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Are We Enabling Or Crippling Our Sales People?

by David Brock on May 6th, 2018

Enablement is one of those $100 words as you read anything in the sales and marketing literature.  There’s lots of discussion around “Sales Enablement.”  In fact there’s even the Sales Enablement Society, which actually is doing some good work in discussing hot issues in enablement .

The concepts of enabling our sales people isn’t just limited to the sales enablement function.  Marketing, product management, sales management, and others play key roles in enabling sales people.

While all the work is well intended, I wonder if, too often, the unintended consequence of this work is actually “disabling” or crippling our sales people.

One dictionary definition for enablement is:  the process of making someone able to do something, or making something possible.

I often think of a parable when I think of enablement:  “Give a person a fish and that person will eat for a day, teach a person to fish, and that person will eat for their lifetime.”

It seems that so many of the things we do in the spirit of enabling has the same effect of “giving our people the fish, rather than teaching them to fish.”

Sometimes we do these things in the name of productivity.  For example, rather than teaching our people to research a customer or company, we have tools that do that for them, just giving them the answers.

Or instead of teaching our people how to engage customers in high impact conversations, we give them scripts.

Or rather than having our people think about and develop winning deal strategies, we give them playbooks which they must follow, step by step.

Or for managers, rather than doing the analysis, we make it easy by just giving them a report.

We invest millions in doing these things which should be “enabling” sales people, yet performance against goal continues to decline.

One wonders are we really “enabling” them.  Are we helping them to be able to sell or are we giving them all the answers that they just execute, without understanding.

Perhaps, that’s the missing element in our enablement programs, our sales people don’t understand how to do something.  We aren’t training them in how to think about and execute high impact conversations, or why the research is important and what it means–or how to research to find the answers themselves.

Or the manager has the data, but doesn’t know what the data means, and how to drill down into the data to develop deeper insights.

Think of account planning as an example.  The most valuable thing in account planning is not the plan itself.  It’s the thinking, the analysis, the research, the discussions we go through to develop the plan.  It’s in this process that we learn the most.  With the exception of the action plan part of the account plan, we would lose little by tearing it up and throwing it away–because we have done the tough part, the work to develop the plan.

But too often, we take away the planning piece of it, presenting a sterile document.  People see the information, but they struggle with what it really means and how to leverage it.

To many of our enablement efforts, while well intended, take the thinking, evaluation, creativity, analysis part of the process away from the sales person.  While they have the information, it’s relatively meaningless and they struggle with the application/execution.

Some will argue, “we are focused on making things efficient for our people.”  But in that efficiency, we actually are not helping our people be effective.  As a result of that lack of effectiveness, they have to do more–more calls, more time correcting mistakes, more of everything.  As a result, we aren’t being efficient or effective.

Enablement is all about making equipping our people to work effectively in moving our customers through the sales process.  It should be less about giving them the answers and more about helping them discover the answers.  In the end, they will be both more effective and efficient.

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