“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
Related blog posts:
Now, as we have defined vision mission and purpose, we have to be more specific. Based on your target audience (sales roles, sales manager roles, channel partners, etc.) motto, objectives, strategies and tactics, your specific services and your metrics have to be defined. For you as a sales leader make sure your sales functions complete these charters. Also, make sure they connect the dots between the different charters to set a foundation for effective collaboration. Let’s look at your five steps to complete your charter. These steps build on the first three steps, discussed here.
Create an inspiring tag line to address your target audience
A tag line should capture your vision. Especially in times of transformation, change and adoption programs, those tag lines shouldn’t be underestimated. That’s how people will feel about your function, initiative or program. An example for sales enablement and or sales training could be: Let’s change from “I have to sell a product” to “I love to solve my customer’s problems.” Then integrate vision, mission and purpose as discussed in my previous post.
Define goal and objectives
The goal is closely related to the vision, it captures what has to be achieved, e.g. “We implement sales enablement and collaboration platform for the sales force” or “we want to provide a state-of-the-art CRM system that drives collaboration and effectiveness.” Goals do not have to be strictly measurable or tangible. Objectives instead have to be tangible and measurable. Several objectives can lead to your goal. An example could be “The CRM collaboration platform will go live August 1 for selected users, migration will be completed by Oct 30.” Another objective could be “to implement interactive playbooks until September, to decrease salespeople’s search time by 20 percent.”
Define strategies, create a phased approach
This section is about how to bring the vision alive. A strategy refers to a plan of action which is designed to achieve the defined objectives. Detailing the strategies, the activities have to be derived from, and connected to the expected outcomes that have to be achieved. Capture all activities necessary to achieve the objectives. If you are going to implement sales technology or new enablement services, make sure there is an adoption activity included. Think about the salespeople you provide services for. Finally, organize the activities on a timeline and create a road map.
Define your services and offerings
Your services and offerings are what’s visible to your defined target audience, the different roles within the sales force and channels. Your services are what people use and how they will perceive your function. Those services are e.g. sales enablement content, interactive playbooks, different training services, a collaboration platform, a performance management framework or a coaching guideline for sales managers. Define what is provided for which target audience.
Define how to measure success
Last but not least, define how to measure success. Those metrics depend on what’s included in your charter. If there are services to be implemented for the first time, milestones will be very important for you. If services are already in place, their effectiveness and their impact on sales performance is what matters. Last but not least, how efficient are these services produced? Make sure to cover all dimensions adequately.
Now, put it all together. Begin with your target audience, inflate vision, mission and purpose from the previous post, and add the topics that we discussed here – and create a compelling charter. It will become your go-to-resource for any kind of internal selling, communication, change and adoption situation.
Fitness, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is defined as “the quality or state of being fit.” That’s a general guideline, but what does it mean to you? It depends on your context. Are you a professional decathlete or a weekend trail runner?
Defining functions and programs the right way is key to success for both you as the sales leader and your sales functions as leader. Definitions create value only if they are adjusted to your organization’s specific context and challenges. Developing a big picture on vision, mission, purpose and core values is the first step in creating a meaningful charter for each of your sales functions. The purpose of such a charter is to support you in various internal selling and adoption situations with consistent messages that tell a compelling story.
And that’s the part you have to be deeply involved, because it’s about bridging the gap between business strategy and sales execution. Today we cover part one – vision, mission, purpose. A follow-up post will cover goals and objectives, strategies, the function’s services and metrics.
Step 1: The vision describes the desired future state
It describes WHERE you want to be, and what you want to achieve on a high level. To develop, for instance, a sales enablement vision, the organization’s vision has to be mapped to both sales and sales enablement. Visions for sales forces often have to do with transformation from product selling to outcome selling. If so, your vision can describe, for example, being the leading internal function that drives the transformation towards outcome selling as well as productivity to create more customer value in complex buying environments. It’s of course different if sales’ vision is to build partner channels. Key to create a meaningful vision is to work precisely from top down. You cannot put the cart before the horse.
Step 2: The mission is about the current state leading to the future state
A mission defines HOW you will get to where you want to be. An example for sales ops could be defining and executing a sales operations framework to provide a compelling and integrated value creation process from prospect to contract, easy to use and powered by technology. An example for a sales enablement mission could be defining and executing a cross-functional enablement framework to provide integrated services that are tailored to an outcome oriented sales approach, powered by an enablement platform.
Step 3: Purpose and core values
The purpose answers the question WHY a certain sales function exists. A purpose can be that sales enablement orchestrates the various sources of knowledge to create integrated enablement services, tailored to each stage and each level of the customer’s journey. A purpose for sales ops could be to build the skeleton of the sales organization.
Core values show how you and your teams will behave along the journey to achieve the vision. This area depends on your organization’s culture. There are three core values you will always need in a world-class sales organization – collaboration, accountability and leadership.
Don’t underestimate these three steps. If these fundamentals are not defined properly, you and your functional leaders will need much more time to sell every single initiative internally. Be ready to provide answers to questions that are related to vision, mission, purpose and values. Invest your time wisely, and develop vision, mission and purpose for your core sales functions!
Watch out for the next post where we’ll talk about the second part of your sales functions’ charters – goals and objectives, strategies and tactics, services and metrics.