Sales Enablement Perspectives
I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Jonathan Farrington, CEO Top Sales World, together with Jay Mitchell, President and Founder of Mereo LLC. This interview was first published here: Top Sales Magazine, February 2016. In my humble opinion, this interview provides a rare blend of our research at CSO Insights, and a lot of experience and practical implementation tips.
TS: Yes, the term “enablement” needs clarification, depending on an organization’s context and current maturity level. But the common ground is to equip sales forces’ ability to evolve their “how to sell” approach according to changed buyer behaviors. That’s why we came up with a new definition:
Sales Force Enablement is a strategic, cross-functional discipline, designed to increase sales results and productivity, by providing integrated content, training and coaching services, for salespeople and frontline sales managers, along the entire customer’s journey, powered by technology.
This definition belongs to the recommended maturity level, what you should be doing. Organizations who are currently focused on either the content or the training stream (required maturity level) should begin to align and integrate their enablement services (“no training without content, no content without training”), based on a solid “customer-core” enablement framework. That means to map the customer’s journey to the internal process landscape before defining the scope of enablement. Then, enablement services can be tailored to different customer’s journey phases, buyer roles, and more.
JM: While there has been a mountain of research done in the last 3-4 years indicating the journey for B2B buyers is shifting, there has been very little talk about selling differently in these changing times. The way many sales professionals sell today is not much different than the B2B selling hey-day of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Why? Because too often sales leaders don’t know what needs to change, don’t have a model for a new approach or don’t know how to equip their sales teams appropriately. At Mereo, we have the honor of working with dozens of organizations trying to embrace the new dynamic of buyer and seller. The most successful of these companies address sales enablement as an operational discipline, rather than an independent function of their go-to-market operations. They employ cross-functional resources to deliver interdependent messaging, sales ready assets, training and coaching to their sales channels in a way that is synchronized with their client’s buying journey.
JF: That’s a comprehensive definition! Let’s look at the goals. What are the specific goals of enablement apart from increasing revenue that lead to sales performance?
JM: For most organizations, the macro objectives are fairly straightforward: to grow profitable revenues and increase quota attainment/revenue delivered per sales professional, while lowering cost of sale. While those are absolutely accurate, the market leaders we serve benchmark sales enablement success by the tenets that power revenue performance – that is, metrics such as elevating average deal size, enhancing the wallet share captured from each client, accelerating the on-boarding window for new sales professionals and shortening the sales cycle.
Beyond those traditional sales metrics, there are some clear measurements of marketing’s impact in sales enablement. For example, a recent CMO Council study revealed sales professionals waste two days per week creating their own messaging and tools. It is no wonder that the inability to communicate value messages to customers and prospects is still the biggest inhibitor to sales success.” Measuring marketing’s contribution to sales enablement may be “softer”, but it is still a fundamental gauge of success.
TS: Our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study (membership required) shows that enablement is a multifaceted discipline with a wide variety of goals of similar importance. Increasing sales efficiency was reported to be the most important goal (82%), which is the equivalent to lowering the cost of sale, as Jay mentioned. The second most important goal was increasing revenue as both of you mentioned (76%), and increasing new account acquisition (69%). The list continues with performance goals such as increasing the win rates, the reduction of sales cycle length and increasing revenue in existing clients. It’s important to understand that enablement goals have two critical dependencies: context and maturity. Context examples are, e.g. a growth path versus defending a market position, disruptions, or tech innovations. All have one in common: they impact and change how buyers want to buy and what’s valuable to them.
JF: The obvious question I have to ask: Where does enablement belong in the organization? In marketing or in sales?
TS: For years, in the absence of data, the question has been “Is enablement in sales or marketing?” Now we have to reframe the question to “where in sales is enablement?” based on the data of our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study. More than three quarters (78%) of all surveyed organizations placed enablement within sales – executive sales management (53%) or sales operations (25%). Only 7% indicated their enablement function to be in marketing while another 15% said enablement reports to various functions such as product/portfolio management, training, HR and others. There is an interesting difference for large organizations, above $250b in revenues: Also here more than three quarters (77%) report into sales, but less to executive management (36%) and more to sales operations (41%). And more of these large organizations have their enablement function within marketing (11%).
JM: As I mentioned earlier, we find that the top-performing organizations view sales enablement as a cross-functional discipline that engages resources (budgets and people) primarily from sales, marketing, solutions/products, services and training. That said, the leadership for the sales enablement team most often resides in sales, either reporting directly to the senior sales executive or to one of his/her chief lieutenants, in many cases sales operations. An important attribute we are finding in many of our clients is the importance sales enablement plays on the radar of the CEO/General Manager. For our most successful clients, when the CEO/General Manager takes a keen interest in the significance of sales enablement to their overall plan, revenue growth naturally follows.
JF: Let’s switch to what enablement teams provide for the sales force. A specific term that’s discussed almost everywhere is the term “playbooks.” For which purposes do I need a playbook, and how does that look like today, in the age of technology?
JM: The backbone of sales enablement is a consistent, well-tuned sales process aligned with the ideal buyer’s journey, as it provides a framework from which the key outputs of a sales enablement platform resonate. We see two key pillars of sales enablement, underpinned by a critical cultural tenet. The first pillar is a value-based messaging framework, which includes the ideal client profile, the pains ideal clients are encountering, discovery questions for igniting those pains and differentiated messages that are not only unique and provable, but also valuable to the audience. Ideally, these value proposition fundamentals are encapsulated in an interactive playbook that serves as a guide for sales to navigate the sales cycle with messaging that supports each conversation. Ultimately, messaging manifests itself in customer-facing, sales ready assets, such as prospecting talk tracks, pencil pitches and even proposal language and presentation templates. Once the messaging – the content – is in place, training sales to use the sales kit in context of their sales process is next. The second pillar of sales enablement – training – includes LOTS of role-plays where applying the messaging and sales kit is modeled and practiced. Which brings us to the critical cultural tenet of sales enablement – coaching. This is the most important facet in a sales enablement program and is predicated on sales managers intentionally learning the messaging, using the tools themselves and then practicing with their team, while providing relevant counsel.
TS: Amen, Jay! The term “playbook” is often as confusing as “enablement.” Playbooks are one of many content services, of course, an important one, mostly used in complex environments. Playbooks are interactive tools that guide salespeople along the entire customer’s journey with the right value messaging, content and sales tools, ideally tailored to any specific buying situation, powered by technology. A playbook is not a big book nobody will ever read. It’s a digital tool that’s ideally created per opportunity, depending on its stage, industry, buyer roles, business challenge, etc. And that requires a solid content management framework that’s designed along the customer’s journey.
We asked the participants of our enablement study to rank enablement services’ effectiveness. Playbooks and other enablement services that have to be designed with the customers at the core were reported rather ineffective compared to “old-fashioned” product sheets or product training services. While organizations made progress in aligning their sales processes to the customer’s journey, there is still a lot to do to translate this advantage into effective “customer-core” enablement services. And that requires a mindset shift.
JF: Enablement cannot be discussed without technology. What’s the state of the industry and what are the trends?
TS: There are many enablement vendors out there, and the market continues to grow. Years ago, you saw lots of enablement point solutions; desktop focused. And just a few years later, enablement solutions are available on any device, mostly integrated with CRM Systems. Furthermore, enablement technology equips salespeople with suggested content and training sessions right at their fingertips, allows them to share content (also videos) with prospects and clients, while customer interactions and buyer behaviors are tracked in parallel, as a foundation for often already integrated coaching features. Furthermore, enablement technology allows content creators (not only marketing) to define and maintain content management frameworks. An aspect that’s often underestimated, but when organizations want to provide tailored content to specific buying scenarios, they have to have a content management framework in place that’s defined along the customer’s journey.
JM: Tamara nailed it. It has evolved from point solutions, to technology purposely used for sales enablement and synchronized with the CRM system. The most effective solutions deliver the messaging, the sales enablement assets and even role-play training at the sales professional’s device – often a tablet or iPad. We have partnered with a number of vendors in this arena, and have seen our clients develop proprietary solutions for it. The established, proven solutions have delivered better results almost every time.
JF: To create all these enablement services, collaboration must be a big challenge and also an important “enabler” for enablement. How does the reality look like?
JM: The biggest obstacle to sales success, according to sales managers, is the sales team’s inability to communicate value messages, based on CSO Insights research. For me, this means too many organizations are not synchronized on the real purpose of sales enablement— to equip the sales channels to create more value in EVERY interaction with a prospect/client. As I’ve already mentioned: sales enablement is a cross-functional discipline that is rooted in an alignment between sales, marketing, solutions/products, services and training as the primary contributors. Alignment is the key word here. When these, often disparate teams are united by a common mission — to enable the sales force to serve their audience first — unleashed revenue performance is guaranteed to be the result.
TS: The survey results on collaboration were as surprising as the question where enablement belongs in the organization. More than 80% of the participants reported to collaborate on an informal (42%) or an ad hoc basis (41%) which means that they have no formal collaboration, collaboration framework or model in place. Only 12 % of the participants reported collaborating on a formal basis. Interestingly, a snapshot on larger organizations delivered the exact same results. In reality, organizations allow themselves NOT to leverage a huge potential for efficiency, which is a prerequisite to achieving sales performance goals. From opinions to data: there is a significant correlation between collaboration and quota attainment. Between those with an ad hoc and a formal collaboration approach, there was a 21% difference in quota attainment. Which sales leader can allow not to leverage such a quota attainment potential?
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Taking research on enablement to the next level
2015 was a challenging, inspiring, and successful year for me. My focus was to build on the research and content foundation I created the year before. Building on this foundation allowed us to conduct our first global sales enablement study, to analyze the data, and to create our first sales enablement trends report. The data we got are amazing, challenging and thought-provoking at the same time. With data, it’s no longer about having an opinion. With data, we could debunk myths, identify trends, analyze core challenges, and provide models and frameworks how to tackle these issues – that’s exactly what I love about my work! Stay tuned, you will hear more about the results and deeper analysis in early 2016.
Lots of recognitions!
2015 was a year with lots of recognitions of my work. In November, I was surprised, happy and grateful to win the Best Sales Blogger Award 2015, initiated and conducted by Il Commerciale. But that wasn’t the only one. When the 2015 Top Sales Awards were announced in December, I couldn’t believe my eyes: winner of the Thought Leader category and winner of the Best Blog Post category. And our CSO Insights blog won a bronze medal in the company blog category. And there was more to be speechless: Together with our customer Showpad, we have won a gold medal for the 2015 sales enablement trends report. More than anybody could ever ask for. Woohoo!
I’m very happy and deeply grateful for these recognitions, as they underline the constant focus, dedication, and passion, I’m putting in my work. These awards also show that my sometimes thought-provoking thoughts, ideas, and system-based approaches are respected in the industry. Even more important, these recognitions set the bar for 2016: creating, even more, value, based on research, for our customers and partners, in every interaction. Digging deeper in specific enablement and sales management areas where we have identified the biggest need for clarity or an increasing need for models and frameworks to master these challenges in an effective way.
- Thank YOU, for following my work, my blog posts here and on our CSO Insights blog, where you can find the biggest part of my work.
- Thank YOU for reading and sharing my blog posts.
- Thank YOU for inspiring my brain and for challenging my thoughts – doing so is the key to growing for all of us. Getting better in everything we are doing, every day – that’s what we need to evolve the sales profession to a true customer value creating role!
- Thank YOU for all your ongoing support. I wouldn’t be where I am without YOU!
My best wishes for you
I wish you a happy holiday season, and that you can make peace with whatever happened in 2015. It’s over and cannot be changed anymore. I wish you a healthy, happy, inspiring and successful 2016, whatever happiness and success may mean to you, with lots of opportunities to learn and to grow.
- May you walk in peace towards your visions
- May you walk in gratitude
- May you walk in balance and beauty
- May you walk with lots of creative energies and a clear focus in the New Year 2016!
Doing something for those who need our voice and our help: the animals
As last year, I would like to draw your attention to a great cause. Those of you who know me in person, also know that I not only care about sales and high performance but also about animals, their rights, and well-being. In case you are looking for a great purpose for your year-end donations, here is my suggestion to cover both areas – high performance in marathon running and rescued animals: Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, led by Fiona Oakes. I’m supporting the sanctuary and Fiona’s work for a couple of years now, and I’m also supporting some of the promotional work that is crucial to keep the sanctuary going.
Fiona Oakes is the fastest woman to ever run a marathon on every continent. She holds 3 marathon world records and 4 marathon course records. She is the fastest woman to run a marathon on each continent plus the North Pole. Furthermore, Fiona completed 6 marathons on 6 continents in 6 days in 2015.
Fiona’s cause? It’s her Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary, where she takes care of almost 400 previously unwanted and rescued animals, only with the help of her partner Martin Morgan. There are different ways to help:
Christmas Feed Delivery: with just a few pounds, you can buy a bale of hay, some carrots, straw, or other food for the rescues.
Tower Hill Stables Animal Sanctuary: here you can find all different sorts of donations: animal adoptions, calendars, monthly donations, and many more things.
As in sales, so it is here for the animals: every action counts. Every dollar, pound or euro counts!
The donations are entirely used to cover the feed costs.
The animals, as Mr. Geoffrey, say Thank YOU!
It’s only when notes are assembled into a specific arrangement that they can properly be called music. In the hands of a master composer, these assembled notes can tell a compelling story.
That’s the same with building a business case for frontline sales manager (FSM) development.
Foundation: Four main reasons to invest in frontline sales managers
- FSMs are the linchpin to performance: They have the biggest leverage effect in any sales organization, based on their span of control. Additionally, they have to navigate multiple priorities at the same time, across three often competing dimensions — customers, business and people — in a constantly changing and complex environment, sandwiched between leadership and the sales team.
- Coaching can increase win rates by 9%: Coaching is not a required capability for individual sales professionals, but it is the key leadership capability for FSMs to develop salespeople’s untapped potential. Our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study shows that coaching, closely connected to the sales process and methodologies, can improve win rates for forecasted deals by 9%.
- Shifting the FSM’s focus: As sales leaders shift their focus more towards what’s coming into the pipeline (see CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study), FSMs have to shift their focus as well to the early stages of the customer’s journey, to prospecting and creating new opportunities. Furthermore, FSMs also have to walk away from only measuring results to managing the right activities and coaching the related behaviors throughout the entire customer’s journey.
- Forecast accuracy is key to sales effectiveness: Organizations with higher forecast accuracy have better revenue plan attainment (2014 MHI Research Institute Sales Performance and Productivity Study). The better the forecast, the more focused an organization is on the deals they can win, and the deals they want to win (e.g., resources, investments).
Additional components: key influencers, data in context and current FSM maturity
Based on the four main reasons to invest in FSMs, three additional ingredients are required. A group of key influencers and early supporters must be created. Ideally, this group will consist of sales enablement/training, sales operations, and HR professionals as well as a few high-performing and interested FSMs. The reasons for FSM development as detailed above must be connected to the organization’s context by mapping the business strategy to the current sales execution plan. This will help identify strengths, gaps, and weaknesses. Additionally, the organization’s current FSM maturity level should be assessed to establish a starting point for development and to identify priorities. The CSO Insights FSM Maturity Model can provide guidance.
Composing the Business Case
Just as a piece of music has structure, so does the business case for prioritizing FSM development. The “right” structure depends heavily on the audience and setting, in this case, the sales leaders’ personalities and preferences and the organizational context in which the case is being made. However the case is structured, it needs to answer these questions:
- Why should we reprioritize investments? The answer to this question connects the dots between sales strategy, current sales challenges, ongoing strategic initiatives and the FSM assessment results and conclusions. Bringing data in the organization’s specific context, that’s the key challenge here.
- In what are we investing? The business case must provide at least high-level details of where sales leaders are being asked to invest and what will be delivered. For many organizations, this is a rough outline of an FSM development program (modules, sequences, content, etc.) that is based on the initial assessment and connected to the organization’s challenges.
- How much do we need to invest? Sales leadership will need to know how much they are being asked to invest in FSM development. Most organizations find it helpful to break this down into an average per FSM per year. Details on annual investments can be found in the CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study. These investments should also be mapped to the expected results.
- How will we develop and deliver the program? What combination of e-learning, m-learning (mobile learning) and classroom training will the program offer, and how much time will FSMs need to spend in training per year? Additionally, how will these programs be developed and delivered – with internal resources, with partners, or completely outsourced?
- How will we measure success? Metrics has to be defined for both the expected behavioral changes and the business results. For example, if the initial assessment determined that coaching needed to be formalized and the related coaching capabilities developed, then coaching must be measured, e.g., coaching time, frequency, purpose and quality. Then, the expected business impact, such as increasing win rates, can be measured and put into context.
- How will we get there? Not only is a common vision of success required; sales leadership also needs to be shown how they will reach their destination. The roadmap should outline the different developmental phases for each of the different FSM target groups, including pilots and roll-outs across additional regions and business units.
Logically, it makes sense to invest in FSMs, as they are the linchpins to sales performance. However, sales leadership’s natural bias toward investing in individual sales professionals is a hurdle that must be overcome. This requires a compelling business case composed of research and a thorough, current state analysis that shows sales leaders how reprioritizing investments can help them reach their business goals.
Related blog posts:
Experienced chefs don’t need a separate recipe for each menu variation they create. For example, once they have learned to cook a risotto, they can create lots of different variations with ingredients such as mushrooms, pumpkins, zucchini or spinach. They simply adapt the basic principles. Sales enablement leaders must define the principles of how to create value messages. Then, salespeople can adapt specific value messages (recipes) to suit the individual buyers’ contexts and concepts.
The inability to communicate value messages is a key inhibitor to sales success.
Three years of surveys have shown that this is the top inhibitor to sales success. Improving the ability to show strategic value is now an urgent sales management effectiveness priority, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study.
Organizations still struggle with value messaging. Value messaging training is not ranked very effective, according to our CSO Insights 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study: 53.4% reported that value messaging training needs improvement or major redesign. Also, messaging guidelines seem to have similar challenges regarding effectiveness: 52.6% reported that messaging guidelines need improvement and major redesign. It’s interesting that the training services and content types we’ve all known for decades, such as product training, process and methodology training, product sheets and brochures are ranked as much more effective. While the results might reflect respondents’ “comfort zones,” there is no doubt that organizations have challenges providing and executing effective value messages.
Value messages are only effective if they are designed from the customer’s perspective and tailored to different buyer roles and customer’s journey phases.
Buyers are not interested in getting information on something they already know, such as features and functions. Instead, they want value messages that focus on their issues and business goals, messages that create value by highlighting how they can achieve their business objectives better and faster. But it is precisely this “customer-core” approach to value messaging that remains a challenge for many organizations.
Many organizations are still designing around products. This leads not only to product-focused content (and training), but also to a situation in which product management and marketing teams compete against each other to get the sales force’s attention, not to mention the customers’ attention. In these inside-out, product-oriented environments, it’s difficult to drive change towards a customer-core approach, and to create value messages based on the customer’s journey, the related buyer roles and customer business challenges.
There is no “one size fits all” value proposition – value messaging goes dynamic
Customers decide how they want to connect and collaborate with salespeople, and they also decide how to calculate value, their value. In a nutshell: every customer makes every decision differently, every time. Consequently, we cannot expect to be successful with “one size fits all” value propositions. Instead, in our customer-centric world, organizations need dynamic value messaging frameworks that consider the relevant messaging criteria and different focal points and goals in different buying situations throughout the entire customer’s journey. Examples of messaging criteria include the relevant buyer roles, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the customer’s context, the buyers’ different approaches to how to tackle the issue and the desired business results and wins.
Furthermore, value messaging also depends on the specific buying situation. If a customer is in a renewal situation, they know exactly what they want and don’t want. But if they have to tackle a challenge they haven’t dealt with before (such as buying their first virtualization software, or their first business process outsourcing), they will need different value messages, and they’ll need them earlier along their customer journey.
The value messaging types along the customer’s journey are value hypothesis and value propositions in the awareness phase, specific value propositions in the buying phase and value confirmations in the implementation and adoption phase.
Building a dynamic value messaging framework
The enablement effort to design, create and deliver dynamic value messages must not be underestimated. The complexity of various elements that impact the different value messaging types (as defined above) can be overwhelming. The core idea to drive efficiency is to create messaging modules that can easily be tailored by salespeople. A few criteria help enablement leaders to build their messaging framework initially:
- Enablement production process as a foundation:
Such a process defines how and from whom value messaging content is designed, created, localized, provided and tracked.
- Defining messaging modules:
The most important buying situations and buying roles should be identified to increase the value of modules and limit the number that need to be created.
- Consider the organization’s business and sales model:
The more vertical the business, the more likely messaging modules by vertical will be needed even if the organization’s products and services are horizontal in nature. Campaign, territory or account-based sales models have to be considered as well.
- Establish a process of trigger events and feedback loops:
Establish a messaging lifecycle process to keep the value messages up-to-date. Such a process should include trigger events such as new products, changed buyer behaviors, feedback from salespeople and their managers, and regular check points.
The “right” design for the value messaging framework and for the value messaging modules depend not only on the various value messages that are required along the customer’s journey, but also on the specific selling and buying context and on the design of the sales organization.
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This article was first published over @ Top Sales Magazine: Dec 1, 2015
Do you remember the last time you made a significant buying decision as a consumer, such as a decision to buy furniture or a car? How structured and organized was this decision-making process? Or was it perhaps a more iterative process or cycle, because you heard something here and learned something there, and all of sudden, a different, but amazing, offer came your way. If you have professional B2B buying experience, reflect on some of those decision processes. How many were linear, without iterations? Probably not a single one.
Buying happens in iterations, and the buying dynamics have to be navigated
I remember one of my biggest buying decisions in a large corporation, which was about an account management system that should support a newly implemented customer-core account planning and management cycle. The whole buying process took two years, from scoping to developing the solution, to the pilot, up to buying (not including implementation). From start to finish there were phases that were straightforward… until something happened. It might have been a budget freeze, the appointment of a new sales leader, or the IT department changed its strategy. Some stakeholders left the project; others joined, and both the exits and the entries impacted the specific context of the project, based on their different viewpoints and even different goals.
Was that a linear, straight buying process that could be simply managed by following the process? No. Not at all. It was an iterative process with moving targets and various stakeholder changes, and on a global level. Lots of dynamics happened that could not be managed by applying learned mechanics. Those dynamics had to be navigated, situationally, based on a changing context, moving targets and a changing buying team with changing thoughts and expectations. Overall, it was an iterative, dynamic process that had to be navigated carefully, in a very focused way, and with lots of situational awareness, creativity, and adaptations.
More information does not necessarily lead to more understanding – context is often missing
Customer behaviors have fundamentally changed and are still changing, and their expectations are rising. There is no doubt that buyers are much more informed than ever before; exactly as salespeople should be much more informed about their customers and competitors, etc. But often more information does not necessarily lead to more knowledge on the buyer side – it leads to more confusion. Why? Because lots of information is without any context. And context matters. Context is queen, if not king. And that’s where the value of a sales professional comes into play.
Buyers decide how to connect, collaborate and calculate throughout their customer’s journey
Our 2015 MHI Sales Best Practices Study reports that today’s buyers decide how they want to connect, how they want to collaborate with salespeople and how they calculate value. Selling is no longer about products; it’s about the specific value customers can achieve through a provider’s products and services. Value is always specific to the customer, dependent upon their situational context and the buying teams’ approaches on how to tackle the challenge. Professional B2B selling must be dedicated to creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for each impacted buyer role. Click here to take the survey for the 2016 CSO Insights Sales Best Practices Study.
Customer-core strategies for enablement leaders
Knowing and understanding how buyers want to buy is essential for every enablement leader. Understanding the customer’s journey and working with the customer’s journey and the impacted buyer roles has to be the foundation of any enablement strategy, mapped to the specific challenges of the sales force.
Reflecting these buying dynamics throughout an often formalized, but iterative customer’s journey, three key strategies should be applied by sales enablement leaders:
- Implement a dynamic customer-core engagement principle: Such an engagement principle – we call ours “Providing Perspective” – defines how to connect and engage with different buyer roles throughout their customer’s journey related to the buyers different focal points in each phase. Furthermore, such an engagement principle sets the stage for a dynamic value messaging approach that also has to be tailored to the customer’s journey phases and the different buyers’ needs in each phase.
- Align and integrate content and training services: It’s not enough to provide content such as playbooks, messaging guidelines, new case studies, brochures, etc. Salespeople need to know how to use which asset most effectively in which customer interaction. Short videos, featuring salespeople explaining to their peers how to take advantage of a certain asset, are one of the most credible ways to drive adoption. Connecting content and training with small, but impactful steps is always a winning strategy.
- Build salespeople’s adaptive competencies: One of the biggest competitive advantages a salesforce can have is the ability to shift strategies, activities and behaviors to changed, complex and new situations, fast and effectively. Developing salespeople’s adaptive competencies becomes more and more a strategic necessity to develop a salesforce that can create additional and differentiating value to their prospects and customers – in their context, addressing their desired business value.
Last but not least, the internal process landscape must allow iterations exactly the same way as customers process their iterations. To adapt internal processes this way, collaborating with sales operations is essential, to better integrate principles and to remove one-way rules.
How do you deal with buying iterations, from a sales and a sales force enablement perspective?
Did you already adjust your internal processes; and if so, how?
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, October 27, 2015.
Sailing requires a lot of capabilities. As a sailor you learn various mechanical principles – how the equipment works, and based on that, what to do on the sailboat. You have to become an experienced sailing practitioner to be able to sail the ocean. But these mechanical skills aren’t sufficient. You also have to learn the essentials of how to navigate.
Sailing experience is actually built on all the things you can control – managing the sailing mechanics on the boat – and on your ability to navigate all the things you cannot control – nature’s dynamics.
Mechanics are predictable. Dynamics are probabilities in uncertainty
Imagine the mechanical steps you take to create a new account or a new opportunity in your CRM system. Mechanics describe precisely in which way something has to be done. Mechanics have a lot to do with “if/then” clauses. In this example, you need the account data before you can create your opportunity. Mechanics are pretty predictable. If all the required data are entered, a new account or a new opportunity will be created.
Dynamics instead represent probability, possibility, and uncertainty in often complex environments. Imagine your recent conversations with different B2B buying teams. Were these situations predictable? You have probably developed a few scenarios to get prepared for the conversations. But at the end, a slightly different scenario may have happened. Dynamics are not really predictable.
Navigating different dynamics along the customer’s journey
- Change dynamics in the awareness phase of the customer’s journey:
A challenge occurs, the situation gets analyzed, and options for tackling the challenge are discussed. Customer stakeholders often come from different functions and roles, and have different approaches regarding how to address the situation. The key question is, “Do we change the current state for a better future state: Yes or no?” The decision can be “yes,” “no,” or “not now.” For sales professionals, the biggest challenge here is to provide perspectives that help the stakeholders make a decision to change the current state for a better future state.
- Decision dynamics in the actual buying phase of the customer’s journey:
The buying team may change, because some senior executives may delegate the project and procurement people may join the buying team. Decision dynamics are focused on how to make the best buying decision as a team with different perspectives and approaches to achieve the best results and wins with the lowest possible risks. Decision dynamics have different characteristics than change dynamics. For sales professionals, the biggest challenge is to contribute to the customer’s value calculation in a way that’s beyond TCO or product-driven ROIs to be perceived as the best possible buying option. Business value ideally tackles the top or the bottom line.
- Value dynamics in the implementation and adoption phase:
When the implemented products and services deliver the value that has been bought, thoughtful value confirmations tailored for each buyer role are they key to developing future business. This step is often overlooked, but as buyers have different approaches regarding how to tackle a situation, they will also have different perceptions of value.
For sales professionals, the biggest challenge is to get back to the initially involved senior executives, even if they have delegated the project for implementation. These value confirmation conversations can lead directly to new opportunities.
What makes the difference in these situations? Mechanics or dynamics?
Mechanics, as we defined the term above, are everything that can be controlled by the sales professionals. Dynamics are what happens in reality, in complex situations with different stakeholders, and their different approaches, changing objectives and an often-changing situational context. In those complex, often unpredictable environments, sales professionals need a solid foundation of skills and competencies, customer, market and product knowledge, strategies and specific expertise – just to remain in the game. What makes the difference is their ability to quickly adjust their strategies, behaviors and activities to new, changed and complex situations. That’s navigating dynamics.
Navigating dynamics requires adaptive competencies – a key challenge for sales enablement
Developing adaptive competencies happens in iterations of training, practice, learning and coaching Whatever the specific challenges in a sales organization might be, a solid foundation of selling competencies, various knowledge areas, and customer management strategies has to be in place before adaptive competencies can be developed. You don’t train a new sailor to navigate the ocean before learning the basics.
Adaptive training sessions can consist of various highly interactive sessions, including real-world simulations. Those curriculums should consider cycles of training, practice, and learning, reinforced by coaching before the next cycle begins with training. Those cycles ensure that people can learn what works for them and adjust what didn’t work so far. This approach also requires that coaching is an integral part of reinforcing and building adaptive competencies. Integrating the frontline sales managers early builds the foundation for execution and reinforcement. Key learning objectives should include situational awareness, applying principles instead of rules, and creativity, as well as critical and strategic thinking.
Adaptive competencies are what sales professionals need as an add-on to their mechanics. Adaptive competencies enable them to navigate the dynamics of today’s ever-changing, complex, buyer-driven world.
Questions for you:
- How do you navigate complex B2B buying dynamics?
- How important is the alignment of your sales process to the customer’s journey to successfully navigate buying dynamics?
- How does your engagement principle reflect buying dynamics?
Related blog posts:
- Manage Mechanics, Navigate Dynamics
- The Customer’s Journey Matters, Or How To Avoid Seller and Buyer Misalignment
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 29, 2015.
What was your last bad experience as a prospect – just a short time after you downloaded something from a website? Maybe this example sounds familiar for you, too. I was interested in a report that had been published on a vendor’s blog. I downloaded the document. Less than an hour later, I got a call to “follow-up.” Would I be interested in the vendor’s products? Bad, very bad. I asked her if she had checked out my LinkedIn or my Twitter profile to prepare this call? Of course, she did not. Even more interesting, she made this call for a large provider of social technology. Ouch.
What’s wrong? The call was out of any context, not connected to my role, my potential challenges and the company I’m working for. Not valuable for me. And not relevant.
I care about lead management behaviors for two reasons. First, because I care about all things sales force enablement and how to get more effective in a “customer-core” way. Second, because I work as an analyst in this fascinating space and I do believe that successful sales enablement begins very early along the customer’s journey. So, I have skin in the game.
Bad lead management practices like this follow-up call happen every minute a thousand times. These practices not only ruin your brand reputation, but they also wreck potential future business opportunities.
According to our CSO Insights 2015 Lead Management and Social Engagement Study (login required), increasing new customer acquisition is the number one marketing priority. Additionally, social media and website design/content are the main areas for more investments in lead generation.
Quantity over quality leads only to more bad calls – focus on effectiveness first
The problem with so many bad lead follow-up calls has one cause: measuring quantity over quality. Why should it be the right way to measure the number of calls instead of the outcomes of those calls? Yes, we have to be quick with follow-up calls. And yes, we need to know how many calls are made by person by time frame. But there is a difference between a bad call half an hour after the web page interaction or a much better call within the next few hours. But more bad lead follow-up calls are not effective, regardless how efficient they are processed. Even worse, bad follow-up calls damage not only your brand reputation, but they also block this customer’s potential future interest in any of your products and services. Whether you conduct those lead follow-up calls internally or with an agency, measuring success must be based on effectiveness, not on efficiency only, if you want to move the performance needle in any way.
Call preparation begins with – social media
“We have no time to prepare our calls.” I hear you. Please explain to me why you have time to make lots of bad calls with poor outcomes? Why not make fewer calls with better outcomes? Please ensure just one mandatory step: The person must check the prospect’s social profiles before the call (not just taking the mapped CRM data, or even worse – nothing) such as the prospect’s current role, potential areas of interest and challenges to connect the dots to your products and services. Only then can the salesperson open the call in a smarter way that connects the dots to the potential prospect’s role and context. A much better idea in the case, as mentioned above, could have been to say “Hello…, we appreciate your interest in our content. How was the XYZ document valuable or relevant for you? … As I have seen on LinkedIn, you are working as an analyst. So, what’s of specific relevance for you in your role?” Etc…
Needless to say, I would have been much more engaged in such a conversation than the above-mentioned bad examples, and with no damage to the vendors’ brand. What’s so difficult about doing it this way? It only requires evident homework, preparation that would prove that someone would care about me as a potential customer. Instead, I felt treated just like another damned prospect.
Making lead follow-up calls effective with coaching
This simple step helps to sort out prospect roles that are not relevant as a potential buyer (e.g., me in an analyst role) which reduces the number of calls to make and increases the potential effectiveness of those calls. Now, let’s look at how to increase the effectiveness of those calls. There are lots of ways to get the necessary insights for coaching sales or marketing people running these calls: riding along, analyzing recorded versions, and so on, always combined with predictive analytics regarding call outcomes from the prospect’s perspective. Also, compare the approaches different people on the team may take. Understanding what works and what doesn’t, and where and how to make the necessary changes, is key to success. Maybe the messaging has to be adjusted for specific buyer roles; maybe the guided script has to be changed. Or maybe, just more and better practice and coaching is the key to more effectiveness. Understanding what works and what doesn’t, adjusting the activities and behaviors. Only then, when we know that we process the right activities in the best possible set-up, can training, practicing and coaching really improve the effectiveness of those calls.
Don’t disable sales with bad lead follow-up-call behaviors. Instead, enabling sales begins exactly here.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine Sept 1, 2015
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