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May 17 22

Sales Enablement, The Sound Of One Hand Clapping

by David Brock

Again, I have to start this post with an apology. I’m a huge fan of sales enablement and some of the outstanding sales enablement practitioners who I count as friends. I think, however, one of the biggest problems with sales enablement is not what they do, or the quality of the programs they develop.

I think one of the biggest problems with sales enablement comes from outside the organization, with sales executive leadership and front line management.

Recently I had a fascinating conversation with a sales enablement team. It’s a team that I think of as modeling some of the most forward thinking programs in developing the capabilities within the organization. They were, however, struggling. While there programs were leading edge, the participants in the programs rated them very highly. But somehow, they were failing. Overall, while the sales people were scraping through, barely hitting their goals, the feeling of executives leading the sales organization, top field managers, and the sales enablement management team was they should be doing far better.

As we reviewed the sales enablement programs, their programs were among the best I’ve seen. They had spent a lot of time understanding the key competencies and capabilities for success. They programs they were delivering were both comprehensive and well designed, but somehow there was a gap.

The more we discussed things, the more concerned I became about what I wasn’t hearing. I wasn’t hearing anything about sales management–both top sales executives in setting the overall goals and priorities of the organization, and front line sales managers. The words “sales management” were not uttered in the conversation. The focus was exclusively on what sales enablement was doing and how they were building measurable increase in competencies.

When I asked, “How is sales management involved? What are they doing to both help set your direction and priorities, and support the day to day execution of the skills sales enablement trying to put in place?”

Silence…..

Finally, one of the leaders spoke out, “As we put together sales enablement programs, we sit down with executive management to understand their strategies, priorities, and goals for the future. At the same time, we are the experts in what high performing sales people should be doing. As a result, our programs are designed to merge both, creating a “best of breed” approach.

“Cool,” I replied, “what is front line sales management doing?”

“Well…. we listen to them when they ask us for new programs, but we don’t have the resources to address all the individual needs of each manager….”

“What responsibilities to front line managers have in coaching and reinforcing the capabilities you are trying to build?”

Silence….

I waited, I could see the squirming even over Zoom.

“What are the sales managers doing to reinforce and further develop the capabilities you are developing in your programs? What are sales managers doing to understand, for each sales person, areas of performance improvement for each sales person? What are managers doing to address those?”

Just because we are training and developing the best competencies in our enablement programs, don’t mean our sales people can actually leverage them with high impact in their work.

As we discussed this, the team started asking, “How do we do that? We don’t have the resources to do this with each individual!”

“That’s not your job! Your job is to maximize the capability and capacity of the organization to perform. It’s sales management’s job to maximize the ability of each individual on their team to execute what you are teaching them.”

This is a mistake too many organizations make, each part of the organization optimizes their performance for what they do, but when taken as a whole, there are huge gaps, we haven’t optimized the whole organization and each individual’s abilities to contribute to the organizational goals.

Stated differently, each part of the organization is doing their job, but optimizing the pieces parts, can fail to maximize performance (for some of you nerds, this a fundamental to systems thinking, we can’t optimize the subsystems, we have to optimize the overall system.)

Enablement and sales management must work hand in hand to optimize performance. Enablement can only focus on overall organizational competencies and capabilities. Managers have the responsibility to maximize the capabilities of each person in implementing and executing those things. Managers are the only people that have visibility, day by day, week by week, on how well each person in their team is executing on what they have been trained to do. They have the responsibility to work with each individual addressing the specific issues and challenges they face.

However well we develop and implement sales enablement programs to drive capability in the organization, if we don’t have the clear buy in from front line management on their responsibility to coach, reinforce, and address individual performance and execution issues, we will fail to achieve our full performance potential.

Having said that, sales enablement has a role in helping managers do this–they can train managers in how to identify individual performance challenges, key indicators managers should be watching, how to coach and reinforce, what resources managers have to help them do this.

Without the whole organization working hand in hand, in a coordinated fashion, with each understanding their roles and responsibilities in maximizing performance, we will not perform to our potential.

May 16 22

“Still The Question Recurs, ‘Can We Do Better?'” — Abraham Lincoln

by David Brock

Still the question recurs ‘can we do better?’ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the storm present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew, and act anew.” — President Abraham Lincoln in his Annual Address to Congress (December 1, 1862)

High performers, and great leaders are never satisfied.  They are always challenging themselves, their teams, and organizations with “Can We Do Better?”

This challenge is always with us.  When things are bad, when we aren’t achieving our goals, it becomes, “We must do better!”  In tough times, doing better is often a matter of survival.  Too often, however, we create excuses or try to assign blame.  Rather than trying to figure out how to achieve goals, too many give up.  High performers are different.  They don’t care about excuses, they don’t assign blame, they look at what they need to do to correct the situation.  They look at what to change, they look at how to improve, they ask for help.

When times are relatively good, when we are making our numbers, when we are achieving our goals, when we are out performing the competition, the temptation is to rest on our laurels and recent success.  It’s at these times that individuals and organizations are most vulnerable.  Those that fail to constantly challenge themselves with “Can I do better,” or “Can we do better,” will be lost.  Perhaps not today or tomorrow, but they will fail.  They don’t recognize the need to change, to constantly improve, to move the bar to a higher level.

Too often, “hitting our numbers,” masks under performance.  We could do more, we could do better.  Unfortunately, I get into conversations with sales people and managers, proudly declaring, “We made our numbers, we are growing!”  But assessing the data, you see win rates less that 25%, low average deal values.  They are underachieving their potential.  They could do better, they could to more.

The press of every day business causes us to take short cuts.  We send the email rather than picking up the phone.  We  send the same old email campaign we sent last week because we don’t have the time to construct a new message.  We need to make our prospecting calls, we pick up the phone, dial, and regurgitate the same tired pitch, we don’t take the time to research who we are calling and how we can most effectively connect with them.

If we are going to continue to differentiate ourselves, our products, our companies by creating superior value for our customers, we must constantly challenge ourselves.  We live in worlds of constant disruption and change.  What worked yesterday may no longer be as effective.  We have to think, how do we do better.

We are entering the final two quarters of the year.  Look at what you’ve done this year.  You may not be achieving your goals.  You may be 200% of quota.  Reflect back on what you have done and ask yourself “Can I do better?

Managers and leaders, sit down with your teams and explore the question, “Can we do better?”

Perhaps, with our customers, we might help them think, “How do we do better?”

May 15 22

Enabling Our Customers To Feel Good About Themselves And What They Are Doing

by David Brock

I wrote, People Buy From People, focusing on the importance of human based engagement as a wake up call to the overwhelming trend to depersonalize the relationship.

In comments on the post, Larry Levine and Brent Adamson added some fascinating and important insights (though I struggle with the concept of Brent creating insights–it just doesn’t seem to be him 😉

As sales people we learn about the importance of developing relationships with our customers. The old school version of this was people liking us. The idea that the more people liked us, the more they might unconsciously be biased to making decisions for us.

So we competed on developing these relationships, hoping to leverage that social pressure to drive sales. We wined/dined them, invited them to golf, sent birthday cards to them, their spouses and kids.

While, sometimes, those relationships might have been genuine, they were at the core self serving and manipulative. They were driven with the motivation of creating social pressure to reciprocate with a purchase.

Once, my team was making a $5M purchase of PCs for our sales people. The lead sales person had worked for me at another company. Rather than working with my team, he focused on our personal relationship and our past working relationship. And when we made a decision for his competitor he actually asked for a meeting to discuss why I had betrayed the relationship.

For some, these relationships are deeper, base on mutual trust. Generally, these are less selfish and manipulated, with the relationship being built more deeply, and focused on building growing the basis of trust. In these relationships our customers can make decisions we are unhappy with, and we can do things the customer may be unhappy with, but because the relationship is not transactional in nature, they endure over time, and there is a stronger basis for doing business. Crassly, when everything else is equal (as they often may be) the higher level of shared trust, the more likely we will do business with each other.

In building relationships we want our customers to feel good about us. We want them to feel we understand what they are trying to achieve, that we understand their businesses. We want them to trust that we are proposing solutions that create value. We want them to know we understand and we care.

But as Brent and Larry reminded me, perhaps the more important thing in the relationship is how we make the customer feel about themselves and the decision they are making. As much as they may trust us, what they worry about is “are they making the right decision.”

We strengthen the relationship, demonstrate our caring and understanding when we focus on how the customer feels not just about us, but what we are helping them do. Are we building their confidence–not in us, but in their decison? Are we helping them understand what they are trying to do; what they need to learn, the risks, and so forth.

While it’s human nature to focus on how we feel about others and how they feel about us, the real meaning of a relationship is how we help people feel better about themselves, and, possibly, how they make us feel better about ourselves.

Are you building real relationships?

May 13 22

Selling Skills

by David Brock

Here’s a pop quiz for sellers and sales enablement folks. Be honest, don’t cheat……..

Raise your hand if you have had a formal training program on change and change management!

If you are a sales enablement person, Does your sales training/learning program included formal training and development on change and change management?

Our sales training programs spend a lot of time helping us develop skills around what we sell and how we sell. We have endless classes and programs around what we sell—our products and services. We have terrific programs about how we sell. They may be broadly based methodology programs. They may be more narrowly focused on specific skills like objection handling, prospecting, closing, negotiation.

All are useful and important for us to master.

But the one thing I seldom see in any formal training or development program is specific training on change and change management.

And that’s remarkable!

Because what each of us is selling is change! Whether it is switching vendors, improving operations, addressing new opportunities, solving a problem; what we are asking our customers to do is change.

When we look at the biggest problems our customers face in their problem solving and buying processes, it’s not vendor selection. Yet this is where we focus 99% of our sales training and development.

The biggest problems our customers face are committing to change, managing the change management process. But we aren’t training our people to help customers do this.

And, as a result, both we and our customers fail. The majority of committed buying journeys fail, resulting in no decision made. As you drill down, it’s either the lack of commitment to change or the indecision around the issues in making the change.

For those that do make a decision, a large number have buyer’s remorse–less about solution selection and more about whether they are doing the right thing, whether they are achieving what they expected. And much of that is change management.

And then, the opportunity that’s like the part of the iceberg we don’t see–the biggest part of the opportunity for customers and us is those customers that need to change but are oblivious to it–that need to be incited to change.

It’s remarkable that virtually no sales training or development program I see incorporates formal training and development on change and change management. As a side note, very little of the content I see focuses on change and change management.

If we want to help our customers buy more, more successfully; if we want to achieve more, sell more, and grow more, we need to train our people about what we sell. And it’s change!

Afterword: The best way to develop and hone our skills on change and change management is within our own organizations. Our own track records are pretty poor with our own change management efforts, so how can we provide great leadership to our sellers, if we are so bad at this?

After Afterword: If, perhaps, I’ve energized some sales enablement people to develop a change and change management program, please, whatever you do, don’t call it “Change management for sellers…” The worst thing we can do is to separate how we talk about change with our customers from how they view, manage, and implement change. Why not train sellers with the same programs, processes, jargon our customers use rather than “invent” a unique “selling approach?”