How To Make Sales Enablement A Strategic Discipline

This post was published first @ TopSalesWorld – July Magazine,
in a column version.

A question people ask very often. They want to make a difference, create impact on business results. So, let’s discuss a few experiences and lessons learned to support the discovery of your specific sales force enablement journey.

No silver bullets? No, there are no silver bullets out there, and no “one size fits all” approach.

I’m a firm believer that every organization has to find its own way how to define sales enablement, because every sales organization has specific challenges, a different culture and different ways how to approach change and how to make decisions.

Discussing my thoughts on that with my friend and leadership guru Walter H Groth, he shared a great analogy: ”That’s the same with flying. There is a reason why every pilot needs a special license for different aircrafts, because they are different, they behave differently and after all – every flight is different. But flying is based on core principles that are the same for every aircraft.”

Perfect. We have “unique and specific sales force enablement flights” in every organization. But, let’s focus on the core elements and principles of strategic sales force enablement, that are always the same:

  • Cross-functional, end2end character:
    Wherever sales enablement resides inside your organization, it’s more important how you design your scope and aspiration level and how well you organize to work cross-functionally. Then, it depends on whether you are increasing performance in a given sales system or whether you are actually driving change and transformation across the sales system. To me, the transformation part is the most important one, from the information age to the connection economy, from push to pull. End2end means two things: First, to cover the entire value chain at least from prospect to contract. Second, to equip not only the front line sales people, but also the first and second line sales managers.
  • Collaboration:
    Define what your organization wants to achieve from a business perspective (it’s more than having better meetings). Then, identify and remove collaboration barriers between departments and units. That’s easier said than done, but a pivotal issue. The more silo-oriented your culture is, the more challenging it will be. In the first place, it’s about creating awareness that real barriers and intangible barriers do exist, such as competing objectives and priorities, but also a hoarding rather than a sharing culture. And the second, the intangible barriers are really hard to address and to change. Often, the middle management won’t support those changes, because it seems to create a perceived uncertainty for them. And involving the C-level on collaboration is often an even bigger challenge, because they delegated “collaboration” a few levels down, often to IT… So, you need business relevant stories for each of these stakeholders on “why change”, why we cannot stay in the current stay if we want to achieve the business objectives. Important from a specific enablement perspective: If these obstacles are removed, now technology can really enable collaboration and leverage the full potential. But it’s not working the other way around.

Interesting data points from Miller Heiman’s 2013 Sales Best Practices Study:
World class sales organizations collaborate successfully across the sales system, they know why their top performers are successful, they are highly effective in allocating the right resources on the right deals and – most important from an enablement point of view: They leverage the best practices of their top performers to improve everyone else. The data couldn’t be more powerful: There is a gap of 61 points between world class and all.

  • Effectiveness, then efficiency:
    Doing the right things, before doing things right. Begin with a root cause analysis of the sales system’s challenges regarding three criteria: People, process, performance. Map your findings to common sales enablement practices such as sales content, sales trainings, skill development, engagement models or metrics. Where are the gaps, where are redundancies, how are decisions made and how effective is decision making, in which councils, boards, departments, etc? And never forget to care about a very important , but often overlooked target group: your sales managers. How do you integrate them and how do you equip them with your enablement practices?

Now, let’ check core design principles:

  • GoToCustomer:
    Make sure that you have a defined buying cycle, a defined customer’s journey (depending on your business), as a foundation for a GoToCustomer framework (you name it) which covers methodologies, design points and principles, end2end with a bridge to the selling processes. Such a framework is your single reference point for ALL sales force enablement services. Define necessary selling-oriented activities and milestones with KPIs along this journey. Then, map sales content and sales trainings and continue with a content and training assessment regarding structure, creation and localization: How well do these enablement services support the purpose of a certain activity along the customer’s journey? Is the content product-oriented or problem-oriented, is the content more feature and function focused, ore really addressing the customer’s issues? Is the content tailored to specific buyer roles or personas? Is the content supporting dynamic value messaging along the customer’s journey? Don’t forget this one: Do you have a corresponding coaching map for your sales managers?
  • Simplicity:
    Leonardo da Vinci’s “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” is always my favorite quotation when it comes to simplicity. Focus on creating simple principles rather than detailed checklists, focus on creating frameworks rather than detailed processes to equip people to navigate within complex systems, to keep space for creativity, purpose and autonomy! Because sales systems as well as buying systems are complex, due to multiple dimensions, blurred boundaries and many different people with different interests who are interacting and communicating. You cannot reduce this complexity. I know, many of you may think differently, but let’s check reality – how complex systems are actually defined, see also Business Dictionary:
    “Consisting of many diverse and autonomous but interrelated and interdependent components or parts linked through many (dense) interconnections. Complex systems cannot be described by a single rule and their characteristics are not reducible to one level of description. They exhibit properties that emerge from the interaction of their parts and which cannot be predicted from the properties of the parts.”

We need principles and frameworks that help us to navigate complex systems in a more effective, more efficient and more predictable way. That means we build those principles and frameworks such as a GoToCustomer framework in order to eliminate complicated things, that are not necessary and don’t create any value. But we cannot reduce complexity itself.

It’s so important to understand this difference. This is why the analyzing phase is so important, to understand the sales system completely to be able to achieve the beauty of simplicity.That’s totally different from useless simplification with no impact, but confusion on a higher level.

Back to our flying analogy, Walter H Groth added again very valuable thoughts: “Frameworks, reference points, principles are necessary navigation aids. Checklists will never be able to do this job, because a multi-dimensional space is changing constantly: There are different forces and interdependencies based on an unknown number of variables.”

Sounds pretty familiar, right?

Working with frameworks and principles to navigate complexity, we can achieve what people actually mean: Simplicity.

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”
–John Maeda

Now, it’s up to you to create a compelling story for your senior executives, derived from your main business challenges. Help them to connect the dots along the entire customer’s journey to see the value and the impact you will create.

And be aware…Strategic sales force enablement is first and foremost – selling internally!

Practice what you preach!


1 Comment

  1. Amazing content. I’ve been gathering ideas to boost my sales marketing and your article is a lifesaver. Thanks!


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