Your skeleton – what is it for? The bone structure provides a framework for the body. This framework supports the body and keeps the organs in their proper place. And muscles that are connected to the skeleton let us move our bodies.
Sales operations is the skeleton in any sales organization, with a few core functions: 1. Sales operations shapes and supports a sales organization’s customer management strategies, their design and integration in systems and tools; 2. Sales Operations provides a sales performance management framework to measure, predict and influence sales performance. Those core functions define the sales force’s foundation and enable people to create movements in an orchestrated way. It’s a foundation on how to sell, how to collaborate and how to focus on different customer segments, industries and territories.
Connecting the dots
But defining how to sell, and providing blueprints and infrastructure are not enough. To create well-orchestrated movements for your sales organization in executing your sales strategy, people have to be equipped with content and training, and they have to be coached to improve their practice continuously. That’s connecting the dots between operations and enablement. Sales enablement has to build its frameworks on the foundation defined by sales operations. It has to incorporate and build on the customer management strategies to create impactful enablement services. Sales enablement shapes what sales professionals need to know and how to apply this knowledge effectively. That means sales enablement defines how the sales professionals should train their muscles, and which muscles they should focus their training efforts on. It also equips front line sales managers how to coach to reinforce the efforts. How this shaping by enablement looks like depends on your buying and selling environment and on your sales force’s maturity level.
Flex the muscles that matter
There is one single muscle, that shouldn’t be trained anymore – the product selling and pitching muscle, the “it’s all about me” muscle. Instead, the “provide perspective” muscle that builds on the customer’s context, their concepts and their specific decision dynamic is the most important one that has to be trained to win the business of today’s demanding buyers.
Mapping is mandatory
Sales operations and sales enablement have different design points. Whereas sales operations has an internal view, sales enablement has an external design point – the customers and their journey, and the stakeholders. Sales enablement should build on the sales operation’s foundation by defining the tie points and interfaces. That requires sales enablement to map the different stages and gates along the customer’s journey back to the sales process. This mapping is mandatory. Consistency makes all the difference, whether your enablement services appear to stand alone, or well integrated and value adding.
We forget the powerful relationship between sales enablement and sales operations. When tapped, it has such a great potential to provide significant value for sales professionals and front line sales managers. There are synergies to be leveraged that require conscious collaboration from both disciplines to improve sales productivity. And there is the often overlooked potential to create much more value together – and less noise.
If only it was this simple: Hire to a sales stereotype, give them a pitch and turn ’em loose. Sales experience – not necessary. You need critical thinkers preferably without a sales background. How did the sales profession miss something so… simple? Or maybe it just looks that simple on the chalkboard.
Simplification has its roots in math, following strict rules. The purpose of simplification is to make something easier to understand. Who wouldn’t want that? Simplification done the right way is a useful process to reduce an existing matter to its essentials, stripping away everything superfluous and redundant, which requires some heavy duty critical thinking.
Unfortunately nowadays simplification is often performed by people without sales experience ignoring the above. Taking the fast track in this case leads to “Experience doesn’t matter anymore.” An excellent example what can happen with a serious topic – oversimplified. Leading people in the wrong direction. Creating more confusion than value. As a sales leader, you cannot afford to follow a misleading approach based on overhasty and wrong conclusions.
Simplicity is different, it’s a holistic approach.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
–Leonardo da Vinci
Simplicity is based on clarity, which comes from a complete understanding of the issue to be simplified. Applying simplicity correctly means to define the different elements of sales experience in the first place, such as knowledge in different areas, conversational, questioning and social skills, collaborative and competitive behaviors, attitude, business acumen, vertical knowledge and others. Simplicity would require to look deeply at your sales system and at the buying systems your organization has to deal with. Then, simplicity would require to analyze all dimensions from both perspectives, then synthesize both views before making conclusions.
Then – and this is the visible difference – simplicity creates a framework in the beginning how to look at the topic from different perspectives to make it easier to understand and to navigate a complex issue. Simplicity would probably come up with a different framework for transactional sales and for complex sales. Simplicity doesn’t allow that important dimensions are not considered at all. That’s exactly the trap with simplification, that right in the beginning, relevant dimensions are taken out of the equation – ironically in order to “simplify”.
As customers make their decisions differently, every time, because their situation is different – so do sales leaders. There are no silver bullets. Every sales organization’s challenges are specific. Every sales organization’s customers are different. The way how your specific customers want to engage with your sales organization is different as well.
Simplification is taking the fast track – which includes the danger to be wrong, not to add the value you possibly could.
Simplicity requires more thinking in the beginning to create a framework which helps people to navigate a complex issue really easily – but only to create the biggest possible value at the end.
Simplicity is pure and precise.
Simplicity strives for perfection.
Simplicity requires critical thinking.
Simplicity accepts no excuses.
This blog post was first published at The Sales Thought Leader Blog.
Sales and finance alignment – let’s continue with account segmentation. The previous post was about the root causes of many misunderstandings and how a GoToCustomer approach can improve cross-functional collaboration and results, based on the example of a GoToCustomer account definition.
Now, let’s build on that definition and the discussed perspectives how to identify net and gross growth potential regarding today’s topic – account segmentation.
Ask finance people and they will give you a list with top accounts, segmented by financial lagging indicators and sometimes by already predefined growth targets. But sales needs a different view. Of course, financials are important, but different perspectives on how to grow your business with different accounts in different ways will add much more value to the entire selling system. Then, we definitely need to consider this:
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” Albert Einstein
Create a charter together with finance on purpose and goals of account segmentation
Profitable growth can be an overall goal, sales and finance can both agree on: Growth is what both want, profitability is what finance is always asked to make sure. Therefore, account segmentation has to be designed in a way that it helps to achieve this goal.
Then, create a mission statement based on a KPI that is essential for sales both and that’s relevant for profitable growth as well – sales productivity. Here is an example of an account segmentation mission statement that worked pretty well:
“Account segmentation is to get more focus and to improve sales productivity by reducing selling expenses for non-strategic and / or less profitable accounts and transactions and by making the right resources available for strategic accounts and to allow better deal decisions to drive our profitable growth strategy.”
Let’s discuss some related segmentation criteria. Each criteria is important, but a decision on an account segment can only be made when the results of all criteria have been synthesized.
Analyzing current performance:
- Financial indicators:
Order entry, revenue and profit over the last few years help to understand the relevance of an account and how an account performed so far. Add the growth rates for all KPIs that were achieved over the last few years.
- Existing and new business:
Split the revenue over the last years in existing business and new business, however that is defined in your organization
- Account Manager Type:
Without having a special assessment at hand, how would you characterize the current account manager, when in interaction with the customers? Focused on efficiency and budget optimization or more focused on effectiveness (business outcomes)?
Analyzing growth potential
- Add gross and net growth potential:
Use the data on net and gross growth potential you calculated based on the previous post. Verify the numbers with the sales managers to factor in long term contracts that are currently not addressable and similar information.
- Strategic relationships:
Relationships do matter and relevant relationships matter even more. They are the foundation to create new business and to grow and maintain existing business. Senior executive relationships are important if you want to focus on customer outcomes. You can run a complete relationship analysis, or you can create a matrix with level (C level, senior exec.level, VP level, director level, manager level, SME and others), function (lines of business or IT) and the quality of those relationships.
- Level of value creation:
This is much more than a white spot analysis, which is an inside-out tool. Value creation is the criteria from a GoToCustomer perspective. What is the value you create for this account currently and what do you want to achieve? Is that of strategic relevance for them? Do you tackle their effectiveness and their business outcomes? Or do you focus on budget optimization and efficiency?
Synthesizing – create context across the different criteria to get a holistic view for each account
- Look at the results of existing and new business and the account manager type:
In many cases, there will be a correlation between efficiency oriented account managers and existing business and between effectiveness oriented account managers and new business. This is relevant for an optimized resource allocation
- Look at the results of strategic relationships and account manager type: If a person is more focused on efficiency, this account will normally have less senior executive relationships, if at all. If the person has more an effectiveness focus, you will see more senior executive relationships in better quality.
- Look at the gross and net growth potential, at the relationship potential and the value creation potential together:
Make sure that an account has enough executive level relationships if you want to grow quickly. And make sure that an effectiveness oriented account manager is on this account.
- Check high revenue volume (from your perspective), profitability and an already synthesized view on growth potential:
Decide whether you want to focus on revenue growth and/or on profitability growth.
Finally, how do you define and how do you call your account segments?
This is very specific, depending on an organization’s culture and current situation. In general, I wouldn’t use more than four segments. You can label them with numbers or letters, or you can define a name per each segment, which is easier to communicate.
Try to build clusters that are based on your synthesized results and are focused on e.g. the level of value creation – outcomes, effectiveness on the one hand and efficiency and budget optimization on the other hand.
Create sub categories in the effectiveness/outcome cluster and in the efficiency/budget optimization cluster to distinguish in each category between strong growing accounts (including prospect accounts) and slow growing accounts that are maybe more focused on profit.
There are many more possibilities to define the segments – but make sure, that they support your overall segmentation goal, finance and sales agreed on together.
Whoever owns sales enablement in your organization, it’s always a cross-functional discipline. The need to collaborate to achieve better results is increasing, especially in a complex environment.
What’s the main collaboration issue? Based on a sales enablement framework with the customer’s journey at the core, the main collaboration issues are all enablement services from design to rollout. Specifically, it’s about content along the customer’s journey for different internal and external target groups and it’s about sales trainings, such as product, skill, process and tool trainings. Today, let’s focus on content councils.
Many different streams have to be orchestrated across different functions to provide those services efficiently and effectively. Councils are an approach to drive cross-functional collaboration in a structured and effective way. Let’s look at a few proven ideas, based on two definitions:
- Content is defined as all types of content, including playbooks, collateral, videos regarding “what to sell” and “how to sell” with the purpose to equip people successfully at all levels and at all stages along the customer’s journey.
- Content Council is defined as a cross-functional strategic decision board that makes decisions on what to do, how to do it and how to measure success whereas the execution often remains in the initial functions. Budgets should be assigned to the council, but your point of departure will often be the other way around. So, true leadership is required!
Follow these steps to initiate your content council:
- Senior Executive Sponsorship: Ideally, both the sales leader and the marketing leader are the council’s senior executive sponsors.
- Content Council Lead: The person, who leads the strategic sales force enablement team should lead the content council to provide strategic guidance, based on the sales enablement framework. Connecting the dots to other sales force enablement areas, e.g. sales trainings, methods, processes and tools
- Council Members: Typical members in the council decision board are the leaders of product & solution marketing, vertical marketing, portfolio management, any kind of dedicated sales enablement content teams. Include an interface to the trainings teams.
- Council Charter: Your charter defines how council works together and it supports all internal selling issues. Mission and principles, defined outcomes for each phase, topic-specific council teams, members and sponsors and a meeting calendar should be covered in the charter.
Don’t forget to address specific topics in cross-functional council teams :
- Content Management Framework team: responsible for the content management framework, which defines content types, maps them to the customer’s journey, defines internal and external target groups, as well as processes on content definition, creation and localization.
- Tool & Technology Team: The challenge is how to design technology, but also packaged content as playbooks in a way that it supports the business needs most effectively.o Impact Team: It measures efficiency based on content analytics and effectiveness along the customer’s journey.
- Launch Team: Prototypes of new content types are developed, challenged and piloted with dedicated sales teams – it can be the perfect role for field enablement, if you have such a function.
Have a successful content council kick-off and make a difference!
“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”
This post was published initially @ Top Sales World, November Magazine.
“What a question” I hear you, “of course, I know who my customers are and I know them pretty well” Wait a minute and let’s have a look at the variety of answers you can get asking this question across the organization.
“My customers are the VPs for Network Operations”, “I’m calling on the directors and VPs for Application Management”, “I’m selling to Vendor Management”, “I’m selling to senior executives”, “I’m selling higher now”. Other people said “our customers are the Fortune500 corporations” and “we are selling to Dax30 corporations”. Others said “our customers are the CxOs in the xyz industries” and the list goes on and on…
These are answers from sales, marketing and finance. People made these statements from their own departmental perspective, their current situation, based on their own, often unconscious, customer view. Additionally, think about the variety of initiatives that collect customer intelligence and provide customer insights. How many do you count across your organization? Ten, twenty, more? You are in good company, it’s a common scenario in large organizations.
Imagine, you have to design a framework for an entire sales system in a complex selling environment – and you get these answers. Then, you are still confused, but on a higher level, right? What I learned so far: There is no successful way to reduce the matter to a common denominator AND to make it valuable for the entire sales system. Instead, we should change our thinking in the first place.
Albert Einstein nails it: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Assumption: We distinguish between organizations (legal and contract view) and the people we are selling to (relationship view).
Often, both are named “customers”, but in my experience, it’s much easier to call the organization an “account” and the people “customers” or “buyers”. It simplifies many conversations across the organization.
Step 1: Define accounts in a legal way from the outside to the inside.
An account can consist of several layers: Take the highest legal entity of an organization – as they are organized, not as we look at them. Underneath, you can connect several business units or divisions, and within these business units or divisions, you can connect all relevant budget centers. Find more on the legal account definition here.
Step 2: Let’s look at a few dimensions to define customers in a holistic way
- What’s their level in the organization’s hierarchy?
Are they on a functional level, SME, manager, director, senior director, VP, SVP/EVP or C level?
- What’s their function?
Are they working in the lines of business or within IT (in case you are selling IT related services)? Build a number of categories for lines of business (e.g. sales, marketing, HR, Finance, Controlling, production) as well as for IT (e.g. Application Management, Desktop Management, Network Operations, User Help Desk, Infrastructure, IT Strategy)
- What’s their primary focus – efficiency or effectiveness?
In case you sell primarily to procurement or to managers, also vendor managers, their focus is often budget optimization and efficiency. These roles are often involved as impacted stakeholders at later stages along the customer’s journey. And they drive the buying process, if their challenges are focused on process optimization and efficiency within a certain domain and/or if contracts have to be renewed.
In case you sell primarily to executives (lines of business or IT), their focus is often effectiveness and investment, sometimes with a B2B2C perspective. They have to master complex domain-specific or cross-functional challenges of strategic relevance. Their desired business outcomes are focused on effectiveness, and the solutions they are looking for are an enabler along this change management journey.
- What’s the scope of their problems and challenges?
In which domains and for which processes? This question details what was clustered above in efficiency and investment focus. Build on the results from the first three questions and – depending on your business – think about typical problems and challenges and cluster them in the two groups above: efficiency, effectiveness. Think also about domain-specific versus cross-functional challenges, blending business and IT.
All dimensions so far are basic ingredients to design the right value messages for the customers regarding the “why change” and the “why you” story, along the customer’s journey.
- How does the stakeholder network look like?
Map your customers as defined so far and map them to the entire account structure. Build a map and analyze each relationship in terms of e.g. quality, trust, perception and most important – how are these customers working together? Who influences whom for which decisions? You get the picture. It’s time for a power map. Don’t forget to identify the relationship gaps and define activities how to get access. Think about relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders for the problems and challenges you have identified – to have a general view you can use as a foundation for opportunities and to be able to tailor value messages for different stakeholders.
Almost done: At which stage along the customer’s journey are they involved?
Now, as we have a pretty clear picture of our customers, let’s map who is involved when along their customer’s journey for which problem/challenge scope? Before a problem occurs, when a problem occurs, but the impact is not yet understood, or after problem and impact are pretty clear? When they are already thinking about solutions, when the solution is already designed, or after the RFP is created and the formal buying process is started? Compare these results with the power map you created before and analyze the gaps. A great exercise for an entire organization and for each single account team to check where those strategic relationship gaps are and how to close them.
A lot of work – Why?
To achieve simplicity – key to drive effectiveness and growth
Such a customer model equips people to navigate complexity with a few clear principles and dimensions that are based on one design point – the customers are at the core.
Due to the fact, that customers are defined outside-in with several dimensions that build on each other, different people and different teams can use what’s relevant to them: Finance will only need the account definition. A strategic account team will need all dimensions, and content creating groups will need most of the dimensions. But it is still ONE model.
To get there is hard work, but it’s worth it:
Such a model creates efficiency, transparency and clarity and simplicity.
Simplicity is one of the prerequisites for growth!
What are your target groups for your sales enablement services? “Sales people“, you will answer, and as it’s me who is writing here, you may add “and sales managers“
But how do you work with these groups specifically? Which group do you need to challenge your concepts and ideas and for which groups do you actually design your enablement services?
As always, there is no „one size fits all“, especially not, if you design services for complex selling scenarios. In my experience, SE professionals should analyze precisely, where and how to invest time and resources, to address what really matters to increase performance and to drive transformation. The answer to this question is often different in transactional and in complex selling scenarios. Today, we will focus on complex selling scenarios. But how is that defined anyway? Complex selling scenarios are not only defined by what you sell and how complex it is for your organization to sell. It’s even more important to consider how complex it is for the buyer to buy: Complex means, that there are many different stakeholders involved, with different roles, different patterns, different opinions how to achieve desired outcomes, and these stakeholders are often measured differently. Sales cycles have a tendency to get longer and longer, because on the other hand, the number of stakeholders is increasing, and buying processes didn’t get a lot easier.
Then, in a complex selling scenario, everything is connected to everything, in the sales system and in the buying system. A deep understanding – which is much more than “knowing”- of all the elements in these systems is necessary to take the right actions in the most conscious way, to be able to achieve the desired sales results and then – the buyer’s desired outcomes. Complex sales means also, that the customers make their decisions differently – because every situation, every problem that has to be solved has its own unique characteristics.
These specifics have a direct impact on sales force enablement as a whole: on strategy, methodology, on enablement services for sales people and their managers and on sales enablement metrics. In general, you need flexible principles rather than detailed rules. Methodology and enablement services should be more focused on outcome-selling. Consultative and value-based selling skills are much more important to make a difference than product, process and tool knowledge. These areas are of course a necessary foundation. But to make a difference, the how, the outcome-based selling orientation will be key to success. Also, enablement content has to be much more flexible and should be designed in a very modular way, because many different stakeholder groups cutting across IT and business with specific and tailored value messages have to be addressed – way more than in a clearly defined transactional sales environment. Therefore, editing and configuring content in a very effective way is mission critical for sales teams. Apart from the stages along the customer’s journey, all the different impacted stakeholder roles have to be considered – to equip your sales people to navigate complexity and build a shared vision of success. So, this is quite a challenge for a sales enablement content management framework.
Now, let’s discuss how to work with the different groups in your sales organization. There are two challenger groups and two target groups:
Groups for challenging your concepts:
- A-Player – Sales People:
The goal to engage with A-Players is to get as much input as possible from your most successful sales people. Engaging with them is often a challenge in itself: They are the „troublemakers“, who challenge an organization’s processes and systems all the time – which is actually a gift for all! They are always successful – whatever you provide or don’t provide. Often, they cannot articulate pretty well, what and how they do differently. They just do – and they lead. Whatever enablement services you will provide, check-in with your A-Players, let them challenge your ideas, your trainings, your content, even entire frameworks, weave in their feedback, before you roll-out anything to the field.
- A-Player – Sales Managers:
Your top sales managers have the same importance – for two purposes.
First, it’s regarding the enablement services you will provide for their sales people. Gather their feedback from a sales coaching perspective and integrate it. Based on their day-to-day coaching experience, they know exactly in which selling situations and why which kind of sales people struggle the most.
Second, challenge your enablement services for them with them. It can be a very challenging undertaking, but it’s absolutely worth your effort, because the sales managers have always the biggest leverage effect regarding performance and transformation. Everybody will benefit, if your top sales managers are “enablement evangelists”.
Your main target groups:
- B-Players – Sales People:
They are the most important target group for all your sales enablement services you are going to provide sales people. The goal is to empower them on their journey towards the A-Players’ performance level. This is why it’s so important to incorporate their wisdom – especially in complex sales. It’s essential to focus on principles rather than on processes and check lists, because every selling situation is different. Engage with a group of B-Players after you challenged your services with the A-Players. Then, adjust what’s maybe not completely understandable.
- B-Players – Sales Managers:
After having challenged your sales manager enablement program with a few top sales managers, run a second pilot with the “B sales managers”, to make sure that everything is well understandable and can be well received to create the most value for them. Focus especially on the sales coaching framework and connect the dots to the enablement services for sales people. Make sure, that there is a lot of space to practice sales coaching and to get coached on coaching…
“And what are you going to provide for the C and D Players?”
I hear you…
A short but provocative answer:
You do nothing specifically for these groups regarding your enablement program for sales people (!). But, and that’s the second part of the answer: You don’t accept bad performance. Never. Because it turns a sale force into mediocrity. Now what?
Enabling and developing C and D players (or figuring out, that it’s not possible) is first of all a sales management challenge, and it should be part of your enablement program for sales managers. For such a program, it’s important to provide sales managers a matrix that helps them to decide where to focus their coaching efforts and where to apply different measures, also how to decide which people in these groups have the hidden potential to grow and to increase their performance and also, how to enable and coach them to get there.
The most important principle:
Focus on what matters most in your specific environment, which will always be a specific and unique answer.
A column version of this post will be published @TopSalesWorld – September Magazine.