What are the elements that are missing in many sales enablement approaches? How could the discipline create much more business impact? How could a scalable enablement framework look like – a framework with the customers at the core, that equips sales professionals with integrated content and training services to provide perspectives along the entire customer’s journey?
Interested? Check out my guest post, I have written for the SAVO blog:
Sales Enablement: Customer Core Framework to Provide Perspectives
From a bystander’s standpoint, Formula 1 is a highly competitive sport. But F1 is also collaborative. The drivers of an F1 team work closely together with their mechanics to improve their cars’ performance. In parallel, the drivers compete against each other during the race.
They know the fine balance between competition and conscious collaboration.
Collaboration in sales is a special challenge
Over the decades, salespeople have learned to hoard information and to share information within their individual networks only. That’s the “black market of sales information,” a selective collaborative sharing approach based on individual networks. But a “black market” is not a scalable approach for a sales force to grow, especially not in buying environments with increasing complexity, growing stakeholder networks and increasing decision dynamic. That’s where gaining a knowledge advantage is key to success for any sales professional.
Now, technology provides all kind of features and functions to collaborate much more effectively. Sharing and working collectively on documents across sales teams, across customer networks and with partners is now powered by technology. This is where technology can create a lot of value. But to be able to leverage its full potential, salespeople need to shift their mindset from “black market” to conscious collaboration.
Collaboration from a business perspective
Most of the time, people don’t know what their organization wants to achieve with collaboration. That’s the key issue: The purpose of collaboration is not collaboration itself. It’s to achieve better results in a shorter amount of time. Defining what collaboration entails and what the specific goals are for the different teams has to be the first step. For example: “The collaboration across virtual account teams needs to be improved to achieve 20 percent more revenue with our 20 existing strategic accounts within the next 12 months.” Such a goal provides the foundation for identifying and removing existing barriers (organization, competing objectives, budgets, etc.) and for defining pilots. Those goals help to get the message across that collaboration cannot be reduced to technology only; that collaboration has strategic business relevance to unleash hidden potential.
Sales Enablement has to establish a collaborative foundation
By removing barriers and coming up with a common definition, sales enablement can create a framework to orchestrate enablement operations. Sales enablement is by nature a cross-functional discipline. Sales enablement cannot work efficiently without a framework that defines how different teams work together to create different enablement services. It’s about defining different types of content and training, for different audiences, for different purposes along the customer’s journey. The purpose is always to improve the sales professionals’ knowledge including customer management strategies and how to train their skills and their decision dynamic expertise. Setting up such a process with all relevant roles for content and training creation, publishing/delivery and localization is the challenging part because people will quickly realize that content and training are very connected to each other and not an issue of a single function. Such a collaborative foundation is key to provide tailored, effective, valuable and ready-to-use enablement services for the sales force.
Barriers are removed, collaboration is defined, operationalized by an enablement framework, powered by state-of-the-art technology – that’s an approach to drive collaboration across the sales force to create much bigger business impact.
Stay tuned – part three will address the execution gap!
How many Microsoft Word or Excel features do you really use? Ten percent, 20 percent? Most Office users will never write a book and they will also never use more than the basic arithmetic. It’s similar with sales enablement technology, but it doesn’t need to be like that, if the change gap can be closed.
Sales enablement technology is a growing industry
The sales enablement technology industry’s big providers offer sophisticated services that go far beyond the initial enablement and collaboration platforms focused on content: There are sales process modules, integrated to marketing automation, collaborative, workflow based plug-ins for CRM systems, and all services are available on all devices – a perfectly integrated world. Furthermore, niche providers join the market with shiny new apps, etc. But there is a gap between creating good value with technology and being able to leverage technology’s full potential to create much bigger value.
Sales enablement’s core challenges
Listening to the customer success stories at a recent conference, I noticed that the speakers mostly talked about implementing enablement and collaboration solutions, providing and improving content and developing interactive playbooks. The big integration projects to CRM and marketing automation with instant feedback from buyers were not the primary focus of their stories. Their challenges were people and change related, e.g. how to establish cross-functional frameworks to drive change across the sales force to be able to leverage technology’s full potential. They shared how they removed collaboration barriers and how they organized and improved content creation, publishing and localization across the organization; all that to create significant more value for the sales force. Those topics define the necessary foundation to drive change, to leverage technology’s full potential, to create significant business impact.
“People don’t leverage the enablement platform”
Whoever worked with salespeople experienced a simple truth: They only use what creates an immediate value for them. Everything else gets little to no attention. Most of them won’t spend much time to rate content or to share their best practices. If they don’t immediately find what they are looking for, they will close the system and call their buddies for immediate help, as they always did. If people don’t understand why they should change to be more effective, they will use new technology like the old one. This is where change management comes into play.
Sales Enablement is change management
Never start an enablement initiative without a change story. It has to answer the why question from a sales professional’s perspective, plus the question what’s in it for me before you explain the what to do, the how and the when. Change requires internal selling, and salespeople are the most challenging customers.
Even if technology is intuitive, it won’t work without training. Provide short video lessons how to leverage technology and how to use content effectively. Collaborate with front line sales managers, work directly with salespeople and develop “evangelists” to get traction.
Change requires vision, leadership and consequent execution. But leadership is not only a must for the enablement leader. If sales enablement is not a sales leader’s strategic issue, the enablement team alone won’t be able to drive the necessary change. Creating this strategic relevance – driving change from top to bottom – is key to leverage technology’s full potential successfully.
Stay tuned – we will soon address the collaboration gap!
If you have seven minutes to spare, I encourage you to watch “The Expert.” It’s absolutely worth your time. A customer and her design specialist have a meeting with a service provider, represented by a salesperson, a project manager and an expert. The customer has budget for a new marketing project on market penetration, brand loyalty and intangible assets. According to the customer, this project requires a drawing with seven red lines, which consists of two with red ink, two with green ink, and the rest with transparent ink – and all have to be perpendicular to each other. The rest of the conversation makes for hilarious parody on sales calls.
Understanding the customer’s context
The conversation offered many opportunities to get a deeper understanding of the customer’s specific context. But the salesperson did not use the opportunity to ask a few simple questions to understand the context at all. The salesperson’s primary focus should have been to discover this context and the project’s specific scope, to create a common foundation for all. Why and how should seven red lines serve the project’s goals? How should they fit into the overall picture? If the salesperson had used this time wisely, he could also have raised the question whether seven red lines were the right approach or not. Instead, they were all totally focused on the task – the seven red lines. Even worse, the salesperson and the project manager – who did not add any value at all – did a great job to blame the expert who seemed to be the only one who saw the ridiculousness of the request.
Understanding the customer’s concepts
What was it really that the customer and her design specialist tried to accomplish, fix or avoid? What about their desired personal wins? The only one who tried to understand their concepts was the expert. He did it according to his expert role from a solution perspective, not from an overall situational perspective. Also here, the salesperson should have established a common foundation before even bothering the expert with some seven red lines. Even the members of the customer team were not even aligned at all. The design specialist had no idea of the overall picture, she was only focused on the lines in the form of a kitten and how to inflate a balloon, surrounded by having no idea what perpendicularity means in the first place.
World Class sales performers
According to our Miller Heiman 2014 Sales Best Practices Study, world class sales performers don’t provide a solution before they clearly understand what the customer’s needs actually are. Additionally, World-class salespeople have a solid understanding of the customers’ business needs. That requires to make some research prior to the meeting, to define what needs to be accomplished in the meeting. As in so many sales conversations, salespeople focus directly on a solution without having accomplished a deep understanding of the customer’s specific context and their concepts. As we have seen here, those behaviors add no value and lead to nowhere. World-class sales performers lead a customer stakeholder network through such an awareness phase to be able to provide a unique valuable perspective that helps the customers to achieve their desired results. Then, it’s about discussing potential “seven red lines,” but not earlier.
Playing football/soccer on a regional level is different from playing football in the Premier League or the Champions League. Mental preparation, fitness, agility, training, coaching – all these requirements build on each other, but their characteristics and their intensity are different on each level. It’s a journey to get from one level to the next level.
In professional selling, we have come a long way. The industrial age was about mass marketing – product, place, promotion, and price. Product pitches were the results: “This is what we sell to you.” Then, selling solutions and invisible services became the core challenge. Capabilities were mapped to verticals and typical customer challenges. Selling evolved to presentations, meaning “this is what we sell to people like you.” Now, we are in the relationship economy, the customer age – you name it. More important than different names is what they all have in common. It used to be that sales professionals knew more. But since the internet changed the world, there is no longer a significant information asymmetry between sales professionals and customers. That does not necessarily mean though that because buyers are more informed, they know a whole lot better. Often, they are more confused, because their context, their concepts, their specific situation are missing. The consequence must be to change the design point of “how to sell.”
Changing the design point to the customer at the core
Providing perspective is an engagement and messaging approach that works consequently backwards from the main design point – the customer’s journey and the stakeholders’ network. It’s about “this is how you can achieve your goals.” It is about understanding the specific situational context, understanding the stakeholder’s different concepts on how to fix a problem, and how to avoid a risk or how to accomplish a goal. Context and concepts are essential, but not enough to design a unique perspective. Understanding how this customer is going to make this decision at this time – this is the key differentiator to orchestrate an entire stakeholder network toward a shared future vision of success.
Based on context, concepts and the specific decision dynamic, the mapping process to your own portfolio of products and services takes place. The purpose is to design a unique approach that connects the dots to this specific buying context, the stakeholder’s concepts, their situational dynamic, and enables them to achieve their desired outcomes.
Providing perspective requires more than enabling a sales professional with content on products and services and product training. Enablement functions need to sharpen their scope to improve a sales professional’s skills, his or her knowledge on verticals, challenges, buyer roles and their challenges, and specific customer management strategies. Additionally, leading and orchestrating large stakeholder networks is a differentiating skill – especially in complex buying environments.
Enabling perspectives requires sales enablement to evolve the discipline to the next level – that means to shift the design point from the customer core, to integrate currently missing elements and to redefine the scope of enablement content and training services.
Enabling perspectives and defining the next level of sales force enablement – Join me in Chicago for the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit, April 15-17!
Getting prepared for a five-mile/km run is one thing; getting prepared for a marathon is a totally different challenge. The context is different, the requirements and the success criteria are different. Basic running training will get you to the five-mile run. But just trying harder is never enough to successfully get you through a marathon. Preparing for a marathon requires a different approach, a well-thought through concept and a consequent execution.
So it is with buying environments that become more complex and uncertain every day. And so it is with today’s buyers who are more – but not always better – informed, who are often more confused, but definitely much more demanding than ever. With more people involved with different points of view, different levels of experience and diverse knowledge bases, sales professionals need a higher and broader knowledge level, specific business acumen and a mastery of their customer management strategies. Buying teams expect relevant, valuable buying conversations that build on their specific context, their concepts and their way to make a decision this time.
Today’s sales enablement leaders face a multitude of diverse challenges, especially if they have a regional or a global responsibility in a large corporation. However the role may be defined, this person will spend a lot of time with activities like: dealing with content creators, negotiating with technology and training providers, creating and managing budgets, etc. Much time is spent conducting cross-functional meetings, orchestrating different, often siloed views to aligning critical messaging, market insights and customer requirements into meaningful enablement services. All that to create impact for the sales professionals to drive the business. And the list goes on and on. Sales enablement leaders often feel like they are either executive cross-functional program managers or VPs for Internal Selling.
The concept of customer-core rarely exists in a sales enablement leader’s daily work. Many approaches are still designed around internal design points such as products and services, which are mapped to the customer’s journey, but only on the last mile. That’s a customer-oriented approach, not an approach with the customers at the core.
A customer-core enablement approach is designed from the customers to the internal universe. The customer’s journey and all the relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders along this journey are the main design points. The different stages along this journey have to be defined for your customer’s specific buying environment. Then, these stages have to be connected back to the sales process. Next, enablement requirements for the different stakeholders have to be derived for each stage along the customer’s journey in terms of enablement content, client-facing content and the related training services. The goal is to have valuable conversations based on the customers’ context, concepts and decision dynamics at a certain stage with the relevant decision makers and impacted stakeholders. How to shape these enablement services, this is where your sales force’s current maturity level has to be considered.
The idea of a customer-core sales enablement approach is to facilitate the customer’s journey to help clients make their best decision to achieve their desired outcomes and wins. Integrating a provider’s products and services in those buying visions and perspectives – that’s providing perspective, that’s putting your customer at the core of your business.