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Jun 18 18

Abandoning Excellence

by David Brock

Sometimes, I reflect on the “good old days.”  Things were certainly different, I do think at a macro level things are far better than whatever our image of the good old days were.

At the same time, I do see areas where we seem to be “settling” for levels of performance or excellence that are far lower than what we expected as standards of performance years.

By way of illustration, I’ve spent much of my career loosely involved with telecommunications, whether the operating companies, equipment, or services providers.

In the good old days of landlines, there was something that all the operators were obsessed with.  In the industry, it was referred to as QoS—Quality of Service.

QoS referred to the quality of the phone call.  Any levels of static, and decline in call quality, any inability to consistently and correctly connect calls was deemed as unacceptable.  The operating companies constantly strove to achieve levels of QoS that seemed absurdly high–typically above 98%.

Sometimes, I thought it seemed a little silly, they were doing things that, as a user, I couldn’t perceive, but they were important metrics and goals for the operators.

Fast forward to the telecom world of today and, “Can You Hear Me Now,” is no longer an advertising campaign, but the reality we live in every day.

We suffer through bad calls, dropped calls.  If it’s a cloudy day, the mobile signal at my desk is flaky, so to make calls I have to stand as close to one of the windows in my office as I can.  I make sure that I don’t move, if I even turn a little, I might lose the call.

Yet this is what we live with and accept today.  What’s worse, we don’t seem to question it, it’s just the way things are.  We accept lower levels of quality as “normal.”

We seem to do the same things in marketing and sales.  I remember reviewing campaigns, where 1% response rates meant we failed.  We would assess what we had done, continually seeking to improve–driving higher opens, higher response rates, better levels of results.

The same with selling, win rates, sales cycle, average transaction values were important.  We always looked to improve those, driving performance as high as possible.  Are we chasing the right customers?  Are we engaging them as effectively as possible?  Are we maximizing our ability to create value with them, differentiating our offerings from others?  Are we continually improving our capabilities as sales and marketing professionals, achieving the highest levels of organizational and individual performance possible.

Yet today, the focus is less on improving, getting better results from what we pursue and what we do.

We focus on volume and velocity.  A response rate of 1% is no longer questioned, in fact in many organizations, it’s viewed as exceptional.  If we didn’t get the right number of responses, we just sent another million emails or make another 1000 dials.

We accept what we get and the way we get more is to increase volume/velocity, rather than figuring out how do better.  We settle for mediocre performance, seeking to achieve our numbers by ramping up the volumes.

In too many organizations, the focus is on doing more, not doing things better or more effectively.

Ironically, doing more, higher volumes and velocity don’t seem to be working.  We can paper the world with millions of emails, we can make thousands of dials, we can double, and triple these.  The incremental cost of doing more is virtually zero.

But we aren’t doing better.  For the past 7 years, according to CSO Insights, sales people making quota has declined roughly 10% to the low 50’s.  Other research show similar issues in performance.

One would think we would begin to focus on doing better at what we do.  Improving how we engage and work with customers.  Improving our effectiveness, improving our impact.

There are sporadic initiatives to do this, but it’s tough work, too often we opt for easy.  I know I’m generalizing, there are many that constantly seek to improve and excel, yet in general, we seem to be becoming increasingly comfortable with mediocrity.


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Jun 17 18

Features And Benefits

by David Brock

Somehow, we think features and benefits are important.  Every beginning sales course talks about how we present Features And Benefits (When I first started, I learned how to present Features-Advantages-Benefits —-FABs).  Our product marketing and marketing teams load us up with content and presentations with endless lists of features and benefits.

Visit any web site, and one is inundated with features and benefits.  We see the comparative tables showing features and benefits on one axis and the comparison of our solution with various alternatives–and we know our solution always checks off all the boxes, the alternatives don’t.  Ironically, when you visit the websites of those alternative solutions, their comparisons always show them checking all their boxes and the alternatives–including us don’t.

These are all games we play in pitching our products. and focusing on features and benefits.

But the problem is, not all features benefit the customer.

This is the first place where Features and Benefits discussions fall apart.

Customers may not care that we have certain features, they are irrelevant and the benefit is irrelevant.  Let me take an extreme example, say we offer our product in four colors, while the competition only offers their product in black (Think back to Henry Ford–“We’ll give you a car in any color as long as it’s black.”)  The feature is 4 colors, the benefit is you can match your office decor, you have colors that are soothing and restful to your employees.

The customer responds, “I don’t care, all our employees are color blind so that’s meaningless to us.”

Features and benefits are meaningless if the customer doesn’t care about specific features or benefits.  Yet, too many sales people will rattle off all the features and benefits they offer, forgetting the ones they should be focusing on are the ones the customer cares about.  If they only care about one benefit, then the only features relevant to them are those that produce that benefit.

The second area Features and Benefits are meaningless is we have to translate them into specifics that are meaningful to the customer.  Just the fact that we enable the customer to reduce operational costs and improve profitability is meaningless to the customer.  (Plus the competition is saying the same thing).  How much will we reduce expense, how will profitability be improved, how long will it take, when will they see results. Without making the benefits specific to the customer and their situation, we aren’t articulating our value in ways that are impactful and relevant to customers.

Features only benefit the customer if they produce value the customer cares about.  When we’ve narrowed our focus to those relevant features, we must articulate benefits specific to what the customer should expect to achieve.

Absent this, we are not creating value with the customer.


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Jun 15 18

What If Sales Enablement Is A “Rotational Assignment?”

by David Brock

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.


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Jun 14 18

Sales Enablement, “Build It And They Will Come….”

by David Brock

Sales enablement is a “hot” issue in driving sales effectiveness/performance.  Hundreds of millions are being invested in “enabling sales people.”  Whether it’s new software tools, programs, content, training, processes, dedicated sales enablement professionals and executives are creating and delivering an endless array of things to “help” sales people.

Every sales enablement professional I meet is very dedicated and well intended.  But often, it seems too many have lost sight of the goal–it;s helping our sales people sell more.

Too often, it seems these professionals get caught up in their own activities, which become ends in themselves, but may not be producing the desired outcomes in the sales organization.

Content is one of my favorite areas—sales enablement seems to be producing endless amounts of content.   Case studies, presentations, playbooks, battlecards, proposal tools, testimonials.  All are segmented by persona, industry, market, problems.  Yet when one starts auditing content utilization, we see the same thing—people are only using a small amount of content.  Or they are doing their own thing.

Training is the same, we’re providing more and more training, leveraging technology to deliver bite sized modules to the sales person’s device, creating just in time elearning modules to develop people’s skills.  Sometimes we “mandate” the training, or require some level of certification.  But then we watch sales people as they work, many simply aren’t using it.

Tools is another area.  The “sales stack” has entered our vocabulary, and so many of the conversations among sales enablement professionals end up being, “mine is bigger than yours…..”  As a sidenote, the picture accompanying this post demonstrates a symptom of the problem.  Sales enablement isn’t about all the technology platforms we provide, but how what technology we do provide helps sales people improve their performance.

Every sales enablement professional I encounter is crazy busy–all creating new programs and new initiatives to help the sales people. I sit in quarterly executive reviews and see the sales enablement people listing all the new programs and initiatives they are creating and driving.  And, again, all well intended.

But results aren’t changing.  We see YOY declines in people meeting quota.  We see churn in the sales organization, with job tenure going from 26 months, to 22, to less than 20 months.

And then we audit utilization—people aren’t using the tools, training, content.

Oops, I may have misspoken.  I can count on one hand the number of organizations that actually do audit utilization.  Too often, sales enablement professionals are too busy doing the next greatest program, they don’t take the time to see if the “dogs are eating the dog food….” and they aren’t!

We’re forced to understand why—Are they aware of the availability?  Do they know why, how, when, where they should be applying it?  When applied, is it actually working-or do we need to reassess what we are doing?  Are we overwhelming them and providing too much, are they confused?  Are we providing programs du jour, whipsawing our people with continued shifts in focus and direction.  Is what we are doing even relevant–how many of our sales enablement professionals have actually carried a bag within the past few years–or have they become so distant from the reality of what sales people face/do/don’t do, that they aren’t focusing on their worlds.  Do they have the right “EQ” for the lives of sales people?

In fairness, it’s not just a sales enablement issue.  It’s also a management issue–both executive management and front line sales management.  Effective sales enablement requires the active engagement of these people–both in setting the priorities, and as a partner in enabling the solutions.

Front line sales management has the responsibility of reinforcing and coaching the programs created and delivered by sales enablement  They also need to provide feedback on what works, what doesn’t.  They need to provide feedback on where sales enablement provides the biggest leverage and what should be stopped.  They have to say when enough is enough.  (And sales enablement must actively seek and listen to this feedback).

Sales enablers will fail to achieve the outcomes expected if they act as entities to themselves, focusing on their activities, programs, and justifying ever increasing budgets.

I’m a huge fan of sales enablement and sales enablement professionals.  Much of our own work is categorized as sales enablement.  It’s an important function/job that can have huge impacts on sales performance.

However, I’m an unabashed sales enablement minimalist.  We need to provide just enough, but not too much.  We need to seek less to provide all the answers, but provide the capability for sales people to figure out the answers.

In the end, sales enablement exists only to serve the sales people, not executive management.


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