In a sales and marketing-driven world, there is a unique phenomenon. There is a mindset that selling and marketing are simply a numbers game. Prospects will return calls if they are touched enough. Buyers will buy if they have enough meetings. Candidates in the market will raise their hand if they receive enough LinkedIn Inmails. As a result, reactive sales enablement – focused on driving activities – is more valuable to sales leaders than proactive sales enablement to skate to the puck and where the strategy is going.
Enablement leaders may say that reactive and proactive approaches are both are required. However, when these same leaders inspect what is happening in the day-to-day work, they often find an activity-driven bias, especially in how team members define the work that needs to happen.
These same biases exist across the organization, and they inform how leaders in sales, marketing, product, and enablement perceive the value of sales and marketing. For most leaders in the commercial ecosystem, sales and marketing are a numbers game. Sales and marketing are about driving efficient processes. Sales and marketing steps are known and static. And sales and marketing must move faster and streamline the efforts to get messages out into the market. In other words, the more activity, the more sales.
This appetite for activity translates to more initiatives to support sales, and more salespeople will succeed. The more content created for sales, the more sales will close. The more guidance and direction managers give salespeople, the more deals accelerate. On top of that, the more efficient sales and marketing people are, the more leads, prospects, and customers. Move faster. Do more.
What is the value of activity?
What if buying behavior has evolved? What if buyers care less about getting an email and care more about getting clear on what the problem is in the first place? What if buyers care less about volume and more about value? What if it’s about doing the right things, not just doing something?
What if sales and marketing success is about action – not activity?
Future customers experience shrinking budgets and more scrutiny over purchases in a volatile business climate. There are m re committees involved. The average salesperson must navigate 6.5 stakeholders. At the same time, research by Gartner suggests buyers are 70% down the buying process before they reach out to sales.
What do you believe?
Which is more valuable?
- Action dicates, focus on what really needs to happen to have the right sales conversations.
- Activity dictates, stick tot he project plan, and do what “someone” suggests
Salespeople need a personal approach that relies less on the law of averages and volume of activity and more on helping customers be successful Customers do not want to be bombarded with emails. Instead, they want a high-touch, supportive approach to understanding what’s possible.
Successful selling platforms and experiences require a lot of empathy and understanding of the customer experience — from the customer’s point of view. Success also requires salespeople to navigate multiple stakeholders in the customer’s ecosystem while sorting through unclear processes and finding the source of fragmented information.
Salespeople must synchronize their actions to multiple stakeholders throughout their relationship. Those buyers are the boss when it comes to the sales funnel steps.
The challenge is that most people within a company may know the case, but they don’t adjust their approach accordingly?
And that means they need action — preferable the right action
Navigating a Customer-Centric Reality
Proactive sales enablement approaches recognize and lean into the fact that salespeople only succeed when they can help their customers navigate their organization.
Reflect on that for a minute.
What actions do customers and buyers need to take to buy something?
- Does the customer even know what challenge is? Can they describe it?
- Can customers work together to gain a shared understanding the challenge? Will they all agree?
- Will stakeholders decide on a unified path forward or will they devolve into dysfunctional decision making?
- How will customers change how their teams and colleague’s teams work? What does that look like specifically?
- Will customers understand the risks involved? Will they be able to successfully navigate those risks?
These are some of the often hidden questions that salespeople encounter – all the time. Yet, most of the coaching support and enablement content salespeople receive focuses on helping customers understand product features and functions.
What does proactive sales enablement look like?
Today, sales success is not tied to following the company’s linear and overly-simplified sales process. Instead, it’s connected to the buyer’s collective problem-solving process. Most salespeople are trying to navigate this process. Still, customers don’t have it written down, customers aren’t aware they need to work together, and people in the customer’s organization don’t know how to work together.
Adding the pressure of a close-it-now sales process can set salespeople back. They come in activity-driven and tone-deaf to the change management challenges required to get started. Let alone to get people to agree to explore or even buy. With this lens, perhaps it’s easy to understand the frustration on both sides.
The key to helping customers solve problems is to equip sellers to understand the customer’s decision-making criteria. Also, to help them get what they need along their problem-solving cycle. Focusing on buyers can create a co-creative process that builds trust and momentum while helping salespeople engage as trusted advisors.
Walk a Mile in the Customer’s Shoes
Many enablement leaders feel removed from sales conversations. They don’t have access to salespeople they would like. Therefore, it’s hard for them to put themselves in the shoes of the company’s customers. For many, they use their personal buying experiences as a proxy. For example, they think about the last time they bought something big related to the sales process. Of course, this has many shortcomings, and it’s better to engage in a more specific research-based approach to understanding buyers better.
At the top of the sales funnel, sales enablement leaders can explore what matters most to buyers in the early steps.
- Who are the specific buyers that salespeople need to engage to get meetings?
- What are the challenges that exist in the buyers organization?
- What are the pressures and trends impacting those buyers?
- What are the stories that resonate most with those buyers?
With the buyer’s situation more in mind, what can enablement leaders provide to help salespeople answer these questions? What proactive sales enablement actions can enablement leaders take to help salespeople break free from the reactive, activity-driven nature of selling?
The key to proactive sales enablement is to focus on the challenges and the problems that matter most to salespeople. To do that, enablement leaders and teams can engage in a collaborative approach to understand what it takes to solve that problem with others. In other words, all problems are solvable if enablement teams can chart a course that factors in various perspectives and helps people work together based on where they agree.
Questions to Ask: Proactive Sales Enablement
What questions can enablement leaders and team members ask to help drive a more proactive sales enablement approach?
For starters, they can seriously contemplate and ask themselves:
What’s our charter and our role in helping salespeople be successful? All buyers have some job to do. And they have some goal or objective to pursue. What is the role of enablement in helping salespeople uncover that and understand that? Unfortunately for salespeople, the buyer’s job titles don’t often match their actual job. How will enablement help tackle this reality?
Proactive sales enablement is about helping and supporting salespeople have better sales conversations; they can start by completing this simple sentence:
What will we do to help salespeople ….. insert action here
For example, using this sentence structure, enablement leaders and team members can ask:
- [What will we do to help salespeople] understand the buyer’s plan of action? The buyer outlines a plan for their business or department, such as its strategic plan, realignment of the organization, the acquisition of new capabilities, or defines a new vision for success.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] clarify the problems buyers need to solve? The buyer’s within the customer organization realize they have a problem and seek to satisfy that need. They begin to take action towards buying (as opposed to making their solution or product). They act accordingly by setting forth goals, objectives, targets, and budgets. They may appoint a team of people to evaluate potential vendors.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] help their buyers start tackling a problem? The buying organization engages in activities to find a vendor, partner, or supplier. They begin reviewing the capabilities of selling organization(s) to see which competitor can meet their needs and with whom they would like to have a relationship.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] help their buyers get the information they need? The buying organization requests vendor proposals, conduct more in-depth meetings, requests more detailed information, has more “serious” dialogue, performs an analysis of risk.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] help buyers make collaborative decisions internally? Buyers in the customer organization have narrowed the choices down to one organization, and they begin “testing the water” to gauge the organization’s ability to fulfill. The stakeholders have started to work together to decide how benefits outweigh risks, and what the solution may look like.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] help buyers find and the money they need? The buyers work together to justify their investment and begin to move money around internally. They write the check or sign the proposal. Key decision-makers have their reputation on the line, the budget is set aside, and the entire affected organization has begun moving in a new direction.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] figure out where and how to get started? Buyers and their teams become a “customer or client” and begin implementing the solution. They re-align organizational resources as necessary. They put long-term plans together. They start communicating progress.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] help their buyers know they are successful? The buyer formally or informally begins documenting the organization’s ability to fulfill the solution. And they start looking to the selling organization to deliver on what is promised.
- [What will we do to help salespeople] help buyers fully integrate the solution? Once the purchase is complete, and the product/service is implemented, the final step of the buying organization’s buying cycle is obtaining maximum use of the product/service in the buying organization. This is sometimes referred to as return-on-investment (ROI) in pre- and post-sales processes and return-on-assets (ROA) once the purchase is capitalized. The product or service must be fully integrated, leveraged, and justified. In a SaaS platform company that value is captured through annual contract value, annual recurring revenue, or monthly recurring revenue.
Proactive sales enablement can create a more positive relationship with sales, marketing, and product teams. When that happens, enablement leaders and teams can impact sale results. That impact begins to work with a more trust-based bond when these questions by the buyer are answered and understood by the sales team.
Aside from a better understanding of customer buying methods, proactive sales enablement is the most significant advantage. It’s an actual change in their mindset. As soon as enablement teams recognize that the key to sales success is understanding the buyer’s reality and the specific role enablement plays in helping embrace that reality, they become more proactive.