From Order Taking to Trusted Partner

Sales Enablement

At the end of the year, I had a series of conversations with sales enablement leaders with a background in sales training about their perceived lack of support for strategic initiatives within their organizations.

The sales enablement leaders were frustrated because they wanted to have more direct involvement in strategic initiatives, launch more proactive programs, and acquire more funding for what they felt mattered most. Unfortunately, others (ahem, sales leaders) were seen as “preventing them from getting a seat at the table” (their words, not mine).

There were two groups of enablement leaders that I discovered. For leaders in both groups, the discussion centered around what they were asked to do and to accomplish.

  • Group 1: The sales enablement leaders believed they weren’t involved enough to move the needle on performance. They believed they weren’t “allowed” to initiate anything bigger than a quick-hit project. In essence, they were treated like a tactical line function instead of a strategic enabler to the business. They wanted to elevate to be a more strategic commercial enablement leader. I challenged this group to move beyond “getting a seat at the table” to clarify their role in leading their teams and impacting sales results.
  • Group 2: The sales enablement leaders who strongly believed the tactical response they provided was their value to the business, and they were listening to their internal customers. They were “aligned” and “supported” to accomplish these tactical respone enablement programs, and that’s what their role was. I challegned this group to think about the expectations the executive team was making to investors, and to reflect on the value they could be creating, if they helped their executive team meet those expectations.

Here’s a question:

“If you want to stop receiving such reactive short-term requests, or you want to increase your impact and scope, what steps are you taking to elevate the value of your function to your executive team?”

This question posed a big challenge for them. They didn’t have an answer, other than “we’re doing more of the same” (I’m paraphrasing).

In sales, we ask salespeople to remember that perceptions often drive expectations, and expectations often drive the scope and impact of their role. For example, if buyers perceive salespeople as order takers, those buyers will expect them to take orders, and further, they will also believe they should have the staff and funding to crank out the same orders as last year — only faster.

For example, sales leaders might indeed be saying, “We know what we need” and then place an order with the sales enablement function (Ding! Ding!). The question is — Is this how you want your function to be perceived? Or, do you want to change that perception? Said another way, what does it look like to not be an order taker?

As a leader, what are you optimizing or transforming?

That’s a fundamental question for any leader. If don’t know what you’re improving, or what you’re transforming, then what are you doing?

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