Why Frontline Sales Managers Need Enablement

Michael Jordan is one of the most brilliant basketball players ever. His discipline to become world class, to achieve the brilliance that inspired millions of people, is well known. But he wasn’t nearly that successful as a coach.

It’s the same in sales organizations. It’s not necessarily the best salesperson who makes the best manager and leader. Both roles couldn’t be more different from each other. Managing one’s own performance versus coaching a team to its best performance requires a completely different skill set—self-management versus leading others. Look at Vince Lombardi–not the best football player, but definitely one of the best coaches ever.

Many newly appointed frontline sales managers are thrown into the new role with little-to-no training or coaching. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place—between competing challenges that come with the new role, such as customer-management strategies; becoming a business manager; and becoming an effective coach. The resulting consequence is an onboarding time between one and two years. What sales organization can afford that? None.

When it comes to increasing sales productivity and executing your sales strategy, frontline sales managers have the most important role in any sales organization. Let’s assume a 1:10 control span and then imagine the business damage a bad frontline sales manager can cause versus the business wins an excellent frontline sales manager, acting as a great coach, can create. As a sales leader, you should leverage this potential – with the right first steps.

“But we have enablement and training functions.” I hear you. Unfortunately, most enablement functions don’t consider frontline sales managers as a specific target group. If they do, most of the time they offer the same content and training services that are provided for frontline sales professionals. That actually falls more in the category of information sharing rather than effective role-specific enablement. But it is exactly in this area where the synergies are the biggest and where the low-hanging fruits couldn’t hang any lower:

  • First, build a task force of excellent frontline sales managers who are well known for their coaching skills, along with enablement experts who also cover sales methodology. They should take the existing enablement services on content and training that are provided along the customer journey for frontline sales people and then define the must-haves for each stage.
  • Next, the frontline sales managers get coaching guidelines to be used in conversations with their team members as they proceed along the customer journey.
  • Finally, the top frontline sales managers can act as mentors for the new managers and help them learn how to coach effectively based on these guidelines.

That’s an investment not only in equipping your frontline sales managers with the tools to increase their effectiveness. You are also ensuring that what the sales professionals learned in training is now getting reinforced on a regular basis due to coaching by the frontline sales managers.

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
–Vince Lombardi


How To Drive Cross-Functional Collaboration With Councils – Part 2: Trainings Council

Sales trainings – what’s crossing your mind first? Product trainings? You are in good company. But that’s only one of several sales training categories. That’s why there are many different stakeholders, perspectives and target groups to be orchestrated. And that’s the reason why cross-functional councils can increase effectiveness significantly.

At this point, we assume that an overall strategy is in place and that sales trainings are considered as a strategic issue: More in Dave Stein’s excellent article “Tactics vs. Strategy: The Distinction Makes a Difference”.

Let’s look at the two different target groups: Front line sales managers and sales reps. Whatever you invest in sales reps, you will have much better results, if your sales managers are equipped accordingly – how to become a world class front line coach for their teams. To equip the sales managers the right way is essential to leverage any sales system’s full potential.

Let’s look at different training categories that are relevant for each target group, but in different shapes and forms:

  • Skill trainings that cover e.g. value messaging skills, storytelling skills, questioning skills, presentation and negotiation skills or how to manage tension. Coaching is part of this category.
  • Product or portfolio trainings – revisited.  They should equip people how to sell, what products and services do and what they mean to different customers, rather than what their features and functions are. Ideally, these trainings are closely connected to messaging trainings. If integrated, even better.
  • Sales methodology, sales process and customer’s journey: This is all about how your sales methodology and your processes look like and why it helps to be valuable and successful. Account management is also in this category.
  • Tools and systems: CRM, SFA, sales enablement and collaboration platforms, pricing tools, proposal tools, client visit tools, on all devices, and many more.

So much for that. Your foundation should be an overall sales enablement framework with the customers at the core, with different sales milestones that are mapped to the different stages along the customer’s journey. All that should be connected to the sales process. Such a framework is your design point for all enablement, not only for training services.

Let’s define a Trainings Council as a cross-functional strategic board that makes strategic decisions on design, piloting, rollout and impact metrics for all defined sales training categories and for both target groups: sales managers and sales people. The execution can remain in the initial functions. Budgets should be assigned to the council, but your point of departure will often be the other way around.
True leadership is required!

Follow these steps to initiate your trainings council:

  • Create a compelling story to sell your vision internally and to get senior executive buy-in: Address the challenge clearly (current focus is too narrow on product trainings, an integrated big picture is required across all training categories on what and how to sell, efficiency potential between content and training has to be leveraged, coordination has to be improved to avoid “random acts of sales support”). Make pretty clear, that sales managers need a special focus on coaching to leverage a sales system’s full potential. Your story is to make the whole training landscape much more efficient and effective. In a perfect world, the sales, the marketing and the HR leader are the council’s senior executive sponsors.
  • Define the trainings council lead: The person, who leads the strategic sales force enablement team should lead the trainings council to provide strategic guidance, based on the overall framework. Make sure that your partner in crime, the content council leader, is a member of the trainings council.
  • Define the council members: Typical members are the leaders of product & solution marketing, vertical marketing, portfolio management, content council, any kind of dedicated training teams and – often overlooked – HR business partners and skill development leaders are important members.
  • Create a council charter: Such a charter defines vision, mission and principles, defined outcomes for each phase of your roadmap, members, sub-teams and sponsors as well as a meeting calendar. Creating this charter together will help you to build a strong team.

Define a first roadmap:

  • As-is Analysis and big picture: Create transparency on all the different training services that happen across the sales system. Map them to three dimensions: Your target groups (sales managers and all sales roles), the customer’s journey (where along the customer’s journey it this training most relevant?), and to your training categories. Identify redundancies and gaps. Create a big picture of your desired future state based on the above mentioned dimensions.
  • Define two fields of action: One to fix the worst redundancies, one to address the most important gap (which will be often a sales manager coaching program).
  • Create a roadmap from current state to future state and define teams to execute the first two projects: Such a road map needs milestones that are easy to communicate (design, pilot, rollout or as-is-analysis, redundancies are fixed and gaps are closed), that help you to track progress and to communicate success and to address necessary decisions to your sponsors.

These three streams decide on your council success: Your vision and how well you execute on it. The next two streams are ongoing streams, which – depending on your organization’s maturity – have to be developed from scratch or just to be honed.

  • Align trainings and technology to increase efficiency and effectiveness
  • Create metrics along the customer’s journey to measure efficiency and effectiveness

Start your trainings council and create impact!

This post was published initially @ TopSalesWorld, December Magazine.


Women in Sales – Strong Relationships, Value Creation and Collaboration

Women in Sales Awards, November 5th, judging day in London! Throwing light on successful women in sales, who are still a rare species, especially in the technology industry, is a very worthwhile initiative and deserves our support, if we are really serious with gender collaboration and role models. That’s why I agreed immediately, when Afi Ofori, Zars Media’s agile managing director asked me earlier this year to act as a judge for the first WIS Awards. Women from all over Europe were nominated by their companies in different categories and industries, more on that here. All about the judges, click here.

So far, I didn’t write specifically about women in sales. I was always more focused on the question “What are A-Players doing differently and what can we learn from them to improve entire teams?”

Nevertheless, I’m more than aware of the differences between women and men at the work place and the challenges of successful gender collaboration in general. Over many years in different industries, building several teams in different consulting, sales and sales enablement roles, I could always prove in facts and figures, how quickly performance and outcomes increased in mixed teams.

What were my expectations regarding top women in sales, their specific success factors, based on my own sales perspective and my sales enablement perspective? What would they do differently, and what would be the same compared to top sales men? The key words in my mind were: Attunement, empathy, meaning, collaboration and relationship building.

Let’s see what I learned. Overall, in many industries, and in different sales roles, these main success factors were always the same:

  • Value creation first, early along the customer’s journey:
    Not a single sales women said, that she would sell a product. All these top sales women were focused on how to solve customer problems and how to help them to master their business challenges. One account executive in the technology sales category said “I almost never talk about the technology we provide. I use my relationships to get a deep understanding of their underlying business problems. For me, the only way to create specific value for them. And that’s why they see me as a partner, not as a supplier.” Many of these top women were focused on finding a specific area, where they could create unique value for their customers, just based on their intuition. What we always find with A Players: They do the right things, but it’s really hard for them, what they did exactly and how. Ask Michael Schumacher, why he was such a brilliant Formula 1 pilot. He will always have a hard time to explain his genius.
  • Collaboration – internally and externally:
    In all my interviews, collaboration was a key success factor. First, collaboration internally across the value chain, especially with sales operations, service management, product management and delivery. “I know there are process gates where I have to handover to other teams. I do this, but I also make sure, that I never delegate my customer’s outcome, because I own it.” On collaboration across the customer’s network, all these top sales women, like any A-Player, enjoyed to increase and to develop their customer network, especially toward the lines of business, simply to create more value. “Because I need so many stakeholders to help them to make a decision, I collaborate with them across different functions to create context and to create consensus.”
  • Strong relationships – leading the customer network:
    Even if there are voices out there who want to tell us, that relationships are no longer that relevant, all these top sales women – and they all had brilliant quota overachievements year by year – built their success on strong relationships, value-based relationships. There was not a single woman who denied the relevance of strong relationships for their sales success. All these top sales women created and maintained deep, strategic relationships focused on long-term value creation and based on providing new perspectives and context in an increasingly complex buying environment, where buyers are not always better informed, but often still confused, but on a higher level. “The value, I actually create for my customers is to provide context and perspective across the customer’s network”, and “I crack new accounts the same way, I build my relationship network across different functions and hierarchies”. Mentoring was an additional, very interesting aspect. “I really enjoy to be a mentor within my customer networks. This is how I help them to develop a shared vision of success”.
    That’s female leadership. Excellent.

To sum up a great initiative, which will end December 3 with a fantastic dinner at The Savoy, London, to honor the winners in each category, what else needs to be mentioned?

First, attitude is the foundation of success, not only in sales. All these women proved full commitment, a very strong focus to overachieve their goals regularly, they gave their best in each situation and all the time, and all of them were always fully responsible for their successes and their failures. Nobody ever blamed the economy, the weather, the politics, the customers, the CRM, the sales process, their managers or whatsoever. All found their own way to give their very best and to win on a given Formula 1 course – and they proved that they are absolutely brilliant “sales pilots”.

Second, I was really surprised how humble all these women were, when it came to the question “Why should I win this award?” It was a very female approach to answer: always the team was named first, just as they hadn’t done anything…
Sheryl Sandberg talked about this interesting phenomena. Ladies, just imagine an man’s answer… Your outstanding performance can just be stated as it is: Brilliant. Period.

I’m looking forward to the future of women in sales in general and awards like this one. It would be great to see an award for women and for men and both on a global level.
One can dream. And I’d feel much honored to be a judge again…


Sales Enablement– How To Work With Different Groups In Your Sales Force Regarding Complex Sales?

What are your target groups for your sales enablement services? “Sales people“, you will answer, and as it’s me who is writing here, you may add “and sales managers“

But how do you work with these groups specifically? Which group do you need to challenge your concepts and ideas and for which groups do you actually design your enablement services?

As always, there is no „one size fits all“, especially not, if you design services for complex selling scenarios. In my experience, SE professionals should analyze precisely, where and how to invest time and resources, to address what really matters to increase performance and to drive transformation. The answer to this question is often different in transactional and in complex selling scenarios. Today, we will focus on complex selling scenarios. But how is that defined anyway? Complex selling scenarios are not only defined by what you sell and how complex it is for your organization to sell. It’s even more important to consider how complex it is for the buyer to buy: Complex means, that there are many different stakeholders involved, with different roles, different patterns, different opinions how to achieve desired outcomes, and these stakeholders are often measured differently. Sales cycles have a tendency to get longer and longer, because on the other hand, the number of stakeholders is increasing, and buying processes didn’t get a lot easier.

Then, in a complex selling scenario, everything is connected to everything, in the sales system and in the buying system. A deep understanding – which is much more than “knowing”- of all the elements in these systems is necessary to take the right actions in the most conscious way, to be able to achieve the desired sales results and then – the buyer’s desired outcomes. Complex sales means also, that the customers make their decisions differently – because every situation, every problem that has to be solved has its own unique characteristics.

These specifics have a direct impact on sales force enablement as a whole: on strategy, methodology, on enablement services for sales people and their managers and on sales enablement metrics. In general, you need flexible principles rather than detailed rules. Methodology and enablement services should be more focused on outcome-selling. Consultative and value-based selling skills are much more important to make a difference than product, process and tool knowledge. These areas are of course a necessary foundation. But to make a difference, the how, the outcome-based selling orientation will be key to success. Also, enablement content has to be much more flexible and should be designed in a very modular way, because many different stakeholder groups cutting across IT and business with specific and tailored value messages have to be addressed – way more than in a clearly defined transactional sales environment. Therefore, editing and configuring content in a very effective way is mission critical for sales teams. Apart from the stages along the customer’s journey, all the different impacted stakeholder roles have to be considered – to equip your sales people to navigate complexity and build a shared vision of success. So, this is quite a challenge for a sales enablement content management framework.

Now, let’s discuss how to work with the different groups in your sales organization. There are two challenger groups and two target groups:

Groups for challenging your concepts:

  • A-Player – Sales People:
    The goal to engage with A-Players is to get as much input as possible from your most successful sales people. Engaging with them is often a challenge in itself: They are the „troublemakers“, who challenge an organization’s processes and systems all the time – which is actually a gift for all! They are always successful – whatever you provide or don’t provide. Often, they cannot articulate pretty well, what and how they do differently. They just do – and they lead. Whatever enablement services you will provide, check-in with your A-Players, let them challenge your ideas, your trainings, your content, even entire frameworks, weave in their feedback, before you roll-out anything to the field.
  • A-Player – Sales Managers:
    Your top sales managers have the same importance – for two purposes.
    First, it’s regarding the enablement services you will provide for their sales people. Gather their feedback from a sales coaching perspective and integrate it. Based on their day-to-day coaching experience, they know exactly in which selling situations and why which kind of sales people struggle the most.
    Second, challenge your enablement services for them with them. It can be a very challenging undertaking, but it’s absolutely worth your effort, because the sales managers have always the biggest leverage effect regarding performance and transformation. Everybody will benefit, if your top sales managers are “enablement evangelists”.

Your main target groups:

  • B-Players – Sales People:
    They are the most important target group for all your sales enablement services you are going to provide sales people. The goal is to empower them on their journey towards the A-Players’ performance level. This is why it’s so important to incorporate their wisdom – especially in complex sales. It’s essential to focus on principles rather than on processes and check lists, because every selling situation is different. Engage with a group of B-Players after you challenged your services with the A-Players. Then, adjust what’s maybe not completely understandable.
  • B-Players – Sales Managers:
    After having challenged your sales manager enablement program with a few top sales managers, run a second pilot with the “B sales managers”, to make sure that everything is well understandable and can be well received to create the most value for them. Focus especially on the sales coaching framework and connect the dots to the enablement services for sales people. Make sure, that there is a lot of space to practice sales coaching and to get coached on coaching…

“And what are you going to provide for the C and D Players?”
I hear you…

A short but provocative answer:
You do nothing specifically for these groups regarding your enablement program for sales people (!). But, and that’s the second part of the answer: You don’t accept bad performance. Never. Because it turns a sale force into mediocrity. Now what?
Enabling and developing C and D players (or figuring out, that it’s not possible) is first of all a sales management challenge, and it should be part of your enablement program for sales managers. For such a program, it’s important to provide sales managers a matrix that helps them to decide where to focus their coaching efforts and where to apply different measures, also how to decide which people in these groups have the hidden potential to grow and to increase their performance and also, how to enable and coach them to get there.

The most important principle:
Focus on what matters most in your specific environment, which will always be a specific and unique answer.

A column version of this post will be published @TopSalesWorld – September Magazine.

How To Enable Your Sales Managers (2) – Why Sales Coaching Is Just The Other Part Of Your Sales Force Enablement Framework

A few months ago, I started to write about one of the missing pieces in many sales enablement discussions – the sales managers. The first blog post on this topic was about the WHY. Sales Enablement and Sales Management – Enable Your Sales Managers First. The next one was about a simple, but integrated foundation, the “Round Pegs In Round Holes Framework”. Today, we will discuss what you may have already missed and what’s the most successful and most sustainable methodology when it comes to increase performance and to drive transformation and change: Sales coaching.

In case you checked out the latest CSO Insights survey, sales managers of best-in-class companies focus on sales coaching as most important activity based on a formal coaching approach and their reps achieve round about 10% better quota attainment.

You may ask: “Well, but that’s a sales management, not a sales enablement issue!” As you can imagine, I have a different view – for me, it’s a sales force enablement issue. We will see that the sales coaching approach is just the other part of the coin and should be based on an overall sales force enablement framework, to leverage the full potential of a sales system.

Why it’s actually “Sales Force Enablement”:

Let’s make sure that we really understand all potential dimensions when we use the term “sales force enablement”. In my opinion, the focus on front line sales reps is way too narrow, if we want to make a real difference in terms of performance and transformation. This also means that sales enablement needs to build on a framework of value creation principles and patterns (rather than on detailed processes) and methodologies, designed backwards from the customer’s journey. Then, “sales force enablement” can address sales as a function and it can also address sales as a system which is a cross-functional view of all the elements that are required to be able to communicate and to create value for customers. As you know me, I prefer the sales system’s view…

Next, it’s about the number of internal customers and stakeholders we have as sales enablement professionals inside our own organizations:

  • Sales people, we should address all client-facing people
  • First and second line sales managers, who have a tremendous leverage potential within any sales system.
  • The sales leader and the entire sales leadership team plus the CEO and the CFO, when it come to bridge the gap between strategy and execution.

Design point for all enablement services: the customer’s journey:

Let’s discuss the design point of all our enablement issues – the customer. Focusing on B2B complex sales, we have legal organizations as customers (accounts), and within these accounts, we have to consider multiple stakeholders, potential buyers in different roles: persons who make decisions, who influence decisions and who are impacted by decisions. The challenge of any B2B complex sale is to orchestrate the customer’s entire stakeholder network with the right messages, at the right time, at each stage of their journey and at all levels, business and IT. Most important: Such a stakeholder network is different for every deal, because the situation is always specific and customers make every decision every time differently. See also Miller Heiman Sales Best Practice Study).

Knowing and understanding these circumstances is a prerequisite to make a real difference. Designing a powerful sales force enablement framework is the most important task before we start to launch any single enablement activity that’s probably creating more noise than value…

Two sides of the same coinSales Force Enablement Framework for sales people and sales managers:

Let me share a few ideas:

  • First, it’s derived from a simple customer’s journey, where the customer is going to change from a satisfied status quo through a change process. Along this change process, the relevant and the impacted stakeholders recognize, often one after the other, a certain challenge or problem. Then, they will make a decision if and how to tackle it, to develop a shared vision of the future state, how the necessary solution and the future state should look like and which outcome they want to achieve and how they want to measure it. The customer’s journey is actually a circle, until the customer is satisfied again, always related to a specific problem. The customer’s journey is a circle of value communication, value creation and value delivery, until it starts again with value communication.
  • Second, it’s important to map sales milestones along the customer’s journey. These are seller-oriented activities that are well defined with simple criteria, questions and metrics to measure success. It depends on your business and your specific customer’s journey, how to define them. For instance, take our first milestone: “Gain appropriate access”: Did we get a call with the relevant stakeholder, with the „CEO Of The Problem“, as my friend S. Anthony Iannarino would say? Yes or no. Did we get a follow-up meeting? Yes, or no. The next one could be “having successful meeting with impacted stakeholders”. Just to give you an idea, how sales milestones in general could look like.
  • Third, the four GoToCustomer P’s are the design points of these sales milestones: Problem, Pattern, Path and Proof.
  • Fourth: There is a simple core selling principle called MODEL MAP MATCH, to re-inforce customer-centricity. It always forces people to think and to act backwards from the customer (MODEL), before they map to the portfolio (MAP) and before they plan and execute the activities that are related to the sales milestones (MATCH).
  • Fifth, the entire framework is mapped to the sales process, to make it a complete big picture. Also, to make sure, that we have a framework that works outside-in but that’s not ignoring all internal issues that are covered within the sales process.

Now, the framework has two purposes and this is where the mirror idea comes into play:

  • On the one hand, the framework is the single design point for all sales enablement services, which means all minds of sales enablement content based on a collaboration platform as well as all categories of sales trainings (portfolio, skills, methodologies, processes and tool trainings). That means, every sales force enablement service is tailored to fulfill the purpose of one or more sales milestones.
  • On the other hand, the framework is also the design point for sales coaching, the sales manager’s enablement program. It’s just the mirror, the other side of the coin of the overall sales force enablement framework. The sales coaching approach is also tailored to the different sales milestones. And the goal of that is pretty simple: How to coach client-facing people to facilitate the entire customer’s journey at each stage and at each level most successfully. It’s about the right message, the right behavior at the right time with the right stakeholders. The coaching map helps also to make sure, that the sales managers and the sales people are all on the same page regarding the current state of a lead or an opportunity. Additionally, we have all the same language and talk about the same milestones from the same perspective. And the coaching map helps the sales managers also to coach their teams for any kind of internal selling issues.
    The coaching map is designed with different check lists and principles to cover different areas of sales management, such as: account and territory management, opportunity management, pipeline management and call/cadence planning

A few ideas and experiences on how to a create integrated sales force enablement framework….

I’m looking forward to learn more about your experiences! Click the comment button and share your thoughts.

How do you define sales force enablement for you?
How do you equip your sales managers?
What is it, that you are enabling specifically?