I’ll be speaking on this topic at ATD ICE this year in the Sales Enablement Track. The goal of the presentation is to share how to support sales effectiveness best practices with sales enablement systems to improve your sales productivity (your sales force’s ability to generate profitable revenue). In this post, I will lay the foundational of concepts that fuel the mashup and will continue the discussion at the conference.
I’ve always liked the Socrates quote, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” Remarkably, we have relatively few common definitions in the sales profession. So, for purposes of alignment and understanding (even if we’re not in complete agreement), I’d like to offer some definitions to get started.
Some of the real power of these concepts comes from how we define them and what levers we can pull to improve organizational performance. Hopefully, you’ll thank me later, when we bring them all together.
I most often hear sales productivity defined as “revenue per rep.” I prefer to define it more broadly as “the output of the sales force over a given time period” (which can be expressed as a total or as an average of revenue per rep).
While many sales leaders measure that output solely in terms of revenue, I prefer considering both revenue and profitability. (You’ve probably heard the old joke, “How do we lose money quarter after quarter and still stay in business? Volume, volume, volume!”) Unless you’re running a startup (that needs to show customer acquisition and revenue growth at any cost to secure funding), it’s profitable growth that matters.
You can get fancier, but total revenue, revenue per rep, and profit percentage for a given period, compared to the same metrics for some previous period (previous quarter and YOY, let’s say), gives you a very quick, high-level view into whether the sales force is doing better or worse. That’s Sales Productivity.
For Sales Enablement, there are eight or more sales analyst definitions, a definition from the Sales Enablement Society, and our very own ATD definition. So, of course [wink], I’ll add my own:
- Sales Enablement is providing the information, content, training, analytics, support, tools, and technology needed to enable your sales force to go to market effectively and efficiently to generate and win opportunities with your target buyers and profitably grow the business.
There are various stages of maturity in sales enablement, as well, which I call:
- No Approach: Let’s leave them alone and let them sell (because this works so well, right?).
- Informal Approach: Random acts of sales enablement (usually fueled by bright shiny objects, flavor of the month thinking, and knee-jerk reactions to the latest problem).
- Formal Approach: For me, this is my “Building Blocks of Sales Enablement” (with systems thinking).
- Adaptive Approach: Evolving to performance consulting (my best hope for the future of our profession.)
For this post and my presentation at ATD ICE 2019, I’ll focus on the Formal maturity stage and share my building blocks and systems.
The Building Blocks of Sales Enablement
These are what I call the building blocks.
Implement a proven-effective process to hire or promote people who have the best chance of succeeding in the chosen role.
Build sales onboarding/ongoing training that supports the above. Develop ongoing training based on sales competency gaps and new offerings. Train managers (first) then reps. Establish a sales learning system: Train, Sustain Knowledge, Develop Skills, Transfer Skills, and Coach to Mastery.
Select a sales coaching model and implement a competency development framework. Remove obstacles, enable managers, and engage reps and managers in an ongoing process to identify and close sales competency gaps to increase organizational sales mastery and performance.
Identify your buyer personas: what problems are they trying to solve, what outcomes are they trying to achieve, what are the metrics that matter to each? Document your buyer’s journey, including buying process exit criteria or (decision process and decision criteria).
Buyer Engagement Content
Align your marketing content (and lead-gen campaigns), sales content/collateral, and sales messaging to identify the problems, and address the buying process exit criteria.
Sales Support Content
Develop sales support, job aids, checklists, training reminders, calculators and other tools, to support process/methodology.
Align your sales process to the buyer’s journey. Document tasks and exit criteria for buyers and sellers.
Select appropriate sales methodologies for prospecting, opportunity management, and strategic account management/development. Develop sales competencies by role from a top-producer analysis whenever possible, or proven best practices. Customize.
Benchmark your sales metrics: including conversion ratios, deal size, cross-sell, ramp-up times for onboarding, pipeline velocity, content sharing, KPIs – whatever is important for your business. Track results pre-/post-training. Also track your sales onboarding and learning metrics. Analyze everything. Using whatever tools you have available, analyze customers, territories, purchase patterns and more to understand your business and improve performance.
Sales Technology and Tools
Select and implement sales technology to support your sales force, create efficiency, and increase time spent selling and support effectiveness.
Design a sales compensation and incentive plan that encourages the behaviors you expect and the results you want.
Sales Manager Enablement
Train managers to use your sales coaching model. Train managers on performance analysis and coaching. Foster a coaching culture and sales competency development. Determine your management operating rhythm / management disciplines you want to instill. Train managers on that and hold them accountable for executing your cadence.
Apply systems thinking to create an environment that supports high performance. Implement a Sales Support System, supported by a Sales Learning System, to perpetuate the above and pull everything together.
Manage communication to the sales team: becoming the single point of contact for communication.
Sales Support Services aren’t widely offered and tend to be provided by only the largest departments with the budget and staff to do it. Support services are often offered through SLA (service level agreements) to the sales force and include things like:
- Buyer- and client-facing presentations (creation / customization)
- Account or contact research (prospecting preparation)
- Preparation services for meetings
- RFP support
- Deal Desk
- Coaching services
Note: Even in the core building blocks, not all the elements are always owned by Sales Enablement (especially Talent Selection and Sales Compensation). It varies greatly by organization size and complexity and depends on organization design (what departments and roles exist). If not owned by Sales Enablement, the SE team should have influence, input, involvement, and foster cross-functional collaboration, since these areas do impact sales readiness, enablement, and performance.
Applying Systems Thinking
I’m not alone in believing in the power of systems thinking.
“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” – W. Edward Deming
“If you pit a good performer against a bad system, the system will win almost every time” – Geary Rummler & Alan Brache
More than any other element in the building blocks, though, the systems thinking usually requires some explanation.
Sales Readiness and Enablement in Two Systems (Sales Support & Sales Learning Systems)
The Sales Support System on the left lays a foundation to help your sales force go to market effectively. Technically, sales training or the sales learning system is a part of this system, but it’s important enough to expand and explain in detail, because the 5 stages of sales mastery and behavior change are embedded in the learning system. For our purpose today, I’ll focus on the Sales Learning System.
Sales Learning System
Like Kurt Lewin’s 3-stage change management system (Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze), the learning system will help you think through how to prepare for change, guide the change (with the 5 stages), and cement the change in your culture.
For more reading on the Sales Learning System, if interested, you can download a free eBook at: https://www.mikekunkle.com/sales-learning-system-ebook/.
And that is Sales Enablement, at the formal level, with systems thinking support to foster learning and behavior change.
I define sales effectiveness as the process of identifying and implementing:
- The right sales tasks, activities and methodologies to produce the best possible sales outcomes
- The best or most-effective practices for each task or activity
Sales effectiveness includes the most successful practices (or top-producer practices) for:
- Prospecting and Demand Generation
- Opportunity Qualification and Opportunity Management
- Strategic Account Management
Sales Effectiveness Acumens
Over the years of conducting top-producer analyses, I’ve identified what I refer to as the Sales Effectiveness Acumens, or the series of things at which top producers excel that differentiates them from the rest of the pack. Some of these depend on organization structure and how the company goes to market, which makes it hard to generalize the acumens, but here’s a sample list.
Domain Expertise: Understanding the industry challenges, opportunities, technologies, regulations and legislation, business practices, current events/news, and the general state of the profession.
Understanding business models, financial acumen, operational metrics/outcomes such as key performance indicators and critical success factors, pricing, how customer organizations make money, and how to build a business case and calculate ROI.
Understanding general buyer personas and buyers’ journey or buying processes, including Challenges, Opportunities, Impacts, Needs, Objectives, Priorities (COIN-OP), decision process, decision criteria, decision roles, desired outcomes with metrics/measures, and consideration of both the decision makers’ business and personal needs.
As applicable, understanding of vendor and channel partners and how to most effectively build relationships and engage with them to uncover, manage, and win opportunities through the effective co-creation of solutions for customers.
Includes sales research, sales call planning, prospecting/lead generation, digital selling practices, opportunity qualification, consultative selling using an adaptive sales methodology (including discovery/situation assessment, solution development/co-creating solutions, developing proposals, conducting demos and/or presenting solutions/solution dialogue, resolving concerns, and gaining commitment), sales meeting management, multi-threading to message appropriately to buyers with different interests, storytelling, insight selling, negotiating, influence skills, consulting skills, general dialogue and communication skills, team selling, and strategic account management.
Understanding of products and services and how they solve customer problems, critical thinking and problem solving, forcefield analysis, how solutions tie to Industry Acumen, Financial Acumen, Customer Acumen, and Ecosystem Acumen. This is the culmination of acumens, used to create value for customers (and differentiation for the company) to achieve customers’ desired outcomes. Includes an understanding of competitive offerings and how to position against them, as well as against DIY and the status quo.
How to plan and organize effectively. Includes territory planning, account planning, sales call planning, leading sales meetings, task management, using CRM, sales enablement tools, other technology tools and performance support, action planning, calendaring, project management, change management, and personal productivity practices.
How to get things done: how to make things happen in your own organization and in others – includes an understanding of processes, political savvy, culture, collaboration, consensus-building, and the ability to execute on all the above plans effectively.
Foundations of Sales Effectiveness
To focus on just the Sales Acumens for now, I’ve also identified what I refer to as the Foundations of Sales Effectiveness. Less than the full acumens, I think of the foundations as the Pareto Principle of Sales Effectiveness, or the key things (20%?) that sales reps must do well when selling to generate the bulk (80%?) of their results. They include:
Most of these foundations have been explained in the above acumens or are common language in the sales profession (or as standard as we get). Two may require a bit of explanation:
- I use Resolving Concerns instead of the more common “overcoming objections,” because in my opinion, nothing could be less buyer-oriented or more combative than having your “objections” be “overcome.” It’s time we evolve our sales language.
- Buyer-Orientation is possibly self-explanatory, but worth detailing. Given the evolution of buyer behavior, what buyers think of sales professionals (according to multiple recent buyer research initiatives, it’s not generally favorable), and how buyer expectations for sellers have increased, I endorse a Buyer-Oriented Selling System that flips the script to look at things from the buyers’ perspective, to truly focus on understanding the buyers and their situation, and co-creating solutions to achieve the outcomes they want and need.
And that is an overview of my content on Sales Effectiveness.
With this detail shared on sales productivity, sales enablement with systems thinking, and sales effectiveness, I’m hoping you can see where I’m headed.
The magic happens when the top-producer practices for the Foundations of Sales Effectiveness (with a Buyer-Oriented Selling System) meet the Building Blocks of Sales Enablement (with the Sales Learning System) to drive Sales Productivity. (Peanut butter, meet chocolate!)
I won’t lie and say it’s easy. It is possible, though, and I’ve seen it done multiple times with excellent results. The good news is that it doesn’t require perfection. If you get this even 80 percent right, you will have your sales machine humming, selling, and producing in ways that far exceed expectations. You’ll also be far ahead of most other companies, because even though the rewards are great, and this is the work (I believe) we’re supposed to be doing, many do not approach it this way.
To Learn More…
Again, for those interested in going deeper into the next steps, I’ll be speaking on this topic and how to merge these models to make magic, at ATD ICE 2019 in the Sales Enablement Track. If you’re attending ICE this year (and you should), I hope to see you there. I invite you to introduce yourself and chat about what you’re working on to drive sales productivity. For those who can’t attend the conference or session, after the event, I will also post the slides on SlideShare, as I do each year.
Until then, I wish you the very best of success with your mashup of sales enablement with sales effectiveness to drive sales productivity!