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Jul 21 17

What Is The Role Of Sales Enablement?

by David Brock

I always hate to start a post with a disclaimer or an apology.  This post may seem like I’m bashing the sales enablement function and sales enablement professionals.  Taken in its most broad context, it’s a critical function.  Sales enablement professionals have a tough and important job.  Many of the most important initiatives focused on improving sales performance come through sales enablement.

Additionally, initiatives like those of the Sales Enablement Society are critical in driving learning among sales enablement professionals, and the ability to standardize practice and increase the value sales enablement professionals and the function provide within the sales function.


I’m increasingly concerned about some of the things I hear and read about sales enablement.  Perhaps it’s not the discussions themselves, but it’s what’s absent in the discussion.

Yes, sales enablement has a role to help sales people sell better, maximizing revenue per rep.

Yes, sales enablement has to provide training, tools, systems, programs, content, onboarding, to help the rep at every phase of their development.

What’s missing in the conversation is that sales enablement isn’t alone in this mission.  Every function in the sales organization has the mission of helping the front line seller sell better, to perform at the highest levels possible, to maximize the revenue each sales person produces.

Every person in the sales organization that is not a front line seller has the mission of serving those front line sellers so they can be better and sell more.

Front line management’s sole responsibility is to maximize the performance of each person on their team.

Senior sales management has the responsibility of maximizing overall sales organizational performance in executing the company’s strategies.

Sales operations has the responsibility of identifying and removing roadblocks to sales effectiveness.

HR has the responsibility of helping make sure the right talent is on board, that managers and others in the organization are doing everything possible to retain and develop that talent to achieve their full potential in the organization, both in the short term and long term.

It doesn’t stop with the sales organization itself, marketing, product management, customer service, finance, even manufacturing and development all have roles in helping sales people sell more–better.  (Though some of this is indirect)

It’s the absence of this recognition in many of the discussions around sales enablement that, in fact, diminishes the impact and effectiveness of sales enablement.

For example, I recently read a very good and impassioned article on the role of sales enablement.  There was no mention of any other part of the organization.  More alarming, there was no mention of the Front Line Sales Manager.  The impression, perhaps unintentional, was that it is sales enablement, alone, that would drive the performance of the sales people.

Even more alarming is an emerging trend for sales enablement organizations to take over sales coaching.  The intent is good, it’s a clear reaction to sales managers not coaching or doing it ineffectively.  But the solution to that is not displacing this responsibility from sales management, but to teach, train, and enable them to do their jobs.

Stealing a phrase from another author, “it takes a village” to drive sales performance.  It is not sales enablement alone that will drive sales performance.  It’s the focused, collaborative efforts of everyone sitting behind the front line sellers that will drive sales performance.

Perhaps, I’m being a little nit picky.  But the sales enablement function is too important to front line sellers and to the organization to isolate itself from the rest of the team driven by the same mission.  In many cases, sales enablement professionals are fighting for a seat at the sales executive’s table–and they should be there.

The way we do this (and I’m including myself as a sales enablement practitioner, if not a professional), is by being more inclusive in the way we present ourselves and in the actual implementation of our strategies and programs.  To recognize that sales enablement, alone, cannot achieve this goal.  Perhaps, even to provide leadership in dragging others into the development and execution of their strategies/programs (for example front line sales management.

Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great sales enablement organizations and leaders.  They recognized their real mission is to catalyze the entire organization around driving sales performance, not viewing it as a sales enablement only function.  They set the model of sales enablement performance excellence for all others.

I know that is the intent of great sales enablement professionals, yet the absence of this in the conversations we have does not serve us, what we want to achieve, or our “customers” which are the front line sellers and the rest of the organization.



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Jul 20 17

The Missing Link In Sales Performance

by David Brock

Every sales executive is constantly struggling to improve the performance of their organizations.  The data on percent of sales people achieving their goals, percent of companies making plan, and so forth is appalling.

Millions of person hours are spent in trying to understand how to drive sales performance.  Billions are spent on tools, training, consulting services all focused on improving the performance of sales people.

In virtually every discussion, every popular blog post, the focus of all sales performance initiatives is the sales person.  Are we getting the right people?  Are we developing the right skills? Do they have the right programs, training, tools to maximize productivity/performance?  Do we have the right incentives/compensation?  How do we get sales people to perform better?

Sales enablement professionals, sales operations, and top executives seem singularly focused on the question, “How do we raise the level of performance–the effectiveness and efficiency of each sales person on our team?”

We keep asking the same question, we keep trying different approaches, we keep spending time and money trying to fix our sales people.  We may see some results, some improvement, often difficult to sustain.

As I look at all these initiatives and efforts, there is one element that is consistently missing.  It seems obvious, it should be leaping out at us, but it’s rare that I see organizations focus on this.

It’s the front line sales manager.

The job of the front line sales manager is to maximize the performance of each person on their team.  It’s what they spend every day (or should be spending every day) doing.  Yet too often we ignore them in our performance improvement initiatives.

Sure they go to the same training their sales people go to.  Absolutely, they are using the same tools we want our sales people to use.  Yes, they are involved in the programs we want our sales people to execute.

But if they are the people responsible for maximizing the performance of each person on their team, what are we doing to help them do that?  How are we helping them learn what it means to drive performance, how they can be effective in working with their people every day?

How many sales managers even know this is their job?  The only reason they are in place is to maximize the performance of each person on their team.  The only way they achieve their numbers is through what the people on their team are doing.

The fastest path to driving consistent, sustainable sales performance is to focus on the people responsible for driving performance in their teams—the Front Line Sales Manager.

Yet, inevitably, enabling the front line sales manager is an afterthought, or we even seek to go around them–establishing coaching resources in sales enablement, or trying to relieve them of their coaching and performance management responsibilities through tools (as opposed to implementing the tools to augment their capabilities.)

If we want to drive sales performance, we need to focus on the people responsible for the performance of sales people-their managers.  We have to:

  1. That we make sure we have the right people in front line management jobs.  Sales superheroes, or managers that hide behind spreadsheets and analysis, or managers who think their time is better spent in strategy sessions and endless management meetings will not move the needle on sales performance. (They may cause a blip, but it is never sustainable.)
  2. Make sure they understand their first priority is their people and maximizing the performance of each person on their team.
  3. Make sure they are trained and equipped to do their jobs:  Making sure they know how to set performance expectations, they know how to coach and develop their people,  that they are actually prioritizing coaching in their day to day work, that they address performance issues early.  That they are recruiting and on boarding the right people.  That they are measuring the right things to help them understand where there are performance issues, but that they can’t be hiding behind the numbers and reports, but those should drive specific action and engagement with their people.  That they have some empathy for the reality of what sales people face every day, and can leverage that empathy in driving engagement, that they are truly being helpful to their people.
  4. Make sure they know their personal success is solely based on their people’s success.
  5. They are actively engaged in the design and implementation of tools, training, programs that we are rolling out to the sales people.  Implementing any new program without the active engagement of front line management in the ongoing reinforcement and coaching will not lead to sustained performance improvement.
  6. Senior managers–the managers of FLSMs need to actively be coaching and developing their FLSMs.

Since so many of our performance improvement strategies simply aren’t working or sustainable, perhaps there’s an argument for changing where we make our investments.  Perhaps we ought to be investing disproportionately in the people directly responsible for day to day sales performance, the Front Line Sales Manager.



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Jul 19 17

The Buying Process, It Only Happens 1 Time!

by David Brock

Customers struggle with buying.  There’s a huge amount of data indicating the majority of customer buying processes end in no decision made.

There a number of reasons this occurs, shift is priorities, lack or urgency/attention, fear of change, costs, and so on.  One of the major reasons is customers simply struggle with the buying process itself.

When you think about it, with the exception of procurement professionals, and with the exception of things we buy frequently–for example toilet paper for the bathrooms, the buying process only happens once.

Since most of what we buy only happens once, particularly in a complex buying situation, it’s no wonder they struggle with the process and fail to make a decision.  They’ve never done this buying process before!  They don’t know why, what, how they should do this.

Let me be clear, it’s not that our customers haven’t bought things before, they have.  They may have even bought some of the things we sell before.  For example, they may be reassessing ERP, HR, Financial Systems.  Possibly moving from enterprise based solutions, to cloud based solutions.  They may be putting in a new manufacturing process, or introducing a new product.  They’ve done all these things in the past and have purchased in the past.

But each buying situation is new and unique.  It happens once and is never (well OK, never may be a strong word) happens again.

Buying occurs at a point in time.  It happens as a result of a specific situation.  A unique group of people, all with differing experiences, priorities, agendas, is the buying team for this purchase.  What they are trying to achieve and why they are doing it is unique to this situation and this point in time.  Even if the same people are involved in another situation at a later date, their agendas and priorities have changed, as has the situation.

On top of this, the possible solutions change.  Perhaps we made a decision on a certain product a couple of years ago.  That product has now become outdated (if you are in technology, it’s obsolete already).  The potential solutions that might be selected for something we are trying to do today, are likely to be very different than when we addressed the similar issue a number of years ago.

It’s no wonder our customers struggle, they never done this before!  It’s their first time to address this specific “Buying Process/Situation.”

Yes, there are some things that may be similar to past buying decisions.  We may have addressed similar problems or opportunities.  We know the general steps we have to go through—define the problem, establish goals/outcomes, identify needs/requirements, evaluate alternatives, and so forth.

But each buying situation is unique.  Our customers haven’t faced this situation before and won’t face it again.  As a result, why should we or they assume they know how to buy in addressing this opportunity?

What’s this mean for us, as sellers?

Well, each selling situation is unique.  It’s different than the past situation we dealt with with these customers.  It’s different than the situations we are working with other customers.

So we have to pay attention.  We have to probe, we have to understand.  We can’t make assumptions–just because we were involved with this customer in a similar thing last year doesn’t mean things are the same—they aren’t, by definition.  We can’t be on autopilot, we can’t read from the same tired script or do the same irrelevant demo.

We have to understand the specific dynamics of what the customer is trying to do:  Why now?  What’s different about this situation?  What is the customer is trying to achieve, why is this situation important to them now?  Who is involved, why, what are their attitudes, motivations, priorities, agendas, goals?  How do the relate to each other in the buying team, now?  What will they have to do to approve and implement this decision.

There may be similarities with past situations, and we can leverage our experience and expertise to help accelerate our ability to understand this buying process the customer is going through right now.  But we have to recognize and respond to the differences.

We also have the opportunity to be very helpful to the customer in their buying process.

Think for a moment.  If you sell CRM systems, how many times in their careers has the customer made a CRM selection.  If they are doing it right, probably only a couple of times.  (If they are doing it wrong and constantly changing CRM, then you have a whole set of even more difficult challenges).  In complex buying/selling, our customers don’t buy these solutions every day.  Sometimes years may pass between these major decisions.  So they have no experience base to draw from for this unique buying process.

But we face these situations every day.  While each situation is unique and different, we have experience of working with dozens to hundreds of customers who are going through similar processes every day.  We have a much richer base of experience in working with them, and in understanding what they think is important and how they buy.  We have a tremendous opportunity to help our customers learn from other customers or learn from us in helping them shape their buying process for this buying decision.

Each buying decision is unique.  It happens once.  Our customers struggle because they have never gone through this before and their similar experiences may be dated.  We see these every day, and while each buying process is unique, we can help our customers learn how others have done the same thing, and helping them discover how they should buy for this situation.

Are you taking advantage of this?  Our you collaborating with your customer to help them discover and define how they will buy today?



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Jul 19 17

Cutting Sales Expense

by David Brock

Recently, I got a call.  When I filter out all the prospecting calls, usually when people call me, it’s a CEO, VP of Sales/Marketing, or someone in the sales organization.  This call was from the Controller of a relatively large organization.

He had been chartered by top management to look at their sales organization.  It wasn’t meeting it’s goals, so he was doing an audit.  He had stumbled across some of my articles, wanting an outside opinion, he called me.  Without giving me any background, his first question was, “How do I chop sales expense?  What should the right level of sales expense be?”

I was taken aback by the question, my knee jerk reaction was, “I think you are asking the wrong question, you should be asking ‘How do you improve sales performance?  That may or may not have anything to do with chopping sales expense.  As to the right level of sales expense, the only reasonable answer is, It Depends.'”

The controller was quite insistent, “The sales organization is costing way too much, we need to chop expenses, what’s the right level of sales spending?”

Perhaps to make a point, I responded, “Well you can chop sales expenses to Zero, you can get rid of the entire sales organization, but will you still be able to achieve your revenue, growth, and profitability plans?”

He got my point and started describing what had been happening.  Apparently, for some number of years, the sales organization had been consistently under performing.  Sure, there were a handful of star performers that were meeting or exceeding their goals, but over 90% of the sales people were achieving less than 80% of their plan.  And this had persisted for years.

When the VP of Sales was challenged with this data, his response was always, “We need to spend more, I need to hire more sales people.” (Some of you will begin to see where this story is going.”

Top management had, initially, allowed him to spend more, but the results weren’t changing and the VP wasn’t changing his tune.  Frustrated, they asked the controller to audit sales and to “chop sales expense.”

In our conversation, the controller was frustrated, “Clearly we are spending too much money, what should we be spending?”

I didn’t want to frustrate him further by giving him the only answer I could, “It Depends,” so we started discussing what he needed to do to better understand sales performance.  I told him, that clearly what they were spending wasn’t producing the results they expected.  They needed to understand why so many sales people were performing so badly and what were the right level of investments and leadership to get their performance back on target.

As our discussion progressed, he wanted to understand where to start, we went through a laundry list of issues:

What is different about the top performers?  Why are they making their numbers and the others aren’t?  Is it the profile of the individuals, do you have the right talent?  What is their sales process, how do they engage customers, how does that compare to the rest of the organization, where are the gaps?

As you can imagine, the list went on.  To understand the situation, he really needed to look deeper into what was driving the performance they were getting.

He kept persisting, what should the right level of spending be?  How could he report back to management about what they should be investing?  His questions were moving past the sales performance issues, but trying to address more strategic issues about Cost of Selling and affordability.  We had a discussion about benchmarking similar organizations, looking at industry data and a number of other things.  We talked about how they might look at affordability, assessing different go to market strategies and their comparative costs/performance.  I asked if they had ever studied how their customer buy, to determine the best mix of sales deployment strategies.  We talked about their overall company strategies, their markets, their growth/profitability goals and how those would impact decisions on investing in sales.

In the end, he didn’t have his answer.  He did realize the right answer depended on a large number of factors.  He realized there was no right answer, but what they might invest might be based on affordability–and that might impact their ability to meet their growth plans.

We did come to an agreement.  His company had a sales management problem.

The fact that sales management wasn’t paying attention to any of these issues.  That they weren’t addressing the most fundamental performance issues.  To get more revenue, they weren’t looking at how to improve performance, they were just spending more money.

The controller of an organization shouldn’t have to know all this stuff about sales performance, sales effectiveness, whether they were getting the right return on investment in selling, whether there were more effective ways of spending that money to produce better results.  This is the job of top sales management.  That the top sales executive wasn’t doing this and wasn’t able to support the controller in his audit was an indication he wasn’t doing his job.

The job of top sales management isn’t easy.  We face disruptions in our markets, rapidly changing buyer behaviors, new competitive threats, challenges within our own companies, challenges within our own organizations, limits to our abilities to drive change, skyrocketing complexity, people issues.  We never have the time, funding, or resources to achieve what we would like, ultimately we seek to optimize what we do within hundreds to thousands of constraints.  And we know that tomorrow it will change again.

But it’s our jobs to be responsible stewards of the investments our companies make in selling.  It’s our job to translate the company’s business strategies into sales strategies/tactics that our organizations (direct, indirect, hybrid) must execute every day.

What’s the right cost of selling?  Well it depends.

Are our people and is our organization performing at the highest levels possible—there is always a necessity to improve and drive higher levels of performance.  But that’s our job.

Do we have the right model—it depends, we must continue to evolve.  Al Gore hadn’t invented the internet when I started selling (It was something called Darpanet then).  But the web changes everything and how our customers buy and how we organize to sell creates new possibilities.  And tomorrow, other technologies will change the answer to our deployment models.

This is what top sales execs sign up to do and must do, if they are being proper stewards of executing our company strategies in the face of our companies, doing so in the most effective way possible.

As to my friend the controller.  He didn’t get the answers he was looking for, he knows a path forward.  He did get all my contact information for his conversation with the CEO next week.



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