Sales Enablement and Sales Operations – A Relationship With Great Potential

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.


The Difference Between Simplification and Simplicity

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.

How To Drive Cross-Functional Collaboration With Councils – Part 1: Content Council

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.”
—Henry Ford

This post was published initially @ Top Sales World, November Magazine.

Sales Enablement– How To Work With Different Groups In Your Sales Force Regarding Complex Sales?

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.