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
It’s like having a car. You bought it in the expectation of achieving certain desired results. But if you don’t drive it, you won’t get the benefits of owning it. And that’s not the car’s fault.
Sales leaders have lots of expectations when it comes to sales enablement content management (SECM) solutions. Based on our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, improving access to content for salespeople leads the list with 57.4%, followed by reducing search time (33.1%), sharing best practices, improving sales and marketing alignment and increasing win rates (27.7% each), and reducing the ramp-up time of new hires (24.8%).
Now, let’s look at the adoption rate of those SECM solutions. They are very mixed. Almost a third of study participants have adoption rates lower than 50%, and another fifth ends up between 50% and 75%. In both these cases (which amount to 51% of our study participants), there is no impact on sales performance to be diagnosed. Only adoption rates that are greater than 76% have a significant impact on sales performance. The good news is that 49% reported those adoption rates. So, if you are in the 49% group, you should experience, for instance, win rate improvements by 11.9%, and quota improvements by 6%. But if you did not experience this performance impact, look at these six ways to improve the adoption rate of your SECM technology.
#1 Set up your sales force enablement charter
Enablement charters are highly relevant because if there is no clarity on vision, mission, and purpose, and no clarity on goals and objectives and how enablement services impact productivity and performance, then your efforts will not produce results.
Energy has to be focused to create a movement. And that’s the actual value of an enablement charter. These are the primary areas you should define in your charter: target audience, vision, mission, and purpose, objectives to achieving the vision and the related strategies to get you there, a timeline, and the enablement services you are going to provide for your target audience. And don’t forget to define the metrics for measuring success.
#2 Clean up the content basement
Many sales content landscapes look like a chaotic basement: all sorts of content everywhere – old, new, relevant, and irrelevant. Assets exist in ten different versions and ten different content repositories. So, implementing an SECM solution is like moving to a new house: you don’t want to bring all the clutter with you.
First, make an inventory of what exists, and where. Assess your content assets in terms of quality criteria, and then, be brave and throw away what’s no longer relevant and what didn’t match the criteria. Furthermore, our research indicates that only 39% of all the content salespeople need along the entire customer’s journey comes from marketing. That means you will need a formal cross-functional production process and a related collaboration model to be efficient and effective in the future.
#3 Define and create enablement content services
Only content that’s valuable AND relevant really matters, and that is determined by what’s relevant and valuable to your prospects and customers. As they still make the buying decision, it’s a no-brainer that content should be tailored along the customer’s journey and for the different buyer roles. Dynamic value messaging is a big challenge to be mastered here. Instead of having value propositions only, you will need value hypothesis, value propositions in different levels, and value confirmation messages that have to be developed and integrated into content assets.
#4 Aligning content and training services
For those of you in an enablement role, this may sound familiar to you: “We need this, and we need that, and you have nothing for our role, but we are so special.” It happens all day long. If people don’t know how to use their tools, they will never have enough and always ask for more. Distributing content and tools is not enough; training is also important. So, “no content without training” should become your motto. Create, for instance, a short video about how to effectively use your newly developed playbook, or even better, let a salesperson explain it…
#5 Integrate your SECM into your CRM system
Now, once we have done all the preparation work, where do we put the SECM technology? Stand alone? That’s probably not the best idea. It’s much easier to drive adoption if you provide your SECM solution within the CRM system. This way, it’s a “one-stop shopping” experience for salespeople.
Additionally, such an integration is the prerequisite that you can suggest, which will allow you to recommend sales content automatically within the CRM when a salesperson adds a new opportunity. Make sure that you align your content design criteria, as discussed above, with the selling scenario criteria in the CRM. All the work you have done so far pays off now in this step.
#6 Implement “Be Inspired!”
Now, the salespeople will have anytime, anywhere access to the right content, with the right value messaging, for the right buyer roles, and that addresses their business challenges at the right time. We call a content delivery mechanism like that “Be Inspired!”
Now, your focus should be entirely on a solid implementation, based on senior executive buy-in and their ongoing involvement, in the context of a change story that focuses on why, what, how, and when.
Last but not least: Please make sure that your sales managers coach their salespeople accordingly. Only then can an SECM implementation be successful.
And please don’t forget to measure and to adjust regularly. And use the full analytics capabilities of your SECM solution – but that’s a topic for another article.
Related blog posts:
Three Pillars of A Solid Sales Enablement Foundation
Sales Force Enablement Technology: How to Define the Functional and The Technology Layer
“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation.
You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.”
–Gordon B. Hinckley
That’s exactly the same for a successful sales force enablement function, program, or initiative. The better your sales force enablement foundation, the more successful your results will be. The data from our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows the impact of an enablement foundation on sales performance. Today, we discuss the three pillars of a solid enablement foundation. These are enablers for enablement success.
#1: Customer’s journey alignment drives win rates and quota attainment
Proven now for two years in a row: Focusing on the customer’s journey and aligning all internal processes accordingly is not merely a nice-to-have add-on. Instead, the degree of alignment between an organization’s internal processes and the customer’s journey is highly relevant for enablement success.
There is still a group of 9.4% that doesn’t consider the customer’s journey at all. Another 35.2% reported an informal alignment. This adds up to 44.6% who have not purposefully aligned their sales process to the customer’s journey. Then, 55.4% reported having either a formal (27.7%) or dynamic (27.7%) alignment.
An informal alignment means that the issue has been discussed and considered but not formally implemented. But this does not necessarily mean that sales processes have been adjusted or that there is a formal alignment or even implementation. A dynamic alignment goes even further: either deriving the sales process from the customer’s journey or dynamically aligning it to the customer’s journey and implementing modifications as soon as changes in the marketplace are detected.
Our study found an average win rate for forecast deals of 46.2%. With no alignment at all, the win rate went down to 40.5%, which is 14% worse than the average. But with a formal or dynamic alignment, the win rate improved significantly—up to 53%, which is a difference of 6.8 percentage points or an improvement by 15%.
Our study found an average quota attainment of 55.8%. Having no alignment led to a quota attainment of 54.2%, which is slightly below average. Interestingly, the informal and the formal alignment also led to 54.4%, which is also below average and is pretty much the same result as having no alignment. But a dynamic alignment led to 63.4%, which is an improvement by 13.6%.
#2: Create an enablement charter to improve revenue attainment
Looking at the data on how organizations approach enablement, it’s interesting to see that 49.1% of all global study participants still treat enablement in a one-off project manner (9.6%) or on an informal basis only (39.5%). Then, 35.7% reported having a formal enablement vision in place, and 15.3% have actually created a formal enablement charter that covers, for instance, vision, mission, purpose, target groups, enablement services, programs, roadmaps and how to measure success.
Our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that formality matters. If enablement is approached in a one-off project manner, sales performance suffers. Revenue attainment ended up at 84.2% (compared to the study’s average revenue attainment of 90.1%), and that’s a difference of 5.9 percentage points or an actual decline of 6.5%. Win rates ended up at 45.0%, which is below the average win rate of 46.2%.
Instead, if enablement was treated with a formal enablement charter, sales performance results were much better than average. Revenue attainment climbed up to 98.8% (compared to the average of 90.1%), which is a difference of 8.7 percentage points and an actual improvement of 9.6%. Win rates showed a positive impact as well. With a formal enablement charter, win rates climbed to 53.6% (compared to the study’s average win rate of 46.2%). That’s a difference of 7.4 percentage points or an actual improvement of 16%.
Improving the revenue plan attainment by almost 9.6% and the win rate by 16% show a performance impact that ambitious sales leaders cannot ignore.
#3 Getting cross-functional collaboration right to achieve enablement goals
Cross-functional collaboration does not exist for its own sake. The purpose of collaboration is achieving better results, ideally in a shorter amount of time. Sales force enablement is always a cross-functional discipline because no enablement team can provide integrated content, training, and coaching services throughout the entire customer’s journey for different user groups and powered by technology, alone. That’s why cross-functional collaboration is mandatory for three reasons. First, to provide the defined enablement services. Second, to achieve the enablement goals regarding sales results and productivity. And third, to keep enablement as cost-efficient as possible.
Informal and ad hoc collaboration (the least desirable forms) are still the leading approach (a combined 68.8%), but this is better than last year (83%). While there is overall good news, let’s be aware that 43% of all study participants, like last year, collaborate on an informal basis, and almost 10% don’t collaborate at all.
With increasing enablement maturity, enablement leaders have to define which functions they need to collaborate with, and why. This step is often overlooked, but it is essential. If we can achieve our goals on our own, we won’t collaborate in the first place. We collaborate because we need others to help us provide our services and achieve our goals. How other functions can help has to be specifically defined for each enablement area and with each involved function.
The data in our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that cross-functional collaboration has an important impact on enablement success. With ad hoc collaboration, only 36% could achieve all or most of their enablement goals. With formal collaboration approaches, 59% could achieve all or most of their enablement goals. So, an effective cross-functional collaboration process is an important pillar for enablement success.
Questions for you:
- How did you design your enablement foundation?
- How mature is your customer’s journey alignment?
- How did you set up your cross-functional collaboration?
This article was initially published in the November edition of Top Sales Magazine.