Sales training and sales leadership approaches are blending into highly reactive and focused on short-term and coordinated activities. The challenge is focusing on “now” while also building for the future. Today’s volatile business markets and competitive landscape call for “skating to the puck” when it comes to commercial enablement solutions for client-facing teams. No longer are small adjustments to sales processes or subtle changes to the emphasis on sales compensation structures providing the necessary remedies to gain empathy for customers.
What are top-performing sales enablement teams doing?
They’re stepping back to define their sales enablement approach into one that combines marketing, sales, operations, technology, and training into a specific “package” or “service” to sales leadership. Commercial enablement approaches that bring together the internal infrastructure, processes, and tools to help salespeople have sales conversations throughout the buying/selling journey are important to sales leaders. When sales leaders receive those services, the result is a steady incremental value-add to customers through more informed decision support, more effective sales communications, and more responsive solutions to customer needs.
When commercial enablement activities are identified and rolled out with sales leadership support, the results typically impact three important and essential areas — we call them “pillars.” Each of these pillars helps the sales team skate to the puck. Each of these pillars becomes the solid foundation upon which sales teams are supported to add value at every customer interaction.
The pillars are:
PILLAR 1: ALIGNING ORGANIZATION AND CULTURE
- Organizational sales capacity is defined as the ability of the company to support the sales team through the properly aligned organizational structure and culture purposely designed to meet the needs of the target market or buyer. The firm’s ability to determine the target market, decide the size of the sales force, set sales team quotas, and create compensation systems that work are examples of critical support that this pillar enables for its sales teams.
- Equally important is the firm’s ability to deliver an appropriate marketing message, determine the proper price for products and services, and conduct relevant market research and support. Due to the nature of an enablement practitioner’s job, some strategic decisions and organizational constraints are not easily influenced; therefore, we recommend focusing on what you can influence. With a sales enablement practitioner’s help, we can identify sales team challenges and overcome organizational roadblocks.
- Commerical enablement teams must work to support what management and leadership are identifying as significant organizational limitations while ensuring that the sales team is aware of the best way to work across organizational or department boundaries and silos – to free up and enable sales conversations. This philosophy has a far-reaching impact. For example, it’s not about “sales and marketing alignment” so much as it is about “marketing aligned to the buyer” and “sellers aligned to the buyer.” Same for sales training (aligned to the buyer) and product (aligned to the buyer), for example.
PILLAR 2: ALIGNING SALES MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
- Sales managers provide critical support to sales teams because of their unique relationships with sellers and other internal cross-functional teams. Sales managers also have direct control of overall systems necessary to support sales conversations.
- While some sales managers focus on selling and fighting organizational fires, many also work hard to set expectations and goals, identify key performance processes and tools, hold people in training and HR groups accountable for proper support. All of this is done while ensuring their sales teams execute (and report on) the sales process accurately.
- It’s is also the sales manager’s job to enable their salespeople by providing training and meeting their needs through coaching and a well-aligned hiring process that doesn’t just bring on any “warm body.”
PILLAR 3: ALIGNING SELLERS AND BUYERS
- Salespeople are an essential consideration to the attainment of sales results because they keep the pipeline full and are directly responsible for closing deals. Salespeople need to be able to do this with the support of the other two pillars of organizational sales capacity mentioned above.
- Salespeople are also accountable to their organization. While sales leadership has a plan to reach quota, sales managers can help shift from “high activity” to the “right activity” and adjust the company’s sales process accordingly. That could mean, salespeople need acquire the proper skills and knowledge, and evolve to succeed.
Keeping these three pillars on top of mind is important when planning sales enablement initiatives. Just as a 3-legged stool requires all legs to serve its purpose adequately, solid sales enablement requires each pillar to operate in unison. Therefore, the integration of the three pillars around a common goal of improving sales conversations will lead to better sales results and sales team success.
Organization and Culture Considerations
- A sales organization is a complex system with many moving parts, and the effectiveness of the overall system requires multiple components working together. While some elements are more critical and sensitive than others, each can have an impact on the overall outcome.
- An automobile is a great metaphor to use for enabling sales organizations. Just as a car requires a working engine to go forward, an organization requires revenue to support its growth. In the eyes of sales leadership, revenue is the engine that powers the company. In this way, revenue can fund growth initiatives, provide the resources to capture more market share, and help garner more investment from essential stakeholders. Which type of revenue engine does your organization currently have? Is it large and complicated or small and streamlined? Much like the automobile engine, the sales organization can be set up for speed, power, or endurance, depending on the company’s goals. For example, the architecture for a sales organization in a Fortune 500 company within a mature market will most likely be different from the sales organization architected by a small start-up within a fast-growing biotech market. Why? Because each has a different set of customers, clients, and market conditions.
- Sales enablement professionals must architect and build (or align) a sales organization that best supports these unique customers, clients, and market factors.
- Think about it: if you have all of the right tools in place, the right salespeople on board, the right sales strategies, and territory alignment but are not seeing the results you expect, then you need to look at the other two enablement components.
Sales Management Considerations
- Once the sales organization is set up correctly with the right systems, processes, tools, and people, it will still need the right leadership. Much like the driver of a race car, a good sales leader can keep the sales organization pointed in the right direction. How? By paying attention to key metrics, making adjustments as needed, and driving towards the sales goal of the organization. Just like the gauges in an automobile, many sales managers use sales metrics to make sure everything is running well.
- Appropriately utilized, sales metrics define critical success factors, measure progress towards the overall sales goals, and identify opportunities for boosting performance. Some companies track sales activity, conversation ratios between stages of the sales pipeline, or the number of deals closed. Other examples include average revenue per sale, days in the sales cycle, the first meeting to proposal ratio, closing ratio, and more obscure ones like upsell or cross-sell revenues and customer satisfaction scores.
- No matter the company size or target market, a sales leadership needs to set expectations and goals, sales leaders must hold people accountable to key performance indicators and ensure proper execution and movement through the sales process. By providing one-on-one development coaching and by upgrading the sales team by replacing weaker sales reps with stronger ones’ sales managers can sure that they are taking the necessary steps in enabling their sales reps.
- Think about it: if sales managers are monitoring performance, holding salespeople responsible for their sales process, supervising the sales pipeline, and are providing coaching but not seeing the expected results, they need to re-think some things.
Salesperson and Customer Considerations
- For a sales organization to thrive, salespeople must be supported. Salespeople possess a complicated mix of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Great salespeople are often hard to find, and many could do significantly better if they had proper professional development. While some have built excellent industry expertise, sales leadership must also help support, enable, and develop sales talent—and each company has its own unique set of requirements.
- There is no “one size fits all” approach that will work in enabling a salesperson’s success. Companies should support, facilitate, and develop salespeople with this uniqueness in mind. More importantly, each company should understand the knowledge, skill, and abilities each salesperson should have. Since salespeople must leverage systems, tools, and processes to keep the pipeline full and close more business, sales enablement practitioners can leverage the holistic system’s approach to enable a salesperson’s success. Examples of such a method include ensuring salespeople have a plan to reach quota, conducting the right level of activity to keep the pipeline full, following a sales process that qualifies and disqualifies quickly, and acquiring the proper skills and knowledge to move through the sales process.
- Think about it: if salespeople have the right process, are doing the right activities, have the right skills, knowledge, and mindset, but sales leadership does not see the results they expect, then maybe try looking at the other two enablement pillars.