Sales enablement talent is not discussed very often. Usually, the discussions are about the sales talent that’s required in the digital age of the customer. But there is almost no discussion about the necessary talent, sales enablement leaders need to have to be successful.
The challenge with sales enablement: only a minority moves the needle
Only about one-quarter to one-third of sales enablement teams are effective and tangibly move the sales performance needle. In other words, most organizations invest in sales enablement, but don’t move the needle. No wonder that the current crisis hit sales enablement hard. Sales enablement is at the crossroads. A situation that offers excellent opportunities to understand successful SE teams and leaders better. First, they are good at these two critical success factors:
- Critical success factor #1 is implementing a strategic, formal, and charter-based approach to sales enablement.
- Critical success factor #2 is meeting your senior executives’ goals and expectations.
Second, their leaders share some of the following talents.
The famous five talent facets of effective sales enablement leaders
As we go through these five specific talents and skills, you will see that these talent facets are required to successfully implement the above-mentioned critical success factors.
Sales talent and love for sales
This is critical, and I know many heads of sales enablement don’t have a sales background. Imagine, you coach one of the favorite NBA teams, and you have never played basketball. You will have a hard time would be an understatement. You wouldn’t even be able to land the job. For sales enablement, you don’t need a long and super successful sales career. Still, it would help if you had worked in a sales role, that you understand salespeople’s daily pressure, requirements, behaviors, and challenges. You have to FEEL how they FEEL. And you need a sales background to be able to engage with your senior executive leaders successfully. That’s a key barrier why many sales enablement initiatives are not positioned and set up as they should.
Business acumen talent
Sales enablement is a support discipline or function, no doubt. You can only design sales enablement in a way that drives business results if you fully understand the business strategy, the sales strategy, and other strategic initiatives. Therefore, I’m always advising clients to hire for a business leader to lead sales enablement and not for a program manager. Not that you don’t need program managers (yes, you do need them), but to lead sales enablement, you need a business leader with the talents listed here. People with business acumen tackle challenges from a business perspective and the related business goals and KPIs to be met, rather than from a program perspective and related program KPIs.
For sales enablement, customer-centricity is a two-step approach, a B2B2C, or a B2B2B approach. Your sales enablement customers are the customer-facing professionals you are providing services for, either in your organization or in channel organizations. Your senior executive stakeholders are either sponsors or stakeholders or both, but they are never your sales enablement customers. Now, why is this customer-centricity DNA so important? Because SE leaders require to think, design, and execute with two customer layers in mind. As discussed here, the primary customers are the customer-facing pros and their managers. However, enabling them to be as successful as possible with your target buyer roles requires to provide sales enablement services that ultimately resonate with your target buyers. For example, if you implement a new value messaging approach, you do this with the targeted buyer roles in mind to ensure that the messaging resonates with them. Then, you want to provide updated content and training sessions for your salespeople to become fluent with the new messaging, followed by regular coaching sessions to drive reinforcement and adoption.
Holistic, system-thinking talent
That’s a consequence of the cross-functional nature of sales enablement that covers, in addition to sales and marketing, more functions, such as sales management, sales ops, product management, IT, or L&D. That given complexity requires a SE leader who can think across various dimensions, see the bigger picture while dealing with issues in each of these areas. The ability to quickly see how multiple streams are connected with each other is essential. The big danger here is that everyone will tell you to “simplify” things. However, the successful sales enablement leader knows that it’s not “simple” at all to “simplify” sales enablement for their salespeople and their managers. The “simpler” it appears at the end of the day, the more work was involved beforehand.
Orchestrating and collaboration talent
The ability to effectively orchestrate complex issues and collaborate with various functions is crucial to enablement success. It’s a two-fold talent. It’s about the skill to see the broader picture and to orchestrate all required streams of activities, it’s about setting up effective collaboration models, and then it’s about executing based on these models and processes. The orchestrator talent may sound new, whereas the collaboration talent may sound “normal.” However, both are often underestimated. Crucial to understand is that the orchestrating talent includes stopping doing things that don’t create any value. It requires the system-thinking talent and the business acumen talent to have the staying power and the time it takes to set up enablement as an orchestrating and collaborative discipline. Only if all roles are clearly defined per sales enablement service, the sales enablement efforts are scalable.
Ambitions senior executives know that their sales enablement leader plays a pivotal role to achieve their shared goals.
A few weeks ago, Jonathan Farrington, CEO Top Sales World, interviewed Byron Matthews and me for the July edition of Top Sales Magazine to discuss the launch of our new book Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip, and Empower A World-Class Sales Force.
JF: Your book Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip, and Empower A World-Class Sales Force seems to be the first strategic, holistic, and research-based book on sales enablement in the market. What was your motivation for writing this book now?
BM: In a nutshell, it’s because buyers are getting better at buying than sellers are getting better at selling. That gap has increased so much now that it’s an inflection point and caused sales enablement to be born. Our selling models have to change fundamentally, from information to inspiration. And that’s why sales enablement exists, to engage, equip and empower our sales force to engage differently with the modern buyers. We work with a few thousands of clients a year all over the world. We see a tremendous amount of investments in sales organizations of all shapes and sizes. The one thing that is just so pervasive right now is this sales enablement function. As we are researching sales enablement at CSO Insights for many years, we had to go out in the market to show what successful looks like in enablement because there was no blueprint, no playbook out there.
TS: Sales enablement is all over the place, it’s the fastest growing movement in sales, from 19% of organizations with sales enablement in 2013 up to 59% in 2017. In parallel, the confusion about sales enablement was growing at the same speed because so many people got into new enablement roles, influenced by the functional bias of their executives but without a clear concept how to approach it successfully. In the age of the customer, traditional how-to-sell approaches, centered around what a product IS and what it DOES, are no longer valuable, relevant and differentiating for modern buyers. Instead, buyers want to learn how a product or service can help them to solve a business problem and to achieve their goals, and that’s all about what a product or service MEANS in THEIR context. And that requires a very different way to engage buyers, an inspirational approach, as Byron said. And that requires different skills, different conversations, different content, different value messages, and different coaching. Building an enablement function to provide all these services in a consistent and effective way to transform sales forces in the age of the customer, that’s what our book is all about.
JF: Whilst, as you suggest, Tamara, enablement seems to be a fast-growing movement, my understanding is that only one-third of organizations are successful with enablement implementation according to your research. Can we talk about the challenges organizations are running into at the implementation stage?
TS: The main challenge we see in our research and with our clients is how enablement is set up in an organization. Running enablement as a tactical program, in an ad-hoc or project manner without senior executive sponsorship and with no clear vision of what it should help to achieve is a recipe for failure.
The successful one-third run sales enablement based on a formal vision of success and a formal enablement charter. Such a charter defines how sales enablement helps to support the strategy, how selling challenges are addressed with different enablement services, for what roles and how success is measured. Organizations that run sales enablement this way see up to 27.6% better quota attainment rates. That’s a lot!
Another key challenge is that enablement services are created around products instead of aligning them to the different phases of the customer’s path, relevant buyer roles, and business challenges. We spend an entire chapter on the role of value messaging as the glue that holds, for instance, product training and value messaging guidelines and customer-facing content and internal playbooks together. If all these assets are inconsistent to each other they are neither used nor are they effective in any way. And the third key challenge is not to enable sales managers to become excellent coaches to drive adoption and reinforcement. Sales coaching is actually the most impactful enablement service, improving win rates and quota attainment up to 28%.
JF: All of that makes perfect sense. Byron, may I ask you what’s the role of technology, especially CRM, when it comes to effective sales enablement?
BM: Technology plays a huge role. In general, sales and sales enablement technologies are promising to reduce the tedium, which means all the non-selling activities salespeople do (65%) and increase ingenuity (creating value in buyer interactions, 35%). The problem is that there are more than 500 technology companies out there that are dedicated to improving sales performance. Just a few years ago, there were a hundred. Let me focus on CRM because it’s the foundation for all other sales technologies. This explosion of vendors won’t continue like this. Let me share with you our perspective on this.
Initially, the idea of CRM was based on salespeople’s personal Rolodex, let’s call it CRM 1.0. In the nineties, Tom Siebel built a packaged CRM solution, an on-premise service that provided visibility into pipeline and opportunities. CRM 2.0. Then, Salesforce wiped out Siebel almost overnight, put the CRM in the cloud and made it much cheaper. And hundreds of companies started to provide various cloud-based point solutions for sales challenges. Technology drove this evolution, not salespeople. CRM still is very often about manager benefits, not about seller benefits. Guess what? Tedium increased, it didn’t decrease. Now, there is CRM 4.0 on the horizon to fix what’s broken by focusing on what drives sales results. And that’s seller behavior. CRM 4.0 will be AI-based, insight led, and it will be powered by methodology, an ally in helping sellers to improve sales performance.
JF: I fully appreciate that the book is structured by the sales enablement clarity model, in fact, a diamond with different facets that has to be cut and polished based on an organization’s context and challenges: Byron, what advice would you give sales leaders looking to create and sustain an enablement function?
BM: First and foremost, sales leaders have to understand why sales enablement was born, that it’s not another word for training, content, technology or sales excellence, etc. In fact, sales enablement takes all this to a new level. And therefore, sales leaders have to fully understand the transformation needs of their sales forces. They have to understand that sales organizations have to speed up very quickly, have to become a lot more agile to transform their selling models so that the sales force can be valuable, relevant and differentiating for today’s modern buyers. And a transformation requires their senior executive sponsorship, their priority, and commitment, to work with the enablement leader to develop a clear vision of success and a strategic set-up of the enablement function. Only then, as Tamara said, a solid approach based on a charter can be successfully implemented.
JF: Tamara, what advice would you give sales enablement leaders looking to evolve their function to even greater levels?
TS: If we want to get better at something, we should first assess where we are at right now. Even if an organization does not have any formal enablement initiative or function right now, enablement happens, usually in many different functions and in an inconsistent way. That’s what you can call a rough diamond that needs to be cut and polished to be valuable and effective. Wherever you are in your organization, maybe having a rough diamond or a partially cut and polished one, our enablement maturity assessment model and the related tool on our book expert page would be the first step. Based on knowing their maturity level, enablement leaders should discuss the current state with their sponsors, map against the current business strategy and the state of sales strategy implementation to adjust and hone their enablement strategy.
General recommendations are implementing an enablement charter if that’s not already done (we have a process and a template in the book!), ensuring a solid foundation of a sales process that is well aligned to the customer’s path (together with sales operations), aligning the enablement services to each other along the customer’s path to ensure consistency and effectiveness. And then, addressing sales managers, enabling them to become frontline coaches is key to success and should always be an element of a mature and scalable sales enablement approach.
JF: What are the main ideas and principles sales leaders should take from the book?
BM: The key message for sales leaders is to understand sales enablement as its core, as the engine to transform your sales force to engage in a different way, inspiring instead of informing, to meet the needs of the modern buyer. Sales enablement is all about sophisticating a salesperson to meet the needs of professional selling today, which is being valuable, relevant and differentiating in every interaction. Sales transformation was always a scary word for many sales leaders, now it’s about time to change. Sales enablement is the engine to drive this transformation. As this is a massive undertaking, sales leaders have to understand the bigger picture, so that they can provide the resources and the budget needed for sales enablement leaders to actually implement enablement successfully.
JF: Tamara, may I ask you the same question, specifically, regarding how sales enablement leaders should leverage the clarity model?
TS: The main idea for sales enablement leaders is to get from sales enablement confusion to clarity and strategy, leveraging real-world enablement expertise, experience, and research. We support this idea in our book with a research-based sales enablement framework, the clarity model that allows enablement leaders to achieve different things: One is to assess their current enablement maturity stage to understand where they are at. Two is to leverage the framework to evolve and sharpen their enablement strategy, using the data we provide so that enablement leaders can get an idea what their outcomes could look like and why. Three is to use the related checklists, processes and practical templates in the book to actually implement enablement successfully. And four is to get inspired by the case studies, quotes, and examples we have featured in the book.
JF: Finally, Byron, what can we expect from Miller Heiman Group next?
BM: We are working on a couple of exciting things. We are proud to launch Scout! Scout is our new sales analytics platform that helps drive seller actions, change deal outcomes and replicate winning. With Scout, you will always “see the move that moves the deal.” Additionally, we are proud to launch Strategic Selling with Perspective which is our contribution to evolve our services to the ever-changing buyers in the digital age.
JF: And Tamara, what’s next in the world of research?
TS: We just launched our first ever Buyer Preferences Study. We are working on our Sales Effectiveness Study and, most important for me, we are already recruiting participants for our 2018 Sales Enablement Optimization Study.
Sales enablement is a very fast growing discipline: In 2013 19% of our study participants reported having an enablement initiative or function. In 2016, it was one-third, and this year it’s 59%. Unfortunately, enablement success is not growing at the same speed. Only one-third of our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study participants reported meeting or exceeding their expectations. It seems that the need for enablement clarity has never been greater than today.
Enablement clarity step 1: Defining the space
With our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study, our definition of sales force enablement has evolved.
Sales Force Enablement — A strategic, collaborative discipline
designed to increase predictable sales results
by providing consistent, scalable enablement services
that allow customer-facing professionals and their managers
to add value in every customer interaction.
We have omitted the list of enablement services (“content, training and coaching services”) and focused on what they need to be: consistent for salespeople and scalable from an organizational point of view. And the target audience has been expanded to “customer-facing professionals and their managers” (it was “salespeople and their managers”). This target audience, including the frontline managers, is also the reason why we call it “sales force enablement.” At the end, we have skipped “powered by technology” because it’s obvious that every single enablement service is based on some kind of technology even if it’s only PowerPoint that has been used to create a training presentation. Instead, we wanted to focus on what really matters: to add value in every customer interaction, which also expresses the remaining design point of sales force enablement: the customers and their entire customer’s journey.
A definition serves as a frame of reference to bring all stakeholders together on the same page. However, no definition is a sufficient guide for creating an enablement practice that allows you to achieve your desired results. This is where our newly developed sales force enablement clarity model comes into play.
Enablement clarity step 2: The Sales Force Enablement Clarity Model
The clarity model builds on the definition and serves as a guide as you assemble your sales enablement discipline step by step. Enablement leaders can assess how they are doing in each enablement facet and make better decisions about how to improve their efforts for better results. Wherever you choose to begin, getting to the next level is easier if you keep the holistic vision represented by the model in mind.
Imagine your enablement practice in your organization as a rough diamond. Leverage the clarity model to cut and polish your enablement diamond based on your context and your particular challenges.
Customer – In the age of the customer, your sales force can only be successful if they approach prospects and customers based on their preferences: how they handle challenges, how they want to interact with salespeople and how they want to work with your products and services. The reason is simple: whatever we automate internally, customers still make buying decisions.
Customer-Facing Professionals and Their Managers – While alignment with customers takes the top facet of our clarity model, your sales force enablement practice has internal customers, your target audiences. These target audiences include not only salespeople but also those roles that are focused on business and sales development as well as the roles that are focused on serving customers after a deal has been closed. Furthermore, we know that reinforcement and adoption of enablement services can only be achieved if sales managers lead and coach their sales teams accordingly.
Sponsorship, Strategy, and Charter – Next, we’ll drop down to the bottom of our diamond and look at its foundation. Of course, you need to start with a strategy, but even the best sales force enablement initiatives fail if the team has the responsibility, but not the authority, to enact their strategy. This includes gaining the all-important executive sponsorship.
Effective Enablement Services – We put effective enablement services in green because these are the services the discipline provides to allow the organization to reach its desired results. If you think about customer-facing roles as your internal customers, this is the only facet they see. If someone outside the organization were to ask a sales or service professional what enablement does, it’s likely that they would talk about how they perceive these services, usually around training, content, and coaching.
The remaining three inner facets focus on the mechanics necessary to design, produce and deliver these services as well as manage the discipline.
Moving from an ad hoc enablement discipline to a more strategic function, the three inner enablement mechanics – collaboration, technology, and enablement operations – are essential to drive consistency, scalability, and effectiveness:
Formalized Collaboration – We talk about sales force enablement as a discipline and not a function or a department because no one team can cover it all. Sales force enablement teams orchestrate the process, enlisting the aid of many other functions within the organization. Imagine that content, training, and coaching services have to cover the entire customer’s journey. Therefore, you have to collaborate with many other functions to ensure enablement services are aligned and consistent.
Integrated Enablement Technology – Sales enablement technology is NOT the same thing as sales enablement, but these days, the right enablement technologies, deployed in the right ways, can extend your competitive advantage tremendously. This facet is all about integrating enablement content management solutions, learning technology, coaching tools, analytics, often supported by artificial intelligence into your CRM system. And, on top of integration, provide mobile access is mandatory.
Efficient Enablement Operations – Enablement operations is often seen as a “black box” because it includes the behind-the-scenes functions of the discipline, but this is where all the enablement magic happens. As it is poorly understood, it is also a facet that is often overlooked. Enablement operations cover three areas: enablement governance, an enablement production process that is closely aligned with the collaboration model, and enablement analytics: how do we measure success?
More questions? Download your copy of our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study. As you will see, the clarity model serves as a structure for our 2017 study.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, December 2017.
Jonathan Farrington interviewed me for Top Sales Magazine to discuss my takeaways from the Experience Sales Enablement conference in Dallas.
JF: You attended the Experience Sales Enablement conference last week in Dallas. What are your impressions?
TS: The #SESociety conference was amazing, inspiring, and transformative, completely organized by volunteers focused on the attendees’ experience. On the first day, enablement was discussed from different perspectives. Bestselling author Ori Brafman shared his wisdom about the power of decentralized networks based on individuals promoting agility versus existing command and control structures. His brilliant keynote pointed out that “the opposite of control is enablement.” Sales Enablement Society founder Scott Santucci alerted the audience that we are living in a completely different economy but that we still apply old paradigms to our current business challenges. Dr. Howard Dover, UT Dallas, pointed out that the sales function as it exists today in most organizations is about to implode.
JF: How fast is the sales enablement movement growing compared to previous years?
TS: The Sales Enablement Society has gathered enablement professionals at the right time. In previous years, when I was myself an enablement practitioner and leader, the movement was rather small and not growing that fast. Based on our CSO Insights data, in 2013, only 19% of organizations had an enablement initiative or function. Last year, it as one-third, and this year, it’s almost two-thirds. That’s a tremendous growth rate. Many new people got into enablement roles in a very short amount of time. And that’s the phase of any movement when the need for clarity is greater than ever before.
JF: What’s different about the Sales Enablement Society compared to established industry associations?
TS: The Sales Enablement Society is by no means just another association. The society’s culture – and that’s what its members have created – is driven by creativity, innovation, and an infectious spirit of trying new things and doing things differently in a highly collaborative manner, following a decentralized and agile networking idea.
JF: That sounds amazing. Could you share an example of that spirit?
TS: Sure. Take the enablement definition project as an example. This project, led by one of the local chapter presidents, analyzed all enablement definitions out there and identified via a member survey the four favorite ones. These were the definitions from Forrester, ours from CSO Insights, and the definitions from Sirius Decisions and IDC. Then, they invited various delegations, such as for example academics, analysts, and vendors, to do the same. Organizations that are competing against each other contributed for the greater good of standards for the relatively new sales enablement profession. In Dallas, the members voted for the suggested definition, created based on the evaluation. This is an amazing, bottom-up achievement.
JF: Did the conference change any of your perspectives about sales enablement? If so, which ones?
TS: It didn’t change but enhanced and enriched my perspectives. The discussion on “who is responsible for growth?” in several sessions was inspiring, as well as the discussion on the future home of enablement teams. Is it executive sales management, is it the CEO or another C-level role, such as the customer experience or chief growth officer? As an analyst, I’m used to talking to many enablement leaders, and each one has a unique approach based on similar patterns and challenges. In organizations where enablement is already established as an accomplished strategic function, the C-level expectations are huge. Consistency, scalability, adaptability, and effectiveness are key success factors. Those senior executives expect their enablement teams to do things like successfully onboard newly acquired sales teams in just a few weeks.
JF: Is there now more acceptance that sales enablement has to be a strategic approach?
TS: Absolutely! The conference definitely contributed to much more sales enablement clarity. There is consensus that sales enablement has to be strategic in nature to drive sustainable results, and that includes achieving growth targets. It’s also consensus that enablement should have an orchestrating role along the entire customer’s journey across various enablement services, targeting all customer-facing roles, which includes for instance service personnel as well as managers. And that scope requires enablement to collaborate with many other functions, not only with sales and marketing; this is a fact that was also confirmed by our data.
JF: As one of the leading thought leaders in the world on sales enablement, how was your session and what do you expect next?
TS: One of the trends that I already discussed years ago seems now to become a mainstream discussion: Will it still be “sales enablement” in a couple of years, or will it become “buyer enablement” or “customer enablement”? In more practical terms: how to evolve enablement to a more strategic function will be THE key challenge. The session I had the pleasure to lead was all about providing a framework, such as our enablement clarity model in the form of a diamond, that allows enablement leaders to perceive their enablement function as a rough diamond that has to be cut and polished based on the organization’s context and challenges, addressing various enablement facets.
JF: Can the implementation of sales enablement arrest the downward spiral in quota attainment (down 10 percentage points in 5 years)?
TS: Yes, there is a downward spiral, according to our research, and the research of many others. However, our 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows a different trend. Organizations that already focus on sales enablement are not always as successful as they expect to be. But they already show slightly better quota attainment numbers: 57.7% instead of 53.0%. However, measuring a sales force’s performance only by quota attainment does not necessarily reflect their real performance. A set of KPIs including leading indicators provides better insights.
Download your copy of our 2017 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study here.
Imagine how you are driving now as a skilled driver and years ago when you just got your driving license. There are a lot of specific skills that must be mastered before a driver reaches the level of unconscious competence, e.g., what certain signs and symbols mean, who has the right of way, how to parallel park, and how to master European roundabouts. While all of these skills are important, some are more vital than others because they are critical to success. For sales managers, coaching is such a skill, regardless if they lead a field or an inside sales team.
For most people in sales, coaching is perceived as opportunity coaching even though there are many more aspects of the sales role that must be coached. Furthermore, many salespeople, not only in inside sales, don’t feel “coached,” even if their managers call it that. Let’s start by defining what sales coaching means:
Sales coaching is a leadership skill that develops each salesperson’s full potential. Sales managers use their domain expertise, along with social, communication, and questioning skills to facilitate conversations with their team members that allow them to discover areas for improvement and possibilities to break through to new levels of success.
As importantly, sales coaching is not asking things like, “What’s your forecast this month?” or telling a salesperson, “You need to build more pipeline.” Instead, effective sales coaches consider the salesperson’s personal goals, their style, current strengths and weaknesses before engaging in a dialogue. Then, the focus of such a structured conversation is to discover areas for improvement regarding behaviors and activities that should lead to the desired results.
Coaching areas have to be defined: lead and opportunity coaching, pipeline coaching, coaching skills and behaviors, account and territory coaching
If coaching is reduced to opportunity coaching only, the organization misses out on much of the performance benefits of coaching. At CSO Insights, we separate coaching into five different areas that can be implemented step by step, according to your context:
- Lead and opportunity coaching
- Pipeline coaching
- Coaching skills and behaviors,
- Account coaching
- Territory coaching
However, in most organizations, sales coaching is currently focused on lead and opportunity coaching only. It’s remarkable that the majority of sales managers in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study said they spent less than an hour a week coaching leads and opportunities. Lead and opportunity coaching is a great starting point. But it should soon be enriched by coaching skills and behaviors as a foundational coaching layer. Especially for inside salespeople who are working most of their time on the phone, lead and opportunity coaching should always be enriched by coaching skills and behaviors.
Coaching needs to be formal to be effective
Now as you have defined your various coaching areas, it’s about developing a coaching process that follows the customer’s journey. Ideally, your customer’s journey should be mapped to your internal process landscape. If that’s the case, your coaching framework sits directly between the customer’s journey and your internal process landscape, bridging between both sides.
There are four levels of sales coaching maturity:
- Random: There is no coaching process defined. Coaching is left up to each manager.
- Informal: Coaching guidelines are available, but there is no formal coaching process. Managers are told that they should coach, but there is no monitoring or measurement.
- Formal: Coaching areas and the coaching process are defined and implemented. Sales managers are expected to coach accordingly, and there is a formal effort to develop their skills. Periodic reviews help optimize processes and guidelines.
- Dynamic: The coaching process is connected to the sales force enablement framework to ensure reinforcement of sales enablement efforts. Sales managers are required to coach; they are measured and compensated accordingly. Ongoing reviews help to not only optimize the process but also to adapt it to market dynamics and the changing selling environment.
In our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, almost 50% of our study participants reported operating based on a random coaching mode. A quarter is working on an informal basis, but only 21.7% have implemented a formal approach, and only 5.3% have made further efforts to align their coaching process with their enablement framework. Our study shows that the coaching approach matters a lot.
Almost 75% of sales organizations waste resources due to random and informal coaching approaches, and only about one-quarter leverage the huge performance potential of formal and dynamic coaching.
If coaching is left up to each manager, sales organizations have a hard time achieving even average performance. Let’s look at win rates for forecast deals as an example. Organizations that use an informal approach end up 4.5 percentage points below the average win rate of 46.2%. That is an actual decrease of 9.8%! Informal approaches start to move things in the right direction, but they lack formal implementation and reinforcement, which leads to a result that’s around average. However, when the approach gets formalized, the win rate improves a significant 5.3 percentage points above average for an actual improvement of 11.5%. The results are even more impressive for a dynamic approach that is based on a holistic sales force enablement program that connects the enablement and the coaching frameworks. In this case, the win rate climbed by 12.9 percentage points, which is an actual improvement of 27.9%.
How could a sales leader ignore a 27.9% better win rate? Investing in sales force enablement to build coaching frameworks and develop sales managers accordingly, especially their coaching capabilities, is the key to achieving the kinds of performance improvements sought by sales leaders everywhere.
This article has been initially written for Top Sales Magazine, September 2017 issue.
Image source: Unsplash Images
In an ever-changing world and complex buying environments, traditional selling skills and competencies are no longer sufficient to drive sales performance. The ability to quickly adjust and add skills and to align behaviors to new, changing and complex customer situations is what sets world-class sales professionals apart from the rest. Developing these adaptive competencies is a key challenge for sales enablement leaders to drive sales performance.
“Adaptive” in evolutionary biology
Adaptive competencies refer to the process that organisms follow to survive. The main components applied to sales are to maintain competencies, knowledge, and strategies that are important to be successful, to remove or modify elements that are no longer useful, and to develop competencies that lead to future sales success. As in biology, so it is in sales; it’s evolution, not a revolution. Triggered by changing environments, adaptive competencies become a key differentiator.
Case for Adaptive Competencies
We all know that what products, services, and solutions are and what they do – compared to each other – is no longer differentiating in today’s buying environments. Differentiating, relevant, and valuable for customers is to learn what a provider’s products, services, and solutions could MEAN for them: their specific situation, their challenges, and their results. Working backward from the customer’s specific context and the involved stakeholders’ specific concepts require salespeople to quickly adapt relevant knowledge, activities, and behaviors to the customer’s specific buying situation. And the term knowledge covers both: capability knowledge and situational knowledge. Additionally, the specific decision dynamic how an individual customer network is going to make a decision this time determines the engagement, the selling strategies, activities, and behaviors.
Even within the same account, every buying decision is made differently. And that’s why a situational selling approach matters. More than ever before. This situational dimension requires adaptive competencies that will determine future sales success.
Adaptive competencies enable sales professionals to quickly connect the dots across selling skills and competencies, various knowledge areas and strategies, regarding customers and opportunities.
Being fluent in different customer situations, that’s how we perceive sales professionals with highly developed adaptive competencies. Prerequisites to develop adaptive competencies are two-folded: Fluency regarding skills, knowledge areas, methodologies, and processes, as well as curiosity, open-mindedness, the joy to share and learn and the pursuit to become better every day.
Specific adaptive elements have to be developed to unfold the power of adaptive competencies. These elements are situational awareness, principles, creativity as well as critical and strategic thinking, relevant along the entire customer’s journey:
- Situational awareness is a salesperson’s holistic perception of a given situation. It’s the ability to quickly catch and realize a situation in a holistic way, and then to focus on the relevant elements and dimensions. This situational awareness enables a salesperson to quickly draw the right conclusions how these elements fit together what’s relevant and what needs to be clarified. Situational awareness combined with a customer management structure boosts salespeople’s ability to quickly explore the customer’s situational context.
- Principles instead of rules: Applying customer management principles instead of following strict process rules brings the accountability back to the salesperson. Principles require interpretation to be applied accordingly to a particular situational context. Engagement principles such as providing perspectives require salespersons to deeply understand the mechanisms to apply them successfully according to a particular customer situation. Salespeople must have completely internalized those principles beforehand. It requires them to be fluent regarding methods, skills, and competencies. Additionally, principles have the side-effect to widen the boundaries and to open a space that doesn’t exist in the world of strict rules.
- Creativity: The open space between strict rules and principles should be filled with a salesperson’s creativity to create differentiation, relevance, and value. How to provide perspective for customers, how to tackle their business issues and how to show them that alternative ways may lead to better results for them – the space is wide open for salespeople to be creative on how to develop new perspectives for clients and how to orchestrate a group of stakeholders to a shared vision of future success.
- Critical and strategic thinking: This ability is highly relevant in complex buying environments that are always changing. Based on a salesperson’s fluency especially in sales methodologies, critical and strategic thinking are the ingredients that allow a salesperson to sharpen the deal strategies. This ability is closely connected to questioning the status quo and asking the tough questions, internally and at the customer. That’s what makes the difference between a thought-through deal strategy and a wishful-thinking approach.
Building adaptive competencies is a journey with several steps. All adaptive elements require specific learning methods. As an example, situational awareness requires exercises that show people what they don’t see but what’s happening combined with techniques how to improve these awareness skills. Creativity requires to understand what creativity really is, and lots of different exercises how to unleash people’s hidden potential of creativity. Critical and strategic thinking requires a focused development approach to unleash this potential and to put it in the context of specific sales situations.
The adaptive elements, based on the prerequisites, have to be put together in context-specific, highly interactive, simulation-based training scenarios. Situational awareness, for instance, to be valuable requires applying principles accordingly, strategic thinking and creativity to sharpen deal strategies and to adjust activities. The potential of all adaptive elements is much bigger than the sum of its parts.
This article has been written for Top Sales Magazine, the July 2017 edition.