ desired business results is much more relevant and successful than talking about features and functions. A value-based selling approach depends on “soft” skills and the ability to connect the dots in increasingly complex buying situations.
These skills are even more important in sales enablement than in pure sales roles. Sales force enablement as a strategic discipline with an orchestrating character requires first and foremost a lot of internal selling to various stakeholders. And as anyone who has tried it knows, internal selling demands excellent communication and listening skills. Additionally, women often have a better connection to their intuition which leads to an excellent sensor for the “corporate weather forecast” and how to adjust their approaches.
Skills once called “soft” are now “must-haves” – More awareness is needed
This trend is a great opportunity for women in sales and sales enablement roles. What’s needed in the industry and among male sales leaders is more sensitivity and more awareness of the situation and the facts at hand. Recognizing changed skill profiles has to be translated into changed hiring profiles and changed, gender-neutral, perceptions. Skills that are admired in men shouldn’t be ranked inadequate in women, as, for instance, being “bossy.” And that requires more women in sales leadership and sales hiring roles so that men AND women look together at candidates to ensure better hiring decisions.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, March edition, 2017