Three Pillars of a Solid Sales Force Enablement Foundation

w_9moguwr08-todd-desantis“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation.
You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.”
–Gordon B. Hinckley

That’s exactly the same for a successful sales force enablement function, program, or initiative. The better your sales force enablement foundation, the more successful your results will be. The data from our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows the impact of an enablement foundation on sales performance. Today, we discuss the three pillars of a solid enablement foundation. These are enablers for enablement success.

#1: Customer’s journey alignment drives win rates and quota attainment

Proven now for two years in a row: Focusing on the customer’s journey and aligning all internal processes accordingly is not merely a nice-to-have add-on. Instead, the degree of alignment between an organization’s internal processes and the customer’s journey is highly relevant for enablement success.

There is still a group of 9.4% that doesn’t consider the customer’s journey at all. Another 35.2% reported an informal alignment. This adds up to 44.6% who have not purposefully aligned their sales process to the customer’s journey. Then, 55.4% reported having either a formal (27.7%) or dynamic (27.7%) alignment.

An informal alignment means that the issue has been discussed and considered but not formally implemented. But this does not necessarily mean that sales processes have been adjusted or that there is a formal alignment or even implementation. A dynamic alignment goes even further: either deriving the sales process from the customer’s journey or dynamically aligning it to the customer’s journey and implementing modifications as soon as changes in the marketplace are detected.

Our study found an average win rate for forecast deals of 46.2%. With no alignment at all, the win rate went down to 40.5%, which is 14% worse than the average. But with a formal or dynamic alignment, the win rate improved significantly—up to 53%, which is a difference of 6.8 percentage points or an improvement by 15%.

Our study found an average quota attainment of 55.8%. Having no alignment led to a quota attainment of 54.2%, which is slightly below average. Interestingly, the informal and the formal alignment also led to 54.4%, which is also below average and is pretty much the same result as having no alignment. But a dynamic alignment led to 63.4%, which is an improvement by 13.6%.

#2: Create an enablement charter to improve revenue attainment

Looking at the data on how organizations approach enablement, it’s interesting to see that 49.1% of all global study participants still treat enablement in a one-off project manner (9.6%) or on an informal basis only (39.5%). Then, 35.7% reported having a formal enablement vision in place, and 15.3% have actually created a formal enablement charter that covers, for instance, vision, mission, purpose, target groups, enablement services, programs, roadmaps and how to measure success.

Our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that formality matters. If enablement is approached in a one-off project manner, sales performance suffers. Revenue attainment ended up at 84.2% (compared to the study’s average revenue attainment of 90.1%), and that’s a difference of 5.9 percentage points or an actual decline of 6.5%. Win rates ended up at 45.0%, which is below the average win rate of 46.2%.

Instead, if enablement was treated with a formal enablement charter, sales performance results were much better than average. Revenue attainment climbed up to 98.8% (compared to the average of 90.1%), which is a difference of 8.7 percentage points and an actual improvement of 9.6%. Win rates showed a positive impact as well. With a formal enablement charter, win rates climbed to 53.6% (compared to the study’s average win rate of 46.2%). That’s a difference of 7.4 percentage points or an actual improvement of 16%.

Improving the revenue plan attainment by almost 9.6% and the win rate by 16% show a performance impact that ambitious sales leaders cannot ignore.

#3 Getting cross-functional collaboration right to achieve enablement goals

Cross-functional collaboration does not exist for its own sake. The purpose of collaboration is achieving better results, ideally in a shorter amount of time. Sales force enablement is always a cross-functional discipline because no enablement team can provide integrated content, training, and coaching services throughout the entire customer’s journey for different user groups and powered by technology, alone. That’s why cross-functional collaboration is mandatory for three reasons. First, to provide the defined enablement services. Second, to achieve the enablement goals regarding sales results and productivity. And third, to keep enablement as cost-efficient as possible.

Informal and ad hoc collaboration (the least desirable forms) are still the leading approach (a combined 68.8%), but this is better than last year (83%). While there is overall good news, let’s be aware that 43% of all study participants, like last year, collaborate on an informal basis, and almost 10% don’t collaborate at all.

With increasing enablement maturity, enablement leaders have to define which functions they need to collaborate with, and why. This step is often overlooked, but it is essential. If we can achieve our goals on our own, we won’t collaborate in the first place. We collaborate because we need others to help us provide our services and achieve our goals. How other functions can help has to be specifically defined for each enablement area and with each involved function.

The data in our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that cross-functional collaboration has an important impact on enablement success. With ad hoc collaboration, only 36% could achieve all or most of their enablement goals. With formal collaboration approaches, 59% could achieve all or most of their enablement goals. So, an effective cross-functional collaboration process is an important pillar for enablement success.

 

Questions for you:

  • How did you design your enablement foundation? 
  • How mature is your customer’s journey alignment?
  • How did you set up your cross-functional collaboration? 

 

This article was initially published in the November edition of Top Sales Magazine.

Getting Serious About Sales Force Enablement

tsw-october-coverThis interview, conducted by Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World with my colleague Jim Dickie and myself, was initially produced for the October issue of Top Sales Magazine.

Jonathan: Tamara, may I begin by asking you to share your definition of “Sales Enablement?”

Tamara: Yes, of course. At CSO Insights, we define sales force enablement as a “strategic, cross-functional discipline designed to increase sales results and productivity by providing integrated content, training, and coaching services for salespeople and frontline sales managers along the entire customer’s journey, powered by technology.”

Jonathan: Why is sales enablement such a growing discipline? Is enablement now growing up?

Tamara: B2B sales is in a period of transformation. How to sell becomes more important than what to sell. In the age of the customer, old product centered selling formulas don’t work anymore. Modern selling is about creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for all stakeholders to influence their decisions along their customer’s journey. And successful salespeople involve more stakeholders (5.8 on average) at the customer and also internally than mediocre performers. Our data shows these transformational challenges. Quota attainment is decreasing since 2012, from 63.0% down to 55.8% in 2016. But trying harder doesn’t work anymore. Instead, sales forces need smarter support. And this is where sales force enablement comes into play, orchestrating all efforts across functions to equip salespeople and their managers with the necessary training, content and coaching services in an integrated and consistent way so that they can be more successful in an ever-changing world.

Jim: An interesting trend the CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study found was where sales enablement fits within the organization structure. In 52.5% of the cases, the discipline reports to executive sales management, another 25.3% of the time it reports to sales operations. So this is not being seen as a marketing, HR, or training responsibility; this is truly something linked directly to the sales organization. While we are clearly seeing growing interest in sales enablement, how companies implement this discipline varies. The study found that 12.1% of the participants surveyed said that their company viewed this as a series of one-off projects, 39.4% said they had an informal vision of what sales enablement could or should be, and the remaining 48.5% told us they had taken the time to define a formal vision for sales enablement’s role within their organization.

Jonathan: That’s interesting; the organizational aspect underlines enablement’s growing up. Now, what are the major goals they are focusing on achieving?

Jim: Study participants reported two top objectives for sales enablement programs: increase not just sales efficiency and but sales effectiveness as well. But how to do that comes in a lot of flavors. Key areas of focus the study surfaced were increasing new account penetration, increasing sales to existing accounts, optimizing cross and upsell, improving margins, minimizing customer churn, improve win rates of forecast deals. The key to success is what you do after you prioritize the specific challenges your sales enablement organizations needs to address. Work needs to be done to clearly define the causes of suboptimal performance so you can then craft a comprehensive sales transformation vision, which in turn can be broken into management steps so that we can engineer evolutionary change that doesn’t overwhelm the organization.

Tamara: All these various goals that enablement leaders are pursuing cannot be achieved all at once. Some of the goals depend on an organization’s current state of enablement maturity; others on an organization’s context and priorities. But wherever you are on your enablement journey, effective cross-functional collaboration is always an essential key to success. And it’s not just marketing you have to collaborate with. Instead, there are, for instance, sales management, sales ops, product management, HR, L&D, and also IT. According to our data, 66.8% of the participants collaborate in an ad hoc or informal manner. Only 21.7% have a formal collaboration approach. So, getting cross-functional collaboration right leverages a huge productivity potential. And that requires to defining collaboration goals with each other function. Setting up a collaborative production process and defining the relevant roles for each enablement service (e.g., content types and training services) is a prerequisite for productivity. With other functions such as sales management or IT, collaboration should be formalized to ensure executive buying, exchange, and structured decision making.

Jonathan: In the age of the customer, what’s the role of the customer’s journey in sales enablement?

Tamara: As buying decisions are still made by customers, the entire customer’s journey has to be the main design point for sales force enablement. Aligning the internal processes, namely the sales process, to the customer’s journey is still a challenge for many organizations. There is still a group of 9.4% that doesn’t consider the customer’s journey at all. Another 35.2% reported an informal alignment. This adds up to 44.6% who have not purposefully aligned their sales process to the customer’s journey. Then, 55.4% reported having either a formal (27.7%) or dynamic (27.7%) alignment. Our data shows that the better the customer’s journey alignment, the better the sales performance: win rates, for example, can be improved by 15%. With no alignment at all, the win rate went down to 40.5%, which is 14% worse than the study’s average of 46.2%. But with a formal or dynamic alignment, the win rate improved significantly—up to 53%, which is an improvement of 15%.

Jim: Many companies seem to struggle with mapping the customer’s journey. That doesn’t need to be the case because to really understand what that journey entails all we have to do is ask the customer. To do that, we have long been advocates of doing buy cycle reviews. This starts with taking a group of past opportunities – wins, losses, and no decisions – and interviewing the customer about what happened from their side. What issues caused them to consider doing something, who was assigned to the project team, what tactics did they go through to assess alternatives solutions, how did the cost justify the investment, etc. You also want to know what happened after they bought something and started using it. We have outlined in detail a process for how to accomplish this in our ebook, The CSO’s Guide to Transforming Sales, which anyone can download.

Jonathan: Enablement services: What’s the state of training and content services and how do they impact performance?

Tamara: Sales training is still the top enablement service for salespeople, followed by sales tools, process improvements, onboarding, and content services that are actually the foundation for almost every other enablement service. For sales managers, enablement analytics and coaching are most important. The quality of enablement services impacts sales performance. Content quality, for example, impacts quota attainment in two ways: Content that meets or exceeds expectations drives quota attainment up to 59.3%, which is an improvement of 6.3% compared to the study’s average of 55.8%. Content that requires major redesign or improvement impacts quota attainment negatively: 53.1%, which is a decline of 9.5%. The same patterns apply for training. Training services that meet or exceed expectations improve quota and revenue attainment and win rates in a remarkable way. But if these services lack quality, the consequence is a negative impact on performance. Examples for onboarding and social selling with exact data are included in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study.

Jim: W. Edward Deming’s observation that “You can expect what you inspect” has a lot of applicability to training and content management services. Providing training and content to sales teams needs follow-up with analyzing how they are leveraging those skills and sales tools when they are actively selling. Are salespeople really trying out new sales techniques with customers, or falling back to old habits? What content are they actively using when engaging clients, and what materials are effective and which are not? And also, what content have salespeople created themselves? How do we find those materials, synthesize them into best practices, and share them across the sales force? We need to put together the processes and technologies to get answers to these questions. If we do, we can significantly increase the impact that sales enablement has on performance, because we can ensure the services are really being used.

Jonathan: Enabling salespeople is not enough. What does sales manager enablement mean and what’s the role of coaching?

Jim: Too often when we have discussions around enablement, the focus is on what salespeople need to be doing differently. That is only half the equation. Sales management needs to evolve as well. If you have a Sales 2.0 sales force reporting to Sales 1.0 managers, you are setting the stage for conflict. We need to bring a whole new level of science to the art of sales management. The CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study found that the average win rate of forecast deals is only 46.2%. Think about that. The odds of winning on a “pass bet” at the craps tables in Las Vegas are 49.3%. The forecast is created by sales management, with input from their salespeople. Nothing gets into the forecast unless management puts it there, and we are wrong more than half the time! That is indicative of a broken, or at least suboptimal, coaching process. So optimizing sales management performance needs to be part of the sales enablement charter from day one.

Tamara: I always recommend that companies enable sales managers first, based on my own experience and our data. Investing in sales managers impacts, for instance, revenue attainment by 18.4%. And the specific impact of developing the managers’ coaching skills can improve, for instance, win rates by 27.9% and quota attainment by 10.2%, if the coaching approach is a dynamic one. Yes, the coaching approach itself makes a huge difference. It’s still the biggest challenge that 47.5% of the study participants reported that coaching is left up to each manager. Such a random approach is not scalable and has no positive impact on performance at all. The abovementioned results can only be achieved with a formal, or even better, a dynamic approach. That means the coaching areas and the coaching process have been defined and implemented, and the sales managers are up to speed and are required to use it. In a dynamic approach, the coaching framework is connected to the enablement framework to reinforce the initial enablement efforts and to drive adoption.

Jonathan: Now, let’s look forward: What are your top three recommendations?

Tamara: My first recommendation is to create an enablement charter. With buy-in from the senior executives, such a charter is a very powerful internal selling tool for enablement leaders. The charter has to be based on a clear vision, mission, and purpose statement. It defines the enablement target groups, goals, strategies and activities to get there. The provided enablement services and how to measure success also have to be defined.

Second, content and training services have to be aligned. It’s still a challenge, especially when sales training and sales content services are created from different departments. In that case, enablement should establish an alignment process to ensure that the messaging is consistent. No content without training. No training without content.

Third, social selling is an enablement issue. Marketing’s social strategy and the social selling strategy have to be aligned. And enablement services involve more than training on how to use LinkedIn. Instead, social selling methods have to be integrated into the sales process and powered by technology. And social selling requires shareable social content that salespeople can use to connect and engage with prospects and customers.

Jim: You need to establish a sales culture that embraces change. That means that the first sale you need to make with any sales enablement initiative is an internal sale. Everyone who is going to be impacted by the changes you are making to training, process, technology, coaching, etc., needs to understand what is happening and why.

Second, realize that that sales enablement is an investment, not an expense. If you take the time to figure out the cost-of-doing-nothing associated with sales ineffectiveness, in terms of low revenue attainment, poor margins, high customer churn, and so on, you will quickly find that the cost of fixing these problems is orders of magnitude less than letting them continue.

Finally, understand that sales enablement is an ongoing journey of continuous improvement, versus a single event. Adapting to changes in the marketplace will require unending changes in how you engage customers.

Sales Force Enablement Technology: How to Define The Functional and The Technology Layer

When designing a kitchen, you need to consider your available space as well as your cooking style and the types of meals you most often cook. This allows you to create your culinary masterpieces most effectively by optimizing the processes you follow.

In cooking, just as in sales, technology matters, too. Choosing appliances, such as an oven or refrigerator, with features that support your approach to meal preparation, makes a big difference.

shutterstock_110678570 “A fool with a tool is still a fool”

Unfortunately, sales leaders often look at tools differently than do master chefs. They sign contracts for expensive sales technology that promises to deliver results before defining what those results look like in their business context and how the organization needs to prepare. These investments almost never pay off. But, just like a poorly designed kitchen, it isn’t the technology that failed. It is the sales organization that failed to take the time to think through how the technology needs to support their strategy. According to the data from our 2016 Sales Best Practices Study, these systems often fail to deliver. For example, only 28% of All Respondents reported a significant increase in sales productivity due to the use of sales tools as compared to 78% of World-Class Sales Performers.

 

The functional layer sits between the customer’s journey and the salesperson’s journey.

Before sales enablement can drive performance from enablement technology, the organization must have a deep understanding of the customer’s journey and align internal processes (marketing, sales, and service) to it. As showed in our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the better this alignment, the more successful organizations have been across several key performance metrics such as quota attainment (+13 %) or revenue plan attainment (>10%).

There are as many customer’s journeys as buying situations. The key to success is to identify the relevant gates on an aggregated level. When world-class sales performers map their internal processes to the customer’s journey, they ensure that every gate on the customers’ side has an equivalent gate in the internal process chain.

Sales force enablement’s core responsibility is to equip the sales force with the required skills and competencies, the right knowledge, and the right strategies to create more and better business. Within the functional layer, there are three sublayers, each with unique requirements for enablement services:

  • Skills and Competencies or “How to Sell”: This bottom layer is independent of the organization’s products and services portfolio and includes all of the general skills that impact sales success, such as communication, listening and questioning, negotiation, presentation, and social skills. These skills are relevant throughout the entire customer’s journey. Training services are the primary enablement service in this layer.
  • Expertise: Capability and Situational Knowledge or “What to Sell and How to Sell”: The capability knowledge focuses on what salespeople need to know about the organization’s portfolio of products and services. These knowledge prerequisites should center on what these products and services mean to a customer rather than what they are or what they do. This understanding translates “what to sell” into “how to sell.” Enablement services include various internal enablement tools (playbooks, value messaging guidelines, briefings, etc.) as well as client-facing content assets (success stories, references, presentations, etc.).Situational knowledge is based on the organization’s methodologies and processes. Acquiring situational knowledge salespeople have to connect the dots between their research and the information they get from conversations with buyers in the particular context of a buying situation to draw the right conclusion for the right moment.
  • Sales Insights or “How to Coach”: The sales insights layer covers all information regarding the specific customer situation and the analytics related to the current interactions with the prospect or customer. Once sales managers have mastered the coaching skills, the better the data, the better the impact they can make through coaching.

The technology layer is derived from the functional layer by translating the functional areas into different technology categories and creating a set of systems capability requirements.

  • Learning Management Systems: This layer includes training and learning management systems for all available learning formats. Capabilities should include content creation for the training services to be provided as well as functionality for assigning, conducting, and tracking sessions and the issuing of certifications.
  • Sales and Marketing Technology Solutions: The next layer includes a variety of technology solutions. The focus here is on enablement technology, but marketing automation and SFA/CRM systems are essential as well, and ideally, all three systems are integrated.
  • Sales enablement content management solutions (SECM) handle a wide array of content types from internal enablement content up to client-facing content. The best content management systems provide a broad range of functionalities including management, distribution, and access, as well as analytics for content usage and effectiveness in sales interactions. SECM solutions handle a wide array of content types from internal enablement content up to client-facing content. These solutions should also provide a broad range of functionalities including management, distribution, and access, as well as analytics for content usage and effectiveness in sales interactions. However, to drive world-class performance, the system must go beyond and adhere to the “Be Inspired” principle. This mechanism provides content suggestions to the salesperson—when they need it; where they need it—based on the particular selling scenario and customer’s journey stage.
  • Sales Analytics Systems: There are three types of analytics in this layer: descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive. In dynamic, ever-changing B2B sales environments, sales analytics become more and more important. They improve strategic decision-making among sales leadership. And they also help salespeople gain as much relevant information as possible about targeted prospects and existing customers so they may engage them in the most meaningful, relevant, and valuable way.

Sales enablement technology is a significant investment. To make the most of it and drive the performance improvements they are looking for; sales enablement leaders must collaborate with their colleagues in sales operations. Before purchasing any system, they must define the functional layers to derive their technology requirements.

Questions for you:

  • How do you make decisions on sales technology in your organization?
  • How do you connect the dots to create a bigger sales technology vision?

Related blog post:

 

This article was initially published @ Top Sales Magazine, August 2016

Enablement Technology: Goals, Benefits, and a Critical Dependency

shutterstock_110678570Why do you invest in technology? To drive efficiency? Or is your goal to increase sales effectiveness as well? Often, we simply want technology to help us do things faster by automating steps that we’ve been doing manually. But ultimately, investments in sales technology should also achieve better business results. So it is with investing in enablement technology. As a productivity boost, enablement technology is a prerequisite to achieving your sales performance goals. Ideally, enablement technology builds on a prepared foundation, which would be, in this case, for instance, a “cleaned-up content basement.”

How does investing in enablement technology help?

Looking at all respondents from our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the most important goal was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (35%), followed by “sharing best practices across the sales force” (32%), and “improving cross-selling and up-selling” (30%). The list continues with improvements ranked with less than 30%, such as “improving sales and marketing alignment” or “reduce search time for content and collateral” and “improving ramp-up time for new hires.” No surprises in these results so far. Most of these key improvements are focused on productivity only. But let’s first look at the differences in the regions.

Different focal points in North America and EMEA

In North America, the top improvement desired, regardless of respondent category, was: “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools (46%).” Then, the second most important improvement was “reducing the search time for content and collateral” (33%), which is for many people probably the most common immediate result they want to get out of enablement technology. Two improvements were tied for third place: “reducing ramp-up time for new hires” (29%) and “improving sales and marketing alignment“(29%).

In EMEA things are perceived a bit differently. The top improvement in EMEA was “Improving cross-selling and up-selling” with a pretty high ranking of 52%. In the category of all respondents, this improvement was ranked third with 30%. But looking at North America, this improvement was only ranked ninth with 17%. The second most relevant improvement in EMEA was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (44%) which was overall the number one result and in NA the number two. “Improving ramp-up time for new hires” ranked third with 28% — almost the same as in NA.

Some of these improvements, such as improving ramp-up time, and cross-selling and up-selling, are linked to a prerequisite: the integration of sales enablement solutions with CRM systems. Integration drives adoption and is an enabler for faster searches and better content access because people no longer need to work with multiple systems.

Integration of enablement technology drives productivity and adoption and is an indicator of enablement maturity

 “Be Inspired” is an enablement delivery mechanism that requires enablement technology to be integrated with CRM systems. This means salespeople don’t have to go to another system, log in, and search for what they need. Instead, technology suggests content (and related training services) based on the characteristics of salespeople’s opportunities and accounts. To make this mechanism work, a customer-core enablement framework and a properly defined and implemented content creation process are essential. The future vision of success is that salespeople have one collaborative platform they work with. The foundation is often the CRM system that integrates enablement and playbook systems, learning content, and predictive analytics to support them at every stage of their deals.

Now, what does reality look like? Overall, 46% reported having this kind of integration, 41% said they did not, and 13% planned to implement it within the next twelve months. That looks like a pretty balanced status quo with lots of room for improvement. Here, the differences in the regions are much bigger.

In NA, 54% reported having this kind of integration, whereas only 28% in EMEA said so. Consequently, many more respondents in EMEA plan an integration initiative within the next twelve months (24%), versus North America (12%).

Enablement is perceived differently in different regions, and organizations are at different maturity levels. EMEA has an opportunity to learn from those who have already done enablement integrations.

A critical dependency that cannot be fixed by technology: content quality

Salespeople perceive technology and the embedded content as one system, which is valuable for them or not. They don’t distinguish between technology and content quality.

The critical dependency that is often overlooked is the quality of the content. What does that mean? Sales content in a world of rising buyer expectations has to be aligned to, for example, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the relevant buyer roles, and the business challenges that are addressed with your products and solutions. This alignment of content with customer journey forces organizations to assess their entire content landscape to see the gaps, the redundancies and the areas that need adjustment. It’s not to create more work for you. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity to achieve performance goals. Organizations with high levels of customer journey alignment achieve up to 9.1 percentage points better revenue plan attainment, and up to 13% better quota attainment.

To provide highly effective content, a “customer-core” enablement content strategy is mandatory, and that requires a “customer-core” enablement framework. Only then are you able to tailor your content services accordingly. Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain relevant and successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.

 

This article has been published first @ Top Sales Magazine June 2016 edition

 

Content in the Customer’s Context Drives Customer Relationships

pgmjbhsf4q8-paul-itkinAll life on Earth evolved from water. Water is the key prerequisite for life. We humans consist of eighty percent water. What water means for all of us, that’s what content could mean for the 21st century’s buyers. An adventurous hypothesis? Maybe. Let’s see what story our latest CSO Insights research will tell us.

How effective is client-facing content? The results are multifaceted.

In our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, we asked the participants to rank the effectiveness of various enablement services, such as client-facing content, in four categories: “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “needs improvement,” and, the lowest ranking, “needs major redesign.”

The content types that showed the biggest need for major redesign (26.5%) and improvement (45.7%) were business value/ROI justification tools. The next content asset, third-party endorsements, follows with less need for major redesign (18.9%) but the same need for improvement (45.7%). Email templates, customer case studies, and presentations showed a similar result, with more than 50% of both, need for improvement and major redesign.

Interestingly, the most effective client-facing content type was the technical product presentation (“meets expectations” and “exceeds expectations” aggregated at 60.1%), followed by product collateral (51.9%) and proposal templates (50.9%). References and customer presentations show a multifaceted result. While they seem to be the content types with the highest “exceeds expectations” result (10.2% and 9.9%), they also show considerable needs for major redesign (16% and 15%).

The transformation from product-selling approaches to more value and result-oriented sales approaches is still the main challenge in many organizations across all industries. And that’s what we see in the data. These data points have also incorporated what salespeople are used to using rather than what they should be using. This challenge, here focused on client-facing content habits, is not only a sales challenge, but it’s also an enablement, content strategy, and content management issue.

Let’s keep this multifaceted information in our minds, and look at the business impact of effective-rated, or rather ineffective-rated, client-facing content.

The effectiveness of client-facing content impacts the relationship organizations can develop with their customers.

Content and relationshipsNow, what impacts effective content? How do we get there? What hinders organizations from creating effective content?Overall, there is a significant correlation between the effectiveness of client-facing content and the level of relationships that can be achieved with clients. The more effective client-facing content is, the more likely providers can develop a high-level relationship with their customers as you can see here. Content ranked as “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations” is more likely to lead to a strategic partnership (63%) or a strategic contributor role (59%). In this “effective content” category, only 29% ended up as a preferred supplier or as a supplier (13%). Instead, content that is ranked as “needs improvements” or “needs major redesign” makes it very hard to develop a high-value relationship with clients such as strategic contributor (22%) or strategic partner (9%). With ineffective content, it’s more likely to end up as preferred supplier (45%) or supplier (60%). Simply look at the two different stair-step patterns in the chart here. The difference is quite significant.

The alignment of internal processes and frameworks to the customer’s journey is a prerequisite to creating effective content.

According to our data, organizations made lots of progress in aligning their internal processes to the customer’s journey: 54% reported to be mostly aligned, 19% to be fully aligned, 22% to be minimally aligned, and 5% not aligned at all. Overall, the high degree of alignment is surprising. Looking deeper in the data and in some of the interviews we made, it turns out that even if organizations have made some of the customer’s journey mapping exercises, it does not necessarily mean that they use these results on a regular basis in their sales process implementations and their enablement frameworks.

This fact might be one of the reasons why even a relatively high degree of alignment does not necessarily translate into effective enablement services, designed with the customer’s journey at the core. The time distance from mapping to translating to seeing measurable results might also be a reason many organizations seem to be in the middle of this transition.

Content matters. Content in the customer’s context matters even more. A well executed “outside-in” strategy makes the difference.

As the data says, the quality of client-facing content is a key element that significantly impacts the level of relationship you can achieve with your customers. The quality of your client-facing content is determined by your ability to tell your story from THEIR perspective (their customer’s journey, their context, their challenges, etc.), and not from the perspective of your products and services. Because customers don’t buy products. What they buy is the value they can achieve with your products and services. Now, what is the implication of this analysis?

Client-facing content must become a top priority on every sales leader’s strategic agenda

Having client-facing content on top of the sales leader’s agenda opens a window of opportunity for enablement leaders to establish a) an overall customer-core strategy and b) a sales force enablement framework with the customer’s journey at the core.

Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.

 

This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine April edition.

 

Why Bad Messaging Disables Sales And Ruins Your Brand

shutterstock_254583496What’s the impact of a prospecting email that has nothing to do with you, the recipient? It’s precisely zero. Even worse, bad messaging hurts the brand that sends it. Why is this still happening, over and over again? It’s the era of social selling, isn’t it? Why are the easiest tools and approaches still not applied, not to mention common sense?

It’s astonishing to see how many salespeople, often driven by their managers, waste their time sending out countless prospecting emails that are completely useless. Just like this one, which I received a few weeks ago. I changed everything that could identify the sender; I have no interest in blaming somebody. My focus is to evolve the sales profession and to learn from examples.

Here you go:

Hello!

I’m writing to follow up with you about XYZ. We help over XX,000 salespeople every single day with our platform.

We work online, offline, on any device, with any OS, and integrate with any CRM in the world. We’re the most flexible tool you’ll ever use! Check out our Brochure to see why we’re the best on the market.

Let me know if there is any interest in XYZ, or enhancing existing sales tools. I’d love to set up a quick call this upcoming week.

All the best,

XYZ

How would you react to this message? How would you feel? Inclined to respond? Probably not, because the message has nothing to do with you.

Prospecting goes still wrong in so many cases, even though we have all the technology and all the concepts that can help us to avoid the biggest mistakes. Just trying harder with old approaches that were already questionable a decade ago is not a winning strategy, nor is it a best practice. Why should we ever increase a bad practice, such as sending countless, but useless, prospecting emails, hoping to achieve a different result? As Albert Einstein is supposed to have said, repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.

Lead generation becomes more and more a sales priority. According to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study, improving lead generation effectiveness is the most important sales management priority (47.9%), followed by the ability to improve and show strategic value (34.7%). Yes, sales leaders focus more and more on the volume and quality of leads entering their funnel. They also know that marketing cannot create all the leads that are necessary to achieve ambitious growth goals. Sales has to generate 45.9% of the leads on their own, and marketing generates 25.2%, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Performance Management Study, followed by referrals (20.4%), and customer service (8.5%).

Lead generation quality can only be achieved if there is an approach in place that is focused on the potential buyer’s role and challenges, leveraging all information that’s available to make sure to create the highest possible impact with a tailored message. Let’s see how to get there:

  • Use a personal salutation: “Hello” is nice, but omitting the recipient’s name is a missed opportunity to make it personal.
  • Do your research: The salesperson didn’t do enough research. I might be in their CRM, or in a bought buyer database, but this data has not been verified for years. My previous role as VP of global sales force enablement and transformation ended in 2013. My current role as an analyst should be of interest for this organization, but not as a potential buyer.
    All that is available right at a salesperson’s fingertips. The tools are called LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, etc. It’s not difficult to find me online, and the minute it may take, just to verify my current role and my employer is not a “nice to have” option, it’s essential. Not leveraging these tools shows that you don’t care.
  • Tailor your message to the prospect: Whatever message you want to get across, can only be successful if it happens in the context of the person’s role and challenges. What’s wrong with the message above? It’s only about the vendor, how awesome they are. There is not even the attempt to connect the value they promise to my role and what it could mean for me, my challenges and my goals. The impact this vendor-centric message makes to me is precisely zero.

Prospecting is a team sport, and salespeople need support to get better every day: from enablement and their sales managers.

  • A note to the sales managers – less is more: I know you are often measured by the craziest metrics (as our data says), but please stand up and help to end this insanity. Prospecting cannot be successful if we measure primarily the quantity of activities, as the number of emails or calls. The collateral damage of this behavior, which impacts the brand as well, is way too big, and often not considered. And the value you get in return is too small. So, it’s not efficient; I’m not even talking about effectiveness. Collaborate with marketing and enablement to provide your teams with buyer-centric value messages, ideally specific to role and industry. And coach them along the way. Less is more.
  • A note to sales enablement leadersprovide value-based messaging templates: In case this wasn’t on your agenda so far, now it is. Value messaging for prospecting purposes has to be provided to sales teams. The value messaging here has to be consistent with the value messaging that’s used throughout the entire customer’s journey. Ideally, sales enablement is the function to orchestrate this endeavor, together with marketing. Collaborate also with the frontline sales managers to ensure that their coaching is consistent and that they measure more quality than quantity, more outcome than output, more effectiveness than efficiency.

These are basic steps to improve lead generation effectiveness, focused on one example: emails to prospects. Please check out my blog posts regarding value messaging criteria, the impact of different buying scenarios, and the various value messaging types along the customer’s journey.

 

This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine March edition.