There is not a single day the topic of simplification, simplicity, or the imperative “make it simple” regarding sales force enablement is not discussed with great passion. And most of the time, it’s a relevant topic. Especially when it comes to sales force enablement. Who doesn’t want things to be simple? Salespeople prefer simple solutions and approaches, simple content assets and training services, simple tools, and simple value messages, etc. There are just a few small details most people overlook in the discussion:
- First, there is the macro view: The markets most sales organizations sell into are not simple. Most markets are complex environments with many different dimensions impacting them at the same time. Examples are trends and innovations, emerging markets here, saturated markets over there, politics and legal issues, trends, and regional and cultural differences that require tailored approaches.
- Second, there is the micro view: Our clients’ environments are not simple either. Most customer organizations are complex environments, and each one is unique. Their context is specific, their challenges, goals and desired outcomes are different, and the roles that are involved in the buying decision and the implementation are different as well.
For sales force enablement, this means tons of work, because the complexity of the customer and market environments cannot be “reduced.” We can’t simplify without first understanding this complexity in its entirety. The customer’s complexity cannot be reduced but only navigated.
The focus should be on all the complicated things you can influence and you can simplify. And that means you can reduce the complicatedness in your own organization because that’s a self-inflicted problem.
Making things simple for the sales force is a highly challenging, often difficult, and always time-consuming responsibility for sales force enablement teams! Not easy. But worth doing it.
- Make the customer’s journey your design point
This may not sound relevant here, but it is. Align all your efforts to what really matters, which is how your potential customers approach challenges, make buying decisions, and implement or use your products and services. That’s the beginning of the move toward simplicity. Changing the perspective within your organization is key to success. For example, it’s not about aligning sales and marketing to each other, but aligning and integrating them both with the customer’s journey. Because the customer’s journey is where your sales force has to be successful at the end of the day.
- Build a robust, simple process and methodology foundation with the customer’s journey as the design point
A sales process, ideally an integrated process chain from marketing to sales to service, should be as simple as possible, but not simpler. Don’t fall into the “simplification trap” and skip things that are important because you want to make it “simple.” That leads to the wrong results. Examples are, for instance, when organizations try to fix everything with “one” process even if they have very different use cases from transactional to complex selling scenarios. The answer for a simple approach (and this means simple for the salesforce, not easy for the enablement resource!) requires the enablement and ops team to create process variations and a simple configuration that allows salespeople to get to the right process variation with a few clicks.
Don’t forget to integrate your sales methodology into the process. A process defines the sequence of events, while the methodology details what to do and why. This will take a lot of work for the enablement and operations team. But the outcome for the salesforce will be simple, because a method that’s integrated into the process, and ideally all in one place (one CRM), makes their life more productive. This will be a change they’ll welcome, rather than another time-consuming “add-on.”
- Assess your current enablement services and throw away what’s no longer relevant:
This is an exercise that doesn’t make a lot of friends, which can make people avoid or overlook it. But it’s a necessary step to throw away all different versions of content and training assets that exist on multiple platforms. Throw away all content assets that are no longer relevant, that are not tailored to the customer’s journey, or that are not valuable for whatever reason.
- Develop an enablement production and collaboration process to provide enablement services along the customer’s journey:
You have to collaborate with many different departments, not only with marketing. So, defining collaboration goals and defining a simple process (such as “define, create, localize, provide, measure”) for producing the desired services, and identifying which role is accountable for which content or training type, is essential to ensure a scalable and efficient approach.
- Invest in an integrated enablement content management solution:
For salespeople, enablement is only as simple as they perceive it. And the biggest obstacle is often that they are required to go to different places to find all the content they need. There is a marketing portal and an operations portal, and there is the one from product management and from legal for the contract attachments. And, most organizations (48.3%) still email their content to the sales force or have it accessible on multiple repositories. Only 10.5% work with an enablement platform that is integrated into their CRM. But that’s the way to go if you want it simple. For the sales force.
I could list another five topics to look at in terms of simplicity, but that might “complicate” this article!
So, first things first: Implement a solid, simple, robust foundation based on the customer’s journey.
Only then will the other four steps be effective.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, May edition.
“The more we share, the more we have.”
̶ Leonard Nimoy
This is not only true for our personal lives, but for professional selling as well. But changing to a sharing and learning organization is more challenging in sales than in other functions, because for decades salespeople have the habit of hoarding their knowledge. Sharing is a cultural shift that’s triggered by information symmetry on the Internet, by people’s increasing sense of limited resources on Earth, by information technology that empowers people to connect together on various platforms and by a broader economic concept, the sharing economy.
Driving a car or playing cello is no longer connected to owning the asset. The sharing economy allows people to have access to tangible and intangible assets without the need to own them. A common premise is that when information about goods and services is shared, the value of those assets may increase, for the business, for individuals, and for the community. Various sharing economy models exist, but all of them leverage technology to empower individuals and organizations with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of goods and services.
In the world or professional selling, knowledge is the gold standard of the knowledge shareconomy.
Capability knowledge and situational knowledge are the key dimensions of the shareconomy’s gold standard. Capability knowledge covers a provider’s products, services and solutions. But it is the situational knowledge, the deep understanding of a customer’s specific situation and challenges, their stakeholders’ specific concepts and their specific decision dynamics, that allows a sales professional to apply the provider’s capabilities into a valuable and compelling perspective for customers.
Shareconomy models are collaborative consumption models based on three core elements:
- Sharing instead of hoarding:
Content and learning assets, such as internal enablement content, best practices, win/loss analyses and client-facing content, are shared on a collaborative, social, and well-integrated platform. This is the opposite of hoarding content on a personal laptop, accessible for the individual only. To become a sharing and collaborative organization, many sales professionals need to change their deeply ingrained attitudes toward sharing knowledge. Changing attitudes toward sharing requires sales leadership to create a compelling transformation story that shows the sales force how they can achieve more when they share knowledge and best practices instead of hoarding them. Getting salespeople to share content developed or contributed by others is a first step.
- Authorship instead of ownership:
Especially for younger generations, having a car available when needed is more important than owning a car. A car is a tangible example, but the same principle is true for intangible knowledge assets. Honoring content creators and their expertise ensures that the shared value is credited to the authors. In turn, giving credit where credit is due encourages others to share. The principle of authorship and the related personal recognition is an important enabler for the knowledge shareconomy. Reflecting the principle of authorship over ownership in performance management systems and commission plans can be of tremendous value as an organization transforms to the knowledge shareconomy.
- Knowledge flow instead of knowledge stocks:
A car-sharing business only works if you can get a car when you need it. Likewise, knowledge is only valuable if it can flow to where it is needed. If knowledge is kept locked away, its value is wasted. Think about all the various dead content directories in your organization, where only a few have access and even fewer know about it. Social and collaborative technologies empower knowledge to flow and people to share, re-use, exchange, and evolve knowledge in various forms and shapes. Therefore, flowing knowledge has to be an intrinsic part of the sales professional’s working environment. That is why enablement solutions that are embedded in CRM systems are highly effective in helping salespeople to share knowledge and improve outcomes for everyone.
Sharing, participating, and contributing – three levels of knowledge shareconomy engagement.
Stay tuned! Next time, we will discuss how to embrace the knowledge shareconomy.
Related blog posts:
Why Being An Expert Requires Expertise To Make A Difference
Enablement Mechanisms: From “Push versus Pull” To “Be Inspired!”
Why World Class Sales Performers Are Always Keen To Learn
The series on this thought provoking question “Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid?” continues.
In case you missed the first two posts, click here for Part 1 which discussed auto-pilot versus strategic thinking and here for Part 2 where we discussed sales enablement role’s on value messaging. Today, let’s consider another key question that was raised a few weeks ago in Atlanta on a sales enablement panel at the Sales Force Productivity Conference.
How does the need for enablement tools change in transactional versus complex sales environments? When, if ever, is guided selling or following a script critical?
Transactional sales environments may not have more than one key decision maker involved and the products or services are easy to understand. Typically these buyers can find all required information to make a purchasing decision online, and the transaction itself can be made online. B2B buyers are used to making those buying decisions on a regular basis. Often, salespeople are only involved very late along the customer’s journey, if at all. Instead, service roles become more and more important in those transactional environments to connect to the customers’ concepts.
Complex selling environments are primarily defined by two criteria. It’s the complexity of the customer challenge to be mastered. And it’s an increasing number of involved stakeholders from different functions and roles. These buyers often make purchasing decisions in parallel to their day-to-day roles. Various dimensions, such as customer-specific situations, the stakeholders’ different concepts, the buying network’s decision dynamic and a provider’s complex portfolio of capabilities to design tailored solutions are connected to each other and have to be considered as a system.
Different requirements in both selling environments
Enablement content services have to address different needs in both environments. Based on the criteria above, the sales content for a transactional environment is focused on the actual buying phase and the service phase, tailored for the key buyer role. The awareness phase, which is essential in complex environments, is something buyers often process on their own, and online. Complex sales environments require modular and dynamic content and messaging approaches, not only to cover the entire customer’s journey, but also to address different buyer roles adequately. Therefore, enablement content designed for a transactional environment is easier to provide and can guide much more precisely than in a complex sales environment. And that’s why the competencies in transactional sales roles are different from those in complex sales roles. The level of critical and strategic thinking that is required from a salesperson to connect all the dots in a complex buying situation is very different from what a salesperson in a transactional sales role will ever need.
Scripting – who wants to be in a “scripted” conversation?
Put yourself in your buyer’s shoes – would you tolerate a scripted conversation for more than two minutes? There is a possibility to script typical conversations to help salespeople to be more effective. That can work in a more transactional environments, but only if related training services help people to play with these scripts and ultimately get away from the scripts. But very often the training part doesn’t take place, and conversations sound just “scripted.” Does that differentiate anybody in anything from competitors? No, not at all. So, come full circle with scripts or don’t work with scripts at all.
To be successful, guided selling requires strategic thinking – embedded in a sales methodology
Guided selling works backwards from typical patterns of customer challenges and problems, and is responsive to different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey. That requires a modular and dynamic content approach which has to be organized in a collaborative way. Often, that doesn’t happen, and salespeople are overwhelmed by the variety of content that’s available. If so, they’re likely to just switch off the noise. In this case, content packages or interactive playbooks for different customer challenges can guide salespeople along the customer’s journey and help them to find the right entry point for different buyer roles and different situations in different industries.
But in all these complex selling and buying situations, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by content and messaging. Strategic thinking is the key to connecting the dots across a large stakeholder network, and to analyzing and synthesizing the specific customer context and each buyer’s concepts. Critical and strategic thinking requires a sales methodology that can deliver scalable results. A sales methodology explains the how and the why, and guides people through different steps to create or manage opportunities.
Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Auto-Pilot Versus Strategic Thinking
Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Sales Enablement’s Role In Value Messaging
Understanding different buying environments – where are your customers?
At the MHI Research Institute, we have asked this question in each of the past three years: What are the biggest inhibitors to sales success?
Our 2014 data delivers a consistent message: The “inability to communicate value messages” is again the biggest inhibitor to sales success, as it was in 2013 (22%) and in 2012 (23%). The second biggest inhibitor is the “inability to attract new clients” (16%) followed by “more complex buying requirements” (15%).
Value messaging needs a clear design point – the customer
Before the Internet existed, a salesperson could create value for customers by presenting functions, features and benefits. But now buyers can find all this information online, and value messaging has to change. Executive buyers in particular are not interested in what a product is and what it does; they need to know what it means for their business and their desired outcomes. This evolution in the buyer’s world changes the design point for value messaging. It’s no longer the product; it’s the customer. The customer’s journey and the different buyer roles along the entire customer’s journey are the main design point for value messaging.
Value messaging needs to be dynamic
The times when static value propositions were successful are gone. Value messaging has to be dynamic to address the customer’s different focal points along their customer’s journey. In the beginning of the customer’s journey, value messaging has to focus on the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts regarding how to fix a problem, how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Salespeople can create significant value if they help customers to better understand their challenges, the root causes and the real business impact, and if they can provide tailored perspectives on how to approach the challenge in different ways to achieve the desired results. In these stages, there is no room for product-focused messages.
This changes in the actual buying phase. Here, the decision dynamics have to be orchestrated. Value messaging often has to address additional stakeholders with very purchase-focused concepts. Competitive and product-oriented messages are now more important, but must always be mapped to the customers’ desired results and wins. The goal in this phase is to be perceived as the buyer’s best option against all competitors to achieve their desired results and wins.
It changes again in the implementation and adoption phase. That’s right: value messaging doesn’t end when a deal is closed. Now, it is important that the value gets delivered as promised. Owning the customer’s outcome means making sure that they can achieve their desired results and wins. Furthermore, it’s important to orchestrate the value dynamics during this important phase. Different stakeholders will perceive value differently, based on their different roles and concepts. And often, projects are delegated for execution. So, it’s even more important to make sure that the stakeholders and the initial executive buyers know how the value was delivered and which customer results were achieved. Following these steps can easily open a window for new opportunities within this account.
Value messaging and creating new business
The inability to communicate value messages is not only the single most important challenge year after year; it’s also the underlying cause of at least two other inhibitors. Those are the inability to attract new clients, (reported by 16% or our survey respondents) and the inability to expand in existing accounts (7%). Taken together, these three factors comprise 48% of the inhibitors to sales success. This makes value messaging a top priority for every sales leader to care about.
Value messaging, sales enablement and homework
As described above, the secret to successful value messaging lies in a dynamic customer core approach. It is sales enablement’s responsibility to provide messaging frameworks that are easy to access and to customize. Sales enablement and sales training have to make sure that salespeople know how to use the messages effectively, and that they are trained to present messaging that’s focused on business issues rather than on product. Messaging training has a lot to do with role plays and simulations, ideally based on real opportunities. As in sports, it takes a while to get familiar with the basics of a new sport. It’s the same with new value messaging that’s focused on business issues. It requires a different language that addresses different patterns. New skills have to be learned to achieve a certain level of proficiency.
Furthermore, creating new business begins very early along the customer’s journey. First, your strategic account planning must lead to a solid account growth strategy. And the customer has strategic initiatives of their own; it’s essential to understand these and to connect the dots to your own capabilities. Identifying the right buyer roles within new accounts and also within existing accounts is critical to success. Then homework and research has to be done to identify a valid business reason for the first conversation, and all conversations must be prepared for in advance. At that point, value messaging can work successfully—if all other selling competencies are in place.
Related blog posts:
The Biggest Inhibitors to Sales Success
“The Expert” – Why Understanding The Customer Is Key To Provide Perspectives
Providing Perspective – A Customer Core Principle
The term “Sales Enablement” is used for almost everything that has to do with content, messaging, training, collaboration and technology to improve sales productivity and drive sales effectiveness. The function is rarely a strategic discipline that translates selling challenges into integrated, tailored sales execution plans. But this is exactly the kind of strategic approach that is required to create sustainable business impact and to drive sales force transformation successfully.
Sales enablement daily challenges
Our clients’ reality is that it’s still challenging to provide core enablement services in an effective and valuable way. The environments sales enablement leaders are dealing with are complex. Sales alone is a complex system with many dimensions that are all connected to each other. Furthermore, the need to work cross-functionally adds more dimensions to this existing complexity. Not to mention a variety of external providers of content, messaging, technology and training to work with. All these dimensions and their dependencies have to be orchestrated effectively to create significant value for the sales force. Additionally, there are still missing elements in many enablement approaches that need to be integrated with current enablement approaches, e.g., the relevance of frontline sales managers, the need to develop integrated content and training services, and to establish a strong foundation in sales operations that’s beneficial for both disciplines. This complexity is why frameworks are so important for sales enablement leaders. Frameworks provide a visual supporting structure, they cover several dimensions and their interdependencies on an aggregated level, and they enable us to navigate complexity in a more effective way.
Foundation for Sales Force Enablement (SFE)
In my SFPC session, Sept 17, 8:00 a.m., I’ll share some fresh data from our 2014 MHI Sales Performance and Productivity Study, including data on the biggest inhibitors to sales success, data on a growing sales enablement scope, and data on enablement investments and the correlation to quota achievement. Based on the data and the still-existing different perceptions regarding what sales enablement should do, we will then establish a customer-core foundation for sales force enablement, which covers the entire customer’s journey.
Our MHI Sales Force Enablement Master Framework is based on this customer core foundation. It enables you to define, structure, process and prioritize your sales enablement efforts to create more business impact in a more effective way. I will share an overview of the framework, what the different areas look like, and how you can use them. You will learn how to connect the customer’s journey with the internal value creation processes. We will discuss how to tailor your enablement services to all stages and all levels of the customer’s journey. And we will discuss how sales force enablement and sales operations belong together. Last but not least, we will look at a phased approach to a successful change and adoption program.
See you in Atlanta at the Sales Force Productivity Conference, Sept 17, 8am
Related blog posts:
Let me start by defining a couple of terms that I’ll be using throughout this article.
Principles provide guidance that are based on an organization’s core values how to deal with different customer situations. Principles require interpretation and adaption to the specific situation. Instead, rules are clearly defined statements with almost no space for interpretation. Rules define what and how to do in a certain sequence, given a defined situation.
Demanding, complex buyer networks require adaptive sales professionals
Today’s customers are very demanding and more risk averse than the customer from a few years ago. The number of involved customer stakeholders is growing, and buying processes are more formalized than ever. Decisions are no longer based on features and functions but on financial business performance criteria. Furthermore, every customer makes every decision differently, every time, which makes every sale different. Sales professionals have to learn, unlearn and relearn very quickly due to those changing buying environments. That covers all areas of knowledge, selling and problem solving capabilities. Therefore, an adaptive mind set is the prerequisite to remain successful even in complex environments.
Navigating complexity – principles are key to success
When embedded in a framework, principles, defined as guidelines (see above), and based on core values, such as providing perspectives, can be easily adjusted to those different and complex situations. Rules wouldn’t be flexible enough for complex environments. A customer’s journey has iterations, especially in the early phases. The more customer stakeholders learn, and the more new stakeholders get involved with different concepts, the more likely they will step back and tackle the challenge again from a different perspective. Ideally, a sales professional has provided a more value-creating perspective and caused such iteration. The flexibility of principles combined with the ability of the sales professional to apply those principles fast to new situations is an A-Player’s recipe for success.
Sales principles are focused to create a specific value for customers to help them achieve their goals. In parallel, they help to move deals forward. Sales enablement has to define those principles how to achieve each stage of the customer’s journey, derived from the sales methodology. As an example, the principle for the awareness phase could be to develop a shared vision of the customer’s desired future state to drive their desired results. There are multiple ways achieve such a shared future vision of success. But the success depends on the customer’s specific context, the stakeholder’s different concepts, and the sales professionals’ decision dynamic expertise and their adaptive capabilities to adopt principles to a specific situation fast and effectively.
Sales enablement has to build frameworks with enablement modules addressing those principles. Design point as always is: customers at the core.
- Level one is the knowledge foundation. It covers packaging content modules stage per stage in interactive and dynamic playbooks. And it teaches how to use them effectively.
- Level two is the skill foundation, it’s about all relevant selling capabilities, mostly provided as training services.
- Level three makes the difference. It’s about training the sales professional’s adaptive capabilities based on the provided knowledge and methods. Training to create impact has to be an ongoing, consistent practice to achieve world-class performance. It has to be reinforced with a connected coaching practice by the front line sales managers.
Level three training – “selling simulation” would be the better word – is about practicing business awareness in different conversations with different stakeholders at different stages in different situations, but in a safe environment.
Enabling and sharpening adaptive skills is the missing piece in sales enablement that equips sales professionals to play in the Premier League, to deliver significant results in today’s complex and fast changing buying environments.
How do you equip your sales professionals’ adaptive skills?