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What If Sales Enablement Is A “Rotational Assignment?”

by David Brock on June 15th, 2018

I always hate starting a post with a pile of disclaimers.  In some of my recent posts, I seem to be bashing sales enablement.  I don’t mean to be doing that.  Sales enablement is a vital function in organizations, it has a hugely important mission that can only be fulfilled with talented professionals.  Many of our best clients and my closest friends are sales enablement professionals (And I hope they remain so after reading this post.)

However, I often wonder if we might increase the impact of sales enablement by making it a “temp job” or “rotational assignment.”

What if we rotated, as a development assignment, some of our best sales people and managers into sales enablement roles?

Some of the issue, and it’s human nature, is that many sales enablement professionals have not been a sales person for years.  Some never have been.  It’s hard to understand the reality, particularly in today’s fast changing world, of sales people’s lives if it’s been a long time since you’ve done the job itself.

Intellectually, one can understand the issues.  Data provides a lot of insight into the issues.  Studying best practices and sharing views with other sales enablement professionals is important.

But great sales enablement is as much EQ as it is IQ.  Too often, we see sales enablement programs that are technically and intellectually right, fail to achieve their potential because they are insensitive to the reality of how sales people work and what they need to do to be successful.

Imagine the power of leveraging that.  Take a high performing sales person and assign that person to work in developing/delivering sales enablement programs for two years.  They bring the pragmatism and real world experience to sales enablement, and can help develop and the programs that are most impactful in a way that will be accepted by the organization.

These people can become Sales Enablement’s “voice of/to the customer.”

Then think at the end of those two years, that sales person moves back to the field, perhaps as a front line sales manager, or as a senior manager.  They become active advocates and provide constant reinforcement of the sales enablement programs.

When I first started as a sales person and went to sales training, the people doing the training were people who had been top sales people.  They brought a reality to the experience that a training professional might not have done.  At the same time they learned new skills that enabled them to step back into field roles at much higher levels and with much greater impact.

Perhaps it’s time to re-look at this.

 

Afterword:  The same applies to consultants and outside trainers.  If they haven’t done the “job” or haven’t done it for some time–one might question how relevant and connected they can be.

 Book CoverFor a free peek at Sales Manager Survival Guide, click the picture or link.  You’ll get the Table of Contents, Foreword, and 2 free Chapters.  Free Sample

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6 Comments
  1. Pros and cons, Dave. For me, it depends on the situation. Challenges include the balance between getting the benefit of truly understanding frontline sales challenges (great – although there are other ways) vs. not likely having the capabilities needed by a true enablement professional or performance consultant (not so great and needs to be planned for).

    I’d do it if I had a large team and this were one of several roles, and if the person were a good fit for the role in general, but otherwise I’m not sure it elevates the profession.

    If this is the only sales enablement person, in a rotational role from sales, I believe we are leading the profession in the wrong direction. What will they know about about content design, root cause analysis, designing appropriate training and implementing effectively, process alignment, and more? We need to elevate toward becoming performance consultants, in my opinion. That’s a specific skill set. Just rotating reps into the role could be akin to just putting your best reps in manager roles.

    Not impossible, but I’d proceed with caution on this one and have it be a structured learning experience inside a larger department where sales enablement expertise to already exists.

    • There are pros/cons and every situation is different. Having said that, I’m starting to see too much of “sales enablement for sales enablement sake.” I’m seeing ideally designed programs that are divorced from the reality of what sales people face every day.

      In the sales enablement communities, I’m seeing sales enablement people talking to each other—yet very few sales people/sales managers are participating in the conversation, as a result, there is starting to be a chasm between sales and sales enablement. I see too many sales enablement organizations measuring their success on the quantity of stuff they produce not on the ability of the sales people to effectively leverage them. As a result, I see sales people drowning under too many sales enablement initiatives.

      Clearly, taking someone out of the field, the person has to have the right competencies and behaviors to perform in the job (just like our best sales people don’t necessarily make the best managers). But I’d also be careful about those competencies that are most critical to sales enablement–and I think the deep understanding of what it takes to be successful in the field is most critical. Content design, instructional design, process alignment without a deep understanding, experience, and empathy for the real world of sales is what’s creating the schism we see in sales performance today.

      I will always default to a person with strong/relevant sales experience who has enough of the sales enablement competencies to guide the identification, development, and implementation of the right sales enablement programs. As I reflect on the organizations I’ve worked with in the past 5 years, those with a mix of people with deep and recent field experience and more traditional sales enablement people consistently produce more relevant programs and better sales outcomes than those staffed strictly with sales enablement professionals.

  2. David,
    Thanks for sharing. I agree with you that the industry is creating a “sales enablement” profession not populated by skilled top sales performers. I’ve enjoyed the benefits of professional sales enablement professionals, especially in larger organizations and they’ve been great but often something gets lost in translation with how the message and work lands on the team. In full disclosure, I was a top performer that was rotated out of the field for 1 year by my manager/mentor early in my career. It changed my perspective on the importance of enablement, my views as a sales manager, and my career trajectory forever. I have since gifted a few others with this same experience. Taking high potentials and putting them in rotation for enablement earns the respect and attention of the team benefiting from their “street smart” enablement ideas, and oh boy, do they have original ideas! It also provides a vital coaching opportunity for us to develop our future leaders and cements their career while paying it forward. That’s a trifecta in my book.

  3. Great read, Dave. I’m leading a team of Sales enablement professionals for one of our programs at SAP (SAP Sales Academy for Early Talent) and I’ve chosen the approach you describe in your post. The 6 of them have a Sales leadership, Sales or Sales Ops background and experience. We rely on our Learning organization, and my own experience (both in sales & sales enablement) to provide guidance on training techniques and tools, but we primarily focus on making enablement as “real-life” as possible. Additionally, I invite Top performers from the field to support our program (best practices sharing, role-plays, evaluations..). This hands-on approach is, I believe, key to the success of our program and really speeds up the learning curve of our participants. Thanks for your blog and resources, always very useful!

    • It sounds like you are running and extraordinary program Fred! Congrats, thanks for sharing your experience of leveraging high potential field people in Sales Enablement.

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