Is Sales Enablement Making Salespeople Stupid? Auto-Pilot Versus Strategic Thinking

It’s conference season. I’m back from our Miller Heiman Client Summit in Denver, the Sales Force Productivity Conference in Atlanta and Dreamforce in San Francisco. In Atlanta, Bob Kelley, chairman of the Sales Management Association, invited me to attend a panel discussion with the provocative headline, “Is sales enablement making salespeople stupid?” Without hesitating, I accepted the invitation. I love controversial and thought-provoking topics, and that’s one of those.

This blog post will be the first blog post of a series to cover the questions we discussed on this panel with Joe Gustavson, CEO and Founder Brainshark, and Joe Gruttadauria, VP Worldwide Sales at QStream, led by Bob Kelley. I will share my perspective, based on my experience and based on the latest research we have done at the MHI Research Institute. And please – feel free to chime in and share your thoughts!

Before we start this “after panel blog post series,” let me quickly define what we are talking about, as we did in Atlanta. We define sales enablement as a cross-functional discipline to drive sales performance and sales force transformation. Therefore, sales force enablement equips salespeople with all relevant skills and competencies, and provides content, messages and strategies for every stage of the entire customer’s journey, tailored to different buyer roles, with the aim of generating more valuable conversations and developing more and better business. Additionally, sales force enablement provides coaching guidelines for frontline sales managers to reinforce the enablement approach systematically.

Today, we discuss the first question of the panel.

Are reps relying too much on the organization to get things right at the expense of strategic thinking?

This question touches one of the most essential issues regarding sales enablement: How much can sales enablement ever prepare for salespeople and what will always be each salesperson’s responsibility to adjust, tailor or customize? The degree of what can be prepared in a “ready to use” way is very different in transactional and complex selling environments. In theory (and it happens in practice), selling situations can be scripted. But put yourself in your buyer’s shoes: Who wants to talk to a person who sounds like a robot that has learned the text? If this idea was successful, we wouldn’t need salespeople in the first place. We could record the message beforehand.

What happens in reality, salespeople in transactional sales environments have become an endangered species. Buyers can find what they need online, and make their purchases online. But in complex selling environments where various different stakeholders from different levels and functions are involved in buying decisions, conversations don’t follow a script. Critical, strategic thinking and adaptive competencies are key elements for sales success. Mapping a provider’s capabilities to the customer’s context and to their concepts requires a thoughtful, strategic and tailored approach.

Sales force enablement, set up the right way, provides content and messaging tailored along the entire customer’s journey and tailored to different buyer roles. Ideally, training on selling competencies and “how to use content assets” is provided as well. But tools and training do not equip salespeople to function on auto-pilot. They must always be responsive to the customer’s specific situation and the stakeholders’ different concepts about how to approach that specific situation.

Every customer makes every decision differently, every time, so there is always a need to adjust, to customize and to tailor content, messages and strategies. Examples include adjusting the content wording to fit the customer’s terminology, and helping the customer clarify or even redefine the objectives and desired results they want to achieve. Sales force enablement can only design content and messages for pre-defined buying situations and buyer roles. Mapping to the real buying situations and mapping to the real buyers, the individuals – that makes the difference. That requires adaptive competencies, and that is always a sales professional’s responsibility. That’s living a customer core approach.

Now, sales methodologies come into play. They guide salespeople to create and manage opportunities, and they help them prepare conversations in a structured way and to develop deal strategies by analyzing and synthesizing all different aspects of situational knowledge. Sales methodologies are based on principles and values. They explain the process behind sequences of activities and force salespeople to think strategically about how to approach a specific opportunity. World-class sales force enablement teams connect the dots between content, training and sales methodologies.

Once the dots have been connected – in other words, once sales enablement has done its job –each salesperson must make effective use of the content, training, etc. This is the route to sales success. Applying sales enablement services effectively requires a certain level of adaptive competencies. It requires the ability to adapt quickly to a new, changing or complex situation. Sales force enablement can also help with adaptive competencies as part of training.

But sales force enablement is not responsible for sales professionals’ ability to think critically and strategically. In complex sales, critical and strategic thinking can never be replaced by sales enablement.

There are no shortcuts to success.


Related blog posts:

Sales Force Enablement – See you in Atlanta, Sept 17

Enabling Principles To Develop Salespeople’s Adaptive Skills

Sales Enablement: Customer Core Framework to Provide Perspectives


The Inability To Communicate Value Messages – Biggest Inhibitor To Sales Success 2014

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


How I Work

This blog post was initially written for the Matt Heinz blog. The series “How I work” is a recurring feature on Matt’s blog.

How did I become part of this fascinating series? It was Jonathan Farrington, CEO of Top Sales World who nominated me! You can read his own story here.
And here you go  – this is how I work:

Location: Wiesbaden, Germany. One of the most beautiful cities to live in. Frankfurt airport is just half an hour away, which is very important for me – I need to be close to an international hub. Wiesbaden has various famous buildings and great architecture to offer, because luckily the city was not destroyed during WWII. I’ve lived here for eight years now, and I’m still happy to come home from my various trips around the world.

Current computer: There is a ThinkPad and a ThinkPad – not very original, but that’s the way it is. Both are laptops, a little one with the tablet option and a larger one, and they’ve never disappointed me.

Mobile Devices: All my mobile devices belong to the Apple family. I love my iPad for checking emails, social networks, and simple internet transactions. I use an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 5, one is a personal phone and the other is for business. I just love the intuitive user experience – being able to do many things with just one click.

What apps/software/tools can’t I live without? I can survive without any of these apps. Seriously, I still have to make my green smoothies on my own; there is no app to do that for me… But I do highly appreciate the apps and tools that make me more productive.

PowerPoint and Word: Both are essential for my work. Word is for research content and blog posts; PowerPoint for presentations, visualization of frameworks, models and to create stories to tell – my canvas…

LinkedIn: The most important social network for business. I love the way LinkedIn takes business networking to another level.

Hootsuite: The platform for my tweets, my Google+ and my business-related FB posts. I love to have different streams on one screen, to be able to adjust, to schedule and to monitor tweets. It’s a productivity driver.

Twitter: Perfect for everything that stays within twitter, and I don’t need to use Hootsuite.

Skype: I started to use Skype for personal calls. Now, I use it more and more for business purposes. Working in a global organization with many business partners, Skype is often the single common denominator.

Google+: For me, Google+ is the social network with the best conceptual approach. The circle principle and the ability to quickly – I mean really quickly – grow circles cannot be achieved with any other network. And Google+ Hangouts – often better than Skype.

Google Maps: Always with me on all devices to find known places, to add new ones and simply to get guidance in new cities or places.

Zite: Checking quickly who has published new content on topics I’m interested in. Zite makes sure that I’m up-to-date and can learn about new sites I didn’t follow so far.

Feedly: My to-go “newspaper site.” All the blogs and websites I’m following are in one place. That reduces the notification emails I get significantly, because there is no longer a need to receive emails when new posts are published. I have it in Feedly, everywhere, on all devices, and I can share directly from Feedly. Especially in my profession, I need a quick overview day by day on who has written about which topics, where new stories are, and where content from older stories is appearing again. Checking Feedly is also how we create our weekly recommended reading list for our research members.

Evernote: Traveling, taking quick notes, capturing an idea, beginning to write a blog post – Evernote is my app to go.

What’s my workspace like? As an analyst with a global role and a focal point in Europe, I work from home. My home office is the most productive workspace I’ve ever had. I already worked a lot from home in my previous role as VP sales enablement at T-Systems, because my team members were all in different cities – in Germany, Europe and the US. What started as something I enjoyed intermittently is now my main workspace. Before I started my role at MHI Research Institute, I designed my office exactly the way I wanted it to be. I made sure that I have the right paintings with the right energy on the wall in front of me. An effective and well-designed bookshelf and a large desk make my home office really comfortable. And of course, my red couch is a must-have ingredient as well. And I love this one, which is next to my screen – a card from my favorite chocolate company Booja-Booja that says, “Relax – nothing is under control.” I’m always reminded of this wise statement when something happens as a result of a complex environment with very low predictability. Inhale, exhale. Then, keep moving.

What’s my best time-saving shortcut/life hack? I’m a big fan of the Pareto principle. That means I focus on those issues where the specific value I can add is really required. And I try to delegate and to step away from everything else. It’s a process and I’m getting better over time.

What everyday thing am I better at than anyone else? That’s a question my colleagues, clients and business partners should answer. In my own humble opinion and what I received as feedback, I have the ability to work with strong concentration and focus over a long period of time. Additionally, I have a lot of energy to get things done. And I work at a fast pace. Another thing is that I quickly recognize complex situations and can decide how I want to navigate complexity. I’m a system thinker – not always easy for my environment – but that’s the way it is. I love to discover related dimensions and patterns and I quickly create a framework in my head.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? I don’t have a favorite. Honestly, I hate all of them, because I don’t want any app to tell me what I should do next. But since I need one anyway, I work simply with the outlook task manager.

What do I listen to while I work? No music while I’m working. I love music, but I think great music requires a listener’s full attention. I’m just listening to the birds out there, and most important – my inner voice.

What am I currently reading? I’m always reading a few books in parallel, as not everything makes sense in every reading moment.

  • Michio Kaku: Mind: The future of the mind
  • Osho: Courage

What’s my sleep routine like? I’m usually up until about 11 pm. My most creative time is the afternoon and the evening hours. I often have to force myself to go to bed, because seven hours sleep is what I should get. I get up between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m., most of the time before the alarm clock rings. My day begins with a yoga session to align my body, mind and soul, a fresh shower and a home-made green smoothie. Then I take care of my plants and flowers and I’m at my desk at around 8 a.m.

What’s the best advice I’ve ever received? You are the master of your own journey – trust in your courage and strength and enjoy the freedom of creativity.

Fill in the Blank: I’d love to see Richard Young, Managing Director UK, Pipeliner Sales, answer these questions.

And … hopefully you enjoyed the inside scoop on how I really work.

Sales Force Enablement – See you in Atlanta, Sept 17

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:


More On Performance Accountability – The Sales Manager’s View

According to Business Dictionary, performance is defined as “the accomplishment of a given task measured against preset known standards of accuracy, completeness, cost, and speed.” It is a result to be measured. Accountability, on the other hand, is a virtue. It’s the willingness to accept responsibility. Accountability is a key ingredient to achieve your sales performance and growth goals. Accountability across the sales force ensures that the sales force’s energy is focused to execute the strategy successfully, that the right actions are in place to become world class.

Performance Accountability—a behavior of world-class sales managers

Our 2014 MHI Global Sales Best Practices Study identified three individual behaviors that drive world-class sales performance. One of them is performance accountability. Click here to see what performance accountability means for sales professionals. Today, we discuss the term for sales managers. One example from our data is that in an average month, front line sales managers (FSM) spend adequate time coaching each individual on their sales team. The data show a significant difference between world class and all respondents, which is a consistent trend over the last four years.

Performance accountability for sales managers has three main characteristics:

  • Accountability to leverage salespeople’s full potential
  • Accountability for team performance
  • FSM Professionalism

Click here and read my full blog post which was initially published over @ Miller Heiman.

What Are The Leading Investments In Sales Productivity?

In our 2013 Sales Performance and Productivity Study, the following investments in sales productivity 2013 and 2014 emerged as the top three:

Process, skills and competencies cover the “how to sell” dimensions, whereas the second initiative is focused on the “what to sell” dimension. The third initiative on sales manager training and development covers two dimensions at the same time: The first is to train sales managers on the skills and competencies they need to perform their role most effectively, and the second one is to develop their coaching excellence. Front line sales managers’ ability to coach is what makes the differences in terms of measurable business impact. Depending on their span of control, front line sales managers have the biggest leverage effect in any sales organizations when it comes to sales execution.

To create more business impact out of these investments, two connections must be made:
First, it is essential to integrate the sales methodology in any training or content service that covers product knowledge. Learning skills or competencies, e.g. a new way of delivering value messages, is much easier with the products and services that are sold, than with neutral examples.

Second, the sales manager training and development needs to be derived from the implemented sales methodologies and processes. Coaching frameworks and guidelines have to be tailored according to the sales operations and enablement framework. On the one hand, coaching helps to identify the actual stage of an opportunity to define the right forecast. On the other hand, coaching of opportunities, especially of early opportunities, has to mirror the implemented messaging and engagement principles. Only then can coaching have the potential to reinforce sales enablement and sales training investments on a regular basis.

Help us help you. Invest a few minutes to participate in our 3rd MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study 2014. The SPPS 2014 is focused on sales operations, sales enablement, sales training and sales technology. We want to learn more about the scope and the trends regarding sales productivity in different functions. Furthermore, we want to understand current and future investment priorities. A special focus this year is on the role of front line sales managers and how well they are equipped, and on the different initiatives driven in sales enablement and/or sales training.

What you can expect from the study as a participant

The findings of the SPPS 2014 will help you as a participant to understand those sales productivity core themes and trends, as well as the related investments trends. Furthermore, the findings will help you with data to support your strategic planning for 2015 in your organization.

What’s in it for you – immediately?

In return for investing your time to complete this survey, you will have immediate access to a collection of research published by the MHI Research Institute, the Strategic Themes Digest, as well as an invitation to our participants’ webinar that will feature the results in October.

Click here to get to the study – it’s open through August 1, 2014.

Thank YOU very much for participating!