Forrester Sales Enablement Forum 2013 – Highlights Part 1: The C-Level Perspective

I’m back from the Forrester Sales Enablement Forum. It was the third event since 2011 and the first event outside of San Francisco! We were in Scottsdale, AZ, blessed with sun and a really beautiful location, close to the desert.

Sales enablement is growing up, the maturity curve and the number of participants are increasing!

What are the 2013 highlights – apart from learning, sharing, talking, networking within the broader community?

I will share my most important impressions for all those of you who couldn’t attend the conference this year. Part one – today – will focus on the CEO and the CFO view on sales and sales enablement and what does that mean for our approaches.
In part two, I will share the latest and greatest on the selling system, why it’s often not stable enough to support our changing business strategies regarding execution. Additionally, why we need to focus on people and why we need to think differently to create simple frameworks that make a difference – and why it’s really hard work to make frameworks as simple as possible.

First, the CEO view: Forrester’s CEO George Colony made some research with CEOs in Davos. We remember the 2011 results, when he asked them this question “Are you satisfied that your sales force is getting your company to its strategic objectives?“. The answer was “The selling system is not adapting quickly enough to accommodate our changing business strategy.“ Apparently, the CEOs were not pretty satisfied with their sales forces at this point in time.

This year, George Colony asked the CEOs this question: “What are YOU personally doing to ensure that your sales force is getting the company to its strategic goals?“
The answers were interesting – finally we learned a lot. It was a broad range of mixed answers from  it’s all about the product “we build great products“, it’s about selling “I personally follow up on deals…“ and “I personally lead the sales force“, it’s about clear goals, it’s about pushing the vision – something I liked very much.
Additional answers were for instance “I personally tune the comp plan – it’s important because sales people are all coin-operated“.
Then, it’s about focusing on people, for instance “…driving training“.
For me, the people focus is very much related to the idea of pushing the vision.
But what’s the bottom line of all these answers?
The CEOs are all very engaged in many ways – that’s positive. But they don’t see selling as a system, they have many gut feelings about sales and sales people, which are triggers to their different activities, but they don’t have a lot of data and no big, cross-functional view on the entire system. Additionally, there was no answer that stated something backwards from the buyer’s desired outcomes, challenges and problems. These answers were pretty much inside-out.
These are the challenges, we need to tackle.
Apparently, sales enablement missed to integrate the CEOs role and view point in the sales enablement strategies. Furthermore, sales enablement has to make a much better job in defining the overall dependencies, the selling system as a whole and how the system’s efforts map to the CEOs desired outcomes. Consequently, our CEOs need an active role in our sales enablement strategies.

Second, we learned more about another C-level role – the CFO. Forrester’s CFO Mike Doyle enjoyed to talk about the financial view point – what an excellent key note! First of all, he stated that the most common financial statements don’t tell us if we are doing the right things regarding our sales and marketing efforts. Wow! I cannot express how grateful I am for this statement – from a CFO.
I experienced the different languages sales and finance are using, when I created together with Finance a shared approach on how to segment accounts in 2012. It started in the very beginning  with the simple question “what is an account?”. Sounds simple, but simple questions show immediately how different the view points are. Next, how to segment accounts – of course, Finance looks at financial criteria with a certain focus on the past. That’s what can be measured. But sales needs to look at the growth potential – which really matters, but which is not measurable in a way financials can be measured. I presented our sales and finance experiences in my key note, and more detailed in my track session.
So, great starting point! Then, Mike Doyle described the current dilemma on measuring around internal design points such as products and geographies. But the good news are, according to Mike Doyle,  that the financial discipline is much more standardized than sales and sales enablement. Metrics that matter most for a CFO are for instance client/new business profitability, targeted market share, total cost to deliver sales revenue as well as productivity and ROI for total sales enablement. Especially the last two KPIs are a perfect indicator for the overall need of a well defined, cross-functional selling system that covers the entire value communication chain across multiple functions (which is more than sales and marketing!). It’s a broad range from how to get a prospect to how to close a contract including people, structures, processes, procedures, principles, systems and much more.
There are four categories we should care about: Efficiency investments (collateral, demand generation, sales support services etc.) and development investments (training and eduction, coaching, best practices and job aides etc.) as well as variable costs (commissions, incentives, reporting etc.) and base costs (salary, benefit loads, on boarding, infrastructure etc.). Based on these categories, we should be able to identify and to analyze costs cross-functionally along the entire selling system – always together with a finance expert. Then, let’s map the costs to different revenue streams – this big picture will be much more relevant for a CFO and also for a CEO.

So, partnering with Finance should be based on the specific expertise both partners can bring into this exercise – facts, figures, objectivity versus sales strategy, clients, markets and sales enablement strategy. Our challenge as sales enablement professionals is first of all an internal selling effort – to sell our sales enablement vision and strategy to the CFOs. Therefore, we have to design our story around the CFOs problem and his challenges – and that’s overall growth as a primary driver, combined with expanding margins and earnings. Then, let’s use typical patterns and impacted stakeholders to find ways to solve his problems, then let’s develop a shared vision of success based on a phased plan to help the CFO to get a much better answer on the question “are we doing the right things?“.

Let’s go GoToCustomer, let’s practice what we preach. These internal selling efforts are similar for the CEOs and the CEOs – we have to design these conversations outside-in, backwards from these internal customers, their problems and challenges. That’s what we do in general regarding our initiatives. There is a clear need to get the CFO and the CEOs perspective to work backwards from their desired outcomes and the visions and strategies they are communicating – our foundation, which we have to translate into sales enablement execution programs.

Successful companies will start these conversations with their CEOs and CFOs to hone their sales enablement strategies and programs and to make them relevant and indispensable for the C-level. Successful companies will work cross-functionally to overcome collaboration obstacles across the selling system, to make better resource decisions, to achieve better results.

Part 2 will follow soon!

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