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.
“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”
Imagine a group of people in a business meeting who are discussing a certain topic that seems to be familiar to everybody. But somehow, the meeting goes on and on. Then it ends with – no decision. We all know those unproductive scenarios. People assume that all others have the same (their own) understanding of a certain term. But this is often not the case. Then meetings end nowhere, the time has been wasted, and no decisions have been made.
This is why definitions are so important. Definitions are a productivity booster rather than a waste of time. Most important in our ever-changing and complex world of selling and buying is that definitions have to be adjusted, changed, and evolved to remain valuable.
And that’s exactly the case with sales enablement. How enablement began its journey several years ago may no longer be appropriate to create sustainable and scalable business value in today’s ever-changing environments.
Let’s analyze how a world of rising buyer expectations requires that enablement evolve to a more dynamic, strategic and holistic discipline.
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that world-class sales performers involve an average of 5.8 stakeholders at the customer, and 4.6 within their own organization. That’s significantly more than average performers, who only involve 4.4 stakeholders at the customer and 3.8 people internally. More people involved leads to more complexity to be mastered. But more people involved also leads to better sales performance. That’s counterintuitive, but this world-class segment outperforms all others in terms of increasing customer retention rates (+5.8%) and sales performance (+23%), measured by various sales metrics. What are they doing differently?
World-class sales performers adapt better and faster to rising and changing buyer expectations in a customer-centric world.
World-class sales performers know that understanding the specific customer’s journey, and all involved stakeholders, is the foundation for providing valuable perspectives. World-class sales performers create value at each stage of the customer’s journey for all stakeholders, each of whose involvement may be different. They provide valuable perspectives on how to achieve even better results and wins, and collaborate with customers to calculate their specific business value. World-class sales performers know exactly how to navigate the different dynamics along the entire customer’s journey, and they don’t walk away after a deal has been closed.
That’s why enablement needs to be refreshed and redefined in a strategic and holistic way – Sales Force Enablement
All these findings on world-class sales performance require a dynamic, strategic and holistic enablement approach based on the customer’s journey as the main design point. That’s why I came up with a new and comprehensive definition. Many years in different sales roles, as an executive in the enablement space evolving the topic from a program to a strategic function in a large corporation; and working for many years with peers in the same space plus working with our clients, have led to this sharpened approach. Here we go:
A few soundbites for you on the definition:
- Strategic means that the business strategy is mapped to sales execution to derive a specific enablement scope that’s tailored to addresses an organization’s weaknesses, gaps and strengths to execute the business strategy successfully.
- We call it a discipline, as enablement can be organized in many different ways depending on your context and maturity. Enablement, whether it is a program or a function, is always cross-functional. The orchestration of tasks and processes – such as content creation and distribution or training design and delivery – always involves several functions and often external providers.
- Sales results and productivity are the quantitative metrics by which an organization assesses the performance of their sales function. Specific goals always have to be defined based on your organizational context and your specific point of departure. Make sure to cover both, effectiveness (first) and efficiency metrics.
- Providing integrated content, training and coaching services helps to ensure consistent messages across the sales force. There is no training without content, and no enablement content should be provided to the sales force without at least a “how-to-use” video.
- As a consequence of providing coaching services, frontline sales managers are a key target group to ensure that coaching can reinforce the enablement efforts. No sales leader can afford to put enablement investments at risk by not aligning enablement and coaching.
- As discussed above, what separates world-class performers from all others is their ability to make the customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders their main design point.
- Last but not least, sales force enablement is powered by technology from the creation and production of enablement services (content, training, and coaching) up to their distribution and integration in CRM systems with mechanisms that provide relevant services at salespeople’s fingertips.
As an MHI research member, please check out the related Research Note that explains the definition in detail. You can also have a look at my keynote from the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit 2015 to learn more about the underlying maturity model that covers a required level (where we have all started to organized certain domains), the recommended level (that’s the sales force enablement definition) and the world-class level (our ambition), which we call customer-core enablement.
This article was first published in Top Sales Magazine, July 28th 2015
Related blog posts:
Missing Something in Your Sales Enablement Approach?
Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
The Customer’s Journey Matters, Or How To Avoid Seller and Buyer Misalignment
Providing Perspectives – A Dynamic Customer-Core Engagement Principle
The series on this thought provoking question “Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid?” continues.
In case you missed the first two posts, click here for Part 1 which discussed auto-pilot versus strategic thinking and here for Part 2 where we discussed sales enablement role’s on value messaging. Today, let’s consider another key question that was raised a few weeks ago in Atlanta on a sales enablement panel at the Sales Force Productivity Conference.
How does the need for enablement tools change in transactional versus complex sales environments? When, if ever, is guided selling or following a script critical?
Transactional sales environments may not have more than one key decision maker involved and the products or services are easy to understand. Typically these buyers can find all required information to make a purchasing decision online, and the transaction itself can be made online. B2B buyers are used to making those buying decisions on a regular basis. Often, salespeople are only involved very late along the customer’s journey, if at all. Instead, service roles become more and more important in those transactional environments to connect to the customers’ concepts.
Complex selling environments are primarily defined by two criteria. It’s the complexity of the customer challenge to be mastered. And it’s an increasing number of involved stakeholders from different functions and roles. These buyers often make purchasing decisions in parallel to their day-to-day roles. Various dimensions, such as customer-specific situations, the stakeholders’ different concepts, the buying network’s decision dynamic and a provider’s complex portfolio of capabilities to design tailored solutions are connected to each other and have to be considered as a system.
Different requirements in both selling environments
Enablement content services have to address different needs in both environments. Based on the criteria above, the sales content for a transactional environment is focused on the actual buying phase and the service phase, tailored for the key buyer role. The awareness phase, which is essential in complex environments, is something buyers often process on their own, and online. Complex sales environments require modular and dynamic content and messaging approaches, not only to cover the entire customer’s journey, but also to address different buyer roles adequately. Therefore, enablement content designed for a transactional environment is easier to provide and can guide much more precisely than in a complex sales environment. And that’s why the competencies in transactional sales roles are different from those in complex sales roles. The level of critical and strategic thinking that is required from a salesperson to connect all the dots in a complex buying situation is very different from what a salesperson in a transactional sales role will ever need.
Scripting – who wants to be in a “scripted” conversation?
Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes – would you tolerate a scripted conversation for more than two minutes? There is a possibility to script typical conversations to help salespeople to be more effective. That can work in a more transactional environments, but only if related training services help people to play with these scripts and ultimately get away from the scripts. But very often the training part doesn’t take place, and conversations sound just “scripted.” Does that differentiate anybody in anything from competitors? No, not at all. So, come full circle with scripts or don’t work with scripts at all.
To be successful, guided selling requires strategic thinking – embedded in a sales methodology
Guided selling works backwards from typical patterns of customer challenges and problems, and is responsive to different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey. That requires a modular and dynamic content approach which has to be organized in a collaborative way. Often, that doesn’t happen, and salespeople are overwhelmed by the variety of content that’s available. If so, they’re likely to just switch off the noise. In this case, content packages or interactive playbooks for different customer challenges can guide salespeople along the customer’s journey and help them to find the right entry point for different buyer roles and different situations in different industries.
But in all these complex selling and buying situations, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by content and messaging. Strategic thinking is the key to connecting the dots across a large stakeholder network, and to analyzing and synthesizing the specific customer context and each buyer’s concepts. Critical and strategic thinking requires a sales methodology that can deliver scalable results. A sales methodology explains the how and the why, and guides people through different steps to create or manage opportunities.
Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Auto-Pilot Versus Strategic Thinking
Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Sales Enablement’s Role In Value Messaging
Understanding different buying environments – where are your customers?
It’s conference season. I’m back from our Miller Heiman Client Summit in Denver, the Sales Force Productivity Conference in Atlanta and Dreamforce in San Francisco. In Atlanta, Bob Kelley, chairman of the Sales Management Association, invited me to attend a panel discussion with the provocative headline, “Is sales enablement making salespeople stupid?” Without hesitating, I accepted the invitation. I love controversial and thought-provoking topics, and that’s one of those.
This blog post will be the first blog post of a series to cover the questions we discussed on this panel with Joe Gustavson, CEO and Founder Brainshark, and Joe Gruttadauria, VP Worldwide Sales at QStream, led by Bob Kelley. I will share my perspective, based on my experience and based on the latest research we have done at the MHI Research Institute. And please – feel free to chime in and share your thoughts!
Before we start this “after panel blog post series,” let me quickly define what we are talking about, as we did in Atlanta. We define sales enablement as a cross-functional discipline to drive sales performance and sales force transformation. Therefore, sales force enablement equips salespeople with all relevant skills and competencies, and provides content, messages and strategies for every stage of the entire customer’s journey, tailored to different buyer roles, with the aim of generating more valuable conversations and developing more and better business. Additionally, sales force enablement provides coaching guidelines for frontline sales managers to reinforce the enablement approach systematically.
Today, we discuss the first question of the panel.
Are reps relying too much on the organization to get things right at the expense of strategic thinking?
This question touches one of the most essential issues regarding sales enablement: How much can sales enablement ever prepare for salespeople and what will always be each salesperson’s responsibility to adjust, tailor or customize? The degree of what can be prepared in a “ready to use” way is very different in transactional and complex selling environments. In theory (and it happens in practice), selling situations can be scripted. But put yourself in your buyer’s shoes: Who wants to talk to a person who sounds like a robot that has learned the text? If this idea was successful, we wouldn’t need salespeople in the first place. We could record the message beforehand.
What happens in reality, salespeople in transactional sales environments have become an endangered species. Buyers can find what they need online, and make their purchases online. But in complex selling environments where various different stakeholders from different levels and functions are involved in buying decisions, conversations don’t follow a script. Critical, strategic thinking and adaptive competencies are key elements for sales success. Mapping a provider’s capabilities to the customer’s context and to their concepts requires a thoughtful, strategic and tailored approach.
Sales force enablement, set up the right way, provides content and messaging tailored along the entire customer’s journey and tailored to different buyer roles. Ideally, training on selling competencies and “how to use content assets” is provided as well. But tools and training do not equip salespeople to function on auto-pilot. They must always be responsive to the customer’s specific situation and the stakeholders’ different concepts about how to approach that specific situation.
Every customer makes every decision differently, every time, so there is always a need to adjust, to customize and to tailor content, messages and strategies. Examples include adjusting the content wording to fit the customer’s terminology, and helping the customer clarify or even redefine the objectives and desired results they want to achieve. Sales force enablement can only design content and messages for pre-defined buying situations and buyer roles. Mapping to the real buying situations and mapping to the real buyers, the individuals – that makes the difference. That requires adaptive competencies, and that is always a sales professional’s responsibility. That’s living a customer core approach.
Now, sales methodologies come into play. They guide salespeople to create and manage opportunities, and they help them prepare conversations in a structured way and to develop deal strategies by analyzing and synthesizing all different aspects of situational knowledge. Sales methodologies are based on principles and values. They explain the process behind sequences of activities and force salespeople to think strategically about how to approach a specific opportunity. World-class sales force enablement teams connect the dots between content, training and sales methodologies.
Once the dots have been connected – in other words, once sales enablement has done its job –each salesperson must make effective use of the content, training, etc. This is the route to sales success. Applying sales enablement services effectively requires a certain level of adaptive competencies. It requires the ability to adapt quickly to a new, changing or complex situation. Sales force enablement can also help with adaptive competencies as part of training.
But sales force enablement is not responsible for sales professionals’ ability to think critically and strategically. In complex sales, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by sales enablement.
There are no shortcuts to success.
Related blog posts:
Sales Force Enablement – See you in Atlanta, Sept 17
Enabling Principles To Develop Salespeople’s Adaptive Skills
Sales Enablement: Customer Core Framework to Provide Perspectives
The term “Sales Enablement” is used for almost everything that has to do with content, messaging, training, collaboration and technology to improve sales productivity and drive sales effectiveness. The function is rarely a strategic discipline that translates selling challenges into integrated, tailored sales execution plans. But this is exactly the kind of strategic approach that is required to create sustainable business impact and to drive sales force transformation successfully.
Sales enablement daily challenges
Our clients’ reality is that it’s still challenging to provide core enablement services in an effective and valuable way. The environments sales enablement leaders are dealing with are complex. Sales alone is a complex system with many dimensions that are all connected to each other. Furthermore, the need to work cross-functionally adds more dimensions to this existing complexity. Not to mention a variety of external providers of content, messaging, technology and training to work with. All these dimensions and their dependencies have to be orchestrated effectively to create significant value for the sales force. Additionally, there are still missing elements in many enablement approaches that need to be integrated with current enablement approaches, e.g., the relevance of frontline sales managers, the need to develop integrated content and training services, and to establish a strong foundation in sales operations that’s beneficial for both disciplines. This complexity is why frameworks are so important for sales enablement leaders. Frameworks provide a visual supporting structure, they cover several dimensions and their interdependencies on an aggregated level, and they enable us to navigate complexity in a more effective way.
Foundation for Sales Force Enablement (SFE)
In my SFPC session, Sept 17, 8:00 a.m., I’ll share some fresh data from our 2014 MHI Sales Performance and Productivity Study, including data on the biggest inhibitors to sales success, data on a growing sales enablement scope, and data on enablement investments and the correlation to quota achievement. Based on the data and the still-existing different perceptions regarding what sales enablement should do, we will then establish a customer-core foundation for sales force enablement, which covers the entire customer’s journey.
Our MHI Sales Force Enablement Master Framework is based on this customer core foundation. It enables you to define, structure, process and prioritize your sales enablement efforts to create more business impact in a more effective way. I will share an overview of the framework, what the different areas look like, and how you can use them. You will learn how to connect the customer’s journey with the internal value creation processes. We will discuss how to tailor your enablement services to all stages and all levels of the customer’s journey. And we will discuss how sales force enablement and sales operations belong together. Last but not least, we will look at a phased approach to a successful change and adoption program.
See you in Atlanta at the Sales Force Productivity Conference, Sept 17, 8am
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