Why We Need a Sales Enablement Playbook

I recently have been privileged to start collaborating with a group of Sales Enablement professionals called the Sales Enablement Society (SES). Much more than a LinkedIn information sharing group, this is a community of concerned professionals who are coming together with the vision of elevating the Sales Enablement role in business.  The Society has rapidly grown to nearly 1,200 members and thousands of followers in less than a year. The Austin SES Chapter is just getting off the ground, and last week we had our third monthly meeting.

To say things are growing in a chaotic fashion is really an understatement!  The communications process among SES members on LinkedIn can best be described as being like an action scene from the movie Fast and Furious, only in slow motion. Literally thousands of people are watching, listening and participating in the action!  A high level of distraction is a near certainty, as many smart people come together to debate the relevance and importance of Sales Enablement in helping sales organizations (and for that matter, enterprises as a whole) improve revenues and performance.

At the local Austin Sales Enablement Society chapter meeting, we found it difficult not to discuss and reflect on what Sales Enablement means to each participant, even when reviewing basic topics. We discussed whether a Sales Enablement person (or team, or other organizational role, depending on the individual participant) should have a charter, and if so, what does that look like?  Even among the dozen or so meeting participants, each of us shared different experiences, responsibilities, organization structures, and other perspectives about our personal Sales Enablement experiences that defied the team to provide a simple answer to the question. Other Chapters have reported similiar discussions in their meetings.

Besides agreeing that there is a legitimate need for Sales Enablement in any business, I’d like to share a few observations about “enabling” a sales organization that illustrate why it is so difficult to characterize the Sales Enablement role and how it contributes to the success of any organization.  Also, it has led me to an initial proposal about how Sales Enablement Society can most effectively contribute to elevating the role by clarifying and documenting the best practices and tools that form the Sales Enablement role.

Is “Enablement” a Noun or a Verb?

To me, a misconception about Sales Enablement is the idea of having a role for it in the first place.  Having a specific role for Sales Enablement is a matter of how the disciplines involved come together to create an actual role, which as we saw in Austin, is embodied in numerous people, organizations, and charters. Nevertheless, organizations big and small are implementing Sales Enablement tasks, building skills, implementing best practices, and automating their processes (among many possible SE activities).

I have a pet saying that I often use with clients when it comes to their sales process, simply: Whether you have a formal sales process, or whether you think you don’t, you still have one.  Many firms implement components of Sales Enablement but do not concern themselves with which person is supporting that component – I have often heard stories that some SE professionals just decided it was their job by default.

In other words, Sales Enablement is often not about who does the work, but what work is done, and how it contributes to improving sales team performance and execution.

Sales Management Enablement?

Here is another dimension of the role definition issue. A recently published CSI Insights study entitled, Sales Managers: Overwhelmed and Underdeveloped came to the conclusion that training and improving the performance of Sales Managers is among the most important critical success factors in improving sales team performance.  Additionally, the study pointed out that while the practice of Sales Enablement is growing, sales performance is not improving in a corresponding fashion.  The study concluded that Sales Manager Enablement is the missing ingredient to address this key performance gap.

Despite the gap, I would argue that for many Sales Managers, Sales Management and Sales Enablement end up becoming the same thing.  In fact, as CSI Insights pointed out, firms invest in sales training, establishing a sales process and methodology, implementing CRM, and then fail to improve performance. As a client and colleague of mine stated, it becomes a “hearts and minds” issue of how sales team members embrace all of this investment and effectively use it. If the Sales Manager does not provide effective leadership and direction to sales people around these investments, they can fail.

What I have seen, especially in smaller and middle market businesses, is that Sales Enablement is being done by the Sales Management people in the business. My own Sales Management experience was driven as much by Sales Enablement as it was managing sales people. If the Sales Manager is unable or unwilling to adopt or in some cases, implement, Sales Enablement tools and techniques, there is a good chance that sales team performance will suffer.

Marketing Sales Enablement

Among the most visible technology tools that claim to focus on improving sales productivity are the vendors who support Account Based Sales Development (ABSD). ABSD is a more sophisticated approach to cold call prospecting which recognizes the limitations of contacting individuals in a target customer, as well as the lack of communication and discipline found in many Sales Development efforts.

The purpose of ABSD is to create leads for the sales team.  ABSD requires the involvement of Marketing to enable prospecting conversations with potential customers. There is a critical emphasis on Marketing and Sales departmental alignment and the provision of Marketing content to support ABSD activities.

Clearly, ABSD involves Sales Enablement practices since it fits in the continuum of activities between marketing and selling.  You have to train Sales Development personnel just like you have to train sales people and Sales Managers. Good management of the ABSD team is no less important than in field sales, nor any less prone to fail if the Sales Manager isn’t committed to best practices.

In the Austin SES chapter, several members report to their respective Marketing departments. Good Marketing makes good sales possible, and there is no question that many Marketing practices are Sales Enablement practices.

Using Sales Enablement is What Matters

I’m sure each of us have our own examples of what Sales Enablement is or is not. Each of the examples above illustrate why there is a need for a better definition of the Sales Enablement role, and how cross-functional disciplines come together to justify Sales Enablement in one job. Because there are so many variations of the role, I propose that a good first step towards making that happen is to describe what the practices are and document them to create a Sales Enablement Playbook. A Playbook would provide the means for firms to put Sales Enablement best practices and tools to use based on their unique circumstances.

If it’s true that SE practices will be implemented whether there is a role or not, that Sales Leaders must compel their teams to use them, and multiple department disciplines must be involved, then understanding the practices, how they are used, and how they produce results, would permit organizations to better realize the need for the Sales Enablement role as an enterprise position worthy of the C-Suite.

Because my own sales experience so extensively involved Sales Enablement practices, I wrote a book, 99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals, that is designed help sales leaders sort out what practices are most important to enabling a successful Sales team. As a former Sales VP and Sales Manager, I know that how sales leaders organize and manage their team enables sales performance. Sales Enablement best practices and tools are necessary to make that happen.

As the Sales Enablement Society moves forward, I hope to see a focus on what works and how we can collaborate to help all participants achieve the best results from Sales Enablement tools and practices. The Austin SES chapter plans to further discuss the Sales Enablement Playbook concept in order to better describe what it might look like.  I plan to work with businesses who want to better apply Sales Enablement to create greater revenue growth and accelerate enterprise performance.

To help jumpstart the Sales Enablement Playbook effort, I’d like to share my book, 99 Questions to Achieving Your Sales Goals and will provide a free copy to anyone who would like to have one. You can download a free copy of my 99 Questions book by clicking here.  

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Connecters versus Collectors Revisited

Over the years, I have written about and have aspired to be a good networking contact for friends and business colleagues. Recently, relocation to the Austin, Texas area has caused me to reexamine my personal networking motivations as I begin to connect with local people and businesses who are interested in revenue growth, sales enablement and sales best practices.  I also follow content from a number of networking experts, like Michelle Tillis Lederman, who is also a serious student of what it means to be a good “Connector”.  Michelle is doing a survey in preparation for her new book on Connectors, and is looking for input about how people assess their skills as Connectors. (You can access her survey here if you are interested in giving her feedback.)

During my dialogue with Michelle, I recalled that Malcom Gladwell coined the term “Connector” in his book The Tipping Point – by Gladwell’s definition, Connectors are seemingly connected to everyone important to your business. They can generate all sorts of introductions to key prospects, identify new sales opportunities and have the personal relationships to enable the right pipeline.  I think we can all agree that true Connectors in the sense that Gladwell describes are fairly rare individuals. But working to become a true Connector is something to aspire to, especially when so many people benefit from their unselfish acts as resources and colleagues.

Networking has always been an important element of sales, and even more so in the current market, where connection via social media, marketing automation and the ability of buyers to access information about products and services limits how sales people can have dialogues with prospective customers.

As a sales person and consultant, I use LinkedIn extensively to learn more about my potential clients and their businesses. Important insights can be gained just by looking at LinkedIn profiles and reading about the background of your potential customer, who they are connected with and how they communicate about themselves and their business to others online.  I have great respect for what people put online, and I try to connect with them when I can add value to that connection through a personal relationship, information that I can provide, or help that I might offer them as a potential supplier.

However, this is not always the case for many people who participate in social media like LinkedIn and Facebook.  On a regular basis, I receive connection requests from people whom I don’t know or are connected to me indirectly (in LinkedIn parlance, 2nd or 3rd degree connections). They don’t personalize their request, and for all practical purposes, they have no obvious reason to connect with me. I call these people Collectors.

If I request a connection, I always personalize my request by explaining to the recipient why I am connecting. When people request connection, I usually send them a thank you note after accepting their connection. I also ask they why they connected, and I offer to be a resource to them.  Some people take me up on this, but in many cases, they just respond that they are looking to communicate with me or they may request help in the future. The important aspect of this is that they respond to my message.

Conversely, a Collector never responds to my message, and I never hear from them. In some cases, especially when I don’t know the person, I will even remove them from my network if they don’t respond.  It’s so easy to click the Connect button and expect someone to agree, even though there may be no real benefit to them in doing so.

The important (often lost) point about networking is that if you are a Connector, connecting is not a gratuitous act.  While connecting on LinkedIn is not as high on the importance scale as personally meeting people or interacting in a sales conversation with a customer, how you treat your connections and what you do when you connect, in my opinion, sends a message to others about who you are and your motivations. My theory is that Collectors send out connection and friend requests because they want to have more connections on their profile to promote their personal brand and be found by searches on the social media product. Certainly, they have no motivation to communicate or to be a resource.

I applaud Michelle Lederman for her efforts to expand on the process and value of network connection, and I am looking forward to her future book on Connectors.

What are your thoughts on Connectors and Collectors?  Why do you think Collectors connect the way they do?

Help Michelle gain insights into Connectors by filling out her survey – you can link to her survey here.

Sales as a Second Language – Learning to Speak “Sales”

If you follow the media coverage these days, you would think that everyone in business is learning how to speak a foreign language. It seems there’s a widespread perception that speaking a second language is a real asset: Rosetta Stone, the popular language training software firm, continues to report double digit customer growth. Here in Chicago, Language Stars (the firm that specializes in teaching kids foreign languages) caters to increasing parental interest by jump-starting kids’ second language skills. Is there anyone who doesn’t believe learning a second language wouldn’t be valuable in a future career?

I make this observation, because when it comes to sales effectiveness, I find that many senior executives haven’t learned “Sales as a second language”.

My colleague Spencer Maus recently pointed this out in a discussion about how business leaders decide they need help with their Sales team. He asked, why do executives decide that they need your sales effectiveness services? We reviewed this question in depth, and I want to share the valuable insights I gained from Spencer.

As a business executive, your career trajectory may or may not have included participation in Sales. No doubt, many smaller business founders/owners personally captured their firm’s original customers, or perhaps, someone with sales background was brought in to help the founders with Sales. My personal experience in larger firms is the majority of executive leaders didn’t advance through the Sales ranks.

Whether we started in Sales or elsewhere, our life experiences and business activities always expose us to sales situations. We accumulate personal and business experiences either as a potential buyer or in selling products or services to prospect and customers. Executives often participate in customer relationship development and key sales decisions.

Regardless, it doesn’t mean that person running the business has professional sales experience. For example, young attorneys may witness relationship development and selling by more senior partners and associates, but that doesn’t translate into real sales training, networking skills development, or how to find new clients in the context of a legal practice. More senior colleagues may have relied on personal friends or sales naturally evolved out of existing client relationships – not exactly what I would describe as professional selling.

While there’s nothing wrong with cultivating a personal network or getting additional business from an existing customer (especially true within Professional Services), that’s probably not enough to sustain a growing business in any industry. In my view, there are three important prerequisite elements that define an organization’s ability to professionally perform business development:

Intentional Sales Process

A defined, intentional sales process is the first prerequisite element. Defined, in that someone actually sat down and assessed how business development is done, what tasks are completed, the sales content (deliverables) produced, and how long it takes to perform each sales task. Call this “business process analysis” or whatever technical term makes sense, but as the cliché goes, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Intentional, because everyone has a de facto sales process – it may be an ill-defined process that doesn’t produce intended results, but you still have a process. Management should put pre-meditated thought and effort into creating and managing a process that really works.

Sales (versus Marketing) Messaging

Intuitively, there should be a firm-wide consensus about what customer-facing employees say to prospects and customers, versus what is documented on your website, written in proposals, or presented in marketing collateral. Despite the critical importance of sales conversations, many firms fail to examine whether they have the right sales conversation with prospective customers.

While judging conversation quality can be subjective, there’s no reason why there can’t be internal consensus about what works or doesn’t work in a sales conversation. (I’ve documented in a previous post a detailed process to successfully assess sales conversations and messaging quality using the 99 Questions Methodology.)

Some business leaders believe it’s enough just to have good personal conversations and develop relationships. Here’s a brief story that illustrates why this approach has a limited probability of producing short-term results: one of my clients’ sales people regularly took prospective clients to lunch and they developed great personal relationships. After months of lunches, you would think that all the personal attention would have produced significant business, but these sales people never so much as asked the prospect if they could sell them something! Needless to say, these sales people had great customer “friends,” but no pipeline! They also didn’t have jobs once Management figured out what happened!

Create a System

Another famous cliché I have experienced is that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. If you have a reasonable volume of business development, there has to be some way of tracking the process, monitoring employees’ communications, and evaluating whether their sales efforts are successful. For example, hiring more people because there is more work may not indicate real success. In fact, it may demonstrate how inefficiently you deliver products and services, versus generating more revenue and profit. Tangible methods of evaluating sales activities help to determine if the Sales people are producing expected results.

However, tracking the process doesn’t mean simply buying and installing a CRM system to record “sales” activities. There should be intense introspection to identify your target customers, how you connect with them, the steps that go into relationship building, how you know a sales cycle is making progress, how you evaluate each customer-facing person to determine if they are meeting relationship and revenue goals. Many firms acquire sales technology products based on the mistaken belief that a technology solution addresses these questions. By example, inputting data into an opportunity screen of a CRM tool doesn’t translate into effectively managing a client relationship.

Would You Learn a 2nd Language this Way?

To revisit the 2nd language analogy, there is no guarantee that you’ll easily adopt another language just because you are competent in speaking English. It takes training and practice, along with insights about why you need a second language, how you will use your second language, setting goals to become proficient in speaking the language, and making an intentional effort to continually improve. Systems like Rosetta Stone help to accomplish those goals by managing the learning process, and tracking results.

Why would you do differently when it comes to developing new business? Assuming you understand an entire body of business practices around creating, building, and managing a Sales organization is like deciding you can learn French just by reading movie subtitles. The recognition of Sales as a second language should be the realization you have the opportunity to help your business become more successful by learning and adopting best practices.

Bonne Chance!

If you are interested in discussing how to implement “Sales as a second language” or if you want to evaluate your selling process, sales messaging and/or sales systems, please contact me. You can find my colleague Spencer Maus at his website on marketing and public relations best practices, Spencerconnect.

Prospecting, Funnel Metrics & GTR

In recent posts I have focused on messaging strategy and the 99 Questions Methodology to enable new customer prospecting efforts. In this post I’d like to discuss the topic of prospecting from a different perspective, and share with you a new partner relationship I’ve formed with Velu Pelani, CEO of GTR Consulting. GTR is a Chicago-based firm that specializes in Salesforce.com consulting. My sales operations background complements GTR’s extensive experience doing development and customizing Salesforce.com for clients. I want to share the story behind why I am partnering with GTR to illustrate an important sales management lesson.

We can all agree that prospecting is one of the most formidable job challenges for sales managers: coaching and motivating sales people to prospect is at best, a difficult responsibility. There always seems to be uncertainty about prospecting tactics (yes, we can stipulate that everyone hates cold calling), the amount of time dedicated to prospecting, how much prospecting is needed to make quota, and even where prospect “lists” will come from. Given this chaos, sales managers often ignore important prospecting fundamentals. Prerequisite steps are needed before kick-starting the process and subsequent pipeline management activities that take over a sales manager’s time and effort. Ignoring the fundamentals compounds this effort and creates problems in overseeing the pipeline, which I will illustrate in the story below.

Sales manager prospecting requirements came up when Velu and I reviewed a unique sales tool that extends Salesforce.com by aggregating the opportunity pipeline into a single graphical display. The tool allows sales managers (and their teams) to view and manipulate their pipeline much more efficiently than using reports or dashboards. It also identifies opportunities that don’t appear to fit in a particular sales stage for whatever reason (e.g., they age past certain point, etc.).

One of the tool’s strengths is its extensive capabilities to calculate an “ideal” pipeline. As we reviewed the product, I asked the following question: How does the tool determine the number of pipeline opportunities that should be ideally pursued at each stage in the sales cycle?  More important, on a broader level, how do tools like this address how many deals are needed above the funnel in order to make quota?

To be clear, the question isn’t whether the tool can calculate an ideal pipeline. The issue is, can sales managers really understand and apply this information in a meaningful way? To really leverage this or other tools, we need to apply a fundamental sales management practice known in the sales and marketing community as Funnel Metrics.

Funnel Metrics helps managers understand that from the very top of the sales funnel process (where leads are generated by marketing campaigns and/or where sales people cold call), there is a certain number of customer contacts you have to work with and move down the funnel so that you end up with the desired number of closed deals, resulting in your quota. When I consult with clients, I use a diagram that looks like this:

Funnel Metrics Diagram
Funnel Metrics Diagram

To determine your Funnel Metrics, first define the current or desired sales cycle stages you have in your sales process (six stages in the diagram). Then, take your total annual revenue number and divide it by the average revenue per deal to get the number of deals you need to win in a year.

Now put that number in the Close Box (in this case, 10). Work backwards from Close to figure out how many deals are needed at each stage, and how many are eliminated at each stage. For example, it takes 13 proposals to get to 10 wins, and 25 qualified deals to get 10 wins. You do this for each stage, finally getting to the Leads at the top of the Funnel. Each stage stands on its own.

You can calculate the Probability of winning a deal at each stage by dividing the number of deals at any stage into the number of Closed deals (e.g., 10 closes / 13 Proposals = 77% close rate.

Now you have a way to see where your overall pipeline is compared to the Funnel Metrics. It’s based on your actual experience, so no one can deny it (unless you are completely re-vamping your process, in which case you can create “ideal” Funnel Metrics to start). You can also compare individual rep’s pipelines against the Funnel Metrics see how they are stacking up. You can look at performance at each stage and determine how you need to coach each rep based on how their pipeline compares to the Funnel Metrics. Finally, you now know if there’s enough Leads to close the total deals needed to make quota. There is much more you can do with this as you might expect and I’m happy to share ideas with you.

Why is this important to Velu and his clients? While the concept of Funnel Metrics is not complex, Velu realized that neither he nor his client managers have a working knowledge of pipeline and funnel metrics practices inherent in the pipeline tool we reviewed. The value of these tools (like CRM itself) comes from knowing how to manage the process and the people in the first place. Tools support that knowledge, but they typically assume you already know what to do. I can say from personal experience that I didn’t understand Funnel Metrics when I first became a sales manager. (See my previous post about Sales MANagers versus Sales MANAGERS for more insight.)

As we pursue engagements with clients, GTR and I will work together to drive greater insights into client’s sales effectiveness by encouraging them to invest in their sales process and practices, and by working with the sales leaders to help them gain valuable insights into how they can improve sales team performance. This leads to better results from Salesforce.com and real efficiencies in managing the pipeline with pipeline tools found on the AppExchange. I am excited to be partnering with Velu and his team!

NOTE: If you would like a copy of my Funnel Metric Spreadsheet or would like to do a free 30 minute Funnel Metric exercise, please contact me by clicking here.

Ideation Selling – A New Approach to Customer Development

A television commercial recently produced for the 2014 Jeep Cherokee features Al Pacino reprising Coach Tony D’Amato’s pre-game speech from the movie, “Any Given Sunday”. He says, “…the inches we need are everywhere around us – every minute, every second, we fight for that inch…” In sales, it’s an appropriate way to think about the many tactics we use to recruit new customers, especially C-level executives. When it comes to gaining access to decision makers, what really works?

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to consider this question in my personal selling efforts, for my clients, and with some colleagues who have introduced unique thought leadership in this area to the sales discipline. Ideation Selling represents “extra inch” thinking in an industry where many leading sales training and consulting firms offer homogenous approaches to address executive level business development. Here’s some background about how this breakthrough process was conceived. Continue reading “Ideation Selling – A New Approach to Customer Development”