Sales Enablement Perspectives
Imagine a group of people in a business meeting who are discussing a certain topic that seems to be familiar to everybody. But somehow, the meeting goes on and on. Then it ends with – no decision. We all know those unproductive scenarios. People assume that all others have the same (their own) understanding of a certain term. But this is often not the case. Then meetings end nowhere, the time has been wasted, and no decisions have been made.
This is why definitions are so important. Definitions are a productivity booster rather than a waste of time. Most important in our ever-changing and complex world of selling and buying is that definitions have to be adjusted, changed, and evolved to remain valuable.
And that’s exactly the case with sales enablement. How enablement began its journey several years ago may no longer be appropriate to create sustainable and scalable business value in today’s ever-changing environments.
Let’s analyze how a world of rising buyer expectations requires that enablement evolve to a more dynamic, strategic and holistic discipline.
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that world-class sales performers involve an average of 5.8 stakeholders at the customer, and 4.6 within their own organization. That’s significantly more than average performers, who only involve 4.4 stakeholders at the customer and 3.8 people internally. More people involved leads to more complexity to be mastered. But more people involved also leads to better sales performance. That’s counterintuitive, but this world-class segment outperforms all others in terms of increasing customer retention rates (+5.8%) and sales performance (+23%), measured by various sales metrics. What are they doing differently?
World-class sales performers adapt better and faster to rising and changing buyer expectations in a customer-centric world.
World-class sales performers know that understanding the specific customer’s journey, and all involved stakeholders, is the foundation for providing valuable perspectives. World-class sales performers create value at each stage of the customer’s journey for all stakeholders, each of whose involvement may be different. They provide valuable perspectives on how to achieve even better results and wins, and collaborate with customers to calculate their specific business value. World-class sales performers know exactly how to navigate the different dynamics along the entire customer’s journey, and they don’t walk away after a deal has been closed.
That’s why enablement needs to be refreshed and redefined in a strategic and holistic way – Sales Force Enablement
All these findings on world-class sales performance require a dynamic, strategic and holistic enablement approach based on the customer’s journey as the main design point. That’s why I came up with a new and comprehensive definition. Many years in different sales roles, as an executive in the enablement space evolving the topic from a program to a strategic function in a large corporation; and working for many years with peers in the same space plus working with our clients, have led to this sharpened approach. Here we go:
A few soundbites for you on the definition:
- Strategic means that the business strategy is mapped to sales execution to derive a specific enablement scope that’s tailored to addresses an organization’s weaknesses, gaps and strengths to execute the business strategy successfully.
- We call it a discipline, as enablement can be organized in many different ways depending on your context and maturity. Enablement, whether it is a program or a function, is always cross-functional. The orchestration of tasks and processes – such as content creation and distribution or training design and delivery – always involves several functions and often external providers.
- Sales results and productivity are the quantitative metrics by which an organization assesses the performance of their sales function. Specific goals always have to be defined based on your organizational context and your specific point of departure. Make sure to cover both, effectiveness (first) and efficiency metrics.
- Providing integrated content, training and coaching services helps to ensure consistent messages across the sales force. There is no training without content, and no enablement content should be provided to the sales force without at least a “how-to-use” video.
- As a consequence of providing coaching services, frontline sales managers are a key target group to ensure that coaching can reinforce the enablement efforts. No sales leader can afford to put enablement investments at risk by not aligning enablement and coaching.
- As discussed above, what separates world-class performers from all others is their ability to make the customer’s journey and all involved stakeholders their main design point.
- Last but not least, sales force enablement is powered by technology from the creation and production of enablement services (content, training, and coaching) up to their distribution and integration in CRM systems with mechanisms that provide relevant services at salespeople’s fingertips.
As an MHI research member, please check out the related Research Note that explains the definition in detail. You can also have a look at my keynote from the SAVO Sales Enablement Summit 2015 to learn more about the underlying maturity model that covers a required level (where we have all started to organized certain domains), the recommended level (that’s the sales force enablement definition) and the world-class level (our ambition), which we call customer-core enablement.
This article was first published in Top Sales Magazine, July 28th 2015
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In our customer-centric era, selling means creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey. That requires sales professionals to know their prospect’s industry, their business, and their specific roles and challenges as well as their relevant metrics. Only with this customer knowledge can sales professionals create value for them at each stage of their customer’s journey; and not waste their time. World-class sales performers know how to adapt to these rising buyer expectations. They shift their knowledge and adapt their skills, strategies, and expertise fast and effectively, tailored to the specific situation.
This is where sales enablement comes into play. This kind of adaptive value creation for prospects and customers requires strategic, dynamic and scalable enablement strategies for organizational execution.
It’s time to evolve sales enablement from a tactical “fixing a quarter” approach to setting up a platform for productivity that ensures sustainable sales results.
Are you leading a sales enablement program, initiative or function?
Are you leading a sales training, sales readiness, field readiness, sales effectiveness, etc., program, initiative or function?
If so, please read on, because our CSO Insights Sales Enablement Study could provide you with valuable data and insights on a number of questions, such as:
- What are best-in-class organizations doing differently when it comes to sales enablement? What can we learn from their approach?
- What kind of enablement services really move the sales performance needle?
- What’s the role of enablement technology and what metrics can be improved by technology?
- What are the real investments in enablement, mapped to the sales results?
- How mature is enablement as a discipline, and what are enablement maturity levels?
- How is sales enablement organized in world-class organizations?
- How does sales enablement manage cross-functional collaboration effectively?
- To what extent are enablement approaches “customer-core”?
- Are frontline sales managers considered as a target group? If so, how does sales performance look different?
What is the overall business impact sales enablement can create? And what is the difference between world-class and others?
Please take 15 minutes to complete our sales enablement survey. It’s a “help us help you” approach. We will conduct a detailed analysis of your data, and we will share study results with our participants first. Those results are highly valuable assets for you on how to evolve your enablement practice. Also, these data points help you to sell your enablement strategy internally.
What’s in it for you?
- Immediate Thank You: Upon completing the survey you will be able to download the CSO Insights’ 2015 Sales Management Optimization Key Trends Analysis
- In October 2015, you will receive the 2015 Sales Enablement Study Key Trends Report that will provide you answers to the questions above and more
This application management deal is a “must-win” deal. We have the best solution, we have a great relationship with the customer and we save them a lot of money with this new cloud-based service. We all know overconfident sales statements like this one, don’t we? But then, all of a sudden, the deal goes south. The customer makes a decision for a competitor. Why? Because this competitor offered a much bigger business impact, connected to the customer’s relevant financial metrics. It’s a disaster for the sales team, the funnel and the quarter.
Cost savings are a translation of features and functions into a financial equivalent. Cost savings don’t connect to the customer’s desired business results per se. They are a prerequisite for getting to their specific business value.
Cost savings are still in the category of what a product, a service or a solution IS (features and functions) and what it DOES (saving money), but not what these cost savings MEAN to the customer. The typical question of a CFO kind of role will be: “So what?” In our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study, we identified critical customer behaviors. One of these behaviors is that customers decide how they calculate value. In this year’s study, 61% of the world-class sales performers indicated that their customers require formal calculations on business value (ROI, TCO, and specific business cases, etc.) before making a buying decision, compared to 39% the year before. Look at this huge hike from 2014 to 2015, and consider that only 35% of all respondents indicated the same customer requirement (versus 26% in 2014). Now, what are world-class sales performers doing differently?
World-class sales performers know that their products, services, and solutions are only one element in the customer’s approach to solving a problem or mastering a challenge.
Value always lies in the eyes of the beholder, the customer. As customers make every decision differently, every time, the customer’s desired business value has to be different from the provider’s product-oriented cost savings. There is a natural gap by definition. This gap is one of the reasons why traditional ROI calculators never impress a customer stakeholder who has a financial focus. Those ROI calculators are, most of the time, product-oriented, which means they only cover one element of the customer’s solution, the provider’s offerings.
World-class sales performers map their product’s cost savings to their customers’ broader business value calculation.
That means that in the customer’s business case, the offered product’s cost savings will often be only one line item. World-class sales performers know how their cost savings can impact other financial metrics in general. Their expertise in understanding the customer’s context and the stakeholders’ different concepts allows them to figure out which financial metrics are important for this buying team, this time. They also identify the strategic business initiatives and connect the dots between their product-based cost savings, the directly impacted financial metrics and their impact on the customer’s strategic business initiatives.
Understand your customer’s financial performance and identify financial metrics that matter to them
Many sales professionals were trained to focus on their ROI and TCO as discussed above. That worked as long as (in our example of a cloud-based application management), IT departments and technical buyers made the decisions alone. Now, as we observe a huge shift to business buyers and cross-functional and complex buying teams, business value calculations become very different. Why is this the case? Because there are no IT projects anymore. Every IT project that exists has at least one business reason, why it exists. Consequently, business values are calculated differently. In general there is a switch from efficiency and budget optimization to effectiveness and investment thinking.
Understanding your customers’ current financial performance and their goals are the first step to identifying metrics that make a difference to them. Financial reports, analyst views, strategic initiatives are great sources to educate yourself. Learning additional financial metrics such as e.g. return on assets (ROA), return on equity (ROE), operating costs, cash flow, EBIT and EBITDA, as well as net and gross profit margins are essential to create outstanding value for your customers next time.
Create a value mapping chart for the entire buying team
Such a document includes the business reasons for every buyer, their desired solution and their desired tangible results and intangible wins, and how they measure success. Then, map back to the relevant metrics of the strategic initiatives, identify alignments, gaps and maybe inconsistencies. Then, come up with an overall approach to your customer’s business value calculation, integrating the stakeholders’ relevant metrics. Being prepared like this shows that you work backward from the customer’s context, and the stakeholders’ different concepts and that you made a lot of efforts to create extraordinary value for them. That’s the entry ticket to have effectiveness and investment focused conversations on eye-level. This is where you should be to win the next deals.
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This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine June 30th, 2015
Coach, Leader And Business Manager: Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement | See You In London, June 18!
Frontline sales managers (FSMs) are the most important role in any sales organization when it comes to sales execution and driving sales force transformation. Just think about their span of control in your organization. This role can decide what sales professionals sell, where they sell, to whom they sell, and how they sell. This is why frontline sales managers have such a huge leverage effect, why it makes good sense to invest in developing their effectiveness and their productivity.
However, our research shows that developing frontline sales mangers is still not a high-priority investment in sales productivity. Only 55% of sales productivity investments (data from our 2014 MHI Sales Performance and Productivity Study) are dedicated to developing frontline sales managers. At the top of the list (82%) are still investments in the skills, competencies and knowledge bases of individual contributors.
This disconnect has to be solved with holistic frameworks that address the FSMs’ challenging role, where the three key areas of customers, people and business compete for their attention. Our FSM Triangle is one such framework that has proved to be effective in frontline sales manager development. Our FSM Mantra is another valuable framework; it helps shift the frontline sales manager’s focus to what really matters and what they can control directly in their role. And that’s all about managing the right set of activities and coaching the related behaviors. FSMs often feel like they are on a motorway without speed limits: How should they divide their attention between looking ahead and looking behind? So, we will talk about “rear view mirrors and windscreens” – when and where to focus.
Developing frontline sales managers can be done in different phases. But the most important capability that has to be developed right away is coaching. Coaching is a capability that’s not required in a sales role, but it’s the must-have capability that makes all the difference. Not many people are born coaches, but many have become great coaches. To do that, there is conceptual homework to be done; ideally by enablement and training teams to define a coaching framework and coaching guidelines. And the homework has to be implemented successfully.
And then, it’s about enablement technology that can advance coaching capabilities to the next level. Technology can provide leading indicators for FSMs, to help them to understand what activities work or don’t work. Furthermore – and this is state-of-the-art technology – FSMs can see what interactions salespeople have with clients and prospects and how these prospects and clients interact with their salespeople. It’s another very valuable way to adjust activities immediately and focus coaching on the behaviors that have to be improved to ensure sustainable and scalable sales results.
Enabling frontline sales managers is one of the four pillars that lead to the next level of sales enablement, sales force enablement.
Join us in London for our MHI Global Sales Leadership Forum, June 18; in association with Top Sales World, sponsored by White Springs and Showpad. I will deliver a keynote on the frontline sales managers’ dilemma and how to solve it, and Pieterjan Bouten, Showpad’s CEO, will show how enablement technology can drive the FSM’s coaching capability to the next level of FSM effectiveness.
Have a look at our Agenda, and check out the additional key notes by Top Sales World’s CEO Dr. Jonathan Farrington and White Springs’ CEO Gary White as well as highly relevant “how to” workshops on funnel management and coaching.
See you in London, June 18th!
PS: Jonathan Farrington and I discussed the frontline sales manager issues, prior to our event. Click here to listen!
A few weeks ago, I signed up for a video conferencing service. The reason was simple: I was invited to a video meeting based on this service, so I needed an account. I signed up for a two-week free trial, the only option I had. I loved the service; the setup was easy, and the video service during the meeting worked pretty well. So far, so good. But then, the situation became strange. I got a message from a salesperson beginning with “Hey there” which is not my name, obviously. If the salesperson knows to whom he or she sends a message, why making it as impersonal as possible?
Then, a few nice sentences, followed by “I would be happy to assist with licensing options for you. Could you also answer a few questions so I may better understand your company?” A list of bullet points followed regarding the number of employees and technology workers (what’s that?), country headquarters, number of room video conferencing systems, collaboration tools used today and timeframe for making a purchasing decision. The message makes pretty clear that the salesperson assumed me to be in a buying process, without even questioning that.
Misinterpreting an individual interest for an organizational pain leads to misalignment and misunderstanding
Signing up for a free trial, or downloading a whitepaper are signs of an individual interest. Not more. Not less. At this point, nobody should even assume an individual pain, not to mention an organizational challenge that needs to be tackled. There is no proof point. Problem number one is making false assumptions such as putting a prospect in a buying process who didn’t even enter the awareness phase of the customer’s journey. Problem number two is not listening and not observing. Subscribers of free trials are normally tracked and monitored. In my case, it was easy to figure out that I used this service only once to be able to attend a specific video conference. Also here, the false assumption “a subscriber is always a prospect pretty close to making a buying decision” led to this misleading email message. Problem number three is not questioning these assumptions. In this specific case, the core mistake was not questioning my motivation to sign up for a free trial. I just had to attend a video meeting that was based on this service. I didn’t have a problem to solve, and I didn’t have an organizational challenge to master.
The buying process is one phase of the customer’s journey. Best practice is to identify the prospect’s position along the customer’s journey, not the buying process only.
The customer’s journey begins with an awareness phase in which a need, a challenge or a problem occurs. The situation is analyzed, diagnosed, and evaluated. The customers’ involved stakeholders must first decide that the situation is both important and urgent and need to be tackled. Next, they must have a vision of a better future state that will allow them to solve a problem, master a challenge and achieve or overachieve their goals. Only then will a decision to change the current state be made. Avoiding a risk can also be a reason to change. And this decision to change the current state for a better future state is the “must-have” prerequisite to entering any buying phase. No decision to change the current state, no buying process. It’s as simple as that.
In this case, world-class sales professionals would have tried to discover my real motivation, and my role in my organization to identify where I was along the customer’s journey and where my organization would probably be. The result would have been that I’m at the very beginning of the awareness phase, dealing with an individual issue that is not at all an organizational pain at this time. The best practice would have been to show me the business value of these services, to provide me with a potential future vision of success, but not proposing a solution with features and functions I didn’t even ask for.
Relationships matter – especially those that are based on the business issues that are relevant and valuable for the prospect
The salesperson not only missed the opportunity to discover my context and my motivation, but also to build a relationship, to create value for me and my organization. Creating value couldn’t happen as the salesperson did not invest time to discover what my specific situation was and what would have been valuable and relevant for me. Opportunities have to be created, and that’s work, often hard work. Opportunities don’t fall from heaven.
Furthermore, my experience was that I as a human being didn’t matter at all. Not my context, not my motivation, nothing. If they don’t care about me as a prospect, how will they treat me as a customer?
Customer-core engagement principles look differently. Providing Perspectives is a dynamic engagement and messaging principle that is based on the customer’s journey and the involved stakeholders as the main design point.
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This article was initially written for the Top Sales Magazine May 26th, 2015
Training sessions that make sense for marathon runners are clearly not appropriate for sprinters, even if both want to win an Olympic gold medal. The disciplines are different. The athletes’ objectives determine their activities.
That’s the same in professional B2B selling. The business results and sales objectives determine the appropriateness of various sales activities. World-class sales performers take this practice to heart. Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study shows that the world-class segment clearly defines the activities that are required for each stage of the sales process to achieve their sales objectives (95% compared to only 43% in the “all respondents” category). This trend has increased from 2014 to 2015 by 13% in the world-class segment, but only by 7% in the all respondents category. Having a strategy and knowing the right things to do seems to be a huge differentiator between top performers and others.
Effectiveness comes first. Efficiency without effectiveness does not know what’s right or wrong.
Imagine that your frontline sales managers are focused on a certain number of prospecting calls per salesperson per day to achieve a stretch revenue goal in a few selected industries. But somehow, the conversion rates don’t improve even if the number of calls increases. Let’s assume that the organization has invested in CRM technology, in lean processes, in customer data, in targeted value messaging, etc. But were they effective? Apparently not.
FSM’s mantra part 1: Manage the right set of activities
Efficiency is clearly not the problem here. Effectiveness is. Question number one, which is in the DNA of world-class sales managers, should be, “Are prospecting calls like these the right activity to achieve our sales objectives?” They don’t ask, “How can we make these prospecting calls better, faster, cheaper?” until they are completely convinced that this is the right thing to do to achieve their desired sales objectives. As we know from Albert Einstein, we cannot continue to do the same things over and over again, but expecting different results. It cannot be emphasized often enough that questioning the current state is a fundamental sales leadership approach to developing high-performance sales teams. It’s absolutely essential. It requires sales managers to hold on for a moment, to put themselves next to the situation and to observe and analyze what’s going on and to question if these sales activities are still the right activities to achieve the desired sales objectives. Maybe it was the right approach last year, but is it still the right thing to do?
FSM’s mantra part 2: Coach the related behaviors
In this situation, the “questioning process” can reach the conclusion that the activity itself is still the right one, but it isn’t being executed with the right level of quality. Or the questioning process can come to the conclusion that the activities are no longer the right ones to achieve the desired sales objectives. Whatever the conclusion is, it has to be driven by facts and data. Maybe the salespeople had only a foundational training, but not enough practice and no regular coaching to improve the quality and the outcome of the calls? Then that’s what we have: a probably efficient activity that leads nowhere. Activities have to be connected to the desired outcomes to develop a performance culture. Therefore we need to establish a culture of learning and coaching first. In the example above – after the initial questioning process – the sales managers measure and analyze the results of the prospecting calls with leading indicators. And they share the results with the sales team. What did salespeople who had success do differently compared to those who were not successful? Analyzing the leading indicators, e.g., conversation rates or percentage of follow-up calls, with salespeople’s positive and negative experiences should lead to a tailored coaching approach that’s specific to each individual on the sales team. World-class sales managers also make sure that the best practices of top performers are leveraged to improve everyone else. Eighty-one percent of the world-class segment executes this behavior consistently and collectively, while only 32% of the all respondents segment does, according to the data of our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study.
World-class frontline sales managers put it all together – in iterations
World-class frontline sales managers analyze sales activities based on leading indicators as they are happening. They are open to recognizing patterns, learning, adjusting the activities and coaching the related behaviors. And they understand that they are in ongoing iterations of analyzing, learning, adjusting and coaching. World-class frontline sales managers are brave enough to stop an activity if the facts show that it is not the best one to achieve certain sales objectives.
Executing the FSM’s mantra “managing the right set of activities, coaching the related behaviors” leads to what sales leaders are looking for: increasing sales results and productivity to achieve ambitious revenue and growth targets.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, May 5th, 2015.
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Frontline Sales Manager’s Mantra: Managing Activities and Coaching Behaviors
Frontline Sales Managers – Balancing Various Priorities
Frontline Sales Managers: Key Role, but Poorly Developed and Enabled
Frontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, sales productivity, and sales transformation than any other role. What makes their role so demanding and complex is the continuous challenge to balance between three often competing areas; customer, business, and people. Having been the best salesperson does not qualify an individual to be a stand-up top frontline sales manager. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organisation and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is an untenable situation for any sales leader with ambitious performance goals.
World-class sales organisations understand that frontline sales managers are not born. They develop their frontline sales managers with an integrated programme that allows them to grow in the role of a leader, a coach, and a business manager. They know it`s not about adding costs to the bottom line, but adding growth and effectiveness to the top line. They understand that the cost of doing nothing is much greater.
In my keynote seminar “Frontline Sales Manager’s Dilemma – Coach, Leader and Business Manager” on May 13th, I will share our latest research on frontline sales management and what to do with it. I will discuss what triangles have to do with frontline sales managers and their individual effectiveness. And we will discuss why frontline sales managers should benefit from applying a specific mantra that helps them to focus on what really matters in their role.
In addition, I will lead a workshop session called “Mastering the Frontline Sales Managers dilemma: with a triangle, a sharpened focus, and a capability framework”; two times on May 13th and two times on May 14th as part of our MHI Global Sales Performance Masterclass. During this session, I will discuss the latest research on frontline sales managers from the MHI Research Institute. Building on these data points, we will discuss the frontline sales manager triangle and how to use it to balance better various priorities with simple principles. The triangle is about shifting complexity from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind to driving the frontline sales managers’ decision-making quality and their individual effectiveness. Sharpening the FSMs` focus on those activities and behaviours that really matter is the second concept that we will share and discuss how to apply it. Last but not least, we will discuss how a capability framework can enable you to reviewing, adjusting, and designing your own frontline sales manager development programmes.
I’m looking forward to seeing you next week at the Sales Innovation Expo in London!
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Sailing the ocean requires mechanics and dynamics. What you learn as a sailor are various mechanics – what to do and how to do it on the ship. You have to become an experienced practitioner to be ready to sail the ocean. In addition, you learn the essentials of how to navigate, first in theory, later in practice. You build your sailing experience on all the things you can control – managing the sailing mechanics – and on your ability to navigate nature’s dynamics successfully.
Mechanics describe precisely in which way something is done or operated. Imagine the steps (mechanics) you take to create an opportunity in your CRM. Mechanics have a lot to do with “if/then” clauses. If all the required data are entered, an opportunity will be created in your CRM. Mechanics are predictable.
Dynamics are different. Dynamics are patterns or processes of change or growth. Dynamics include probability, possibility, and uncertainty in often complex environments. Imagine sailing the ocean, or having conversations with a group of B2B buyers. Predictable? Not that much. But the better you have learned your mechanics, the easier it will be to navigate the dynamics successfully.
Navigating change dynamics is essential to avoid stalled deals
Imagine the early stages of a customer’s journey. A situation gets analyzed, and options for tackling the challenge are discussed. Often, the customer stakeholders come from different functions and roles, and have different concepts of how to address the situation. The key question for them is, “Do we change the current state for a better future state: Yes or no?” Every customer makes every decision differently. Every time. Sales professionals have to deal with change dynamics; this is what they have to navigate. As this change decision is made by a group of different people, there is no clear “if I present this case study, this will be their reaction” scenario. Those dynamics cannot be managed or controlled directly; they have to be navigated. Navigating can only be successful if the sales professionals do their homework. That means they have to understand the customer’s specific context, the stakeholders’ different approaches regarding how to tackle the situation and their desired results and wins. Only then can sales professionals provide tailored perspectives on how these customers can better achieve their desired results and wins. Only then will customers make a decision to change.
Navigating decision dynamics is key to closing deals
Change dynamics in the awareness phase are followed by decision dynamics in the actual buying phase. Often, the group of stakeholders changes when it comes to the actual buying process. Some senior executives may delegate the project. Procurement people may join the stakeholder network. Decision dynamics are concerned with making the best buying decision, and have different characteristics than the dynamics of the change decision. Decision dynamics are more focused on how to make this happen, how to make this a success with the best possible value and the lowest possible risks. A phased approach to get to the desired future state and exact financial calculations and business cases of the desired solution mapped to the customer’s relevant metrics are key to success. Also here, what makes the difference are the interactions with the stakeholder network to make the buying decision happen. And that’s navigating decision dynamics. What can be managed are those activities that have to be done to prepare those conversations, such as business cases, specifications, or proposals.
Navigating value dynamics is the foundation for future business with this customer
And it’s the same with the value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase. The stakeholder network will perceive the delivered value differently, based on their perspectives. Navigating these value dynamics successfully – having “value confirmation conversations” with each of the relevant stakeholders, including the initial executive sponsors, is key to developing a long-term value based relationship. And it is the prerequisite to identifying and creating additional business with this customer.
Navigating the different stages of dynamics along the customer’s journey is what makes the difference in today’s complex B2B sales world.
Managing mechanics is the prerequisite to being perfectly prepared for navigating dynamics, to navigate the interactions with the customer stakeholders along their customer’s journey in their specific context.
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“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.
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What is an expert in sales? Often experts in sales are considered as people with in–depth knowledge about a provider’s products and capabilities. Experts in sales often have specific titles, such as solution sales, presales or sales engineers. What about the customer knowledge? How relevant are competencies to being an expert in sales?
In today’s complex and continuously changing world, defining what an expert in sales really means becomes a competitive necessity to make a difference. Defining experts in sales leads directly to a blueprint for required sales enablement services.
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a narrow field.”
— Niels Bohr
Experts know a lot of details in a specific knowledge area. To become an expert in a specific knowledge area, lots of mistakes have to be made. That’s the prerequisite for learning what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes and continuous learning allow people to develop their knowledge and understanding to the next level. In sales, we shouldn’t work on the false assumption that an expert is only knowledgeable about a provider’s capabilities. This capability knowledge area is an entry ticket to open a door. But capability knowledge alone won’t be enough to have relevant and valuable conversations with prospects and customers. Additional areas of knowledge are equally important, such as knowledge about the market and its trends, the customer’s industry, as well as the internal landscape of methods, processes and tools.
Being an expert in products and solutions is important, but not enough. To create real value for customers, sales professionals have to be an expert in the customers’ specific business challenges
Based on the above-mentioned knowledge areas, sales professionals have to become experts in their customers’ environmental and specific context. The way to make a difference in conversations with potential buyers is knowing and understanding their specific context of business challenges, problems and opportunities and being able to connect the dots to the own capabilities. Knowing their context includes understanding their current and their desired financial performance as well as the performance indicators that are relevant and critical for them. It’s no longer enough to be knowledgeable about the ROI or TCO of a provider’s product or solution. The financial impact of the customer’s desired solution (your products and services often are only a part of their solution!) mapped to their relevant financial metrics; that’s what matters to them. Being able to provide perspectives on different approaches to creating an even higher financial impact; that makes a huge difference. Sometimes, this ability enables new providers to win deals over those who are established since years but who didn’t care enough about the specific customer’s business context.
In addition, being an expert means to understand the stakeholders’ different concepts o how to approach a challenge, how to fix a problem or how to avoid a risk. Based on the stakeholders’ functions and roles, identifying their preference to process information and their individual decision-making style makes a sales professional a true expert. Knowing and understanding the decision dynamics of a certain customer stakeholder group and being able to orchestrate these decision dynamics is often what makes the difference in complex deals. These are all requirements a sales professional, an expert in sales needs to provide perspectives for customers; relevant, valuable, creative perspectives that enable customers to achieve or overachieve their desired results and wins.
Knowing is not enough; we must apply.
Willing is not enough; we must do.
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Being an expert requires applying the various knowledge areas, skills and strategies in specific customer situations. Expertise means to connect the dots between capabilities and customer knowledge, between skills, competencies and strategies.
Being an expert is the prerequisite for expertise.
Expertise means also to recognize when the own level of expertise won’t be enough to make a difference for the customer. Including another expert is not a weakness, it is a strength in a customer-core approach and a true sign of conscious collaboration in sales.
Last but not least – what about the “generalists”? Are they no longer required or are they experts in another area? Think about an executive account manager in a large strategic account, and think about a deal executive in a three digit outsourcing deal. These sales professionals are not necessarily experts in all the knowledge areas as described above, but they are also not generalists. They have to be experts in orchestrating large customer stakeholder communities, and they have to be experts in selling big deals in their own organizations. Additionally they have to be experts in allocating the right domain experts on their deals. Their expertise is understanding decision dynamics; their expertise is leadership and collaboration.
Do you have all the experts on board to make a difference for your customers?
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