Just like in romance, for a successful sales enablement relationship to work, establishing what each party wants out of the relationship, and whether the other party can meet that obligation, is key. How the relationship is set-up from the outset has a lot to do with the end outcome.
What’s your relationship status?
Before you embark on a new project, always check that your business partner has the same expectations about the relationship as you. A client that approaches a sales enablement expert with a pre-defined solution to their problem is usually looking for a transactional relationship. They have a problem and have approached you to solve it. Little time is taken on either side to address compatibility and the outcomes are usually short term at best. It’s really the sales enablement equivalent of a one-night stand!
Alternatively, knowing you are experienced, they come to you as an expert. They have a problem and expect you to tell them the solution to overcome it. While this expert status is flattering, no matter how much time you invest, the passivity of the other party, and their reliance on you to solve their problems alone, is ultimately the death knell for any fledgling relationship, romantic or otherwise.
Then there is the partnership which is the basis of most successful, long-term relationships. A client or suitor sees something worthwhile in you and is interested in collaborating to achieve something meaningful. This partnership approach requires a commitment from both sides, and a willingness to overcome obstacles to achieve a shared vision. In sales force enablement at least, this means your partner supports you to identify the problem and also the solution to achieving that goal. Ultimately, the partner relationship is one of mutually assured success because you are in it together.
Not all clients are ready for a long-term relationship. An effective sales force enablement strategy requires a client to have three essential traits:
Balance, in this context, is the difference between being seen to do something, and the desire to solve the problem long-term. Similarly, a client that is happy to be challenged without feeling undermined will enable you to build a strong, logical case for your sales force enablement approach. Balance is critical.
Process is an essential component of any effective sales force enablement strategy which should always be grounded in the practical and bespoke to the needs of that business. Your partner organization needs to be supportive of process and recognize that going straight to the answer without understanding the objectives, the issues, and the desired outcome will never deliver the right results.
Clarity of the organization’s strategic objectives is essential as is the ability to constantly refer back to them. “Is what we are doing aligned to the activities associated with successful achievement of our corporate objectives?” Clarity of vision is a relationship saver since it bonds individuals in pursuit of a shared goal.
Once you’ve determined you are in the right sort of relationship you need to confirm that it is with the right person. Who owns the problem, who has defined the requirements? What is their perception of the problem, and how does it impact the business? If you’re not speaking with the right person, too much can get lost in translation for your program to be a success. Understanding who owns the problem also provides valuable insight into the emotional triggers behind addressing it. Most importantly it helps you understand the value your partner places on solving it, and the balance between the quick solution and the right solution.
The most delicate part of any sales force enablement process is understanding what the reality of the problem is versus your partner’s perception. At Strategy to Revenue, most of our clients are driven to approach us by a specific problem. While they are usually right about the problem, they frequently mis-diagnose the source. Being entrenched in a situation makes an outside perspective invaluable. You owe it to your client to analyze quickly and precisely the symptoms of their problem and then confirm or adjust their reading of those symptoms accordingly. Telling an expert there is an alternative solution to the one they’ve self-prescribed can be tricky but viewing everything through the lens of the company’s strategic objectives helps. Again, clarity of vision provides a beacon of focus, so that agreement and alignment of activities to achieve the strategy will become a fairly straightforward process.
It is imperative to check for alignment between you and your partner but also between the desired outcome of your partner and the company. A measurable value is essential to prove the success of your program. If their perceived problem has a big impact on their role but a minimal impact on the overall revenue number it’s questionable whether even the most stand out sales force enablement plan will garner much support or be effectively rolled out. Your reputation will ultimately stand or fall on this.
Put another way, this could be read as: identify the whole solution, and not just a point solution that addresses a small component of the problem. As a partner, you need to comprehend the whole solution. A holistic approach ensures you focus on delivering a solution that will, if executed correctly, solve the whole problem and deliver real value to the business, not just make your partner look good.
What is the detail behind how you help your partner navigate from current to desired state? This is about translating mission critical objectives into achievable deliverables. For this you need to pinpoint the areas of your client’s business that can benefit from improved alignment. Consider the market environment, company culture, team dynamics and the time frames you have to deliver change. Then build a program that addresses the client’s problems within that context. Be pragmatic. Some solutions are easier to implement in a localized manner but can still deliver meaningful results to the top line. Others, like organizational issues, can only be addressed with the consent of the business. If organizational change is fundamental to achieving sustained commercial improvement, your partner should support you in having those conversations. Similarly, delivering value elsewhere within the business so your partner can justify bringing you into these bigger conversations is also a smart move.
Long term, sustainable sales force improvements are most impactful to a business when they are built-in rather than brought in. A balanced partner will understand this. They will expect quick wins, to ensure wider company buy-in, but will also expect to jointly own an action plan. They will understand that a joint commitment to seeing the program through to completion is wedded to a joint commitment to success. It is only through this partnership approach that a commitment to embedding and sustaining behavioral change in the business can happen and the success can continue long after you have left the building.
In 30 years of sales force enablement, and more than that in marriage, I’ve learnt that projects, just like relationships, succeed only if everyone wants them to. Human nature dictates that we only really care about relationships if we ultimately have a vested interest in their success. So, before you embark on your next sales enablement project, check who you’re building a relationship with.
Mark Savinson is Chief Operating Officer at Strategy to Revenue, the award-winning sales enablement consultancy.