Sales Enablement Perspectives
- First, there is the macro view: The markets most sales organizations sell into are not simple. Most markets are complex environments with many different dimensions impacting them at the same time. Examples are trends and innovations, emerging markets here, saturated markets over there, politics and legal issues, trends, and regional and cultural differences that require tailored approaches.
- Second, there is the micro view: Our clients’ environments are not simple either. Most customer organizations are complex environments, and each one is unique. Their context is specific, their challenges, goals and desired outcomes are different, and the roles that are involved in the buying decision and the implementation are different as well.
- Make the customer’s journey your design point
- Build a robust, simple process and methodology foundation with the customer’s journey as the design point
- Assess your current enablement services and throw away what’s no longer relevant:
- Develop an enablement production and collaboration process to provide enablement services along the customer’s journey:
- Invest in an integrated enablement content management solution:
Did you know that the women’s right to vote is a challenge that took more than 200 years and is still not achieved everywhere on the planet? The movement began in the 18th century.
But most countries only allowed women to vote starting in the early 20th century – the UK and Germany in 1918 and the US in 1920 – after decades of very painful processes. Many countries in Europe and around the world only followed decades after WWII.
I normally don’t write about gender equality and gender collaboration, simply because it’s not my research focus in my role as research director for CSO Insights. Today is an exception, because we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, and because we have the March edition of Top Sales Magazine written entirely by women contributors. Furthermore, and this is probably the most important reason: Women cannot take anything for granted, including what we have already achieved, as recent political trends unfortunately show.
In general, there are always two sides to gender equality. One is the legal part as mentioned above, with the women’s right to vote as an example. The other one is our cultural reality in all aspects of our lives. This cultural dimension is much more important because it shapes the political and the business landscape and the decisions that are made in parliaments and organizations.
Women in sales and sales force enablement – where are the women in sales?
It’s still the sad truth that there are too few women in sales, especially in sales leadership roles. Data provided by LinkedIn suggests that women occupy 39% of sales roles, across the globe and across industries. That means there are far more women in typical female industries such as education and healthcare than, for instance, in technology or high tech. And the number of female sales executives is much smaller; the gap in sales is bigger than in other functions.
When I look at my current role as an analyst, I have to say that the number of female clients I work with is below 10%. And the few women I work with have marketing, sales enablement, sales training, or L&D roles. Just to give you an impression. Why are women so often found in enablement roles rather than in sales roles?
Women prefer a collaborative working environment
This is a personal experience as well as a perspective I hear from many women. Doing great work and creating great results in a collaborative environment seems to be much more attractive to women. And this is a prerequisite for working in a sales enablement role.
Based on our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, sales force enablement is a highly collaborative discipline that requires enablement leaders and practitioners to collaborate with up to eleven functions. It’s much more than aligning sales and marketing only. Furthermore, the need to set up collaboration in a formal way has a tangible impact on sales performance: Quota attainment is 21% better compared to organizations with “ad hoc” collaboration only.
Based on my own experience in my previous role as the VP of sales force enablement in a large IT organization, setting up collaboration in a formal way across several departments, countries, and cultures is a huge challenge that must not be underestimated. It is by no means a “soft issue” that can be done with second priority or “when we have time” (which never happens in sales as we all know). Instead, it is a mission critical task that requires a clear vision, practical smaller steps, time-consuming calls, meetings, and discussions, and process development and adjustments. Finally, the different players find their “new” place in the game and recognize that they can now achieve even better results than before. Women are often, not always, of course, predestined for leading those processes.
Communication, listening skills, and empathy are excellent for sales enablement roles
All these skills are important for being successful in sales. And as women are often highly gifted with communication and listening skills as well as with empathy, they have great prerequisites to be successful sales professionals. Especially in the age of the customer, connecting products, services, and solutions to the buyers’ desired business results is much more relevant and successful than talking about features and functions. A value-based selling approach depends on “soft” skills and the ability to connect the dots in increasingly complex buying situations.
These skills are even more important in sales enablement than in pure sales roles. Sales force enablement as a strategic discipline with an orchestrating character requires first and foremost a lot of internal selling to various stakeholders. And as anyone who has tried it knows, internal selling demands excellent communication and listening skills. Additionally, women often have a better connection to their intuition which leads to an excellent sensor for the “corporate weather forecast” and how to adjust their approaches.
Skills once called “soft” are now “must-haves” – More awareness is needed
This trend is a great opportunity for women in sales and sales enablement roles. What’s needed in the industry and among male sales leaders is more sensitivity and more awareness of the situation and the facts at hand. Recognizing changed skill profiles has to be translated into changed hiring profiles and changed, gender-neutral, perceptions. Skills that are admired in men shouldn’t be ranked inadequate in women, as, for instance, being “bossy.” And that requires more women in sales leadership and sales hiring roles so that men AND women look together at candidates to ensure better hiring decisions.
This article was initially written for Top Sales Magazine, March edition, 2017
It’s like having a car. You bought it in the expectation of achieving certain desired results. But if you don’t drive it, you won’t get the benefits of owning it. And that’s not the car’s fault.
Sales leaders have lots of expectations when it comes to sales enablement content management (SECM) solutions. Based on our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, improving access to content for salespeople leads the list with 57.4%, followed by reducing search time (33.1%), sharing best practices, improving sales and marketing alignment and increasing win rates (27.7% each), and reducing the ramp-up time of new hires (24.8%).
Now, let’s look at the adoption rate of those SECM solutions. They are very mixed. Almost a third of study participants have adoption rates lower than 50%, and another fifth ends up between 50% and 75%. In both these cases (which amount to 51% of our study participants), there is no impact on sales performance to be diagnosed. Only adoption rates that are greater than 76% have a significant impact on sales performance. The good news is that 49% reported those adoption rates. So, if you are in the 49% group, you should experience, for instance, win rate improvements by 11.9%, and quota improvements by 6%. But if you did not experience this performance impact, look at these six ways to improve the adoption rate of your SECM technology.
#1 Set up your sales force enablement charter
Enablement charters are highly relevant because if there is no clarity on vision, mission, and purpose, and no clarity on goals and objectives and how enablement services impact productivity and performance, then your efforts will not produce results.
Energy has to be focused to create a movement. And that’s the actual value of an enablement charter. These are the primary areas you should define in your charter: target audience, vision, mission, and purpose, objectives to achieving the vision and the related strategies to get you there, a timeline, and the enablement services you are going to provide for your target audience. And don’t forget to define the metrics for measuring success.
#2 Clean up the content basement
Many sales content landscapes look like a chaotic basement: all sorts of content everywhere – old, new, relevant, and irrelevant. Assets exist in ten different versions and ten different content repositories. So, implementing an SECM solution is like moving to a new house: you don’t want to bring all the clutter with you.
First, make an inventory of what exists, and where. Assess your content assets in terms of quality criteria, and then, be brave and throw away what’s no longer relevant and what didn’t match the criteria. Furthermore, our research indicates that only 39% of all the content salespeople need along the entire customer’s journey comes from marketing. That means you will need a formal cross-functional production process and a related collaboration model to be efficient and effective in the future.
#3 Define and create enablement content services
Only content that’s valuable AND relevant really matters, and that is determined by what’s relevant and valuable to your prospects and customers. As they still make the buying decision, it’s a no-brainer that content should be tailored along the customer’s journey and for the different buyer roles. Dynamic value messaging is a big challenge to be mastered here. Instead of having value propositions only, you will need value hypothesis, value propositions in different levels, and value confirmation messages that have to be developed and integrated into content assets.
#4 Aligning content and training services
For those of you in an enablement role, this may sound familiar to you: “We need this, and we need that, and you have nothing for our role, but we are so special.” It happens all day long. If people don’t know how to use their tools, they will never have enough and always ask for more. Distributing content and tools is not enough; training is also important. So, “no content without training” should become your motto. Create, for instance, a short video about how to effectively use your newly developed playbook, or even better, let a salesperson explain it…
#5 Integrate your SECM into your CRM system
Now, once we have done all the preparation work, where do we put the SECM technology? Stand alone? That’s probably not the best idea. It’s much easier to drive adoption if you provide your SECM solution within the CRM system. This way, it’s a “one-stop shopping” experience for salespeople.
Additionally, such an integration is the prerequisite that you can suggest, which will allow you to recommend sales content automatically within the CRM when a salesperson adds a new opportunity. Make sure that you align your content design criteria, as discussed above, with the selling scenario criteria in the CRM. All the work you have done so far pays off now in this step.
#6 Implement “Be Inspired!”
Now, the salespeople will have anytime, anywhere access to the right content, with the right value messaging, for the right buyer roles, and that addresses their business challenges at the right time. We call a content delivery mechanism like that “Be Inspired!”
Now, your focus should be entirely on a solid implementation, based on senior executive buy-in and their ongoing involvement, in the context of a change story that focuses on why, what, how, and when.
Last but not least: Please make sure that your sales managers coach their salespeople accordingly. Only then can an SECM implementation be successful.
And please don’t forget to measure and to adjust regularly. And use the full analytics capabilities of your SECM solution – but that’s a topic for another article.
Related blog posts:
“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation.
You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.”
–Gordon B. Hinckley
That’s exactly the same for a successful sales force enablement function, program, or initiative. The better your sales force enablement foundation, the more successful your results will be. The data from our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows the impact of an enablement foundation on sales performance. Today, we discuss the three pillars of a solid enablement foundation. These are enablers for enablement success.
#1: Customer’s journey alignment drives win rates and quota attainment
Proven now for two years in a row: Focusing on the customer’s journey and aligning all internal processes accordingly is not merely a nice-to-have add-on. Instead, the degree of alignment between an organization’s internal processes and the customer’s journey is highly relevant for enablement success.
There is still a group of 9.4% that doesn’t consider the customer’s journey at all. Another 35.2% reported an informal alignment. This adds up to 44.6% who have not purposefully aligned their sales process to the customer’s journey. Then, 55.4% reported having either a formal (27.7%) or dynamic (27.7%) alignment.
An informal alignment means that the issue has been discussed and considered but not formally implemented. But this does not necessarily mean that sales processes have been adjusted or that there is a formal alignment or even implementation. A dynamic alignment goes even further: either deriving the sales process from the customer’s journey or dynamically aligning it to the customer’s journey and implementing modifications as soon as changes in the marketplace are detected.
Our study found an average win rate for forecast deals of 46.2%. With no alignment at all, the win rate went down to 40.5%, which is 14% worse than the average. But with a formal or dynamic alignment, the win rate improved significantly—up to 53%, which is a difference of 6.8 percentage points or an improvement by 15%.
Our study found an average quota attainment of 55.8%. Having no alignment led to a quota attainment of 54.2%, which is slightly below average. Interestingly, the informal and the formal alignment also led to 54.4%, which is also below average and is pretty much the same result as having no alignment. But a dynamic alignment led to 63.4%, which is an improvement by 13.6%.
#2: Create an enablement charter to improve revenue attainment
Looking at the data on how organizations approach enablement, it’s interesting to see that 49.1% of all global study participants still treat enablement in a one-off project manner (9.6%) or on an informal basis only (39.5%). Then, 35.7% reported having a formal enablement vision in place, and 15.3% have actually created a formal enablement charter that covers, for instance, vision, mission, purpose, target groups, enablement services, programs, roadmaps and how to measure success.
Our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that formality matters. If enablement is approached in a one-off project manner, sales performance suffers. Revenue attainment ended up at 84.2% (compared to the study’s average revenue attainment of 90.1%), and that’s a difference of 5.9 percentage points or an actual decline of 6.5%. Win rates ended up at 45.0%, which is below the average win rate of 46.2%.
Instead, if enablement was treated with a formal enablement charter, sales performance results were much better than average. Revenue attainment climbed up to 98.8% (compared to the average of 90.1%), which is a difference of 8.7 percentage points and an actual improvement of 9.6%. Win rates showed a positive impact as well. With a formal enablement charter, win rates climbed to 53.6% (compared to the study’s average win rate of 46.2%). That’s a difference of 7.4 percentage points or an actual improvement of 16%.
Improving the revenue plan attainment by almost 9.6% and the win rate by 16% show a performance impact that ambitious sales leaders cannot ignore.
#3 Getting cross-functional collaboration right to achieve enablement goals
Cross-functional collaboration does not exist for its own sake. The purpose of collaboration is achieving better results, ideally in a shorter amount of time. Sales force enablement is always a cross-functional discipline because no enablement team can provide integrated content, training, and coaching services throughout the entire customer’s journey for different user groups and powered by technology, alone. That’s why cross-functional collaboration is mandatory for three reasons. First, to provide the defined enablement services. Second, to achieve the enablement goals regarding sales results and productivity. And third, to keep enablement as cost-efficient as possible.
Informal and ad hoc collaboration (the least desirable forms) are still the leading approach (a combined 68.8%), but this is better than last year (83%). While there is overall good news, let’s be aware that 43% of all study participants, like last year, collaborate on an informal basis, and almost 10% don’t collaborate at all.
With increasing enablement maturity, enablement leaders have to define which functions they need to collaborate with, and why. This step is often overlooked, but it is essential. If we can achieve our goals on our own, we won’t collaborate in the first place. We collaborate because we need others to help us provide our services and achieve our goals. How other functions can help has to be specifically defined for each enablement area and with each involved function.
The data in our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that cross-functional collaboration has an important impact on enablement success. With ad hoc collaboration, only 36% could achieve all or most of their enablement goals. With formal collaboration approaches, 59% could achieve all or most of their enablement goals. So, an effective cross-functional collaboration process is an important pillar for enablement success.
Questions for you:
- How did you design your enablement foundation?
- How mature is your customer’s journey alignment?
- How did you set up your cross-functional collaboration?
This article was initially published in the November edition of Top Sales Magazine.
Jonathan: Tamara, may I begin by asking you to share your definition of “Sales Enablement?”
Tamara: Yes, of course. At CSO Insights, we define sales force enablement as 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.”
Jonathan: Why is sales enablement such a growing discipline? Is enablement now growing up?
Tamara: B2B sales is in a period of transformation. How to sell becomes more important than what to sell. In the age of the customer, old product centered selling formulas don’t work anymore. Modern selling is about creating value at each stage of the customer’s journey for all stakeholders to influence their decisions along their customer’s journey. And successful salespeople involve more stakeholders (5.8 on average) at the customer and also internally than mediocre performers. Our data shows these transformational challenges. Quota attainment is decreasing since 2012, from 63.0% down to 55.8% in 2016. But trying harder doesn’t work anymore. Instead, sales forces need smarter support. And this is where sales force enablement comes into play, orchestrating all efforts across functions to equip salespeople and their managers with the necessary training, content and coaching services in an integrated and consistent way so that they can be more successful in an ever-changing world.
Jim: An interesting trend the CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study found was where sales enablement fits within the organization structure. In 52.5% of the cases, the discipline reports to executive sales management, another 25.3% of the time it reports to sales operations. So this is not being seen as a marketing, HR, or training responsibility; this is truly something linked directly to the sales organization. While we are clearly seeing growing interest in sales enablement, how companies implement this discipline varies. The study found that 12.1% of the participants surveyed said that their company viewed this as a series of one-off projects, 39.4% said they had an informal vision of what sales enablement could or should be, and the remaining 48.5% told us they had taken the time to define a formal vision for sales enablement’s role within their organization.
Jonathan: That’s interesting; the organizational aspect underlines enablement’s growing up. Now, what are the major goals they are focusing on achieving?
Jim: Study participants reported two top objectives for sales enablement programs: increase not just sales efficiency and but sales effectiveness as well. But how to do that comes in a lot of flavors. Key areas of focus the study surfaced were increasing new account penetration, increasing sales to existing accounts, optimizing cross and upsell, improving margins, minimizing customer churn, improve win rates of forecast deals. The key to success is what you do after you prioritize the specific challenges your sales enablement organizations needs to address. Work needs to be done to clearly define the causes of suboptimal performance so you can then craft a comprehensive sales transformation vision, which in turn can be broken into management steps so that we can engineer evolutionary change that doesn’t overwhelm the organization.
Tamara: All these various goals that enablement leaders are pursuing cannot be achieved all at once. Some of the goals depend on an organization’s current state of enablement maturity; others on an organization’s context and priorities. But wherever you are on your enablement journey, effective cross-functional collaboration is always an essential key to success. And it’s not just marketing you have to collaborate with. Instead, there are, for instance, sales management, sales ops, product management, HR, L&D, and also IT. According to our data, 66.8% of the participants collaborate in an ad hoc or informal manner. Only 21.7% have a formal collaboration approach. So, getting cross-functional collaboration right leverages a huge productivity potential. And that requires to defining collaboration goals with each other function. Setting up a collaborative production process and defining the relevant roles for each enablement service (e.g., content types and training services) is a prerequisite for productivity. With other functions such as sales management or IT, collaboration should be formalized to ensure executive buying, exchange, and structured decision making.
Jonathan: In the age of the customer, what’s the role of the customer’s journey in sales enablement?
Tamara: As buying decisions are still made by customers, the entire customer’s journey has to be the main design point for sales force enablement. Aligning the internal processes, namely the sales process, to the customer’s journey is still a challenge for many organizations. There is still a group of 9.4% that doesn’t consider the customer’s journey at all. Another 35.2% reported an informal alignment. This adds up to 44.6% who have not purposefully aligned their sales process to the customer’s journey. Then, 55.4% reported having either a formal (27.7%) or dynamic (27.7%) alignment. Our data shows that the better the customer’s journey alignment, the better the sales performance: win rates, for example, can be improved by 15%. With no alignment at all, the win rate went down to 40.5%, which is 14% worse than the study’s average of 46.2%. But with a formal or dynamic alignment, the win rate improved significantly—up to 53%, which is an improvement of 15%.
Jim: Many companies seem to struggle with mapping the customer’s journey. That doesn’t need to be the case because to really understand what that journey entails all we have to do is ask the customer. To do that, we have long been advocates of doing buy cycle reviews. This starts with taking a group of past opportunities – wins, losses, and no decisions – and interviewing the customer about what happened from their side. What issues caused them to consider doing something, who was assigned to the project team, what tactics did they go through to assess alternatives solutions, how did the cost justify the investment, etc. You also want to know what happened after they bought something and started using it. We have outlined in detail a process for how to accomplish this in our ebook, The CSO’s Guide to Transforming Sales, which anyone can download.
Jonathan: Enablement services: What’s the state of training and content services and how do they impact performance?
Tamara: Sales training is still the top enablement service for salespeople, followed by sales tools, process improvements, onboarding, and content services that are actually the foundation for almost every other enablement service. For sales managers, enablement analytics and coaching are most important. The quality of enablement services impacts sales performance. Content quality, for example, impacts quota attainment in two ways: Content that meets or exceeds expectations drives quota attainment up to 59.3%, which is an improvement of 6.3% compared to the study’s average of 55.8%. Content that requires major redesign or improvement impacts quota attainment negatively: 53.1%, which is a decline of 9.5%. The same patterns apply for training. Training services that meet or exceed expectations improve quota and revenue attainment and win rates in a remarkable way. But if these services lack quality, the consequence is a negative impact on performance. Examples for onboarding and social selling with exact data are included in our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study.
Jim: W. Edward Deming’s observation that “You can expect what you inspect” has a lot of applicability to training and content management services. Providing training and content to sales teams needs follow-up with analyzing how they are leveraging those skills and sales tools when they are actively selling. Are salespeople really trying out new sales techniques with customers, or falling back to old habits? What content are they actively using when engaging clients, and what materials are effective and which are not? And also, what content have salespeople created themselves? How do we find those materials, synthesize them into best practices, and share them across the sales force? We need to put together the processes and technologies to get answers to these questions. If we do, we can significantly increase the impact that sales enablement has on performance, because we can ensure the services are really being used.
Jonathan: Enabling salespeople is not enough. What does sales manager enablement mean and what’s the role of coaching?
Jim: Too often when we have discussions around enablement, the focus is on what salespeople need to be doing differently. That is only half the equation. Sales management needs to evolve as well. If you have a Sales 2.0 sales force reporting to Sales 1.0 managers, you are setting the stage for conflict. We need to bring a whole new level of science to the art of sales management. The CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study found that the average win rate of forecast deals is only 46.2%. Think about that. The odds of winning on a “pass bet” at the craps tables in Las Vegas are 49.3%. The forecast is created by sales management, with input from their salespeople. Nothing gets into the forecast unless management puts it there, and we are wrong more than half the time! That is indicative of a broken, or at least suboptimal, coaching process. So optimizing sales management performance needs to be part of the sales enablement charter from day one.
Tamara: I always recommend that companies enable sales managers first, based on my own experience and our data. Investing in sales managers impacts, for instance, revenue attainment by 18.4%. And the specific impact of developing the managers’ coaching skills can improve, for instance, win rates by 27.9% and quota attainment by 10.2%, if the coaching approach is a dynamic one. Yes, the coaching approach itself makes a huge difference. It’s still the biggest challenge that 47.5% of the study participants reported that coaching is left up to each manager. Such a random approach is not scalable and has no positive impact on performance at all. The abovementioned results can only be achieved with a formal, or even better, a dynamic approach. That means the coaching areas and the coaching process have been defined and implemented, and the sales managers are up to speed and are required to use it. In a dynamic approach, the coaching framework is connected to the enablement framework to reinforce the initial enablement efforts and to drive adoption.
Jonathan: Now, let’s look forward: What are your top three recommendations?
Tamara: My first recommendation is to create an enablement charter. With buy-in from the senior executives, such a charter is a very powerful internal selling tool for enablement leaders. The charter has to be based on a clear vision, mission, and purpose statement. It defines the enablement target groups, goals, strategies and activities to get there. The provided enablement services and how to measure success also have to be defined.
Second, content and training services have to be aligned. It’s still a challenge, especially when sales training and sales content services are created from different departments. In that case, enablement should establish an alignment process to ensure that the messaging is consistent. No content without training. No training without content.
Third, social selling is an enablement issue. Marketing’s social strategy and the social selling strategy have to be aligned. And enablement services involve more than training on how to use LinkedIn. Instead, social selling methods have to be integrated into the sales process and powered by technology. And social selling requires shareable social content that salespeople can use to connect and engage with prospects and customers.
Jim: You need to establish a sales culture that embraces change. That means that the first sale you need to make with any sales enablement initiative is an internal sale. Everyone who is going to be impacted by the changes you are making to training, process, technology, coaching, etc., needs to understand what is happening and why.
Second, realize that that sales enablement is an investment, not an expense. If you take the time to figure out the cost-of-doing-nothing associated with sales ineffectiveness, in terms of low revenue attainment, poor margins, high customer churn, and so on, you will quickly find that the cost of fixing these problems is orders of magnitude less than letting them continue.
Finally, understand that sales enablement is an ongoing journey of continuous improvement, versus a single event. Adapting to changes in the marketplace will require unending changes in how you engage customers.
“The Principle of Priority states (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first.”
― Steven Pressfield
Investments in sales productivity are often a significant budget item, and sales leaders need to tailor these investments to achieve their business goals. As the results of our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study show, most investments in sales productivity are focused on salespeople, and investing in frontline sales managers is still not a top priority. In the main investment categories of $500-$2,500 per person per year, 53.6% of all training investments are targeted to salespeople; and 41.4% for sales managers. Furthermore, 18.6% of all respondents reported not investing in their sales managers at all, compared to only 6% who reported not investing in their salespeople.
At CSO Insights, we encourage our clients to look at it this way: If an investment in one person can impact the performance of six, eight, or ten salespeople, why would you not prioritize this investment?
Frontline sales managers: key role but poorly developed
Frontline sales managers have a greater impact on sales execution, productivity, and transformation than any other role. What makes this role so demanding is the need to continually balance three often-competing areas – customer, business, and people – in constantly changing and complex selling and buying environments.
Furthermore, frontline sales managers are almost always sandwiched between the competing goals and motivations of their team and corporate executives as well as between those of customers and the internal organization. Their performance is judged on their ability to achieve multiple, often-competing goals at the same time.
Having been the best sales professional in the organization does not automatically qualify an individual to be a top-performing frontline sales manager. The root cause of poor performance is the failure to develop frontline sales managers in their new role. Poorly developed frontline sales managers drive top performers out of the organization and promote mediocre performance from those who remain. This is something sales leaders with ambitious growth and performance goals simply cannot afford.
Investing in frontline sales managers drives results if done the right way!
The data from our 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study shows that organizations that make little to no investment in sales manager development fail to achieve even average results. Conversely, those study participants who invested more than $2,500 per sales manager per year experienced far better results. For example, by investing in sales managers, the win rate for forecasted deals could be improved by 9% up to 50.5%.
However, modest investments were not enough. Those respondents who reported making only minor investments in sales manager development saw a win rate of only 43.7%, which was 5.5% below the reported average of 46.2%.
Investments in frontline sales manager development correlated to an even bigger impact in the area of revenue plan attainment, which could be improved by 18.4% up to 106.7%, compared to the average revenue plan attainment of 90.1%.
Coaching is the key to leveraging salespeople’s full potential, but it has to be formalized to be effective!
Coaching does matter. The impact on sales performance metrics, such as quota attainment or win rates, is remarkable. But the impact depends on the coaching approach. And the way organizations approach coaching their salespeople remains an interesting data point. Only 27% of all study participants reported having a formal or dynamic coaching approach. “Formal” means that there is a coaching process defined and that sales managers are trained this way and required to coach accordingly. Dynamic means that in addition to the formal approach, the coaching framework is also connected to the sales force enablement framework.
Almost half of the study participants (47.5%) reported leaving coaching up to their sales managers. But this laissez-faire approach creates no performance impact whatsoever. When coaching is left up to managers, quota attainment was only 53.4%, as compared to the study’s average quota attainment of 55.8%. An informal coaching approach improved quota only slightly better than average. In our study, a formal coaching approach resulted in significantly better than average performance, and a dynamic approach improved quota attainment by an astounding 10.2% up to 61.5%.
These findings show that investing in less than a formal coaching approach is a waste of money if sales leaders want to get better than average.
Investing in frontline sales managers leverages the investments made in a sales force enablement foundation
The CSO Insights 2016 Sales Enablement Optimization Study highlighted another interesting correlation that could be used to leverage synergies between sales performance initiatives. Organizations with an enablement function invest more in their sales managers than those without an enablement function.
Sales force enablement’s foundation provides a great starting point for sales manager development. Based on an existing sales force enablement framework, a coaching framework should be developed, sitting between the customer’s journey and the internal processes. To make frontline sales manager enablement successful, especially coaching enablement, it helps to design the coaching framework as a mirror image of the enablement framework. This connects coaching to the enablement services and promotes adoption and reinforcement.
Coaching is a vital skill that has to be learned from scratch, and a dedicated, formal sales manager development program is a must-have for any ambitious sales organization. This sales manager development program must cover all three areas of the frontline sales manager triangle: customers, business, and people. And, while coaching is only one aspect of the people side of the triangle, it is the most impactful and differentiating one.
Related blog posts:
This article was written for Top Sales Magazine, September issue.
When designing a kitchen, you need to consider your available space as well as your cooking style and the types of meals you most often cook. This allows you to create your culinary masterpieces most effectively by optimizing the processes you follow.
In cooking, just as in sales, technology matters, too. Choosing appliances, such as an oven or refrigerator, with features that support your approach to meal preparation, makes a big difference.
“A fool with a tool is still a fool”
Unfortunately, sales leaders often look at tools differently than do master chefs. They sign contracts for expensive sales technology that promises to deliver results before defining what those results look like in their business context and how the organization needs to prepare. These investments almost never pay off. But, just like a poorly designed kitchen, it isn’t the technology that failed. It is the sales organization that failed to take the time to think through how the technology needs to support their strategy. According to the data from our 2016 Sales Best Practices Study, these systems often fail to deliver. For example, only 28% of All Respondents reported a significant increase in sales productivity due to the use of sales tools as compared to 78% of World-Class Sales Performers.
The functional layer sits between the customer’s journey and the salesperson’s journey.
Before sales enablement can drive performance from enablement technology, the organization must have a deep understanding of the customer’s journey and align internal processes (marketing, sales, and service) to it. As showed in our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the better this alignment, the more successful organizations have been across several key performance metrics such as quota attainment (+13 %) or revenue plan attainment (>10%).
There are as many customer’s journeys as buying situations. The key to success is to identify the relevant gates on an aggregated level. When world-class sales performers map their internal processes to the customer’s journey, they ensure that every gate on the customers’ side has an equivalent gate in the internal process chain.
Sales force enablement’s core responsibility is to equip the sales force with the required skills and competencies, the right knowledge, and the right strategies to create more and better business. Within the functional layer, there are three sublayers, each with unique requirements for enablement services:
- Skills and Competencies or “How to Sell”: This bottom layer is independent of the organization’s products and services portfolio and includes all of the general skills that impact sales success, such as communication, listening and questioning, negotiation, presentation, and social skills. These skills are relevant throughout the entire customer’s journey. Training services are the primary enablement service in this layer.
- Expertise: Capability and Situational Knowledge or “What to Sell and How to Sell”: The capability knowledge focuses on what salespeople need to know about the organization’s portfolio of products and services. These knowledge prerequisites should center on what these products and services mean to a customer rather than what they are or what they do. This understanding translates “what to sell” into “how to sell.” Enablement services include various internal enablement tools (playbooks, value messaging guidelines, briefings, etc.) as well as client-facing content assets (success stories, references, presentations, etc.).Situational knowledge is based on the organization’s methodologies and processes. Acquiring situational knowledge salespeople have to connect the dots between their research and the information they get from conversations with buyers in the particular context of a buying situation to draw the right conclusion for the right moment.
- Sales Insights or “How to Coach”: The sales insights layer covers all information regarding the specific customer situation and the analytics related to the current interactions with the prospect or customer. Once sales managers have mastered the coaching skills, the better the data, the better the impact they can make through coaching.
The technology layer is derived from the functional layer by translating the functional areas into different technology categories and creating a set of systems capability requirements.
- Learning Management Systems: This layer includes training and learning management systems for all available learning formats. Capabilities should include content creation for the training services to be provided as well as functionality for assigning, conducting, and tracking sessions and the issuing of certifications.
- Sales and Marketing Technology Solutions: The next layer includes a variety of technology solutions. The focus here is on enablement technology, but marketing automation and SFA/CRM systems are essential as well, and ideally, all three systems are integrated.
- Sales enablement content management solutions (SECM) handle a wide array of content types from internal enablement content up to client-facing content. The best content management systems provide a broad range of functionalities including management, distribution, and access, as well as analytics for content usage and effectiveness in sales interactions. SECM solutions handle a wide array of content types from internal enablement content up to client-facing content. These solutions should also provide a broad range of functionalities including management, distribution, and access, as well as analytics for content usage and effectiveness in sales interactions. However, to drive world-class performance, the system must go beyond and adhere to the “Be Inspired” principle. This mechanism provides content suggestions to the salesperson—when they need it; where they need it—based on the particular selling scenario and customer’s journey stage.
- Sales Analytics Systems: There are three types of analytics in this layer: descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive. In dynamic, ever-changing B2B sales environments, sales analytics become more and more important. They improve strategic decision-making among sales leadership. And they also help salespeople gain as much relevant information as possible about targeted prospects and existing customers so they may engage them in the most meaningful, relevant, and valuable way.
Sales enablement technology is a significant investment. To make the most of it and drive the performance improvements they are looking for; sales enablement leaders must collaborate with their colleagues in sales operations. Before purchasing any system, they must define the functional layers to derive their technology requirements.
Questions for you:
- How do you make decisions on sales technology in your organization?
- How do you connect the dots to create a bigger sales technology vision?
Related blog post:
This article was initially published @ Top Sales Magazine, August 2016
What is world-class? In sports, it is easy to define. World champions and Olympic medalists are world-class. But what is world-class in sales? Revenue performance? Maybe, but how do you get there? What are the behaviors that drive world-class sales performance?
At CSO Insights, we are passionate about all things sales performance. We research sales performance from different perspectives, including behavioral and metric perspectives. We investigate, for instance, the roles of sales process and sales management, the growing impact of strategic sales force enablement, and the roles of technology and compensation.
Our CSO Insights 2016 Sales Best Practices Study has just been released. “Drawing Back the Bow” is this year’s cover story. It creates an umbrella theme for the 12 behaviors that have the greatest impact on sales performance.
For the thirteenth year, this study identifies those behaviors that have the biggest impact on sales performance, measured by well known key performance indicators such as quota attainment, qualified opportunities, new account acquisition, YOY existing customer growth or average account billing. Top performers in these areas do a few things differently. They focus on what matters. They focus on the top behaviors that have the greatest impact on sales performance, collectively and consistently. And that makes a huge difference.
The world-class segment is only 7.7% of the overall study population of more than 1,700 respondents, 1,200 of whom work in complex sales. But they achieved 21% better sales performance.
A sales performance difference this large cannot be ignored by any sales leader. Now, what are these top behaviors that drive sales performance, and what does it take to become excellent at those behaviors, to become a world-class performer?
From the top 12 behaviors we have three behaviors that were also top behaviors last year:
Sales and marketing are aligned in what our customers want and need (World-Class 94%, All Respondents 39%)
The key differentiator to successful sales and marketing alignment is this: being aligned to “what our customers want and need.” And that means beginning with the customer’s journey as the main design point when addressing this challenge. Here are four steps to improve sales and marketing alignment in a “customer-core” way:
- Shared vision of success: A shared vision describes how the organization creates value for the customers and how success will be measured. Following the customer’s journey makes it easier to create this vision, and revenue contribution has to be one of the measures of success for both sales and marketing.
- Shared strategy to create value in every interaction: A shared strategy for creating and delivering customer value is necessary―from first contact and all the way through the buying decision and the customers using the products, services, and solutions successfully.
- Shared marketing, sales, and service processes: Based on this shared vision and strategy, sales and marketing have to agree on a shared sales and marketing process, ideally powered by integrated engagement and selling methodologies. It is essential that these efforts continue after the buying decision has been made.
- Shared technology: Integrated processes require integrated technology from the website to marketing automation to sales enablement to the CRM system. Integration is mandatory to leverage the potential of successful sales and marketing alignment.
Our organization is highly effective in allocating the right resources to pursue large deals (World-class 94%, all respondents 40%)
Allocating the right resources to the right opportunities is a challenge for most organizations because resources are like budgets—there is never enough to go around. In many organizations, it’s still the loudest voice that gets the biggest share. But the right resources should only be placed on the most valuable deals to increase the probability of winning those deals. For example, sales managers evaluating deals should consider the strategic value for the customer and the value for the sales organization. It is exactly this deal evaluation process that is often missing in many sales management approaches. When decisions about investments and resource allocation have to be made, the process of making those decisions should be tied to the sales process and the decision gates the customer must go through.
When coaching sales professionals on leads and opportunities, sales managers should always investigate where the customer is along their customer’s journey. As soon as a deal comes close to the customer’s “change the status quo” decision, the sales manager and salesperson should also evaluate this deal against others. Ideally, this step takes place in a funnel coaching session, as it’s about evaluating this deal in the context of other opportunities being worked by the salesperson or the sales team.
We know why our top performers are successful (World-class 94%, all respondents 44%)
Look at the performance rankings of any sales team, and it becomes evident that not all salespeople are created equal. There are often key performers who regularly appear on the top of the chart. Just how valuable are these individuals?
Firms that excel at knowing who their top performers tend to focus on assessing three things. First, they determine the skills and competencies that sales professionals apply in their daily workflow. Doing so, they not only assess what top salespeople are doing, but also how they do it. And that’s a key finding for any sales force enablement approach, especially for onboarding and coaching. Second, they assess talent, the “behavioral DNA.” Third they assess the cultural fit because not every A-player is an A-player in every culture.
The key benefits of this approach are to understand what makes your top performers successful (we all know who they are!). Then, sales force enablement has to ensure that best practices can be shared and that the hiring process is consistently adjusted based on the latest assessment findings. Furthermore, enablement leaders have to ensure that their onboarding process is tailored accordingly.
Click here, download your copy and check out the other top behaviors!
This article was initially published @ Top Sales Magazine, July 2016
Why do you invest in technology? To drive efficiency? Or is your goal to increase sales effectiveness as well? Often, we simply want technology to help us do things faster by automating steps that we’ve been doing manually. But ultimately, investments in sales technology should also achieve better business results. So it is with investing in enablement technology. As a productivity boost, enablement technology is a prerequisite to achieving your sales performance goals. Ideally, enablement technology builds on a prepared foundation, which would be, in this case, for instance, a “cleaned-up content basement.”
How does investing in enablement technology help?
Looking at all respondents from our 2015 Sales Enablement Optimization Study, the most important goal was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (35%), followed by “sharing best practices across the sales force” (32%), and “improving cross-selling and up-selling” (30%). The list continues with improvements ranked with less than 30%, such as “improving sales and marketing alignment” or “reduce search time for content and collateral” and “improving ramp-up time for new hires.” No surprises in these results so far. Most of these key improvements are focused on productivity only. But let’s first look at the differences in the regions.
Different focal points in North America and EMEA
In North America, the top improvement desired, regardless of respondent category, was: “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools (46%).” Then, the second most important improvement was “reducing the search time for content and collateral” (33%), which is for many people probably the most common immediate result they want to get out of enablement technology. Two improvements were tied for third place: “reducing ramp-up time for new hires” (29%) and “improving sales and marketing alignment“(29%).
In EMEA things are perceived a bit differently. The top improvement in EMEA was “Improving cross-selling and up-selling” with a pretty high ranking of 52%. In the category of all respondents, this improvement was ranked third with 30%. But looking at North America, this improvement was only ranked ninth with 17%. The second most relevant improvement in EMEA was “improving salespeople’s access to content and tools” (44%) which was overall the number one result and in NA the number two. “Improving ramp-up time for new hires” ranked third with 28% — almost the same as in NA.
Some of these improvements, such as improving ramp-up time, and cross-selling and up-selling, are linked to a prerequisite: the integration of sales enablement solutions with CRM systems. Integration drives adoption and is an enabler for faster searches and better content access because people no longer need to work with multiple systems.
Integration of enablement technology drives productivity and adoption and is an indicator of enablement maturity
“Be Inspired” is an enablement delivery mechanism that requires enablement technology to be integrated with CRM systems. This means salespeople don’t have to go to another system, log in, and search for what they need. Instead, technology suggests content (and related training services) based on the characteristics of salespeople’s opportunities and accounts. To make this mechanism work, a customer-core enablement framework and a properly defined and implemented content creation process are essential. The future vision of success is that salespeople have one collaborative platform they work with. The foundation is often the CRM system that integrates enablement and playbook systems, learning content, and predictive analytics to support them at every stage of their deals.
Now, what does reality look like? Overall, 46% reported having this kind of integration, 41% said they did not, and 13% planned to implement it within the next twelve months. That looks like a pretty balanced status quo with lots of room for improvement. Here, the differences in the regions are much bigger.
In NA, 54% reported having this kind of integration, whereas only 28% in EMEA said so. Consequently, many more respondents in EMEA plan an integration initiative within the next twelve months (24%), versus North America (12%).
Enablement is perceived differently in different regions, and organizations are at different maturity levels. EMEA has an opportunity to learn from those who have already done enablement integrations.
A critical dependency that cannot be fixed by technology: content quality
Salespeople perceive technology and the embedded content as one system, which is valuable for them or not. They don’t distinguish between technology and content quality.
The critical dependency that is often overlooked is the quality of the content. What does that mean? Sales content in a world of rising buyer expectations has to be aligned to, for example, the different phases of the customer’s journey, the relevant buyer roles, and the business challenges that are addressed with your products and solutions. This alignment of content with customer journey forces organizations to assess their entire content landscape to see the gaps, the redundancies and the areas that need adjustment. It’s not to create more work for you. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity to achieve performance goals. Organizations with high levels of customer journey alignment achieve up to 9.1 percentage points better revenue plan attainment, and up to 13% better quota attainment.
To provide highly effective content, a “customer-core” enablement content strategy is mandatory, and that requires a “customer-core” enablement framework. Only then are you able to tailor your content services accordingly. Highly effective customer-facing content that covers the entire customer’s journey is a must-have ingredient to remain relevant and successful in an ever-changing, buyer-driven world.
This article has been published first @ Top Sales Magazine June 2016 edition
Imagine salespeople have to learn a new skill, for instance, how to apply newly developed value messages in different customer interactions. In this case of behavioral change, a training session can only be the beginning of a longer journey. Lasting behavior change requires ongoing reinforcement.
This is where coaching comes into play. And frontline sales managers.
Coaching has to be formalized to be effective
At CSO Insights, we define coaching as a leadership skill to develop each salesperson’s full potential. To be effective with coaching, world-class performers build on coaching frameworks. Our 2015 Sales Management Optimization Study showed that a discretionary or informal coaching process did not have a significant impact on win rates, but a formal coaching process did: by nine percent. Ambitious sales leaders know immediately what a nine percent better win rate would mean in their organization. They also know that their frontline sales managers’ ability to coach is a critical element to sustainable sales performance. And yes, they also know that a formal approach to coaching is the differentiating element to become world-class.
Sales Coaching Framework Defined
The CSO Insights Sales Coaching Framework sits between the customer’s journey and the sales professionals’ journey (sales process). It requires that the customer’s journey has already been mapped to the organization’s sales process. For each gate on the customer’s side, there has to be an equivalent step on the internal side. This mapping is a key prerequisite to creating a coaching framework and the related coaching assets such as coaching guidelines, questionnaires for various buying situations and coaching training sessions for sales managers. Our coaching framework consists of four coaching layers, each corresponding to a different coaching area.
- Lead and Opportunity Coaching: The coach and sales professional examine a lead or opportunity to determine where it is along the customer’s journey and to identify activities that will keep the deal flowing through the funnel toward a successful conclusion. The earlier the coaching begins, the more valuable it is. In the awareness phase, sales managers can help the sales professionals get better at identifying and addressing opportunities, and they can coach them to develop and execute winning deal strategies. Plus, they can spot areas where the sales team needs to stop investing time and effort in deals that cannot be won or will require more resources than they are worth.
- Funnel or Pipeline Coaching focuses on the structure of a salesperson’s or the sales team’s funnel, identifying the most valuable deals that can be won and helping to manage risks and allocate resources accordingly. Funnel coaching also helps the salesperson understand how the shape of their funnel translates into quota attainment and determine how best to improve their funnel performance. During funnel coaching, the sales managers must assess the types of opportunities in the funnel, e.g., many small opportunities or fewer large volume deals, as well as the assumed close dates, stages, and risks of each opportunity. Most importantly, the coach must weigh the value of the opportunities against their probability of being won. Clearly, this coaching area builds on opportunity coaching and can only be successful if there is clarity at the opportunity level.
- Coaching on Skills and Behaviors: In today’s complex selling environments, customer behaviors are constantly changing. As a result, salespeople often have to make significant changes to their selling skills and behaviors. For example, the transactional, product-oriented approach no longer works in many selling scenarios, and sales professionals must adopt a value-based approach that focuses on the customers’ business outcomes. This is an area where sales managers should work closely with the enablement teams. Creating value for prospects and customers requires tailored value messages that are tied to the customer’s journey phase, buyer roles and their business challenges and goals. Enablement’s job is to provide these value messages and the related training, but sales managers must also coach to reinforce what has been taught to ensure adoption. This requires coaching on leads and opportunity and coaching on improving the sales professional’s messaging skills.
- Account Coaching is often overlooked, but it is equally important if an account strategy is in place. It’s mainly about coaching on identifying new business opportunities within the account (lead identification) and mapping the account strategy to the current achievements within an account (also from a customer’s perspective) and making adjustments or changes to strategy, focus area, relationship development, etc. The frequency of account coaching sessions depends on your and your customers’ specific rhythm of the business.
- Territory Coaching is even more overlooked, but equally important in the case of a territory strategy. It’s more than saying “work your territory.” Instead, territory coaching is all about focus: focus on the right targets and customers, and on the most relevant buyer roles. Also, in territory coaching, lead identification plays a key role. As soon as leads are qualified, they are coached by the overall lead and opportunity coaching process as mentioned above.
As soon as such a coaching framework is defined, the missing coaching assets for both content (coaching guidelines, coaching questions, coaching learning content, etc.,) and training (that make up a strategic frontline sales manager development program) have to be created.
In an ideal world, sales leaders understand the huge business impact of their frontline sales managers when it comes to execution, performance, and transformation.
And that’s why they invest not only in their sales managers’ coaching capabilities but also in a scalable platform for performance and productivity that includes a coaching framework as a critical component.
Related blog posts: